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This review is taken from PN Review 258, Volume 47 Number 4, March - April 2021.

Cover of Microliths They Are, Little Stones: Posthumous Prose
Anthony Barnett'Something is against us'
Microliths They Are, Little Stones: Posthumous Prose, Paul Celan, translated by Pierre Joris (Contra Mundum) £20
Pierre Joris’s translation of Paul Celan’s posthumous prose compliments Rosmarie Waldrop’s translation of Celan’s Collected Prose (Carcanet). ‘Conversation in the Mountains’ therein first appeared in the letterpress pamphlet The Literary Supplement: Writings, alongside ‘Answer to a Letter’ by Edmond Jabès, and a reprint of J. H. Prynne’s Celan memorial poem ‘Es lebe der König’.

Microliths represents the culmination of Joris’s fifty years work on Celan, including two volumes of Collected Poems (FSG) and an extraordinary feat in translating drafts and materials for the speech The Meridian (Stanford UP). Microliths reminds me of George Oppen’s Daybooks (not a name given them by Oppen), posthumously published piecemeal. Not that Celan’s, much shorter in extent, posthumous prose is piecemeal. It is, however, pieces. One may wonder how much of it Celan, as with Oppen, would have been pleased to see in print. That said, there are wonderful aphorisms, narrative prose, notes for dramatic pieces, and mixed blessings among theoretical prose.

The section, ‘Texts on the Goll Affair’, is devoted to the abuse Celan suffered at the hands of Claire Goll, widow of Ivan Goll, with manufactured charges of plagiarism. Celan helped the Golls in Ivan’s dying days, in personal and literary ways. He could not shake off the betrayal. The case is made for this being the catalyst leading to Celan’s last mental deterioration and suicide. Celan grapples with his Jewishness: ‘something is against us’.

Celan was not always fortunate in the company he kept. That seems to have been more ...


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