Wolfgang Wildgen (University of Bremen). Meaning Construction in Modern Poetry: Paul Celan. Conference at the Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland (USA); German Studies and Center for Cognition and Culture 8th of October.2007; 4:30 in Clarke 206. Contents.
Part I: Language crisis and Paul Celan’s poetry
Part II: The neuro-cognitive basis of meaning-composition and its relevance for creative poetry
Language crisis and Paul Celan’s poetry
The poet Paul Celan (his family name was Anschel) was born in Czernowitz (Bukowina) in 1920. He went to Paris in 1938 to study medicine but returned to Czernowitz in 1939. He stayed in Rumania until 1947 when he fled to Vienna and 1948 came to Paris to study German Linguistics and Literature. In 1959 he became lecturer (lecteur) of German at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris. After 1961 he had to be treated in different psychiatric clinics. He committed suicide in Paris 1971.
Sprachgitter : SG (Speech-Grille)
Niemandsrose: NR (The No-One’s Rose)
Atemwende : AW (Breathturn)
Fadensonnen: FS (Threadsuns)
Lichtzwang : LZ (Light-Compulsion; Force of Light)
Schneepart : SP (Snow−Part; Snow-Voice)
Zeitgehöft : ZG (Homestead of Time)
(The translations are from: Celan, 1971 and 2001)
Sprache (Language) as first constituent
Sprachwaage(NR) : language-weighing machine
Sprachtürme (AW) : language-towers
Sprachnebel (LZ) : language-mist/fog
and with Wort (word):
Worthöhlen (LZ) : word-caves
Wortwaage (NR) : word-weighing machine
Wortspur (AW) : word-track/trace
Wortwand AW) : word-wall
Wortsand (NR) : word-sand
Wortwege (NP) : word-lanes
Wortlitze (SP) : word-braid
Wortschatten (SP) : word-shadow
If we start from the list of relational schemata (or semantic archetypes), we obtain the following possible readings:
The fact that a list of alternatives with growing complexity exists explains the power of integration of such a title. It may stand as an abstract of the poems which make up the book of poems or the stanzas/lines in a poem.
In the collection: Atemwende we find:
In the other collections similar compounds based on breath show up:
The continuous breath (standing for life/soul) is broken down to limited forms or is lacking (Atemnot)
Key words of the author, which are statistically prominent (high recurrence) sketch the semantic frame of the poetry in question;
Simple binary binding patterns between head and satellite, predicted by the hierarchy of semantic archetypes, occur.
Aspen Tree, your leaves glance white into the dark.My mother's hair was never white.
Dandelion, so green is the Ukraine.My fair-haired mother did not come home.
Rain cloud, do you linger at the well?My soft-voiced mother weeps for all.
Round star, you coil the golden loop.My mother's heart was hurt by lead.
Oaken door, who hove you off your hinge?My gentle mother cannot return.
The poem Aspen Tree
(cf. Celan, 2001: 21).
The first line is always completed by a sentence, two of them being questions. The second verse of each stanza has “my mother” as recurrent topic.
he whistles for the Jews has a grave shoveled in the earth
he orders us now to strike up the dance (Death Fuge)
Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfallwe drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at nightdrink it and drink it
Sprachgitter (language grille): Beginning of the poem: 1959
Augenrund zwischen den Stäben.Flimmertier Lidrudert nach oben,gibt einen Blick frei.
Iris, Schwimmerin, traumlos und trüb
Eye-round between barrows
Cilium-animal eye lid
In the new poems (after Celan’s move to Paris), the compounds are nonce compounds and in general enigmatic:
In general very basic types of association (binding; cf. next section) are used to give meaning to the compounds.
In three-dimensional space, the attractor could be a circular path on a torus or a sphere.
If the attractor begins to move also, we obtain a “strange” attractor ; the behavior of the system becomes chaotic. Loosing one’s meridian explains the loss of psychic control. Therefore “finding one’s meridian” is necessary for mental health
Definitions: Meridian (geography): either half or a full great circle that connects the Earth's poles. (Chinese medicine) Any of the longitudinal pathways on the body along which the acupuncture points are distributed.
The neuro-cognitive basis of meaning-composition and its relevance for creative poetry
If we take a compound as a kind of utterance per se, outside of its possibly complex syntactic and textual context, its constituents are often conceptually simple (e.g. stems/radicals). Although these morphemes may belong to specific syntactic classes of the language in question, this feature has only a reduced significance for the construction of the meaning of the compound, i.e. the syntactic potential of the morpheme is dormant in the compound construction.
In the case of adjective+ noun and similar constructions, the way of semantic composition is comparable to that of compounds.
Parts or features of a visual whole are linked by the synchronic firing of a set of neurons (an assembly) during a short time interval.
In the example the parts and features of the cat and those of the woman are bound together by the internal synchrony of the assemblies 1 and 2 and they are distinguished by the asynchrony of these assemblies.
From: Engel et alii, 1997: 572
Picture a is ambiguous. If it is seen as one face (and a candle in front of it) the zones (1,2) and (3,4) (see series d) are bound; in the case two faces looking at each other are seen, the zones (1,3) und (2,4) are bound. The binding may be recognized by the synchronic firing rates in the series d versus e.
From: Engel, Fries und Singer, 2001: 707
The remembered object produces higher synchronization at the γ-level (30 to 60 Hz)
At the left a Kanitza-triangle
At the right a non-Kanitza-triangle
If the tested person is instructed to recognize the non-Kanitza-triangle , the synchronization is higher for this configuration, although basic gestalt laws would predict the contrary.
From: Hermann, Munk und Engel, 2004:349
The binding process selects one reading which makes sense and thus synchronizes N1 and N2 in a selective way. Other choices may be repressed (no synchro-nization); cf. Wildgen, 1994.