Via wood s lot, I got to The Poetry of Osip Mandelstam: A Radio Play by Paul Celan (complete), posted by Jerome Rothenberg and “Translated from Celan’s German by Pierre Joris.” Now, I’ve long been a fan of Rothenberg’s (see, e.g., this post), but I found several things about this annoying. In the first place, there is no link to Celan’s German original, or even a title by which it could be googled. (I’ve tried [Celan Mandelstam Hörspiel] and [Celan Mandelstam radio], with no results except this Rothenberg post.) It’s clearly from a German original, because it includes German forms like Pawlowsk (rather than Pavlovsk) and Swesda (for Zvezda, ‘Star’), and those non-Englished forms are another annoyance (see my similar complaint in this ancient post). But the original annoyance, the thing that caught my eye and made me want to find the German original, was “The poem in this case is the poem of the one who knows that he is speaking under the clinamen of his existence…” Clinamen? I have a pretty extensive vocabulary, but that rang no bells except as a Latin term I was vaguely aware of (turns out it’s, in Wikipedia’s words, “the Latin name Lucretius gave to the unpredictable swerve of atoms”). The OED’s entry (unrevised since 1889) is short and simple:
An inclination, bias.
1704 Swift Tale of Tub ix. 166 The Round and the Square, would by certain Clinamina, unite in the Notions of Atoms and Void.
1823 T. De Quincey Lett. Young Man in London Mag. July 91/2 An insensible clinamen (to borrow a Lucretian word) prepares the way for it.
1838 J. C. Hare & A. W. Hare Guesses at Truth (ed. 2) 1st Ser. 296 No old word; which, with a slight clinamen be given to its meaning, will answer the purpose.
I have no idea what would lead someone translating from German to use such an obscure and impenetrable word unless the object is to reproduce a corresponding obscurity in the original, hence my quest. (Of course, even if you substitute “bias” or “inclination,” the phrase “speaking under the clinamen of his existence” is still impenetrable.) At any rate, if anyone knows what Celan wrote, or has things to say about the word clinamen, the comment box awaits.