Surrealism and Existentialism
in the Poetry of Paul Celan
by Clarise Samuels
Publisher: Camden House
READERS FAMILIAR WITH THE poetry of Paul Celan are often familiar with only one poem, “Todesfuge” (Death Fugue), a poem that clearly expresses the sorrow and the pain of the Holocaust. Celan’s personal experience in a labor camp and the death of his parents in a concentration camp caused him to be tormented by memories of the Holocaust for much of his life. In “Todesfuge” the unequivocal imagery and recognizable associations make the poem easily accessible. But many who try to go beyond “Todesfuge” and begin to read the rest of Celan’s poetry find that there is only a handful of poems that approaches the understandability of this most famous one.
The great majority of Celan’s poems are written abstrusely, with images that are compressed, elliptic, and incongruous. This study of Celan’s poetry attempts to make his poetry more accessible to both students and scholars of literature. It provides a philosophical approach to the interpretation of Celan’s poetry, as well as a method for the analysis of the motifs.
The idea for this book originally arose during the development of my doctoral dissertation, which was written under the supervision of Josef Thanner of Rutgers University. I am grateful to Dr. Thanner for having directed me to this topic; I am also indebted to him for having explained to me his theory that existentialism is the epistemological basis for the ideology of surrealism, and for his method regarding the categorization of motifs.
I am grateful to James Hardin of the University of South Carolina for having provided much guidance and editorial advice during the course of the revision of the original manuscript. And I would like to thank Peter Brown of the State University of New York at New Paltz for helpful comments.
Chapter 1 gives a brief overview of the relevant critical literature on Celan and outlines the three major layers of his poetry.
Chapter 2 explains the surrealistic ideology of Celan’s work and shows how art theory is incorporated into surreal poetry.
In chapter 3 I discuss the existentialist foundation for the ideology of surrealism; Chapter 4 explains how existentialism provides the basis for Celan’s poetics.
Chapters 5 and 6 categorize the major motifs of the poetry.
In Chapter 7 I examine the linguistic organization that constitutes Celan’s surrealism, and I discuss the Holocaust, the thematic motif of Celan’s poetry, at length in Chapter 8.
Chapter 9 analyzes Celan’s intentions and conclusions, particularly his quest for utopia.
Copyright © 1993 by Clarise Samuels