Wilhelm Kimmich, (1897-1986)
"Käppelehof in the summer" (1967), oil on canvas.

Insightful approach on Celan´s poem "Todtnauberg" borrow from Paul Celan: Exposing Poetry, an introductory essay:

[...] many Modernists were proto-fascists, yet this doesn't mean difficulty equals Totalitarianism. It means, instead, a 'crossing through danger' is not mere rhetoric. The dangers led Heidegger to his great error.
It troubled Celan that the man he saw as one of the greatest of modern thinkers, so close to his own work, was a Nazi. One cannot even say 'had been a Nazi' because he never said anything that amounted to a renunciation. Late in life, Heidegger became interested in Celan's work. He recognised him as the only living equal of Hölderlin. He attended public readings given by the poet, and in 1967 even invited him to his famous Black Forest retreat at Todtnauberg. Celan accepted. This was a significant move as Celan had developed an intense sensitivity (one might say 'anxiety') toward anti-Semitic tendencies in post-war Europe. When his dedicated publishers re-issued the work of a poet popular in the Nazi years, he left for another, and when German literary authorities exonerated him over plagiarism charges, he regarded it as a humiliation to be even under investigation. Yet here he was meeting a man in his most intimate home, a home in which, it is said, he had once run Nazi indoctrination sessions. Perhaps Celan never knew the full extent of Heidegger's culpability.
Generally, not much is known about Celan's reasons for accepting the invitation, nor what happened during the visit, but very soon after Celan wrote a poem called 'Todtnauberg'. The title reference is explicit; the place name is synonymous with the philosopher. This is the first half:

Arnica, eyebright,
the draft from the well
with the star-crowned die above it,
the hut,
the line
- whose name did the book
register before mine? -,
the line inscribed in that book about
a hope, today,
of a thinking man's
in the heart,
(trans. Michael Hamburger)

As Pierre Joris points out in his exceptional analysis of the various translations of the poem, 'Todtnauberg' is barely a poem than single sentence divided into eight stanzas. The first of the three above display Celan's extraordinary eye for nature, as noted earlier in "Nocturnally Pouting". Arnica and Eyebright are flowers noted for their healing qualities, so right from the start there is the sense of what the meeting is all about. In the third, the poet signs the visitors book and makes plain his awareness of who might have signed it before - Germans being indoctrinated into Nazi ideology perhaps. He hopes for a word in the heart of the great man. Did the word reveal itself? The remaining five stanzas are:

woodland sward, unlevelled,
orchid and orchid, single,
coarse stuff, later, clear
in passing,
he who drives us, the man,
who listens in,
the half- trodden fascine
walks over the high moors

Almost certainly not. The two men walked across woodland each in his isolation: an orchid and an orchid. And the poem remained isolated as far as Heidegger was concerned. He displayed his special copy of the poem proudly to subsequent visitors to the cottage, seemingly unaware of its implications. Perhaps this is enough to indicate the blindness of a man, even one with genius, rooted in his familiar landscape - brought out here in Hamburger's translation of log-paths as 'fascine', a word so close to 'fascist', the etymological origin coming, as Joris says, from the Latin 'fasces' - a bundle of wooden rods - the symbol of fascism.
'Todtnauberg' , therefore, cannot be regarded as a coded accusation, or as a shy expression of bitterness, or sentimental regret, or of pompous self-definition in contrast to a supposed intellectual superior, but rather the very openness Heidegger apparently lacked. As Celan once said: "Poetry does not impose itself, it exposes." The lack of a second 'itself' in this sentence exposes.

On this subject a pertinent article by Pierre Joris, "Celan/Heidegger, Translation at the Mountain of Death"

Georg Eduardo Otto Saal (1817-1870) "Todtmoos" (1861), oil on canvas


Arnika, Augentrost, der
Trunk aus dem Brunnen mit dem
Sternwurfel drauf,
in der
die in das Buch
—wessen Namen nahms auf
vor dem meinen?—,
die in dies Buch
geschriebene Zeile von
einer Hoffnung, heute,
auf eines Denkenden
im Herzen,
Waldwasen, uneingeebnet,
Orchis and Orchis, einzeln,
Krudes, später, im Fahren,
der uns fährt, der Mensch,
der's mi anhört,
die halb-
beschrittenen Knüppel-
pfade im Hochmoor,

Wilhelm Kimmich, Last painting (1986), oil on canvas

By Scott Horton

Arnica, eyebright, the
drink from the well with the
roll star die on top,
in the
written in the book
—whose name did it receive
before my own? — ,
the lines written
in this book about
a hope, today,
for the words
to come
in the heart
of a thinker,
sod of the woods, uneven,
orchis and orchis, separately,
crudity, later, in the process of driving,
he who is driving us, the human being,
he who hears it along with us,
the half-
trodden cudgel-
path on the high moor,
–Paul Celan, “Todtnauberg,” from Lichtzwang (1970) in: Gesammelte Werke, vol. 2, pp. 255-56 (S.H. transl.)

In this sense I  remember Gadamer’s   reconceptualization of  the hermeneutic circle as an iterative process through which a new understanding of a whole reality is developed by means of exploring the detail of existence. From Gadamer’s perspective the interaction between reader and text, is a constant discourse, and hence interpretation is a collaborative process. Entering into this process is what he calls the fusion of horizons. He sees this process of being one of constant mediation between the past (tradition, culture, experience) and the present horizon (the immediate experience) of the interpreter. As soon as we really open ourselves to a question, the understanding that we have as a result of all our previous experiences or knowledge of the question is immediately superseded by the impact of our exposure to the new experience.


Arnica, Eyebright, the
Drink from the well with the
star-die on top.

in the

into the book
─ whose name did it take in
before mine? ─
the line written into
this book about
a hope, today,
for thinker’s
delayed coming)
In the heart,

Woodland turf, undeleveled,
Orchis and Orchis, singly,

crudeness, later, while driving,

the one driving us, the man
who hears too,

the half-
trodden log-
paths on high moorland,


Translated by John Felstiner
p. 315


Arnika, centaurée, la
boisson du puits avec, au-dessus,

dans le refuge,

écrite dans le livre
(quel nom portait’il
avant le mien?),

écrite dans le livre
la ligne,
aujour’hui, d’une attente:
de qui pense
parole à venir au Coeur,

de la mousse des bois, non aplanie,
orchis et orchis, clairsemé,
de la verdure, plus tard, en voyage,
qui nous conduit, l’homme
qui, à cela, tend l’oreille,
les chemins
de rondins à demi
parcourus dans la fange,
de l’humide ,
Jean Daive pp.10-11 in Philipe L-L

Arnika, luminet, cette
gorgée du puits au
cube étoilé plus haut du dé

dans la hutte,
là, dans un livre
─les noms, de qui, relevés
avant le mien?─
là dans un livre,
lignes qui inscrivent
une attente, aujourd’hui,
de qui méditera (à venir, in-
cessamment venir)
un mot
du coeur

humus des bois, jamais aplani,
orchis, orchis,

chose crue, plus tard, chemin faisant,

qui nous voitera,
lui-même à son écoute,
à moitié
frayé de layon de rondins
l’à haut dans le marais,


Trad. André de Bouchet

A partir da versão inicial do poema, datada de Frankfurt am Main, 02-08-1967 pp.11-12

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