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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pierre Joris on Paul Celan: poetry, politics, & translation

Pierre Joris on Paul Celan in the 21st Century:

[Film Description from Youtube: A video recorded at the Edison-Newman Room, Houghton Library, (Harvard Nov. 2011) with a multimedia show, produced by Nicole Peyrafitte, the event integrates a range of elements including live narrative and translated poems, and a slideshow of visual materials including photographs, manuscript pages, etchings by Gisèle Celan-Lestrange, historical documents and other relevant and resonant materials. ]

This video captures Pierre Joris' nearly life-long engagement with Paul Celan's poetry and politics. He begins with an introduction to Celan's life and work and explains his relationship with Celan's poems from his earliest memory: a "cutting into the soul" memory, that begins his long relationship with Celan's words. Joris goes on to describe his history of translating Celan along with his meeting of Celan's wife and their subsequent relationship. Joris says he once said to her in regards to allowing more Celan translations to emerge: "Let 1,000 translations bloom."

This is not just a lecture on Celan poetics; this is an example of how 20th century poetry is ushered into our 21st century and how our current technologies can be used to breathe a form of "new life" into the poems. Maybe not "new life" but certainly a new form of living, a new way of getting readers excited and interested in this work, which itself is timeless. This multimedia presentation with films edited and produced by Nicole Peyrafitte captures the viewer's gaze on many levels, from the cerebral deconstruction of the word at its most basic level in discussing translation to the aesthetic beauty of hearing Celan's words against a visually explorative backdrop with the use of the films. The collage of sound, image, and Joris' live discussion of Celan provides a multiple sensory response to Celan's poetry. Joris' talk is about translation and the presentation itself becomes its own form of translation, creating an amalgam of entries into Celan's work for the novice reader. Celan's poems, Joris attests, are a "threshold," a gate ushering us into the 21st century. It stands to reason then that one way of seeing Celan, of engaging with his work is in this 21st century medium of video, sound, images, and also the amazing opportunity of being present in the audience, (somewhat) at this event via the internet.

It's really beautiful as well to capture the passion and energy (and frustrations) of the translator as Joris really delves into specifics in word construction and language about 45 minutes into the film. This video captures Joris' concentrated involvement in the dissection of Celan's often complicated and exhilarating stretching of what the German language can do and how this informs both the poem and the translator's task. Joris lights up on the stage as he describes the "dark 'o' sounds" and "light 'a' sounds" of the poem "Todtnauberg" and the incredible task of ushering the poet Celan into the english language in this our 21st experience of his imperative works.

But I'll let Pierre Joris tell you:

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