Reading Celan for a Hermeneutics of the Body: Pneuma, Handwerk, and “Seelenblind”


For Hans-Georg Gadamer and philosophical hermeneutics, Paul Celan’s poetry and prose have always been decisive in thinking through the possibilities and limitations of language and interpretation. Recently, important hermeneutic research has begun to point to an unavoidable liminal encounter between the body and language in Celan’s texts, which approaches an often-neglected theme in hermeneutic thought: the body and embodied experience. Yet in order for hermeneutics to engage Celan on matters concerning the body, language, and interpretation, it is necessary to understand the profound role that the body and embodied experience plays in Celan’s works. In this essay, I offer three prominent instances of embodiment in Celan’s texts that contribute to such an account. I turn first to his preliminary notes from his 1960 Meridian speech in which he discusses the poem as ‘pneumatic.’ Second, I read Celan’s letter to Hans Bender in 1960 in which poetry is both a tactile Handwerk and a handshake. Third, I engage Celan’s reading notes from two physiology textbooks from 1967 and his poem, “Seelenblind.” While the first two instances affirm the possibility of an embodied encounter with the singularity of the poet, the third instance considers the body as a site of interpretive breakdown.

Keywords: Celan, Gadamer, hermeneutics, language, embodiment, poetics

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