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‘almost/ you would/ have lived’: reading Paul Celan in Colombia

Elston, C. (2021) ‘almost/ you would/ have lived’: reading Paul Celan in Colombia. In: Eskin, M., Leeder, K. and Pajevic, M. (eds.) Paul Celan Today: A Companion. Companions to Contemporary German Culture (10). De Gruyter. ISBN 9783110653403

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In recent years scholars have increasingly explored the relationship between the Holocaust and other instances of genocide and political trauma. However, within this transnational shift in memory studies little attention has been paid to the interrelatedness of Holocaust memory and another of the twentieth century’s histories of atrocity: the Colombian conflict. Seeking to fill this gap in scholarship, this chapter explores the use of Holocaust discourses in Colombia, specifically through an analysis of how Colombian women intellectuals and artists have engaged with the work of Paul Celan – seen as the paradigmatic example of “poetry after Auschwitz” – as a means of thinking through the philosophical questions raised by the conflict and the role of art in representing the violence. Whilst Celan’s influence on Colombia’s most famous contemporary artist, Doris Salcedo, has been widely noted, this has largely been read as reproducing a certain interpretation of the Holocaust poet, one defined by mourning, absence and the impossibility of representation and witnessing. In contrast, as numerous scholars have noted, Celan’s difficult, ‘hermetic’ poetry can also be read as engaged in an ontological task, in a quest for transcendent meaning and urgent communication with another. This chapter therefore builds upon such analyses, alongside new academic work on Celan’s dialogical influence in the Spanish-speaking world (Martín Gijón and Benéitez Andrés 2017), to show how Celan has been taken up by Colombian artists not solely as an example of an anti-representational posture but as enacting an ontological conception of poetic language and the possibility of encounter with those victimised by the violence. I do so through reconsidering Salcedo’s constant dialogue with Celan, alongside analysing the intertextual dialogue between his poetry and Colombia’s foremost twentieth century female poet, María Mercedes Carranza, as well as placing this engagement with Celan within broader Colombian intellectual history.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > Languages and Cultures > Spanish and Hispanic Studies
ID Code:92592
Publisher:De Gruyter


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