Gedicht and Gedächtnis: Convergence and Divergence in the Works of Karl Krolow and Paul Celan.
Karl Krolow and Paul Celan figure in literary history as two of too few German-language poets whose work signaled a new direction for the genre in the early postwar period. The work of both poets reflected and refracted German traditions such as Naturlyrik through the prism of European modernism, through French surrealism in particular, and accordingly, both represented a sharp departure from familiar poetic practice and a cosmopolitan openness to new impulses. Both published celebrated volumes of poetry in 1952 with the Deutsche Verlagsanstalt in Stuttgart: Celan's Mohn und Gedächtnis and Krolow's Die Zeichen der Welt, and both poets were also introduced in person to the German reading public also in 1952, along with Ingeborg Bachmann, at the Gruppe 47 meeting in Niendorf: there and then, that trio constituted the 'new wave' of poetry in German for the 1950's.
Celan and Bachmann have long been acknowledged as the dominant figures of that period and since their deaths, their work has continued to receive scholarly examination and to gain in critical stature; Krolow (b. 1915), who died in June 1999, continued his prolific career of over half a century through many phases, - though with diminishing influence overall and relatively little serious and sustained critical analysis. But in the 1950's, Krolow's work was regarded with at least equal interest and attention: he was awarded the Büchner Preis in 1956 as the youngest recipient to date, and in that same year, he was also installed in the pantheon of late Modernism as one of few German poets included in Hugo Friedrich's Die Struktur der modernen Lyrik. Oddly, his relation to Celan has received virtually no attention in the vast and detailed literature on Celan, but their relationship is instructive about the tensions in the genre during the postwar period.
Their speeches for the Büchner-Prize, four years apart, reveal the distance between them. Krolow isolates in Büchner's Leonce und Lena (1836) a "Tendenz" (196) that appealed to him very personally: "Es sprang etwas über, Anonymes, Zauber, Geheimnis, Berückung" (196). In effect, each of these qualities (that is, of depersonalization, of magic or mystery, sacralization or secrecy, decentering or displacement) represents an abstraction from prewar and postwar historical reality that Krolow, in a rare moment, addresses directly:
es wurde mir in dem Moment wichtig, in dem ich mich von den Bedrückungen zu befreien, von jenem Cauchemar zu lösen versuchte, der als schwerer Schatten über den poetischen Äußerungsversuchen der ersten Nachkriegsjahre lag, ein Schatten, in dem sich ein für allemal alle triste Erfahrung mit der deutschen Szene, alle an Leben und Existenz gehende Widerfahrung gesammelt, verdichtet zu haben schien. Ich wollte mich aus der Umklammerung der Erinnerung befreien, die ich an die Zeit zwischen meinem zwanzigsten und dreißigsten Lebensjahre hatte, damals kurz nach 1945. (196-97)
Krolow advocates in effect an aesthetics of amnesia for the postwar period; immediately after the war, the German poem had tried to register and recover from the shock of recent historical experience, and Krolow already declares this recovery successful:
That fundamental distinction in their relation to history dictates the terms of Krolow's reception of Celan: his continual positive attention to Celan's work frames the conceptual breach between them: in effect, Krolow promotes, with utmost sensitivity, but also distorts Celan's work by stripping it systematically of its relation to history. As a literary critic and journalist, Krolow began reviewing Celan's poetry in 1953 and followed his career with, ultimately, close to 40 publications on the poet, his works and on Celan scholarship as it began to appear. As a literary journalist, who lived by his pen, Krolow commonly recycled his texts on Celan, which lends an additional consistency in variation to his commentaries. The frequency of Celan as his topic represents both the demands of the literary marketplace and Krolow's own guarded fascination with Celan, whose poems for him were "von jeher ganz in sich verschlossene Verse, Verse der Einsamkeit," unto themselves, a "Wortwelt," - but a world of words whose gravity of historical reflection Krolow never ceases to resist.
Krolow's recollection in 1975 of Celan's Mohn und Gedächtnis, which he had reviewed in 1953, brings his reception of Celan full circle, though he continued to comment occasionally on Celan. He emphasizes now the trait of "Gegenstandsflüchtigkeit" (15) that his own Büchner-Preis speech had called for, but which Krolow by 1975 in his own evolution to Alltagslyriker otherwise condemns. For Krolow, Celan's first volume had changed the way poetry was read and written in the 1950's, and signaled the arrival of an elevated sensibility equal to Rilke's in the 1920's, which gave the poem new contours and a certain "Schattenhaftigkeit," a feature Krolow had already highlighted in a sensitive appreciation of the poet shortly after his death in 1970. Indeed, Krolow returns continually to forms of the word "Schatten," but, in effect, only outlines the shadow ("das Gedicht als Schattenriss") and does not address what in Celan's poetry throws the shadow. In fact, the single mention of "Todesfuge" in this long review cites it only as an example of literary-musical technique, of "Fugen-Führung." Though highlighting Celan's importance, Krolow's appreciation of 1975, like his many other commentaries over the years, supplants specific historical realities with a vague existentialism, which remains consistent with his pointed comment from 1959 that Celan's poetry "nichts als Dasein aussagt."
2. Friedrich also then wrote an afterword to a selection of Krolow's poetry: "Nachwort," Ausgewählte Gedichte (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1962) 49-59. Also included in Walter Helmut Fritz, ed., Über Karl Krolow (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1972) 74-84.
3.James K. Lyon notes acutely in his conclusion: "While Bachmann and Celan write from the outset in a larger European tradition for which nature has lost much of its intrinsic meaning (though it still has symbolic value when the poet chooses to work with its images), Krolow begins writing in a uniquely German tradition which affirms nature and uses nature imagery almost exclusively. By 1962, however, Krolow has completely abjured nature as a source of poetry and turned to the larger European tradition, whereas Bachmann and Celan, who have remained much closer to their origins, give nature imagery such a fundamental role in their poetry that one can decipher their central concerns through understanding it. This is not the case with Krolow" (301).
4.Hans Egon Holthusen wrote the first serious and comprehensive article of Krolow's early work with the title "Naturlyrik und Surrealismus: Die lyrischen Errungenschaften Karl Krolows" in Ja und Nein: Neue kritische Versuche ( Piper: Munich, 1954). Also as "Naturlyrik und Surrealismus" in Fritz, W. H. Über Karl Krolow (1972). Holthusen has also figured in the scholarship on Paul Celan for his apolitical appreciation of Celan (see Felstiner, John. Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 78-79) and for a later critique of Celan that ignored an allusion to the Holocaust and elicited a sharp rebuke from Peter Szondi (see Felstiner 222-23, and fn. 18, 320).
5.Karl Krolow, "Paul Celan," Jahresring 70/71 (1970): 338-346.
6. For comparison, a real wall, the Berlin Wall, came between Paul Celan and Erich Arendt at a time when their friendship began to intensify, as chronicled in Wolfgang Emmerich's article: "Erich Arendt - Paul Celan; Korrespondenzen und Differenzen" (Celan-Jahrbuch 6 : 181-206, see page 188).
7. Karl Krolow, "Deutsche Dichter an der Seine: Zum Ersten Deutsch-Französischen Literaturgespräch in Paris," Neue Literarische Welt 11 (June 10, 1953): 9.
8.Karl Krolow, "Zum Tode Paul Celans," Der Tagesspiegel (May 7, 1970): 4.
9.That photograph appears on page 127 in Rolf Paulus, Der Lyriker Karl Krolow. Biographie-Werkentwicklung-Gedichtinterpretationen-Bibliographie (Bonn: Bouvier, 1983). Compare Celan's reaction to the possibility of being photographed with Heidegger on his famous visit to the philosopher's home in the Schwarzwald, as recounted in Gerhart Baumann's recollection Erinnerungen an Paul Celan (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1985) 62-63.
10.Though I make no specific reference here to materials contained in the Krolow-Celan correspondence in Paul Celan's estate at the Literaturarchiv in Marbach, Germany, I would like to thank Eric Celan for his permission to consult those materials, which nonetheless reinforced my general sense of their friendship and collegiality.
11. Krolow had been a member of the Darmstadter Akademie der Sprache und Dichtung since 1953.
12.The general consistency of Krolow's support, despite some qualifications and reservations, is clear upon review of his scattered opinions. Bianca Rosenthal (in Pathways to Paul Celan: A History of Critical Responses as a Chorus of Discordant Voices (New York: Peter Lang, 1995) supports this impression and places it in the reception history of Paul Celan's poetry, where Krolow figures as a particularly sensitive commentator (9). With all due appreciation of his merit, I demonstrate the shortcomings and implications of Krolow's views and reviews.
13.Krolow's essay "Intellektuelle Heiterkeit: Rede zur Verleihung des Georg-Büchner-Preises" is included in Karl Krolow, Ein Gedicht entsteht: Selbstdeutungen, Interpretationen, Aufsätze. (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1973) 195-203.
14. See Doris Kirchner's study Doppelbödige Wirklichkeit: Magischer Realismus und nicht-faschistische Literatur (Tübingen: Stauffenburg, 1993).
15.Krolow introduces the term "Leichtigkeit" in his 1955 essay on "Intellektuelle Heiterkeit" (in Mein Gedicht ist mein Messer: Lyriker zu ihren Gedichten, ed. Hans Bender [Heidelberg: Wolfgang Rothe, 1955] 58-65), which is essentially a draft of his Büchner Preis address. Cognate terms from the same essay that he will develop later on are "porös" and "offen," though these will reflect his later developments toward Alltagslyrik. Krolow returns to that central idea, however, in an essay ten years later: "Literarische Leichtigkeit" in his Poetisches Tagebuch, 1964-65 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1966) 125-29.
16. Paul Celan, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 3 (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 1983, 1986) 187-202.
17. Karl Krolow. "Am äußersten Blickrand - Erlittene Dichtung: Paul Celans Atemwende," Der Literat 10.1. (1968): 4.
18. In a 1959 commentary on Celan and Heinz Piontek ("Paul Celan und Heinz Piontek." Anstöße Nr. 1-2 Hofgeismar : 5-18), Krolow does speak briefly and inevitably about "Todesfuge" (11), now acknowledged as his most famous poem, but praises it as an artistic "Produkt solchen Kompositionswillens" that demonstrates how the theme of terror and "die Verhängnisse der Epoche gerafft und in der Poesie auf atemberaubende Weise 'erleichtert' werden." What Adorno had feared in the aesthetic treatment of barbarity, Krolow welcomes and extolls! See my discussion of "Adorno's Philosophy of Poetry" in Voice and Void: The Poetry of Gerhard Falkner ( Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1998) 19-34.
19. James K. Lyon makes the following observation: "Though no one could maintain that he [Celan] is a nature poet, the maze of Daseinsentwürfe through which Celan leads a patient reader abounds in nature imagery. Four main groups - images of a darkened landscape, a watery landscape, plant imagery, and stone imagery -- unlock a large number of his poems and reveal his central concern. . . . No stretch of the imagination could bring him close to the naturmagische Schule" (208-9). Though Lyon also writes in his dissertation about Krolow, he is not aware of these early reviews of Celan by Krolow, in which Krolow does seem to make Celan's work resemble that school of "inner emigrants" (such as Loerke, Kaschnitz, Eich, etc.).
20. This passage first appeared in a review of "Schneepart" entitled "Weit ausschreitende Stille" (68-69) in Die Horen 16.83 (1971): 69, and then later, in his "Die neue Situation der Lyrik," Universitas: Zeitschrift für Wissenschaft, Kunst und Literatur 28. 7 (1973): 1321-28.
21. In his earlier (1971) review of Celan's Schneepart: Letzte Gedichte, from which Krolow culled this passage, he had another sentence after "auswandern": Er konnte nicht emigrieren aus der Dichtung, die er bis zum Schluß machte" (Die Horen, 69).
22. Karl Krolow. "Teil III: Lyrik" (347-533) in Kindlers Literaturgeschichte der Gegenwart: Autoren, Werke, Themen, Tendenzen seit 1945 / Die Literatur der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, ed. Dieter Lattmann (München and Zürich: Kindler, 1973). In his review of Klaus Voswinckel's study of Celan (Paul Celan: Verweigerte Poetisierung der Welt, 1975), Krolow repeats, paraphrasing his earlier view: "Das Gedicht wurde bei ihm zum reinen, absoluten Sprachkörper, zur einzigen Instanz" ("Das Dunkel zu erhellen - Eine Untersuchung über Paul Celan." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Nr. 152 [July 5, 1975]). Krolow's remark aligns Celan with Gottfried Benn (!) and emphasizes, - contrary to Voswinckel, the apolitical and isolated quality of Celan's person and poem. Krolow's view of Celan seems dictated by a distinction between the literary qualities of a text and what what ever else might extend beyond the text into other realms: though he, on the one hand, faults Celan for too little external reference (or for "Stoffschwund"), he speaks of the "Gefahr des Umschlags ins nicht mehr Literarische" in Celan's work. Krolow seems to work his way carefully around the autobiographical and historical content of Celan's poems. Even when he cites a phrase from Adorno's essay on Hölderlin in order to isolate the "Fremde als Gehalt, von der Sprachform ausgedrückt," Krolow removes that strangeness or foreignness, contrary to Adorno, from any relation to a particular historical reality.
23. Karl Krolow. "Erinnerung an einen grossen Gedichtband: Paul Celans "Mohn und Gedächtnis," Die Tat 3 (1975): 15.
24. Karl Krolow. "Paul Celan." Jahresring. 70/71 (1970): 339.
25. In a general portrait of Celan in 1961, Krolow did note, in a paragraph on his biography: "Die nationalsozialistische Ära wurde für ihn und für seine Familie in besonderem Maße zum Schicksal"("Deutsch mit französischem Schliff: Die lyrische Sprache des Dichters und Übersetzers Paul Celan." Das Schönste 7, Nr. 1-2 [München, 1961]: 42-43). In his many reviews, Krolow only indirectly cites the extra-literary content of Celan's poetry (e.g. its relations to the Holocaust, to his past, or to Judaic culture), when such perspectives are raised by other critics, as in Krolow's summary of Marie Luise Kaschnitz' laudatio at the Büchner-Preis ceremony (in Krolow's "Gedichte brauchen Hörer: Paul Celan anläßlich der Verleihung des Büchner-Preises" Neue Rhein-Zeitung [Düsseldorf, October 25, 1960]) and in his summary of Beda Allemann's "Afterword" to Celan's Ausgewählten Gedichten ("Zwischen abgewrackten Tabus." In: DAS. (October 6, 1968): 24). In the latter he notes Allemanns references [Hinweise] "auf die im weitesten Sinn autobiographischen Aspekte und besonders auf die Vertrautheit mit der mystischen Tradition der Chassidim. Auf diesen Punkt ist man meines Wissens bei Celan gar nicht oder genügend eingegangen." That latter comment indicates a welcome openness to such perspectives that had otherwise seemed foreclosed in his readings of Celan.
26. Karl Krolow, "Das Wort als konkrete Materie: Sprachgitter: Gedichte von Paul Celan," Deutsche Zeitung 8 April 1959: 17.