Extracts from 'We who are left behind: Poetry as Testimony in Derrida and Celan, by Mathew Landis.
Read these selected quotations below out loud if you can. Just the resonance, timbre and sound of the language is extraordinary. John Milton in Paradise Lost, T.E Lawrence in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Michael Ondaatjie in The English Patient, D.H. Lawrence in Sons and Lovers; all of these authors have the power to horripilate the skin, warming the senses with that paradoxical cool breeze of wonder and recognition: 'I know how this feels ... I know what this is made of ...'. These texts below were inscribed in search of truths pertaining to absence, aloneness, solitude, surviving, laying a foundation of quiet power in the language of the vision shared.
'The survivor, then, remains alone. Beyond the world of the other, he is also in some fashion beyond or before the world itself. In the world outside the world and deprived of the world. At the least, he feels solely responsible, assigned to carry both the other and his world, the other and the world that have disappeared, responsible without world (weltos), without ground of any world, thenceforth, in a world without world, as if without earth beyond the end of the world.' (see below)
The absent body. Traces of duration spent in apparent solidity:
To write is to arrange language under fascination and, through language, in language, remain in contact with the absolute milieu, where the thing becomes an image again, where the image, which had been allusion to a figure, becomes an illusion to what is without figure, and having been a form sketched on absence, becomes the unformed presence of that absence, the opaque and empty opening on what is when there is no more world, when there is no world yet. ~Maurice Blanchot, “The Essential Solitude”
Landis asserts that poetry is distinctive in its basis for the interrogation of writing itself and the layers of hidden meaning inherent within, wishes which may be from the collective and unspoken associations with which it is drenched. Landis suggests that the wealth of devices employed within poetic syntax are really methodologies which focus on form. Such devices as the sonnet, the ode, the villanelle, aleatoric writing, oulipan constraint, supplementary adjuncts and departures, when used used in poetry can refer to multiple layers of meaning, literal imaging, illustration or representational or supra-textual ideogramme. 'Even a blank sheet of paper folded into a bottle carries a message'.
Landis, through Celan, brings up again, the Other: 'Celan refers to the poem as if it is a solitary organism in search of an ecology. “The poem”, writes Celan, “wants to reach the Other, it needs this Other, it needs a vis a vis. It searches it out and addresses it.”1 The poem pays great attention to and in fact lusts after this Other. Celan’s description of the poem’s “sense of detail, of outline, of structure”2 is reminiscent of the great care taken by a lover examining her partner’s body. The curves, textures, and totality of the body are subject to the gaze of the one who desires after it. It is a desire which is intensified in it’s repetition. But this repetition is not differential; for Celan the images in the poem are “perceived and to be perceived one time, one time over and over again, and only now and only here.”3 Each poem is the one path that seeks to send the voice to a receptive “thou”, it is a “sending oneself ahead of oneself [...] A kind of homecoming”4 which is always already a striking out for one’s home at the moment of arrival. It is a homecoming deferred; the poem emerges as that which is not yet found, but is to be found. The poem seeks itself, seeks its own homecoming even as it embarks upon the journey which is the coming-home.
The singularity of one’s death, that death is one’s “ownmost possibility” as Heidegger repeatedly claims in Being and Time is marked by the wound which erased the voice of Celan’s mother. The glottal stop, the breach, is not followed by a phonetic conclusion. In this instance it is pure, it is silenced. Celan cannot speak for his departed mother. His voice cannot take the place of her own because the presence of his voice cannot undo the erasure of his mother’s. Her absence is marked by the impossibility of a return. There is no homecoming. The interruption does not open a “conducting path”. The erasure of the trace leaves nothing in its wake but silence in this instance. The only way that Celan can “speak” for his dead mother is to bear witness. To give testimony to this wound. The poem then, the voice of the poem, of Celan’s mother, of the dead, of the silenced, of the pure victim is silent. It is expressed only through images, through substitution, through a supplement. The supplement attempts to make up for the absence of the victim, of their voice. Writing is all that remains in its stead. Rather than the threat of presence, writing substitutes itself for the presence of the departed and provides a testimony ... Spacing as writing is the becoming-absent and the becoming-unconscious of the subject. By the movement of its drift/derivation [dérive] the emancipation of the sign constitutes in return the desire of presence. That becoming-or that drift/derivation-does not befall the subject which would
choose it or would passively let itself be drawn along by it. As the subject's relationship with its own death, this becoming is the constitution of subjectivity.
Derrida makes an equivocation in this passage between spacing, that is distance or the result of the breech and writing itself. Writing, in itself, is a breach or interruption which constitutes itself as a process of becoming (recall Celan’s reference to the path of the poem). What writing posits is a testament of absence. In the absence of the subject, writing becomes the subject; it constitutes itself as a testament in place of the subject. Celan not only testifies to his mother’s own departure or his own grief, but he also gives testament in a more collective fashion.
Landis tells us: 'In his extended contemplation of the final line of Celan’s “Vast, Glowing Vault” from Atemwende, Derrida teases out the position of the survivor in the poems final pronunciation: “The world is not here, I must carry you.”23 Derrida precedes his analysis of the poem with his own pronunciation about the survivor and what it means to be one who is left behind, one who gives testimony.
The survivor, then, remains alone. Beyond the world of the other, he is also in some fashion beyond or before the world itself. In the world outside the world and deprived of the world. At the least, he feels solely responsible, assigned to carry both the other and his world, the other and the world that have disappeared, responsible without world (weltos), without ground of any world, thenceforth, in a world without world, as if without earth beyond the end of the world.24
'The singular position of the survivor: he who is left behind to carry the other as a wholly departed and singular other, a wholly departed and singular world. The survivor not only dwells within the breach, but carries the weight of the breach, “the tear/ compacted of silence.” In that moment, this tear, this glottal stop (the cleaving, in both senses, of the glottal folds) the survivor carries on with the other, with the other’s world, a conducting path gives testimony in its absence and writing “breaks into song”, the specter of a singular, departed voice etched onto the tableau through the pen, its medium.
The testimonial (in this case a poem by Celan) is a counter-signatory to the erasure of the trace. It is a substitute, just as the ram is substituted by Abraham in place of Isaac. The sacrifice, the burden of “I must” is fulfilled in the substitution: the sacrificial lamb carries the burden of the other and his world. We who are left behind to testify and to hear testimony are given “the gift of the poem to all readers and counter-signatories, who, always under the law of the trace at work, and of the trace as work, would lead to or get along a wholly other reading or counter-reading.”25 This reading or reception of the work of the trace, of this arche-writing, of this remembrance is then the world of the other, the wholly other that we must carry. It is the counter to erasure, it is the inscription. The inscription of reading is the “I must carry you”, you the other, your world, your wounds, your sickness. We carry the singularity of the other with us and we become their testimony and that becoming is the constitution of the testimonial not only for us, but in us; it is the constitution of testimony for itself '.
Therefore, in '... carrying you ...' we as survivors who are left behind become ourselves, the trace of that other. The inscription on us of our remembrance and testimony informs our presence as one of the constituents of our non-departure on that other`s path, even though we, ourselves, are always leaving and as we leave, inscribing our traces on others who would stay behind.
Retrieved from: http://abecedarianfx.blogspot.com/2009/01/we-who-are-left-behind-poetry-as-in.html