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This review is taken from PN Review 84, Volume 18 Number 4, March - April 1992.

OF VICTIMS AND TOMBS Amy Colin, Paul Celan: Holograms of darkness (Indiana University Press)

Anyone who has experienced difficulty in reading Paul Celan - which must in the nature of the case mean almost anyone who has ever read him at all - will welcome this excellent study, and will applaud a formidable task accomplished throughout with an exceptionally fine sense of nuance and scruple. Amy Colin is of Romanian origin, and we should be especially grateful that she has written her book in English. As her name suggests, she is a remote relative of the poet who remains, in spite of the efforts of critics, more a name than a fact even with those who would regard, say, Rilke as self-evidently a very great figure. Yet unlike Rilke, whom he considered so much more than a mere predecessor, Celan resists the appropriative gestures of conventional critical commentary as successfully as his residual hope of 'dialogue' will allow him to do. This is a long way from the Rilke of the letters; with Celan there is no 'mere twaddle of graciousness' to contend with, no ever-ramifying self-explanation to sift, and no more or less intimate relations, whether at arm's length or face to face, established. Rilke's famous definition of fame as 'the sum of misunderstandings' that threaten to multiply to infinity has, in the case of Celan, been supplanted by the near-impossibility of understanding him at all. Until now, with Israel Chalfen's biography of Celan's youth still not available in English, access to the mainsprings of an immensely complex figure has remained strictly ...


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