Political Form in Paul Celan

Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy 25 (1):185-205 (2020)
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Paul Celan’s “Tenebrae” is a scandalous poem: it describes how “unity with the dying Jesus” is achieved by means of the Jewish experience of the concentration camps. In this paper, I provide a new interpretation of “Tenebrae” that breaks from the two traditional ways in which the poem has been viewed—on the one hand, as a Christian poem that suggests that Jesus, insofar as he suffers just like Jewish concentration camp victims do, can provide “hope and redemption for the faithful”, and, on the other hand, as an ironic criticism of this Christian idea. Rather, I suggest that “Tenebrae” is a modification of Christianity: preserving Christian belief about Jesus’s death, it destroys that belief, and does so for the sake of the defense against Christian persecution. Finally, I suggest that this view reveals the peculiar poetic form of “Tenebrae”—what I call “political form.”



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Beau Shaw
New York University

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