Still Songs by Englund Axel

Still Songs by Englund Axel

Author:Englund, Axel.
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.
Published: 2012-08-10T16:00:00+00:00

Chapter 4

Into You, Into You I Sing: Spasmodic Speech and the Borders of the Human Body

The Platonic notion of philosophy as the supreme form of mousikê, whose aim is to purify the soul from its associations with the body and its worldly desires, has been of paramount importance to the history of musical aesthetics.1 In its subsequent Christian reinterpretations in particular, it has served as the substructure of an understanding of music as aimed at spirituality and, as a consequence, at the transcendence or denial of the body. This line of thought reached its apex with German Romanticism, but its echoes are still clearly audible in widespread conceptions of Western music. In this chapter, I shall point to the convergence of contemporary composition and Celan’s verse in what can be interpreted as an attempt to counteract the exclusion of the body, wringing music out of its transcendent orientation by reinstating its connection to the corporeal, human and terrestrial. This attempt is intimately related to the interruptive repetitions described in the previous chapter. Here, however, the linguistic and musical disruptions are charged with notions of bodiliness and eroticism. I move in this chapter through the metaphorical interplay of the poems ‘Tübingen, Jänner’ and ‘Singbarer Rest’ with musical works by György Kurtág and Paul-Heinz Dittrich, to arrive at a reading of some later Celan poems, notably ‘Hafen’ from Atemwende and ‘Spasmen’ from Fadensonnen.

With respect to ‘Tübingen, Jänner’, one of Celan’s best known and most frequently interpreted poems, the capability of musical contexts to partake in the poetic production of meaning is laid particularly bare. Not because the poem thematically treats music – it does not, at least not on an explicit level – but because it attributes such significance to sonic structure: ‘Tübingen, Jänner’ opens itself up with exceptional willingness to an interpretation by musical surroundings, and I will address it here primarily in its interplay with the compositions by Kurtág and Dittrich. Because the meaning of the poem is so tightly woven into its acoustic form, I would argue, the music’s metaphorical identification with the text necessarily amounts to a reconfiguration of the poem’s potential meanings.


Zur Blindheit über-

redete Augen.

Ihre – ‘ein

Rätsel ist Rein-

entsprungenes’–, ihre

Erinnerung an

schwimmende Hölderlintürme, möwen-


Besuche ertrunkener Schreiner


tauchenden Worten:


käme ein Mensch,

käme ein Mensch zur Welt, heute, mit

dem Lichtbart der

Partiarchen: er dürfte,

spräch er von dieser

Zeit, er


nur lallen und lallen,

immer-, immer-


(‘Pallaksch. Pallaksch.’)

(I, p. 226)


Eyes talked into


Their – ‘an enigma is

the purely

originated’ –, their

memory of

Hölderlin towers afloat, circled

by whirring gulls.

Visits of drowned joiners to


submerging words:


should a man,

should a man come into the world, today, with

the shining beard of the

patriarchs: he could,

if he spoke of this

time, he


only babble and babble

over, over


(‘Pallaksh. Pallaksh.’)]2

The title refers to the time and place of the poem’s conception: it was written in January 1961 after a visit to Tübingen, the German town where Friedrich Hölderlin spent his final years in increasing mental illness. The ghost of Hölderlin haunts the poem in several ways, such as the quotation ‘ein / Rätsel ist Rein- / entsprungenes’ from the great


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