Cult K: Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger: A Broken Dialogue

Ivan Sokolov (University of California, Berkeley)

What happens when word meets thought? This seminar suggests walking the razor’s edge between lyric and theory in the face of the two most looming figures in twentieth-century aesthetics: Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger. Our purpose will be to interrogate two “clean” narratives about the poet and the thinker that have dominated their reception wherever the readerships cross. One posits a complete aesthetic synchrony between the so-called hermetic poetry of Celan and the hermeneutic theory of Heidegger. The other insists on a total incompatibility between the fate of the Jewish poet who survives Nazi labour camp losing family to Holocaust—and the life of the Catholic thinker, who supported Hitler and kept silent during denazification. For some, this would serve as further evidence of the widespread conviction that, since Plato, poets and thinkers have existed in separate worlds. For us, this will be an injunction to focus on the history of this dialogue, to untangle the “messy” ways in which Celan and Heidegger—their readings, their writings, their trajectories and imaginations—intersect and break apart. Only a canvas so fraught with discord could stay true to the fabric of twentieth-century culture, including its visceral offshoots that keep confronting us to this very day.

The seminar is a “sequel” to the Celan & Adorno class offered at V-NYI #3 in Summer ’21 and the Celan & Mandel’shtam seminar from V-NYI #4 in Winter ’22. No background is necessary, however: the class will be just as relevant for students well-versed in the work of the poet and the philosopher as for “first-timers.” All readings will be distributed electronically in the original and in translations, with only the reading knowledge of English required.