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Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


To Sing Beyond Mankind: The Turn to the nonhuman in Paul Celan’s Atemkristall Cycle.


In May 1965 the poet Paul Celan sent a letter to his wife, the graphic artist Gisèle Celan-Lestrange,
from a mental institution in the western suburbs of Paris. In his letter, Celan referred to his recently
published unique bibliophilic edition Atemkristall (Breathcrystal), in which a cycle of twenty-one
of his poems was accompanied by eight striking etchings created by Celan-Lestrange: “I saw your
etchings be born alongside my poems, even arising of these poems, and as you well know,
Atemkristall, which, once again, paved ways to poetry for me, was born out of your etchings.”1
For Celan, this cycle signified the end of a long period in which he barely wrote poetry due to his
mental condition. Through the 1950s Celan gained growing recognition for his poetry, a process
which culminated in the prestigious Büchner Prize for German Literature granted to him in 1960.
Nonetheless, his past as a Holocaust survivor who lost his parents, home, and community during
the war continued to haunt him, as well as a false plagiarism accusation that did not fade away and
relentlessly disturbed him. All these factors took a toll on him, and Celan’s challenging mental
condition took a turn for the worse in the early 1960s, the last decade of his life.2
Following a major mental breakdown that led to his hospitalization and a lengthy period
of clinical treatments, the collection of short cryptic poems of Atemkristall paved for Celan a
renewed path for poetry through the act of writing itself; by recomposing his poetic world, he was
able to return to it. Atemkristall was not only the title of the exceptional collectors’ edition, but

1 My translation. “J’ai vu naître vos gravures à côté de mes poèmes, naître de ces poèmes même, et vous savez bien
que <Atemkristall>, qui, encore, m’a ouvert les chemins de la Poésie, est né de vos gravures.” Paul Celan, Gisèle
Celan-Lestrange, and Eric Celan, Correspondence. 1: Lettres, ed. Bertrand Badiou (Paris: Ed. du Seuil, 2001), 254. 2 Much has been written on Celan’s life in Europe after WWII and his mental illness of these years. His feeling of
betrayal relates to two things, one is the antisemitism Celan felt wherever he went, let alone among German writers
and intellectuals with Nazi pasts he was very aware of, and the other is the false accusation of plagiarism by Claire
Goll, known as the “Goll affair.” For more on these matters see Barbara Wiedemann, Paul Celan – Die Goll-Affäre:
Dokumente zu einer “Infamie” (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2000); John Felstiner, Paul Celan - Poet, Survivor,
Jew (Yale University Press, 26), 154–55, 201, 216, 223.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


also a word emerging towards the end of the cycle’s last poem — “Weggebeizt” (Eroded).3
Therefore, the word Atemkristall takes on an added significance, as the title opening the cycle, as
well as the word the readers meet at its end. The reading leads from it and to it. Given the limited
scope of the edition, most readers encountered these poems only later, as part of the 1967 collection
Atemwende (Breathturn). In the collection Atemwende, the cycle kept its primacy by being the
opening cycle of the book, but the etchings are only to be found in the exclusive 1965 edition.
Celan disclosed a unique relation to Atemkristall and the collection it was later published
in, Atemwende. After the publication of the cycle, he chose to read poems from Atemkristall in
many of his public readings. One especially memorable evening took place in July 1967 at the
University of Freiburg, in which, among a crowd of a thousand listeners, the philosopher Martin
Heidegger, with whom Celan planned to meet as part of his visit, attended.4 In a letter to his wife
in March 1967, he described Atemwende, then in final stages of proofing, as the most ample and
dense collection he had ever written. One month later, in a letter to his son Eric, he wrote that this
book, in many ways, marks a turn that even readers could not avoid noticing.5 The importance
ascribed to the cycle in Celan’s oeuvre is also due to the interest the philosopher Hans-Georg
Gadamer found in it. Gadamer perceived the cycle as the culmination of Celan’s work and devoted
to Atemkristall the extensive critical essay Wer bin Ich und wer bist Du (Who am I and who are
You), in which Gadamer gives his general interpretation on the cycle while commenting on each

3 Weggebeizt is a word compounded by Celan by adding the prefix “weg” to the verb “beizen,” making it a
challenging term to translate in a way that reflects the different meanings and associations it may entail. Michael
Hamburger and Christopher Middleton chose “Etched away” as their translation, and John Felstiner decided on
“Bitten Away.” Finding that in many cases Pierre Jorris’ translations resonate dimensions of the poems I wish to
explore here, I will use his translations of the cycle in Breathturn into Timestead. Paul Celan, Breathturn into
Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry: A Bilingual Edition, trans. Pierre Joris (New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux,
2014), 18–19; Paul Celan, Selected Poems, trans. Michael Hamburger and Christopher Middleton (Harmondsworth:
Penguin, 1972), 84; Felstiner, Paul Celan - Poet, Survivor, Jew, 218. 4 Felstiner, Paul Celan - Poet, Survivor, Jew, 254. 5 Paul Celan, Gisèle Celan-Lestrange, and Eric Celan, Correspondence. 1: Lettres, ed. Bertrand Badiou (Paris: Ed. du
Seuil, 2001), 502, 508.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


one of the poems. Celan’s other readers also recognized the importance of the cycle, such as
Giuseppe Bevilacqua, who focused his research on the figure of the Atemkristall and claimed that
the closing poem of the cycle, “Weggebeizt,” is an acme in a cycle of poems that has an eminent
meaning in Celan’s creation. For this reason, according to Bevilacqua, there are many
interpretations of this poem from various points of view.6 Reading the poems in Atemkristall,
which had such importance for Celan both for his entire poetic endeavor and his personal life, it is
intriguing to see that the cycle is packed with elements of nature, silent objects, and phenomena
such as snow, trees, icebergs, sunrays, rivers, and volcanos. What seems to be bluntly absent in
these poems is the human, whose presence is mostly only hinted.
Celan's poetry is generally characterized by its abstractness and cryptic nature, but upon
closer examination of his earlier works, it becomes apparent that human presence is portrayed in
a different way in Atemkristall. In the collection Die Niemandrose, which contains Celan's last
poems before Atemkristall, the presence of the human is significantly more pronounced. For
example, the poem "Zürich, Zum Storchen" mentions a real inn in a familiar city and is dedicated
to the poet Nelly Sachs. Even readers who are unaware of the actual encounter between the two
can discern that the poem takes place in a human environment and centers around a conversation
about human concepts such as religion. Die Niemandrose is replete with references to human
cities, regions, and countries like Russia, Krakow, Prague, and the Pont Mirabeau in Paris, as well
as rivers such as the Seine and the Rhine. In "Tübingen, Jänner," a poem named after a specific
human place and time, Celan refers to the place where the poet Friedrich Hölderlin spent the last
decades of his life. The poem mentions human figures like the "drowned carpenters" and imagines
the coming of a man, stating "if a man was born, today, with / the lightbeard of / the patriarchs."

6 Giuseppe Bevilacqua, Auf der Suche nach dem Atemkristall: Celan-Studien, trans. Peter Goßens and Marianne
Schneider (München: C. Hanser, 2004), 110.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


While this is an imagined scenario with religious connotations, the presence of the human figure
is nonetheless apparent.7
The human presence is further evident in other poems that mention Jesus and Abraham,
and other figures such as in the poem "Einem, der vor der Tür stand," which directly addresses a
Rabbi Lew. The human is even mentioned directly in poems like "Die Hellen," which refers to
"everyman's hands," and "Mandorela," which declares "human locks, you will not turn gray". The
human presence in Die Niemandrose is thus evident in many ways that are absent in Atemkristall.
Perhaps the clues to the forthcoming shift can be found in the human references scattered
throughout Die Niemandrose, such as in the poem "Bei Wein und Verlorenheit," where the lines
"our last ride over / the human hurdles" suggest a problematization of human existence.8
Nevertheless, it is clear that a noteworthy shift has taken place in terms of the human's place in
The question I will explore here concerns the meaning of this inexplicable turn away from
the human that takes place in Atemkristall, and to the fact that a poet, whose standpoint is the
human condition in light of modernity and the horrors of the Second World War, finds a cycle that
deals with snow, ice, and trees to have such importance in his work. I will show how this turning
away from the human has much to do with Celan’s general poetic project, and specifically with
the turn he wished to make as a poet in the early 1960s. Celan’s diminishing mental state,
connected with the intense treatments he had received, worsened his feeling of estrangement form
the world. Even his poetic endeavor, which was delayed for a time, had to find a new way for its
survival. The fact Celan perceives these poems as a return to writing and to life, also points on a

7 Translations: Paul Celan, Paul Celan: Selections, ed. Pierre Joris, First edition (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 2005), 75–93. 8 Translations: Paul Celan and Michael Hamburger, trans., Poems of Paul Celan: A Bilingual German/English
Edition, Revised Edition, Bilingual edition (New York: Persea, 2002), 130–200.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


way to reestablish a connection between him and his world and such search for a new connection
to the world is evident in the cycle.
One of the poems in the cycle, “Fadensonnen” (Threadsuns) does make room for human
beings by mentioning them directly, as it ends with the words: “es sind noch Lieder zu singen
jenseits der Menschen“ (there are still songs to sing beyond mankind). The rest of the poem,
however, typically to Atemkristall, deals with nonhuman figures, such as Fadensonnen, Ödnis and
über der grauschwarzen Ödnis.

Ein baum-
hoher Gedanke

greift sich den Lichtton: es sind
noch Lieder zu singen jenseits
der Menschen.
above the grayblack wastes.

A tree-
high thought

grasps the light-tone: there are
still songs to sing beyond
The fact that the last word in a poem that turns away from the human is Menschen, hints to the
way the poems of the cycle are taking, since it is contradictory to the statement that it is making:
By stating the desire to sing beyond mankind, it brings the human presence into the poem by
mentioning it and leading the poem towards it. This is, as I will show, what is at the center of
Atemkristall, which makes a detour from the human in order to return to it. Atemkristall turns away
from the human not for the sake of leaving the human behind, or denying humanity’s unique
position in the world, with all its meanings and responsibilities, but in order to better understand

9 All of the cycle’s poems and translations are taken from this edition:: Celan, Breathturn into Timestead, 2–19.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


the human condition exactly by not denying the nonhuman parts of the world. It takes a step away
of the human as part of poetry’s destiny to be what Celan calls “a school of true humanity.”
Atemkristall is, however, usually interpreted as a cycle that constructs a metaphoric reality in
order to speak about the nature of poetic language. The main example is the previously mentioned
essay by Gadamer, who regards the cycle as a journey in search for the true poem, a pure poem
that emerges like a snowflake, which is the Atemkristall in the last poem of the cycle.

10 Gadamer
understands the word Atemkristall in relation to the sphere of breath and its role in the creation of
language. It is intimately tied to the Atemwende, which Gadamer views as an occurrence of silence
in the brief moment between inhalation and exhalation. In the recurrence of the breath, and the
return of the air to the lungs, Gadamer finds a meaning of hope, as an act of renewal of life. He
writes of the poems in the cycle:

The poems in this sequence are, in fact, as quiet and barely perceptible as the breath-
turn. They offer witness to a last constriction of life and, simultaneously, represent anew

its recurring resolution, or better, not its resolution, but its elevation to a secure linguistic
form [Sprachgestalthttps://doi.org/10.1515/arcadia-2022-9057.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


to the nonhuman can contribute to the existing interpretation, since the question of poetic language
cannot be separated from any other poetic endeavor that takes place in the poems. Limiting the
interpretation to the question of language, however, results in reducing the nonhuman objects,
creatures, and phenomena that distinctly dominate the cycle to mere metaphors of language and
by that overlooking their robust presence in these poems. Following Celan’s own notions of
metaphors and images in poetry, any reading should be wary of staying only in a metaphorical
perspective.13 Moreover, an interpretation that solely focuses on the question of language neglects
the fact that the cycle was initially published with accompanying etchings. It is therefore not
surprising that Gadamer's interpretation did not take the etchings into account. As I will
demonstrate, the etchings also have a crucial role to play in the cycle's turn towards the nonhuman.
I suggest a reading of Atemkristall that gives the nonhuman elements a central role. This
perspective is also in light of what Celan himself comments in The Meridian, the title of the speech
he gave on the occasion of receiving the Georg Büchner Prize in 1960 regarding the ability of the
poem to turn towards the nonhuman. As of yet, some of these comments have not garnered
significant attention as they were not the main focus of the speech. By interweaving them with the
poems of Atemkristall, their importance too can be underscored. When Celan talks of Lenz’s
Atemwende, a central poetic notion articulated for the first time in the speech, he describes it as “a
stepping beyond what is human, a stepping into an uncanny realm turned toward the human--the
realm where the monkey, the automatons and with them ... oh, art too, seem to be at home.”14 Later
in the speech, he states that “The poem wants to head toward some other, it needs this other, it
needs an opposite. It seeks it out, it bespeaks itself to it. Each thing, each human is, for the poem

13 In the drafts to “The Meridian” Celan writes that “the poem has, I believe, even there where it is most visual, an
anti-metaphorical character” Paul Celan, The Meridian: Final Version - Drafts - Materials, Meridian, Crossing
Aesthetics (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2011), 125.
14 Celan, 5.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


heading toward this other, a figure of this.”15 Celan’s mentioning of “each thing” should not be
read as an accidental addition or emphasis. Zealously preparing for the speech, Celan invested a
great amount of thought in the text that was a rare opportunity for him to articulate his poetic
thought, and not a word made it to the final version by chance. Adding “each thing” before
mentioning the human leaves room for an encounter with something that, whatever it is, has to be
somehow different than another human-being. Drawing from the philosopher Walter Benjamin’s
essay on the work of Franz Kafka, Celan speaks of the poem’s attentiveness, explaining that “the
poem becomes — under what conditions! — the poem of someone who always still perceives,
who is turned toward phenomena, questioning and addressing these; it becomes conversation —
often a desperate conversation.” The ability of the poem to become this desperate conversation
derives from the fact that the absolute attentiveness the poem is capable of does not only takes into
account the human, but it is also “turned toward phenomena, questioning and addressing these.”
Since this is the what the poems of Atemkristall are clearly turned toward, it is plausible that their
goal is take part in this conversation.
In the next chapters I will trace the role the nonhuman elements play in this turn and
demonstrate how these objects, creatures, and phenomena take place in Celan’s poetic project and
where do they stand in relation to its poetical, philosophical, and ethical dimensions. I will show
how such an exploration can not only provide a new perspective to reading Celan’s poetry but also
tell something of the place of the nonhuman in poetry in general. I will address these questions by
tracing the poetic attempt made in the cycle Atemkristall and show not only how this turn towards
the nonhuman should be acknowledged and understood as a meaningful part of Celan’s general

15 Celan, 9.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


project, but also how such a reading demonstrates the relevance of his poetry to the challenges of
our time and the place poetry, literature and art have in addressing them.

Part I: Atemwende

Atemwende was a term that Celan first uttered in The Meridian speech as well as the title for the
later collection that opens with the Atemkristall cycle. The linguistic connection between these
terms is not coincidental, since Atemkristall includes the first poems that were written after the
conception of the poetic idea of the Atemwende. Although reading Celan’s poetry while having in
mind the poetic notions he expressed in The Meridian is quite common in scholarship on Celan,
this kind of reading becomes even more crucial when it comes to the cycle Atemkristall, which
was unmistakably written in light of the Atemwende and perhaps even as an immediate enactment
of this notion.
The term Meridian — chosen as the title of the speech only after the award ceremony,
when the text was first published — is only mentioned toward the end of the speech. It is meant to
express the ways in which Celan attempted to walk during his speech: a detour one is able to take
only by way of poetry. Completing such a detour, according to The Meridian, enables those who

16 Reading Celan with The Meridian in mind is an extremely common practice in Celan’s scholarship of the last
decades. The speech, while being at times no less cryptic and hermetic than Celan’s poems, is nevertheless
considered to be his most exhaustive account of how he thinks of his poetic endeavor, and of poetry per se. Starting
with monumental readings of Celan such as those of the philosophers Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas and
continuing with dozens of academical research, The Meridian became the most essential text for approaching Celan’s
poetry. A few examples are those of David Brierey who wrote in 1984 a detailed interpretation in which he tried to
trace every word of the speech, or Marlies Janz, who, in her important work on Celan’s poetics from 1999, referred to
the speech as a search for a poetic theory after Auschwitz. Since the publication of Celan’s complete drafts to the
speech, tht uncovered a profuse, rich, and complex world of thought and ideas that stood behind the speech, the
attention to The Meridian only grew and new interpretations and readings opened. So, for example, by recovering
vital information from the drafts, Amir Eshel’s study showed the central place ethical thought took place in how
Celan thought of poetry. Up until today, many researchers turn to The Meridian as a kind of companion for reading
Celan’s poetry, from articles who rely on quotes from the speech or its drafts, to extensive studies that take the
challenge of rereading the speech, such as those of Galili Shahar and Chiara Caradonna in their recent books. David
Brierley, “Der Meridian”: Ein Versuch zur Poetik und Dichtung Paul Celans (Frankfurt am Main, Bern, New York,
Nancy: Lang, 1984); Marlies Janz, Vom Engagement absoluter Poesie: zur Lyrik u. Ästhetik Paul Celans (Frankfurt
am Main: Syndikat, 1976); Amir Eshel, “Paul Celan’s Other: History, Poetics, and Ethics,” New German Critique, no. 91 (2004): 57–77; Galili Shahar, The Stone and the Word: on Paul Celan’s Poetry ןבאה הלימהו: לע תריש לואפ ןאלצ
(Jerusalem: Mosad Byaliḳ, 2019); Chiara Caradonna, Opak : Schatten Der Erkenntnis in Paul Celans “Meridian” Und
Im Gedicht “Schwanengefahr” / Chiara Caradonna (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2020).

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


take it to return to themselves after a certain transformation — “a kind of homecoming,” as Celan
puts it, following a radical distancing that involves a fundamental transformation.17 The turn back
to the self only occurs after such a distancing takes place. Poetry is able to obtain a distance from
the self since it is an artform. This feature is, according to Celan, a fundamental characteristic of
art, but the turn back to oneself is where, so he suggests, art and poetry set apart.
Art, claims Celan while drawing from Georg Büchner’s writings in which similar ideas
appeared, involves a distancing and an alienation from oneself, and even from the human being as
such, since it is “a stepping beyond what is human, a stepping into an uncanny realm turned toward
the human.”18 Art thus encompasses artificial and mechanical elements and results in an
uncanniness generated by the human wish to capture the beauty of the world, and in failing
attempts to do so. Art freezes movement, which is a basic trait of all life, and turns living creatures
into breathless objects in order to capture the observed and experienced world. It is also what
causes humans to tame and dress up wild creatures, to construct automatons that imitate human
thought, appearance and voice, and to force language into patterns of social norms, historical
determinisms, and even, God forbid, conventions of rhyming.
Celan, however, did not spend months of feverish preparations on writing The Meridian
just to restate Büchner’s reproaches towards idealistic art, but rather, while unquestionably sharing
Büchner’s criticisms, also used them in order to show the possibilities that hide in the routes of
alienation art generates. According to Celan, the described distance from the human also opens the
intimidating, uncanny, option of forgetting oneself and walking the route of estrangement. Poetry,
being intertwined with art, walks with it along the same way, but what Celan offers in The
Meridian, is the option that poetry can also take a further step, a special kind of turning to which

17 Celan, The Meridian, 11. 18 Celan, 5.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


he gives the name Atemwende, which is a radical moment in which the preceding reality is being
challenged and a fundamental change transpires for those who walked this route.
The Atemwende is an experience which occurs when alienation is at its most extreme. It
can take place only after one manages to use the ability of alienation that art possesses to obtain a
complete distance from the self. Since this path requires a journey to the limits of human
consciousness and existence, it is intimately tied to both mortality and insanity. Celan’s examples
in the speech for moments in which an Atemwende occurs relate to two works written by Büchner,
Danton’s Death and Lenz, both of which were based on real historical characters and events. The
first instance of the Atemwende presented in the speech is when the character based on the French
revolutionary Lucile Desmoulins defies the officers of the new French regime by shouting a
rebellious statement that will ultimately lead to her death. The second instance is when the
character of the Sturm und Drang writer Jakob Reinhold Lenz, while setting off to his journey of
escaping civilization by walking through the mountains, resents the fact that he cannot walk on his
head, and by that, according to Celan, makes the sky above him into an abyss. Celan does not
clarify what exactly makes these moments into occurrences of an Atemwende, but it stands out that
they are both incidences of proximity to insanity and death. Both Lucile and Lenz let go of normal
conventions of reason and leave behind their belonging to human society, from a rational and
physical perspective.
The distancing from the self is a necessary step since it allows a true encounter with
otherness. That is what makes the poem take part in what Celan calls “the mystery of the
encounter.”19 The identity of this encountered other, however, is not explicitly specified in the
speech and is left open to any conceivable otherness. It is however indicated in comments Celan

19 Celan, 9.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


had made during the preparations to the speech that the ability to encounter the other is deeply
connected to the ways in which he addressed the terrors of the Second World War. While
mentioning otherhood, Celan had in mind the antisemitic tropes of Jews that were led to their
extermination by the Nazis and used these tropes in order to think of the figures of the outcasted,
deformed, and “ugly,” which are not only mistreated by society, but also neglected by poetry that
mistakenly wishes to focus on what it counts as beautiful.
Celan sees poetry as a way to meet the other that is not intuitively approachable. The
Atemwende uses the ability to forget oneself in order to encounter an otherness that is not reachable
in everyday life, since it allows the self, the “estranged I,” as Celan puts it, to meet itself as an
Other. For that reason, as Amir Eshel showed in his research on the Other in Celan’s poetics,
following the drafts to The Meridian, Celan’s poetic thought can be situated at the crossroads of
ethics and aesthetics, and the experience of the poem was considered by Celan to be “a school of
true humanity.”20 Many readings of Celan continue to draw on these ideas, which retain durability,
and even the cycle Atemkristall is read from that angle, including for example, Stefanie Heine’s
recent interpretation in her study of poetics of breathing. Heine refers to the Atemkristall and
emphasizes that it is a surface that remains empty when the poet’s breath leaves the space and
makes room for the new breath of the reader to enter into the poetic space. Heine finds this kind
of openness to otherness not only in Atemkristall, but in the different uses Celan makes of the
notion of breath in his poetry. Celan’s poetics of breath, according to Heine, makes room for the
presence of a singular other.21
By building upon this research tradition, my aim is to broaden the ethical implications of
otherness in Celan's poetry by delving into a less-explored avenue. I believe Celan not only opened

20 Eshel, “Paul Celan’s Other.” 21 Stefanie Heine, Poetics of Breathing: Modern Literature’s Syncope (Albany: SUNY Press, 2021), 241–78.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


this path in his comments on the nonhuman along the speech but also tried to take it later on,
particularly in the cycle Atemkristall. Alongside earlier readings that explore the notion of the
Other in Celan’s poetry as the other human being, or as a turn to a God that is no longer there, I
wish to show that another reading is possible, by which this otherness is also a desire to use poetry
as a way to establish a relation to the nonhuman elements of the world.
This encounter with the nonhuman is, however, not a stepping out of the human into a new
type of existence, but, since it is done by way of the Atemwende — a detour that enables coming
back to the self after the experience of radical otherness — still counts as part of the “school for
true humanity” that Celan identifies in poetry. It is another way of dealing with issues that are at
the center of Celan’s poetic endeavor — the crises of modernity which had reached during his
lifetime to new peaks of dreadfulness and cruelty. Tracing this notion also presents the ability to
address the human condition in our time in novel manners.
In his analysis of Celan's criticism of humanism, outlined in "Humanismuskritik," Felix
Christen suggests that "The Meridian" is a work in which Celan presents his own perspective on
humanism. This perspective involves viewing humanity through the lens of mortality, and
following in the footsteps of philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Martin Buber, regarding
humans as beings whose essence is defined by the inevitability of their impending death.22 These
ideas are indeed at the heart of the Atemwende which is also a demand to carry the poem on a
single voice of a mortal speaker. The turning of the breath expressed in the term Atemwende
sketches a route that passes through the point in which breath halts, and so alongside being the
breath of the voice of a singular being, is also a reminder of the permanent presence of mortality.
Understanding the Atemwende also as a philosophical endeavor can shed light on the extent to

22 Felix Christen, “Celans Humanismuskritik,” ed. Bernd Auerochs, Friederike Felicitas Günther, and Markus May,
Celan-Perspektiven, 2019, 97–106.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


which Celan thinks of his poetics and can explain the challenge he undertakes when writing
Atemkristall. Tracing these philosophical aspects of Celan’s work is thus necessary in gaining
access to this poetic attempt.

Part II: Resonance

The German sociologist and philosopher Hartmut Rosa explores similar questions as those which
occupied Celan in the Atemkristall. Rosa dedicated a study to what he calls “a sociology of our
relations to the world” in which he coins the term “Resonance” as a way to understand, evaluate,
and affect the ways in which human beings relate to whatever they encounter in their life
experience. The questions Rosa deals with in his book Resonance draw from similar traditions of
thought as Celan, and, much like Celan’s poetics, they also attempt to provide new ways of
thinking about and responding to the human condition in the modern age.
Despite the fact that Rosa composed his theory decades after Celan’s death, and the obvious
difference between a sociological theory and abstract poetics, both projects seem to respond to the
same crisis, which, from many perspectives, has worsened since Celan’s years of writing.
According to both Rosa and Celan, humans have become more and more alienated from their
surroundings, society, and themselves. Rosa, a keen reader of the Frankfurt School, is part of an
intellectual tradition that took upon itself to explore the undercurrents which enabled disasters such
as the Holocaust. The war, from that perspective, is a culmination of a larger crisis of humanity.
The thinkers of the Frankfurt School took it upon themselves to develop critical theories that
decipher the processes that shape human individuals and societies and expose the dangers as well
as the possibilities that the modern world entails. One of the main products of this line of thought
was Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, which tied the change
in the way human thought developed since the time of Enlightenment to the horrors of the twentieth

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


century. Situating his project in relation to the philosophical enterprise of the Frankfurt School,
among other intellectual movements, Rosa adds his perspectives, ideas and language to the
exploration of human existence in light of modernity.
Prior to his research of Resonance, Rosa dedicated much of his work to the concept of
Acceleration. In it, he tracked the ways in which the growing pace of technological development
since the nineteenth century changed how human beings experience time. One of the main
implications of the processes of acceleration is the growing sense of alienation between people
and the world. According to Rosa, not only technological processes had accelerated, but also social
processes. Resonance has a significant role in these processes, since it is a driving force that the
desire for it caused many of the changes in human lives, also functions as a response to the crises
of acceleration and alienation. Resonance according to Rosa, refers to the way any subject relates
to the world, and describes a kind of relation in which both sides of the relation are both affected
from the other and responsive. A resonant relation according to Rosa, is what enables subjects to
create new things in the world. Resonance is not, however, a way to avoid the difficulties of human
existence or the crisis of modernity. It is a way to understand a certain aspect of the human
experience that also has a part in the processes that led to the crises of acceleration, and
understanding it incorporates the realization that alienation is not something that can be taken out
of the human experience, but it does explore a way that Rosa believes to be missing in the writings
of many of his predecessors, to live a better life.
According to Rosa, resonant relations between a subject and the world are situated at the
center of the human experience, and perhaps at the center of any experience of whatever object
that exists in world. The subject engages in a reciprocal exchange with external elements, resulting
in a transformation of the subject and a subsequent creation of a fresh reaction. This reaction is

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


influenced by the relation between the two. It is not merely a social experience, but a physical one.
In his book Resonance, Rosa dedicates dozens of sections to demonstrate how resonant relation is
at the base of all human activities, from basic physical acts such as breathing, eating, and standing
to more complex examples such as emotional, intellectual, and political relations. Naturally, there
is a difference between humans’ relations with objects or animals and those with other human
beings or institutions, but resonance theory attempts to show how resonant relations are a factor in
each of the possible interactions between a subject and the world, when “world” can mean
whatever one encounters in the course of his or her life.
The term Resonance is based on the acoustic phenomenon that “describes a specific
relationship between two vibratory bodies whereby the vibration of one body prompts the other to
itself vibrate in turn,” each of them “at its own frequency.” The second vibration is a new
occurrence in the world that was made possible through the relation to the first, and it is how a
new sound emerges. For a resonant relation to be established, resonant spaces which allow
vibrations to be carried away also must exist. In physics, for example, different materials and
surfaces affect the way vibrations transfer and so not only the parties that communicate have part
in the relation, but also the mediator that creates the conditions and shapes the relation. In
psychotherapy the therapist and patient use not only the physical space of the clinic, but the
conventions of treatment and the relationship they have established as resonant spaces. In fact,
each social institution or community can be examined as a resonant space that enables responsive
relations between its members, as does art, nature, religion and even technology. Speaking in terms
that are not only acoustic, “the core idea here is that the two entities in relation, in a vibratory
medium (or resonant space), mutually affect each other in such a way that they can be understood

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


as responding to each other, at the same time each speaking with its own voice” and so each side
of the relevant relation is both affected and responsive to the other side.

The ability to be receptive to the world Rosa calls “af←fect” which he marks with an arrow
showing the inward movement of the impression made by the encounter, and the responsive
reaction of the subject that emerges by the encounter is marked by an arrow pointed outwards in
the word “e→motion”: “This relationship, as we have seen, may be understood from the standpoint
of the subject as a vibrating wire formed by af←fect and e→motion, i.e. by the double movement
of passively being affected by and actively relating to.” The emphasis in the word “e→motion” is
on the motion that is created, which is an essential emphasis, since while emotion is definitely a
prevailing resonance response, it is not the only one. Resonance is described by Rosa as a relation
that is indeed open to emotion, but not strictly limited to it, since there are other kinds of resonant
relations. Since for a resonant relation to be resonant means that both parties will be receptive and
responsive, and react with their own voice, it is crucial that each side of the relation will be open
enough to participate in the relation, but also closed enough to keep its independence and agency.
Maintaining a measure of distance is thus an essential element of a resonant relation as well as a
condition that enables it. Despite the fact that Resonance offers a possibility for a better life within
a modern “accelerated” world, it does not present a utopian vision of a world comprised of only
resonant relations. Not only that such a world cannot exist, but the desire for a reality that is
constituted only on resonant relations is the cause for many social ills, such as fascist societies or
cults. In those communities the subject loses its measure of closeness and its ability to respond in
a unique manner. Alienation is thus not a phenomenon that can or should be eliminated but rather
a precondition that enables resonance, and the two are in a constant dialogue.

23 Hartmut Rosa, Resonance: A Sociology of Our Relationship to the World, trans. James Wagner, 1st edition
(Medford, MA: Polity, 2019), 167.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


While a resonant relation is a responsive one, alienation is characterized by a mute
relationship to the world. The feeling that there is no counter reaction on the other side and that
the subject is separated from the world, lacking the ability to influence one’s reality, or be affected
by it. The scientific point of view which has developed in modern times is a catalyst of mute
relationships, since it objectifies everything that it observes. Mute relations are an immanent part
of today’s reality, since processes such as research, medicine, and mass manufacturing require
alienation in order to exist. This alienation is not only unavoidable, but also necessary for the
ability to establish a resonant relation. According to Rosa, “We can establish a responsive
relationship only to a counterpart that we cannot completely appropriate or adaptively transform,
that ultimately remains foreign and inaccessible to us as a whole.”24 Since resonance always takes
place between two independent and separate entities, the border and distance between them are
acute. Without a separation there will be no Resonance which is always “constituted by its ‘other.’”
Resonance and alienation are thus in constant dialectics, and, as Rosa illustrations, are in constant
need of each other:
A dialectic of resonance and alienation thus means that, on the one hand, resonance is only
possible against the backdrop of a mute and unfamiliar Other, while, conversely, what is

yet mute can only be “affected” or adaptively transformed on the basis of a prior or deep-
seated, dispositional faith in resonance that feeds one’s hopes and expectations of being

able to make some segment of world speak.
In a way, much like Celan’s Atemwende in which his own alienation was the precondition of the
text, Resonance, too, is only possible in a world that has alienated relations. It should not be
understood as a new position that desires constancy, but rather as “a flash of hope for adaptive
transformation and response in a silent world.” Not only that, but the idea of a new original voice
emerging from the interaction as a response to the encounter with the world, seems to have great

24 Rosa, 185.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


affinities to the process of the Atemwende in which the return to oneself entails a change that
transpired consequently of the experience of otherness.
The philosopher Theodor Adorno’s ideas and thoughts are present throughout Resonance,
as Adorno, according to Rosa, “clings to the notion of a mimetic, affectionate, warm relationship
to the world and an undistorted experience in opposition to bourgeois coldness and the
predominance of instrumental reason.”25 According to Rosa, Adorno is key to understanding the
social processes that have led human society to step away from resonant relations and be replaced
by mute ones. Adorno does not think of the world from one perspective, he shows how these
processes not only influenced culture and philosophy but were also encouraged and supported by
ways of thought that hiddenly see alienation as a target. Another reason for the centrality of
Adorno’s thought in Rosa’s theory is his notion of alienation since he identifies it not as a
byproduct of modernity and Enlightenment but as its concealed goal. Auschwitz, he described,
was the culmination of this desired alienation that instrumentalized the relation to the other.
As a poet whose work—many times reductively—is identified with what he, his family
and community had undergone during WW2, Celan’s work is destined, time and again, to be
contrasted with Adorno’s much quoted saying that “nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist
barbarisch” (writing a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric). Celan, who indeed wrote his poetry
following and in relation to the Holocaust, and whose poem “Todesfuge,” probably his most know
work, is categorized, read, and learned as a poem that thematizes the Holocaust, is often branded
as a poet who replies to Adorno’s statement.26 This engagement between poetry and philosophy is
more than just an anecdote, since Celan and Adorno were not only familiar with each other’s work

25 Rosa, 27.
26 For a comprehensive study of “Todesfuge” and its reception, see Thomas Sparr, Todesfuge : Biographie Eines
Gedichts / Thomas Sparr, 2. Auflage (München: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2020).

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


and took it into account while writing, but they also corresponded and had quite a few mutual
acquaintances. In 1959, a planned first meeting between the two was cancelled by Celan due to his
mental state. In a letter he sent to Adorno following the cancelation, Celan attached a short prose
text he just wrote, inspired by the meeting that did not take place. The prose text, a short and cryptic
story called “Gespräch im Gebirg” (Conversation in the Mountains), tells the story of two nameless
Jews, who meet each other while strolling through the mountains, a landscape that seems to be out
of space and time ,and start to chat in a kind of German that Celan, already in his letter to Adorno,
described as German-Jewish language (Judendeutsch).27 “Gespräch im Gebirg,” written a few
months prior to The Meridian, addresses similar issues to those of the speech, while more
straightforwardly dealing with questions of antisemitism and Jewish fate and identity. Celan even
mentions it in The Meridian, and claims that he walked a Jew in the story “like Lenz.” Considering
that Lenz's walk in the mountains incorporated an Atemwende, as per Celan's interpretation, it
appears that the meeting between the two anonymous Jews in the story can also be regarded as
such. Hence, this encounter holds significance in Celan's poetic shift during that period.
The elements of the breath in Atemwende can also be understood as a kind of response to
Adorno’s thought about the place of culture in modernity. In fact, Adorno’s text known for the
quoted sentence about poetry and Auschwitz, “Cultural Criticism and Society,” is actually a
critique of the way in which spirit and matter became radically separated in modern times. It is
also about how culture neglected its part in shaping reality and turned into a disconnected sphere
detached from the material reality.

28 Celan’s insistence on poetry as the voice of a living creature
being carried on one’s breath, can also be understood as a reply to Adrono that insists on art that

27 Rolf Tiedemann, ed., “Theodor W. Adorno und Paul Celan: Briefwechsel 1960-1968,” in Frankfurter Adorno
Blätter, vol. VIII (München: Ed. text + kritik, 2003). 28 Theodor W. Adorno, Prismen: Kulturkritik u. Gesellschaft (München: Dt. Taschenbuch, 1963), 26.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


is immanently connected to matter. This also applies to his identification with Büchner’s critique
of art that came as a response to German idealism to which it attributed similar reproaches.
29 These
seem to be at the heart of Resonance, in which Rosa, like Adorno and Celan, seems to be troubled
with this partition of mind and matter:
It is worth noting that the concept of resonance as I have elaborated it up to this point sits
at the critical intersections of modernity’s understanding of the world and the self, helping
to bridge its harsh dualisms. It is a concept which connects those phenomena that
naturalistic or rationalistic Enlightenment philosophy holds to be strictly separate: mind
and body, reason and emotion, individual and society, nature and spirit. Resonance may be
understood as a Romantic idea insofar as the basic ambition of Romanticism is to reconcile
these same divisions and oppositions with each other – it stands in opposition to the reifying
concepts of a rationalism oriented toward calculation, specification, domination, and
Adorno’s thought seems to be extremely helpful to Rosa in analyzing the crisis. Yet it is
Martin Buber who helps him articulate the response to the crisis. Buber’s ideas and linguistic terms
seem to be mainly dominant in Rosa’s work on the notion of Resonance, especially Buber’s
emphasis on his model of interactions in the book I and Thou, which centers on a desired relation
to the world. This is evident when Rosa discusses the place of Resonance in the family sphere:
In modernity, the love directed toward an intimate partner has become a personal passion,
the focal point of what Martin Buber has called the relationship between I and Thou in a
world otherwise dominated by impersonal relationships and the primary site for the
manifestation of what touches, grips, and moves us – three resonant terms that, by no means
coincidentally, have become the indispensable vocabulary for the commercialization of all
kinds of love stories.
It is evident that Buber identified what Rosa sees as spaces of resonance, social structures that
allow the desire for resonance to find an expression. By formulating the relationship of I and Thou,
Buber created a language that highlights resonant relations while outlining a vision of an inspired

29 Marc Kleine, who traces the relationship between Celan and Adorno, traces these influences and even shows how
the concept of Absurd (which is mentined in The Meridian in relation to Lucile’s cry, which is one of the
Atemwendes) is inspired from Adorno’s writing Marc Kleine, Korrespondenz und Widerspruch: Adorno und Celan, 1st edition (Würzburg: Königshausen u. Neumann, 2021), 65–89. 30 Rosa, Resonance, 170.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


kind of relation. I and Thou seems to give Rosa somewhat of the idea of the immanent longing for
a relation with an Other, while also emphasizing the elements of individuality and responsiveness
that are important to Rosa’s notions. The inclusion of a relation to the nonhuman as an eminent
part of humans’ relation to the world could also be traced back to I and Thou:

Buber defines the human being, in accordance with the “dialogical principle” he elaborates,
as a being created with respect to a You, and thus as a being that by nature is both capable
and in need of resonance. It is only through encountering a responsive You – and for Buber
this could well be an animal, plant, or thing – that the subject becomes itself and finds
actual life. Buber further understands this to be a transformational encounter in which both
I and You are changed; the I is by its nature always already both question and answer.31
Much like Rosa, Celan thoroughly read Buber, who was not only an esteemed thinker, but
a figure which Celan identified with, mentioned in many contexts, and waited years to have a
chance to meet. The expected meeting, however, did not go as planned and ended up with a
disappointment for the poet. Thinking of home and community, Buber was connected to two
spaces Celan held dear, the destroyed place of his birth that no longer existed, which is the Jewish
communities of the eastern outskirts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the land of Israel, an
option for a new life for many members of Celan’s community, that he never joined. In a comment
he makes to a friend, Celan even mentions Buber as a meaningful encounter in an imagined
immigration to Israel, when wondering “how would it be to arrive in Jerusalem, go to Martin
Buber, and say: 'Uncle Buber, here I am, now you've got me.’”32 In a speech on the occasion of
receiving the Bremen Prize for Literature in 1958, Celan mentions Buber in relation to their shared
homeland. Celan focuses not only on the place, but the role stories and books had in the lives of
its inhabitants, and Buber’s role as a mediator of these texts. The fact Buber translated these stories

31 Rosa, 261. 32 Felstiner, Paul Celan - Poet, Survivor, Jew, 42.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


into German, the language Celan learned at home, mainly from his mother, and the one he wrote
poetry in, is another source for the deep connection he feels towards Buber:

The region from which I come to you – with what detours! but then, is there such a thing as a
detour? – will be unfamiliar to most of you. It is the home of many of the Hassidic stories which
Martin Buber has retold in German. It was – if I may flesh out this topographical sketch with a few
details which are coming back to me from a great distance – it was a landscape where both people
and books lived. There, in this former province of the Habsburg monarchy, now dropped from
Reading Celan’s comments in the drafts to The Meridian, it is apparent that Buber’s
thought had significant influence in the creation of the poetic notion of the Atemwende. One aspect,
as Maya Barzilai showed, is thinking of poetic language in relation to the rhythm of the human
breath.34 In his drafts to The Meridian, Celan mentions key terms in Martin Buber and Franz
Rosenzweig’s project of the Bible translation that treat the biblical texts as constructed from
Atemeinheiten (breath-units). About this translation, Buber wrote that in order to verdeutschen
(Germanize) the Bible, one must take into consideration the manner in which the text is read out
loud, since the original Hebrew text is organized according to the rules of human breath. He wished
to remain loyal to the way in which the script is transferred through the sound of a speaker, and to
succeed in translating the parts in which the text is silent.35 Buber also mentions that his intention
was to embody the natural rhythm of the script’s speech by editing some of the prose in “Colons,”
that is, in units that are consistent with the rhythm of the speaker’s breaths.36 Rosenzweig tells of
the challenge set by the German punctuation system, which takes over whatever enters the realms
of the language; in order to maintain the character of the Hebrew script, they wrote in a new

33 Paul Celan, Collected Prose (Psychology Press, 2003), 33. 34 Maya Barzilai, “‘One Should Finally Learn How to Read This Breath’: Paul Celan and the Buber-Rosenzweig
Bible,” Comparative Literature 71, no. 4 (December 1, 2019): 436–54, https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-7709613. 35 Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, Die Schrift und ihre Verdeutschung (Berlin: Schocken, 1936), 322–23. 36 Martin Buber, Darko Shel Mikra [ וכרד לש ארקמ) [ Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1964), 356.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


German punctuation system, a natural one based on the rhythm of breath.37 Rosenzweig’s
emphasis seems no less important to Celan: an attention to the living element in language that
accedes in importance and maybe even is opposed to its artistic decorations that Celan refers to in
The Meridian when he talks of art as a “iambic, five-footed thing”38 and so defines it by the metric
line used in traditional western poetry.
The second aspect in which Celan seems to draw from Buber is, similarly to Rosa, his
notions of a relation to the world. In one of the comments, Celan cites from I and Thou, while
directly relating to the breath and to Lenz’s Atemwende:
Buber, I and Thou, p. 137 "–until the great fright comes, and the •holding of one’s breath
in the dark, and the readying silence":
• for only at times it was unpleasant for him.39
In a different comment, the relation to the “eternal You” can show Celan is also pondering Buber’s
idea of relation to the nonhuman, the immortal, which, in Buber’s religious thought, is mainly
Buber, I and Thou, p. 107:
“... the eternal I of the mortal and the eternal You of the immortal ...”

-i- "cathexability," addressability \Ansprechbarkeit\, address \Anspruch\
p. 108 (Buber on Buddha): the thou-saying to the origin40
Another comment contains only two words, the creature, accompanied with Buber’s name:
‘The creature’ (Buber)41

37 Franz Rosenzweig, Naharayim: Mivhar Ktavim [ םיירהנ: רחבמ םיבתכ[ , trans. Shemu'el Hugo Bergman (Jerusalem:
Bialik Institute, 1960), 22. 38 Celan, Collected Prose, 37. 39 Celan, The Meridian, 129. 40 Celan, 193. 41 Celan, 210.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


The Kreatur (creature) is also mentioned in The Meridian in relation to the critique of art, which
tries, in the writings of Büchner, to dress up the animal and control it, and so steps away from
understanding of the human as part of the world of the creatures.
Buber is also connected to the radical notion of otherness in Celan’s thought, as can be
seen in Celan’s use of the intriguing notion of the totally other:
But I do think—and this thought can hardly surprise you by now—I think that it had always
been part of the poem’s hopes to speak on behalf of exactly this strange—no, I cannot use
this word this way—exactly on another’s behalf—who knows, perhaps on behalf of a
totally other.42
Two uses of this term that likely inspired Celan’s choice of words were that of Buber in I and Thou
and the theologian Rudolf Otto, whose book The Idea of the Holy was purchased by Celan shortly
before starting his work on The Meridian.43 Otto talks of the wholly other from a mainly religious
perspective, and treats it as something involving the divine and demonical, the mysterious
dimensions in our experience of existence that we sense but do not manage to understand or
perceive.44 In I and Thou, Buber connects Otto’s use of the term “the wholly other” to God, and
states that God is not only in the distant and different, but also in the close and similar.45 Buber as
well uses this term to speak of the divine, but adds that the divine is something that is present in
every relation to the world, which he divides to three kinds of possible relations: to nature, to other
human beings, and to spiritual beings. According to Buber, every relation to the world contains
something godly in it, and God is to be found in each of the three relations, since “in every sphere,
in every relational act, through everything that becomes present to us, we gaze toward the train of
the eternal You; in each we perceive a breath of it; in every You we address the eternal You, in

42 Celan, 8. 43 Felstiner, Paul Celan - Poet, Survivor, Jew, 165. 44 Rudolf Otto, The Idea Of The Holy, trans. John Harwey (London: Oxford University Press, 1924), 26,
45 Martin Buber, I and Thou: A New Translation with a Prologue and Notes by Walter Kaufmann, trans. Walter
Kaufmann (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970), 127–29.

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every sphere according to its manner.”46 Without negating the role that God, — or, even more so,
the absence of God — takes in Celan’s work, it does not seem to be what is situated at the center
of Atemkristall. If God is present there, it is exactly in the manner that Buber talked about, which
is being revealed through the relations to the world.
Rosa relates to this aspect of Buber’s thought and says Buber defines God as “both origin
and vanishing point of all desire for resonance, and thus an ineluctable promise of resonance and
responsiveness.”47 For Rosa, who is not a religious thinker, Buber’s “eternal other” is found in
each of the relations, since Resonance is in the center of human existence, and experiencing
Resonance is fundamental for being human. Unlike Buber, however, Rosa sees religion as a
resonant space, and so God is in service of resonance, not the other way around. What Rosa seems
to have in mind though, is the different kinds of relation to the world Buber mentions. Unlike
Buber, who indicates the existence of different types of relations to all of the objects in the world
but focuses his work on the other human and the relationship between human beings, Resonance
theory takes upon itself to explore all kinds of relation. In Resonance, Rosa also explores the types
of relation that are less accessible and understandable, since they occur outside of language. That
is why resonant theory – written, as I showed, with similar notions in mind as those of Celan’s
poetics – can also be a prolific source for understanding the poetical attempt that occurs in
Atemkristall: It addresses the crisis of modernity as a crisis of relation to the world, without
ignoring the different, less approachable parts of that world. If Rosa is writing a “sociology of our
relation to the world,” perhaps Celan had tried to write a “poetics or our relation to the world.”
Juxtaposing the two, as I will show in the next part of the article, can thus be a prolific exploration

46 Buber, 149–50. 47 Rosa, Resonance, 261.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


of the poems in Atemkristall that not only opens the cycle for a new perspective, but also
demonstrates why this kind of poetic endeavor is particularly relevant to today’s challenge.

Part III: Atemkristall

Already in the first poem of Atemkristall, one can sense an invitation to exit the realm of the human
sphere, as its first words are: “Du darfst mich getrost mit Schnee bewirten” (You may confidently
serve me snow), and thus the petic “I” shows a readiness or even willingness to be served with
snow by the addressee:
DU DARFST mich getrost
mit Schnee bewirten:
sooft ich Schulter an Schulter
mit dem Maulbeerbaum schritt durch den Sommer,
schrie sein jüngstes
YOU MAY confidently
serve me snow:
as often as shoulder to shoulder
with the mulberry tree I strode through summer,
its youngest leaf
The German verb bewirten kindles connotations of hospitality by – in addition to the translation
of “serve” – also meaning “host” and “entertain,” as well as even “cater” and “dine.” The “I” of
the poem is ready not only to be a guest of this world, but to consume its foreign materials and to
be dined with the snow it will receive. In Resonance, Rosa shows how eating is an extremely
significant way of relating to the world, since eating is a taking-in of the world with its shapes,
colors, and textures, and it is an adaptive transformation of the world and the self that has grave
cultural and psychological implications. The fact that the cycle opens with the wish to be served
with snow might point to a desire to be immersed in a different part of the world by forming a

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


high-level relation to it: feeling, tasting, dismantling, and digesting it and being nourished by its
foreign materials.
The emphasis on the establishment of a new relation here is twofold. The poetic “I”
addresses a “You” and asks the addressee for a welcoming which includes being hosted and fed.
This “I” however not only asks for the hospitality, but also reassures the addressee by stating that
the conditions are ready for such an interaction with the modal verb du darfst (you may). The word
getrost also creates a reassurance and intimacy in this foundation of a relation, since it is connected
to the word Trost, which implies of comfort and consolation. The “I” thus not only asks the other
to be open, but also states of its own openness, both crucial elements in the formation of a relation.
The atmosphere of hospitality can also be found in the closing poem of the cycle,
“Weggebeizt,” in which a path through the icebergs is leading to “den gastlichen
Gletscherstuben und -tischen“ (the hospitable glacier-parlors and -tables):
Strahlenwind deiner Sprache

das bunte Gerede des An-
erlebten – das hundert-
züngige Mein-
gedicht, das Genicht.



der Weg durch den menschen-
gestaltigen Schnee,

den Büßerschnee, zu
den gastlichen
Gletscherstuben und -tischen.
in der Zeitenschrunde,
wartet, ein Atemkristall,
dein unumstößliches

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


the beamwind of your speech

the gaudy chatter of the pseudo-
experienced—the hundred-
tongued perjury-
poem, the noem.



the path through the men-
shaped snow,

the penitent’s snow, to
the hospitable
glacier-parlors and -tables.
in the timecrevasse,
in the
waits, a breathcrystal,
your unalterable
These descriptions, and the fact that they are found in the opening and closing poems of the cycle,
seem to imply that the “I” of the poems is a welcomed guest in this world of snow and icebergs.
The poetic “I” also shows desire to follow this path towards and then into the iceberg and this path
seems to be paved as the poem advances. In the first verse of “Weggebeizt,” before arriving at the
hospitable glaciers, the poem talks of “das bunte Gerede des An- / erlebten – das hundert- / züngige
Mein- / gedicht, das Genicht” (the gaudy chatter of the pseudo- / experienced–the hundred-
/tongued perjury- /poem, the noem). This gaudy chatter describes a situation which precedes the

hospitality of the iceberg, a world in which poems are not to be trusted and people, being “pseudo-
experienced,” only pretend to have an experience of the world. The human sphere with its

characterized by the chatter seems to lack kind of experience that the silent, monochromatic

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


iceberg possesses. The human experience and human language do not suffice in order to get a true
experience of the world and stepping out into a different reality seems to not only be an option this
cycle encompasses, but a desire of both counterparts of the relation. In terms of resonance theory,
subject and world are both responsive in this encounter. The subject shows a desire to engage with
a different world, to immerse in it and take part in its reality.
In the opening poem of the cycle, “Du Darfst,” the poetic “I” wishes to be served with
snow, walks side by side with the mulberry tree, and by doing so situates itself as on an equal
grounding to the tree as they both experience the world together. The poetic “I” also shares with
the tree the same time and space, when they both experience summer together. At the end of the
poem, the subject becomes attentive to the cry of the youngest leaf, and he is both open to hear the
voice of another being and allows the world to be responsive. In the closing poem, “Weggebeizt,”
a journey away from a human world of color and language that lacks truth leads to the Atemkristall,
a true testimony that becomes accessible to those who made the long route into the iceberg. What
starts with the wish to be served with snow ends with an entrance deep into the heart of the iceberg.
From taking the snow into the body, the body ends surrounded with ice, and only after such a
radical journey the Atemkristall is to be found.
Despite the fact that there is almost no evidence of human presence throughout the cycle,
the limitations of language and the tension between speech and silence are very much present. The
absence of a talking human thus stands out, and with it the question of how and if to form a relation
without language. The poem “Stehen,” which ends with the lack of language, mentions a special

kind of way to be situated in the world, and calls for a “Für-niemand-und-nichts-Stehn” (Standing-
for-no-one-and-nothing), and so expresses a certain lonely standpoint that is perhaps required for

the poetic challenge that the cycle takes upon itself:

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


STEHEN, im Schatten
des Wundenmals in der Luft.
für dich
Mit allem, was darin Raum hat,
auch ohne
TO STAND, in the shadow
of the stigma in the air.
for you
With all that has room in it,
even without
The significance of the act of standing in relation to the world is described in detail in Resonance,
which demonstrates how a subject’s position has a very meaningful role in the experience of the
world. Before any other factor, the body is the means of being in the world and the physical posture
is always connected to the emotional, social and cognitive stance. Standing, according to Rosa, is
the most basic way to be situated in the world and the touch of the feet on the ground creates a
constant necessary relation between the standing subject to the world. Gravity, the phenomenon
that makes this connection compulsory, is what situates the bodies in the world and gives a sense
of direction.48 Contemplating such a basic act of how to stand in the way the poem does, is thus
also a rethinking of how to be situated in the world and reestablishes the connection between

48 Rosa, 47–48.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


subject and world. Standing differently is also living differently in relation to the world, and thus
it is no wonder that the poem defines this standing in relation to all others, people as well as things.
The final verse of the poem seems to put the special kind of standing that was described in
the beginning in an intriguing perspective, since this lonely, seemingly selfish standing, turns out
to also be a way to share a space with something else, since this standing takes place “Mit allem,
was darin Raum hat, / auch ohne / Sprache” (with all that has room in it, even without Language).
What seems to be a contradiction between standing “Für-niemand-und-nichts” on the previous
verse and then standing “mit allem”, may be understood in relation to Celan’s comment in The
Meridian about the poem being lonely, and that due to that loneliness it longs for an encounter
with an Other.

49 It seems as though “Stehen” is a poem that situates itself in a resonant space, a
space where subject and world can meet in a responsive manner, and that the space it is looking
for has to possess specific characteristics in order to enable a relation with whatever has no
language. Loneliness, along with forgetting of the outer world and the self, seems to have a main
role in such positioning, and only after the poem distances itself it makes room also for what lacks
Encountering the other without language is also an essential part of the material biography
of this cycle, since, as mentioned before, in its first publication as a bibliophilic edition, the poems
were published alongside eight of Celan-Lestrange’s etchings. Much like the poems of the cycle,
and even more bluntly, the etchings lack any hint of human presence, and are constructed mainly
from shapes and patterns. While the cycle’s poems describe objects such as icebergs, volcanos,
snow, rivers, and trees, the shapes in the etchings only hint to such elements. Interestingly,
“Stehen” is the only poem of the cycle that was situated between two etchings, and so its

49 Celan, The Meridian, 9.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


materiality actually was to be situated surrounded with objects that have no language. This is the
etching that precedes the “Stehen:”

And this etching comes right after it:

The combination of the two etchings and the poem between them creates a powerful caesura in the
reading of the cycle. By situating it in this manner, “Stehen” also becomes a kind of lesson on how
one should look at the cycle’s artworks, and perhaps a demonstration of how to relate to the silent

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


and unapproachable elements of the world. “Stehen” suggests a standing that is clean of
expectation and purpose, losing oneself, being “unerkannt” (unrecognized) and by that allowing
something different to share the same space. The etchings are not only an object of observation,
but also seem to follow the lesson of the poem and are themselves “unerkannt,” and so they, too,
take place in giving room to otherness, and not just play the role of the other. In doing so, they are
also a guide of how to read the cycle’s poems, since they share many of their characteristics of
obscureness and abstractness. The poems, however, are not capable of escaping language
altogether, and so the paintings realize an aspiration of the poems and are telling of that desire.
In order to trace the effect that the etchings have in the cycle, there seems to be much to
gain from the approach to abstract paintings Florian Klinger describes in his work on Gerhard
Richter’s notions of art. According to Klinger, Richter understands art as a relation, a one-time
reaction to the artwork that happens only at a specific encounter and relies not only on the form of
the piece, but also on the responsiveness of the viewer.50 This relation-focused notion seems to be
a proper way to understand the etchings and the kind of standing described in “Stehen,” since it
implies that taking a position that forgets other obligations and any other authority of prior
knowledge, conventions, or language, enables the relation between the viewer and the forms he
observes to exist without distractions. The artwork, in that manner, escapes the objectifying point
of view that makes the world, according to Rosa, mute, and manages to be part of a responsive
relation in which it “speaks.” Such kind of speech is only possible when language is out of the
picture. The cycle’s poems are facing an even harder challenge, since their journey away from
language is destined to always be in language, since it is the material of which they are made. This
might be a way to understand Celan’s comment in his letter to his wife in which he says that the

50 Florian Klinger, Theory of Form: Gerhard Richter and Art in the Pragmatist Age (University of Chicago Press,
2022), 12, 97–99.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


poems stemmed from the etchings, and furthermore to think of a kind of a resonant relation
between them that allowed the poetry to take something from the interaction with abstract graphic
art, and to use it to create something new in its own voice.
The etchings and the poems are thus mutually influential and can complement each other
in terms of interpretation and appreciation. While the poems can serve as a helpful guide for how
to approach the etchings, the etchings can also provide guidance for how to understand the poems.
As such, both the etchings and the poems should be viewed as interconnected and mutually
reinforcing elements that contribute to a more comprehensive understanding and appreciation of
the artistic work as a whole.
One of the more renowned poems of the cycle is the captivating five-lined verse “In den
Flüssen,” which sketches yet another image in which human presence is obscure:
IN DEN FLÜSSEN nördlich der Zukunft
werf ich das Netz aus, das du
zögernd beschwerst
mit von Steinen geschriebenen
IN THE RIVERS north of the future
I cast the net, which you
hesitantly weight
with shadows stones
The first line of the poem creates a reality with an irregular temporality that is somehow integrated
with a spatial direction by stating that the rivers are “nördlich der Zukunft” (north of the future).
The poem seems to make an attempt to challenge conventional perceptions of temporality. On the
one hand there are the rivers that are somewhere in the future, and, as rivers do, they constantly
move, while on the other hand there are stones that also take part in the work of writing. These
stones are a contrast to the moving rivers since they are weighing down the net casted in the poem.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


From a temporal perspective, these stones bring the past into the poem, since they are writing
shadows which may be the dead that insist on taking part in this poetic event and insist on its
entanglement with the past. The verbs of the poem, however, are all in present tense, and so the
poem binds together the future and past and connects them to the current present of affairs.
This present is constituted by way of relation to the world, since the “I” of the poem casts
the net in the rivers, meaning that there is an action taking place with an anticipated outcome. The
stones are also involved in such an action, since they are writing new beings into the world, and
thus the poem manages to bring future and past to co-reside in its poetic present. The structure of
the net allows it to be able to capture something, and by doing so to be receptive to the world it
emerges in while not interfering with the movement of the river. It is however material in the
necessary amount in order to feel the weight of the past. In The Meridian, Celan states that the
poem always has only its own present, and that it brings together all of our dates into that present.
Perhaps we can understand the temporality of “In den Flüssen” in light of these questions Celan
raises in The Meridian: “But don't we all write ourselves from such dates? And toward what dates
do we write ourselves?”51 Then, the stones who write shadows may be the dates we write ourselves
from, and the rivers the dates the poem aims towards. Hölderlin’s hymns of the rivers come here
to mind, since the rivers in his poetry know their destination already at the source, and in its
movement the water always encompasses both its origin and its destination.
Time and temporality are crucial elements in the experience of relating to the world, since
the way in which past, present and future are perceived have great influence of the kind of relation
to the world one is able to imagine. Temporality has a very important role in Resonance theory,
especially in Rosa’s notion of Axes of Resonance. While the horizontal axes deal with the relation

51 Celan, The Meridian, 8.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


the subject has with other human subjects of present times, such as family, friends, and even social
and political individuals and organizations that are active at the same time, the vertical axes are
related to the movement of time and to concepts that deal with past and future such as history,
religion, art, and nature. In order to maintain a resonant relation to the world, both axes must take
part in one’s life, and the connection between them has to be maintained. While a mute relation to
the world involves a disconnection from the past and using the present as a means to strive for a
desired future, a resonant relation requires a different perception of history that loops together past,
present, and future and makes past and future enter into a dialogue in the present.

52 With this idea
in mind, Celan’s choice of the rivers and the net seems to offer a way to relate to history through
the logic of the river, since the river is always in movement from the past to the future. When the
“I” of the poem casts a net, it actually creates a present that has a place in this flow and feels it,
while allowing the water to come from the past, encountering the present, and to keep flowing
through the net towards the future.
Unlike other poems of the cycle the poem, “Fadensonnen,” which was mentioned in the
introduction to this paper, is not lacking the presence of the human, but actually declares its
intention “zu singen jenseits der Menschen” (to sing beyond mankind):
über der grauschwarzen Ödnis.

Ein baum-
hoher Gedanke

greift sich den Lichtton: es sind
noch Lieder zu singen jenseits
der Menschen.
above the grayblack wastes.

A tree-
high thought

grasps the light-tone: there are
52 Rosa, Resonance, 296–304.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


still songs to sing beyond
If forming a relation to the nonhuman is one of the attempts of Atemkristall, then “Fadensonnen”
is its leading example. The first word of the poem is “Threadsuns,” which by itself is a compilation
of two different words, Sonnen (Suns) and Faden (thread).

53 The combination of these words
brings to mind an image of sunrays, but describing the rays as threads grants them a kind of
materiality. Being threads, they are not just seen, or sent from one point to the other, but they are
also graspable and thus might enable an obtainable connection. Starting with its title, the poem’s
moment of departure, it already offers a new way of relating to the world: Sunrays that are not a
one-way projection that comes from above, but material objects that allow a connection.
The poem does not speak of one sun, but of suns in plural form, and thus creates an image
of a multiplicity, which, since it is not limited in quantity, might even point to an endless amount
of Fadensonnen. If the Fadensonnen indeed offer a possibility of connection to a distinct object,
perhaps the multiplicity suggests that each relation to the outer object is unique and grabbing one
of the threads will always result in a different connection to the object they are coming from and
leading to. In other words, as the sun takes part in a relation it becomes a unique appearance that
only exists in the specific relation created with the observer. The materiality that the sun receives
thanks to the threads is thus connected to its plurality of possible relations. Once the sun becomes,
by the poem, a reachable object, it is possible to come in contact with it and form a relation, and
so it also loses its unified essence and becomes divided as the number of relations it is engaged in.
Gadamer’s interpretation to “Fadensonnen” is rather short in comparison to the ones he
wrote on other poems in the cycle, and he does not seem to think of it as a poem with significant

53 It is unknown whether Celan knew of a device called “Fadensonnenzeiger” that is meant to show the exact time of
noon. Barbara Wiedemann and Paul Celan, Die Gedichte. Kommentierte Gesamtausgabe, 2nd edition (Frankfurt am
Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2003), 723.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


importance. That is of course not surprising considering his understanding of the cycle as a
metaphor for language in search after the pure poem, and from that perspective, “Fadensonnen”
does not seem to have much to contribute. One thing Gadamer does find noteworthy in the poem
is the fact that Sonnen is in plural form, and he also finds this fact to be a sign for a plurality of
worlds: “It is striking that ‘thread suns’ is a plural form—a plural that suggests the anonymous
expanse of infinite worlds.”54
By thinking of these threads as ways of relating to the world, other similar figures to the
Fadensonnen in the cycle come to mind. The poem “Weggebeizt,” for example speaks of a
Strahlenwind (beamwind) that erodes the way into the heart of the iceberg where the breathcrystal
hides. It is also a ray that possesses a certain materiality since it is connected with air, and it affects
the world by eroding what seems to be the way the poetic “I” follows in the poem. Another
example can be found in the poem “Im Schlangenwagen,” which is clearly inspired by Euripides’
Medea, and describes how Medea escapes on a coach of snakes at the end of the play following
her horrifying vengeance. The addressee of the poem is escaping up the “schwarzen Strahl
Gedächtnis” (black ray memory):
der weißen Zypresse vorbei,
durch die Flut
fuhren sie dich.
Doch in dir, von
schäumte die andre Quelle,
am schwarzen
Strahl Gedächtnis
klommst du zutag.
the white cypress,
through the flood
54 Hamacher’s comparison of Celan with Heidegger plurality vs unity

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


they drove you.
But in you, from
foamed the other spring,
up the black
ray memory
you climbed to the day.
Here too, the ray is tangible and enables a movement towards an outer world. The strong hints by
which the poem implies to Medea, mainly the serpent coach which derives from the mythological
story, turn her into the most evident human figure in the cycle, since her presence is distinguishable
and can even be identified by name. Medea, however, is not exactly human, according to the myth
she originated from a divine, magical, and dark origin, and her escape comes after a horrifying
failure to take part in the human world. The poem clearly relates to her differentiation when stating:
“Doch in dir, von Geburt, schäumte die andre Quelle” (But in you, from birth, foamed the other
spring). The failed attempt of relation that lead to the image in “Im Schlangenwagen” might
actually tell us something of the nature of the entire cycle, as well as of Celan’s turn towards the
nonhuman following his difficult social and personal experiences. Medea’s attempt was a horrific
one, but it does not end with her giving up on any relation to the world. When the poem ends with
the climbing up the ray it seems asthough its addressee turned away from the human world towards
a nonhuman one which might still have something to offer. The significance of this poem in the
cycle is even more evident considering the fact that Celan actually contemplated using its title as
the title for the entire cycle.

55 The escape journey on a mythological coach driven by magical wild
creatures, up a dark path and out of an intolerable reality, seems to be telling of the journey Celan

55 Paul Celan, Atemwende: Vorstufen - Textgenese - Endfassung, ed. Heino Schmull and Christiane Wittkop (Frankfurt
am Main: Suhrkamp, 2000), VIII.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


tries to send his poetics to in this cycle: taking an irrational route into a completely different world
as a response to a horrifying state of affairs.
One of the main terms in Hartmut Rosa’s theory of resonance is a “resonance-wire” which
describes the relation formed between subject and world. Rosa uses the word Draht (Wire) and

not Faden (Thread), but despite a slightly different materiality, as connectors that allow a subject-
world relation, resonant-wires seem to bear a resemblance to the Fadensonnen. Rosa sees the

resonance-wire as a vibrating object between subject and world that enables both to be affected as
well as to respond. When the wire vibrates it is not only an emotional or physical response, since
the wire is “a mode of relation that remains open to emotional content” or any other content.56
Different relations not only imply that different subjects possess different perspectives, but also
that one subject can relate to the world in many ways. This understanding might also be significant
to the plurality of suns in the poem. If the sun is the world that manifests itself as something similar
to “resonant-wires”, the endless number of Fadensonnen may not just be the endless subjects who
might reach out to the world, but also the endless number of ways to approach it.
It is important to relate to the fact that the sun is not a random object that represents the
world in subject-world relation since it is not only an object humans relate to by observing it,
feeling its heat, exploring it or even poeticizing about, but it is what, in many ways, gives life
through a resonant relation. For humans, animals and plants, as any other organism, the sun is the
preliminary encounter with the world that generated life. Since the image of the biblical creation
is without a doubt very much present in “Fadensonnen,” in which the sun emerges above an empty
dark world, understanding the sun as a creator of life seems to also be justified from a religious
point of view, as well as from a scientific one. In Buber’s I and Thou the sun also plays a

56 Rosa, Resonance, 163–64.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


meaningful role when thinking of relating to the world. Buber, who believed in the ability to create
what seems to be a kind of utopian encounter with the world, positions the sun as an object that
signifies such a positive relation:
How beautiful and legitimate the full I of Goethe sounds! It is the I of pure intercourse
with nature. Nature yields to it and speaks ceaselessly with it; she reveals her mysteries
to it and yet does not betray her mystery. It believes in her and says to the rose: “So it is
You”—and at once shares the same actuality with the rose. Hence, when it returns to
itself, the spirit of actuality stays with it; the vision of the sun clings to the blessed eye
that recalls its own likeness to the sun, and the friendship of the elements accompanies
man into the calm of dying and rebirth.57
Buber describes the encounter with the sun, that appears as an object of beauty that reminds
humans of their part in creation. It is an all-embracing encounter in which nothing is out of its right
order or in the wrong measure. In Celan’s poetry, such utopian aspirations might have a place as a
desperate hope, but this kind of unwavering brightness seems strange for a poetry which refuses
denying darkness and sees it as its base.

Unlike the impression left by Buber’s text, the encounter with the sun, as any encounter
with the world, has its dark sides, and the sun is no less violent and dangerous than it is beautiful
and lively. Such an understanding of the encounter with the sung is to be found in the poetry of
Friedrich Hölderlin, a poet with whom Celan is in intensive dialogue. Hölderlin is not only a poet
who inspired Celan, but also — perhaps more than any other poet — someone Celan identified
with deeply, due to, among others, the story of Hölderlin’s mental illness and tragic fate, as shown
by Helmut Böttiger who traced biographical and poetical affinities between both poets.59 In “In a

57 Buber, I and Thou, 116. 58 Not long before Celan learned that he was to deliver the speech for the Büchner Prize, he compiled lists for a work
he intended to write titled "Die kongenital Dunkelheit des Gedicht” (The Innate Darkness of the Poem). The work was
never completed, but the lists served the poet as material for his Meridian speech. Paul Celan, Der Meridian:
Endfassung - Entwürfe - Materialien, ed. Bernhard Böschenstein and Heino Schmull (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp,
1999), XI.
59 Böttiger also shows how Celan’s connection to Heidegger and his thought on poetry, is also connected to the
latter’s meditations on Hölderlin’s poetry. Helmut Böttiger, Celans Zerrissenheit: Ein Jüdischer Dichter Und Der
Deutsche Geist / Helmut Böttiger, 1st ed. (Köln: Galiani Berlin, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2020), 99–121.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


lovely blue,” Hölderlin mentions a relation to the sun without ignoring the deadly implications of
an interaction with the world. In fact, the beauty of the sun in “In a lovely blue” is what seduces
the humans into an encounter which also has dreadful implications:
But to be covered in freckles, to be covered all over with them, that is a sort of suffering
too. The beautiful sun is to blame for that: it brings everything out. The sun encourages
the young men along their way with its beams as with roses. The sufferings Oedipus
bore seem as if a poor man were crying that something was wrong. Son of Laius, poor
stranger in Greece! Life is death, and death too is a life.60
It is noteworthy that Buber and Hölderlin both consider the observing eye to be a significant factor
in their discussions about the relationship with the sun, but if Buber’s eye is blessed and “recalls
its own likeness to the sun,” Hölderlin’s encounter with the sun becomes a reminder to Oedipus’s
blind injured eyes. Considering the way Celan writes of Medea in the cycle, the Greek tragedy
seems to be more reflective of the way Celan experience the connection to the world, conscious to
the pain and tragedy that comes with it. The eye, a repeated motive in Celan’s poetry, is explained
by Galili Shahar to be an opening to the world, a kind of doorway between man and world. It is,
as Shahar shows, a type of seeing that involves blindness and darkness that is also deeply
connected to the way Hölderlin states of blindness are present in Celan’s poetry.61
The eye, however, is not the only body part Hölderlin mentions regarding the sun, but also
the skin on which the influence of the interaction with the sun leaves its marks. Hölderlin's text
presents an exposure to the world that evokes a resonant relation; something shifts, leaving an
indelible impression, yet this encounter is not without anguish. Considering the relation between
subject and world to be what at stake here, then the mentioning of the implications of the sun on
the skin is extremely significant, since it is the border and meeting point between human body and

60 Friedrich Hölderlin, Selected Poems, trans. David Constantine, 2nd edition (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe
Books Ltd, 1996), 103–4. 61 Shahar, The Stone and the Word: on Paul Celan’s Poetry 91–169 , ןבאה הלימהו: לע תריש לואפ ןאלצ .

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


whatever surrounds it. In Resonance, the skin is considered to be a critical interface of resonance
in bodily relationships with the world. Rosa claims that the skin is not only a boundary and dividing
line through which humans sense the world around them, but a semi-permeable membrane that
brings subject and world into relation with each other, making them mutually receptive and
pervious to each other.62 The sun is thus a complex object that can meet the subject in different
kinds of relations and should not be considered merely as a positive manifestation of the world.
This should be taken in mind while reading the next line of the poem, “über der grauschwarzen
Ödnis“ (above the grayblack wastes), since its emptiness and darkness could be easily situated as
a contrast to the Fadensonnen, but such a binarism would be strange to Celan’s poetic world.
Therefore, it is not simply a poem about the interplay of light and darkness, but rather a nuanced
exploration of their intricate relationship, one that aligns with Rosa's view that resonance and
alienation are in a perpetual state of dialectical tension. In fact, Rosa even states moments such as
the one found in the opening image of “Fadensonnen” as involving feelings that derive from these
Resonance is the momentary appearance, the flash of a connection to a source of strong
evaluations in a predominantly silent and often repulsive world. Hence moments of intense
resonant experience (a sunset, captivating music, being in love, etc.) are always also filled
with moments of intense longing. They contain the promise of a different way of relating
to the world – we might even say that in a certain sense, they offer a promise of salvation.
They convey a sense of being deeply connected with something. But they do not abolish
the intervening moments of foreignness and inaccessibility.”

The way in which Celan constructs the following two lines of the poem is quite intriguing. He
formulates the compound adjective "baum-hoher" (tree-high) and chooses to split it across two
separate lines. This creates a parallel structure, where the first word of the adjective, "baum," can
also be interpreted as a standalone noun connected to the indefinite article that precedes it: "ein

62 Rosa, Resonance, 48.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


Baum" (a tree, but also: one tree), which is then followed by another object, a "hoher Gedanke"
(high thought). This form entices a few ways for reading these two short lines, since before
encountering the poetic object of “a tree-high thought” the readers first encounter just “a tree.”
Thus, two readings coexist thanks to the breaking of the lines, in the first a tree is compared to a
high thought, and in the second appears a tree-high thought. Both readings, a tree compared to a
high thought and a tree-high thought, are essential to the reading of the poem and complete each
Emerging in a world in which only wastes so far existed, the tree can be seen as a
continuation of the biblical story of creation that evidently takes place in the poem. Since Ein baum
in German means “one tree” as well as “a tree,” the singularity of the tree is also emphasized, and
it can be understood as a first growth following the interaction between the sun and the wilderness.
The appearance of the tree in relation to the interaction that occurred between the empty land and
the sunlight, might hint on the first image as a process that creates change and manages to generate
something new in the world. In this case, there is a hinted process of photosynthesis that is taking
place that uses the sun in order to create new matter and new life in the world.
Splitting the adjective “baum-hoher” also exposes an affinity between “Fadensonnen” and
Reiner Maria Rilke’s Die Sonette an Orpheus. In this renowned work, a "hoher Baum" is featured
prominently in the opening scene, appearing in the very first verse:
Da stieg ein Baum. O reine Übersteigung!
O Orpheus singt! O hoher Baum im Ohr!
Und alles schwieg. Doch selbst in der Verschweigung
ging neuer Anfang, Wink und Wandlung vor.
There arose a tree. Oh, pure transcension!
Oh, Orpheus sings! Oh, tall tree in the ear!
And all was still. But even in this suspension
new beginnings, signs, and changes were.63
63 Rainer Maria; Macintyre C. F. Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus (University of California Press, 1960), 1–2.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


The emergence of the tree in Rilke’s sonnet is connected to the starting point of one of the greatest
works of poetry in world literature. It is also what brings with it a new beginning and
transformation. But what is being created in “Fadensonnen” is not only a tree, but also a thought,
and the high tree becomes a way to describe this kind of thought. Situating the tree as an adjective
point to the process of thinking that Celan wishes to guide to, and implies it is not an ordinary
thought but a “high” one, a thought of a different order. The association with such a momentous
occasion in Rilke's poetry suggests the potential poetic significance of such a notion. By employing
the adjective “baum-hoher” to describe the “Gedanke,” Celan may offer a description of how
poetry thinks. This mode of thought, as indicated by the verb "greift" (grasps) that appears in the
following line, arises from actively engaging with the world by seizing upon Fadensonnen in order
to create something novel.
Since it specifies a certain height, the compounded adjective “baum-hoher” is also a form
of measurement of the emerging poetic thought. The only information that the poem discloses
about this thought is that it is as tall as a tree. In his renowned essay on Hölderlin’s poetry, the
philosopher Martin Heidegger refers to poetry as the way of man to take measure, since poetry
brings heaven and earth to one another. Writing poetry, says Heidegger, is measure-taking, since
“by which man first receives the measure for the breadth of his being.” Poetry thus has a significant
role in the way humans are able to understand their presence in the world since “only this measure
gauges the very nature of man. For man dwells by spanning the ‘on the earth’ and the ‘beneath the
sky.’ This ‘on’ and ‘beneath’ belong together. Their interplay is the span that man traverses at
every moment insofar as he is as an earthly being.”64

64 Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought., trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 221.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


Heidegger believes humans measure themselves by looking at the divine, the space
between the earth and the heaven allows human beings to give measure to their existence. What
differentiates the humans from the gods is the fact of their mortality. Observing the sky reveals a
God which is kept hidden, but the poet’s task is to bring this measure into language, to call upon
the divine measure to appear, while rendering it apparent in its hidden state, as that is how it
discloses itself. Celan appears to share Heidegger's concept of poetry as a way for humans to gauge
their existence, but what he offers seems different than Heidegger’s idea of how poetry allows
humans to take this measure. Celan’s poetic thought in “Fadensonnen” is also in the space between
earth and heaven, but its measure is that of one single tree. It is attentive to the heavenly, and it
takes of it what it needs in order to grow, yet it is still just one appearance of an organic object
that, being taller than man, has closer proximity to the heavenly, but is still limited in scope, and
thus allows for a humble, checked, one-time rising towards the divine. Choosing the tree as a
metric might be Celan’s way of defining how a poem should take the measure of the human:
through a singular resonant relation to the world.
But what does this poetic tree-high thought take from the Fadensonnen? What does it wish
to obtain from its relation to the world? The answer, so it seems, has something to do with the
poem’s voice, since it takes from the sun the “Lichtton” (Light-tone), which then leads to the
assertion that “es sind noch Lieder zu singen jenseits der Menschen” (there are still songs to sing
beyond mankind). The process described in the poem seems to be that of a resonant relation that
the poem is engaging with the world: It observes the Fadensonnen, and takes something from this
interaction, but this process immediately develops into a change that takes place in the subject. In
the case of “Fadensonnen,” the poetic “I” came to a new thought, of its own, as the colon before

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


the last sentence of the poem hints, and it wishes not only to articulate it, but to sing it, which
brings to mind the acoustical dimensions of resonance from which the term emerged.
As mentioned, the notion of Resonance is based on the relation between two vibrating
objects which produces an original new sound, but sound and music have a special place in many
other resonance relations, specifically with the ability to form a relation with the nonhuman. Rosa
claims that things that have no language to speak to us, but they do sing: “Even and perhaps
especially in relation to the world of things, there exists reified, mute, or – in the sense elaborated
here – alienated relationships that can make this world ‘hush’ and stand still, but also resonant
relationships in which it begins to ‘sing.’” It is worth noting that Rosa's guide in uncovering the
singing quality of mute objects is actually Rilke, whose words "Die Dinge singen hör ich so gern"
(I like to hear the singing of things) are, alongside other of his poems, a source of inspiration for
this quest.

65 When Celan ends the poem with the fact that there are songs to be sang beyond
mankind, it seems as though he also searches for a way to form a relation that is not based on
language, songs to be sang means that music and voice should be taken in mind, and not, for
example, essays to be written and even not poems to be written. The last line of "Fadensonnen,"
born out of the poem's earlier interaction with the world, embodies the essence of poetry's effort
to enliven the nonhuman by inciting its music through language. As mentioned in the introduction,
this statement that seems to wish to part the human, is actually the place in which the human is
most present in the cycle, since it is directly mentioned and stands alone as the goal of the poem
when the word “Menschen” (humans) gets its own line. Poetry attempt to be able to sing the
nonhuman, is thus also its quest to try and reach the human.

65 Rosa, Resonance, 229.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


In Gadamer’s interpretation to the cycle, he looks at the figure of the Atemkristall as a snowflake,
and thus focuses on its delicateness and briefness. It is read as a pure word that the cycle, having
only poetic language in mind, eventually finds. Rereading the cycle also brings to mind other
qualities crystals possess that should also be taken into consideration when approaching the cycle.
In her studies on crystals, Marisa Galvez shows how crystals are – since premodern times and up
until today – objects that manifest a linkage between the human and the nonhuman, as well as a
way to be at home in the world.66 Due to the fact crystals were perceived as being created by “a
changing mixture of elements or as an interaction of bodies”, crystals, according to Galvez and the
other researchers she draws from, were also considered to possess transformational — even
healing — powers and “reinforced porosity between human and nonhuman, forming local
ecologies of multiple existences.” Crystals, as Galvez demonstrates, also have the power to change
the way humans see themselves as central to the environment and expose the commonalities
between all creatures and objects who are part of the world, by charging the nonhuman with
Not only that crystals make connections to the nonhuman, but they also offer a different
temporality since the lengthy way in which they are created makes then into a testimony of past
times. Thanks to their durability, they expand the temporal and geographical scale of the common
human perception. The fact that Celan’s Atemkristall at the end of the cycle hides “tief in der
Zeitenschrunde“ (deep in the timecarvesse) and that it is described as an “unumstößliches Zeugnis”
(unalterable testimony) seems to have in mind similar conceptions such as those Galvez describes
when she writes that “through its various forms as stone or powder, crystal incites and creates local

66 Marisa Galvez, “Shards in Hand: Crystal Dwelling as Ecology,” Postmedieval 13, no. 1 (June 1, 2022): 179–95.

Gilad Shiram’s Qualifying Paper, Stanford’s Department of German Studies, Winter 2023


ecologies that involve various substances, beings, and elements, a shared world that spans the
living and the dead.”67
Just as the cycle leads its readers from the Atemkristall in the title to the Atemkristall in its
last poem, returning to the crystal at the end of the reading, together with the insights gathered
enables to look at it in a different light. Reexamining the figure of the crystal in the context of
human history and culture appears to be a necessary perspective in understanding the cycle.
Atemkristall should thus be also read as part of this tradition, since its poems challenge assumed
partitions and boundaries between the human and the nonhuman. By using the possibilities of the
poetic experience, it offers its readers a way to distance themselves from norms of subjectivity,
time and space, in order to form a relation to the nonhuman elements of the world. The manner in
which this relation is established via an Atemwende, a detour that ultimately leads to a return,
highlights the significance of this poetic encounter for contemporary times, as it may provide a
means to engage with the human condition while acknowledging realms of existence that are
increasingly out of reach. In times when such spheres of existence become less accessible,
Atemkristall seems to suggest that poetry has much to offer. How to relate to the world is a question
that not only has ethical implications, but also invites exploration of what it means to be human.
Atemkristall appears to suggest that poetry can play a vital role in such an exploration, as it
possesses the power to create an experience in which the dimensions of existence that often go
unheard, sing.

67 Galvez.

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