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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Forever Shoah

"Reading the Signs" sent me a poem by Paul Celan, born Paul Antschel.
He was bar Mitzvah, or a son of the Commandment, born in 1920, or thereabouts, and died in 1970, or thereabouts, by suicidal jump into the river Seine. Mr. Celan lived through the Holocaust, and the experience had great influence on him.

A great deal of the biography I read of him seems to focus on his poem "Todtnauberg", which was influenced by his readings of and meeting and discussion with Martin Heidegger, the philosopher. One motive for his journey to see Heidegger was the fact that Heidegger wrote in his "Introduction to Metaphysics" about the "greatness" of National Socialism.

Seen from the vantage point of the post-Holocaust world, such an insertion cries for explanation. However, the great Heidegger provided none, neither to posterity, nor to Celan. When Celan published his "Todtnauberg", he sent Heidegger a first edition. Heidegger responded with a perfunctory thank you note. I found this an interesting story. I have always considered Heidegger to be a whirly-gig type of philosopher, whipped across the asphalt world's pavement like a schoolboy's top.
Heidegger walked a tight-rope between heaven and the abyss: the awesomeness and the awe-fullness of creation. He finally fell into hell. End of story.

But this brings us back to the poem:
TENEBRAE Near are we, Lord, near and graspable. Grasped already, Lord, clawed into each other, as if each of our bodies were your body, Lord. Pray, Lord, pray to us, we are near. Wind-skewed we went there, went there to bend over pit and crater. Went to the water-trough, Lord. It was blood, it was what you shed, Lord. It shined. It cast your image into our eyes, Lord. Eyes and mouth stand so open and void, Lord. We have drunk, Lord. The blood and the image that was in the blood, Lord. Pray, Lord. We are near.  

note: "tenebrae' means "shadows".  

When I first read this, I did not know Celan's history, and I gulped, "Gadfrey Daniels! What cunning deviltry is here?!" I crossed myself and hastily glanced about into the far, dark corners of the room, where demons tend to congregate - if they would do someone harm.
My immediate reaction was an image of Milton's perverse kingdom of the fallen angels, grasping and clawing, standing over the pits and bomb craters of the divine effulgence, eyeing the wasteland where they found themselves, withered trees laced with the mosses of despair.
The compulsive prayer to the Lord struck me as an obsessive and fear filled chant, aimed not at love and obedience, but at power and force, intending by the abject spectacle of the weakness of the praying vermin to compel pity in a God, whose anger has blasted them and whose anger may possibly be diminished, post-cataclysmic, in a divine state of satiety with vengeance.

I never liked the imagery of blood. Depictions of the Sacred Heart I find too, much too akin to ancient hearts of Egypt encased in mortuary alabaster jars, preserved for the sons of Horus. I do not like the religions and icons of the dead. I know Jesus died, but he lived for 33 blood-less glorious years before that! And the "water-trough" filled with blood repels me.
I do not like the translation "water-trough". I suppose it is "Trog" something something originally: Wassertrog or something............. and it is filled with blood!
And "It cast your image into our eyes, Lord."
Is there no hope?
 For instead of the Lord, in Whose image we were made, and tacitly assuming a glorious image, we have an image of the Lord reflected to our eyes by the blood within the trough! A charnel-house image of God. A God of the abattoir!
Yes. That indeed sounds like the 20th Century; like the Holocaust. I glanced and saw that the sender was "Reading the Signs". This calmed me considerably, because I know she would have no evil intention; the poem is not some spell nor incantation. It was Celan's continuation of the Holocaust, however, in a symbolic structure we call poetry.
I reacted like one who wanders into a museum dedicated to the horrors of the time, and felt the great pain behind the depiction. Yet, we cannot be forever Shoah. We must take back the control of our own Imagery. We must be the rulers of our own Symbols. At the end of World War II, the era of the Holocaust, we entered into an age we never experienced before: we had the Image of an Eternal Enemy, the USSR.
Our enemies required constant vigilance:
Increased military spending even in peace time, for there was actually no peace, Addition of the phrase "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance, for we must differentiate ourselves from the godless enemy, Propaganda and Symbolism and Imagery of the greatness and goodness and sanctity of our way of life versus that of the enemy, ...and when that Enemy fell apart, we wandered comatose...until we found a new enemy to consecrate our lives to: our lives, our souls, our works and economy.
We must end the era of Constant War; we must end the era of the Primacy of the Holocaust, the Primacy of the External Enemy; We versus Them, for God has not chosen in our day: He has not rendered one people special and set aside and beyond retribution for the sins they commit, for no sin may any more be committed in God's name.

We must leave the blood-filled trough and see the face of God .
No one ever successfully taught me where to see the face of God. I had to fight for it every year of my life, through excessive elation - when one thinks oneself so strong they need not God - and through horrific despair - when one thinks oneself unworthy of another breath.
We are running out of time. If......... If we do not break free of the Shoah, of World War II, of always searching for an Enemy to destroy and to be destroyed by, of the Religion of Blood and Blood's Passion, we shall die in the leaking catacombs of the Past, down among the vampires of our out-of-time Symbols, where even our mothers suck our blood.
This is the meaning of the trend in vampire and undead imagery in cinema. A new film "Twilight" opens this week, based on a successful series of books. It is young people as Vampires. Part of us finds glory in the National Socialism of Vampires and their absolute Power. So we fall down and worship.
Then, when the lights go up, we are back to normal, and the films have not hurt us. No, for the films are mostly a mirror we hold up to ourselves. Vampires in films do not cause our love of Death; they show us as we are, the destructive and fallen. Deus Lumen resurrexit ex tenebriis

reprint from November, 2011

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