Clinamen.

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.

Comments

  1. Christopher says:

    Google coughed up this:

    “Das Gedicht ist hier das Gedicht dessen, der weiß, daß er unter dem Neigungswinkel seiner Existenz spricht”

  2. If that’s correct, then it means ‘inclination’ in the literal sense of an inclined plane: Neigungswinkel is ‘angle of inclination’. I suppose that what is meant is the descent from birth (or maturity?) to death.

  3. Given the context, I’d bet it’s related to Harold Bloom’s usage of the term in his theory of poetic influence and resistance (I was going to write a short, handwavy description of the idea, but the one in Wikipedia seems reasonable enough).

  4. “Clinamen” nearly rhymes with “cinnamon,” which is a word I associate with Bruno Schulz’s Cinnamon Shops, but I digress.

    Mandelstam definitely had a pronounced effect on Celan. Here is an A.S. Kline translation of a Celan poem I was already familiar with:

    Afternoon Of Circus And Citadel

    In Brest, before the Fire-Hoops burning,
    In the Tent, where Tigers sprang,
    there I heard you, Finite, singing,
    there I saw you, Mandelstam.

    The Sky hung over the Roadstead,
    the Gull, hung over the Crane.
    The Finite sang there, the Constant –
    you, the Gunboat, Baobab.
    I hailed the Tricolor
    with a Russian Word –
    the Lost was Un-Lost,
    the Heart Anchored there.

    I found a number of resources online regarding a radio play by Celan regarding Mandelstam on Pierre Joris’ blog:

    http://www.pierrejoris.com/blog/?p=699
    http://www.pierrejoris.com/blog/?p=1443#more-1443

    But — still no mention of “clinamen.” Curious.

  5. Henk Metselaar says:

    Pierre Joris put forward a Deleuzian perspective- “I’ll confess to problems with the translation of Celan’s term “Neigungswinkel” — which I eventually returned to its most literal translation as “angle of inclination”. For many years —the whole book took 7 years (meager? fat?) to translate — I used the term “clinamen” which in its Deleuzian inclination had seemed useful & accurate to me & my own thinking about PC. Vagaries & vanities of translation.”

    That’s what I found on https://bebrowed.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/paul-celan-osip-mandelstam-and-fateful-language/

    Since it mentions The Meridian/notes on translation, you might want to check out http://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=1236 (I didn’t explore this further)

  6. This seems to be the translator Pierre Joris discussing his choice of the word:

    https://bebrowed.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/paul-celan-and-inclination/#comment-1555

    I hope that helps! Side note, I think in the linked blog post and comments I’ve discovered a definitive cure for insomnia. The frequent use of the adjective “Deleuzian” alone induced a fit of yawning.

  7. I know clinamen from the Oulipo – they use it to describe a deviation from a constraint. In Perec’s Life A User’s Manual the biggest clinamen is the absence of one room (and therefore one chapter) from the apartment block it describes.

  8. d’oh! Henk beat me to it! Another side note – am I the only person who keeps seeing “clinamen” as “chinamen”? Vagaries and vanities of pattern recognition, I guess.

  9. @Iulia said: ‘“Clinamen” nearly rhymes with “cinnamon,”’

    Both in Latin, and in the traditional English pronunciation, “clinamen” is stressed on the second syllable.

  10. But look what happened to abdomen.

  11. David Marjanović says:

    Part of the trick here may be that German doesn’t have a word that would straightforwardly translate “bias”. Poetic circumlocutions like “angle of inclination” come more or less naturally in the attempt to render it; so perhaps “bias” would be the best translation. But then, I know nothing about things Deleuzian.

  12. French philosopher Michel Serres uses the term frequently, in The Birth of Physics (French title: La Naissance de la physique dans le texte de Lucrèce) possibly in The Origins of Geometry, also I think in A History of Scientific Thought: Elements of a History of Science. There was a broad cross-over with Deleuzian philosophy/ers, though for me, I associate ‘clinamen’ more with Serres.

  13. Thanks, all! I’m glad Joris eventually decided to go with “angle of inclination”; I think “clinamen” was a really terrible choice here (or, really, almost anywhere except in a Lucretian or Deleuzian context).

  14. @Lazar: I associate second syllable stress in “abdomen” very strongly with the song “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

  15. ə de vivre says:

    So that would make “clinamen” a clin d’œil to Deleuze?

    I’ll see myself out…

  16. Aoutch!

  17. I first came across “clinamen” in Kim Stanley Robinson’s science-fiction novel The Memory of Whiteness. In context it was at once an (immediately explained) allusion to literary-critical theory and, via Lucretius, a play on the theory of subatomic particles with which the hero is obsessed, so it worked a little better than here…

  18. J. W. Brewer says:

    It seems possible that the German word for clinamen is “clinamen” (or perhaps “Clinamen”): https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinamen.

  19. Brett, for me it’s “The Vatican Rag” instead.

  20. That’s the first time that I’ve encountered that word. Duden doesn’t have it. The article you link to basically quotes it as a technical term used by Lucrecius. Googling “Clinamen”, I mostly find it in texts referring to ancient physics and various pieces of music or poetry named Clinamen. So it’s a German word in the sense that it has been loaned to be used in a very narrow technical context; it’s like saying that the English word for Russian skaz is skaz – true, but not very helpful for someone who encounters the word skaz (or Clinamen) and asks, and what’s that in English (or German)?.

  21. @Brett, Keith Ivey: For me, “Woad” immediately jumped to mind:

    Woad’s the stuff to show, men.
    Woad to scare your foemen:
    Boil it to a brilliant hue
    And rub it on your back and your abdomen.
    Ancient Briton never hit on
    Anything as good as woad to fit on
    Neck, or knees, or where you sit on.
    Tailors, you be blowed.

  22. ə de vivre says:

    So Hat, what you’re saying is that clinamen is not the preferred nomenclature?

  23. Double aoutch!

  24. Epicurus found implications of voluntary action and freedom in the swerve (παρέγκλισις):

    Although human beings, like everything else, are composed of atoms that move according to their fixed laws, our actions are not wholly predetermined — rather than entertain such a paralyzing doctrine, Epicurus says, it would be better to believe in the old myths, for all their perversities (LM 134). What enables us to wrest liberty from a mechanistic universe is the existence of a certain randomness in the motion of atoms, that takes the form of a minute swerve in their forward course (evidence for this doctrine derives chiefly from later sources, including Lucretius and Cicero).

    Various people have claimed to find such implications in quantum randomness.

    It took a couple thousand years to notice the nub of such ruminations: “I speculate wildly, therefore I must be free to do so”.

  25. Curtis G. Booth says:

    Perhaps ‘angle of repose’ would be better as a translation? See the Wikipedia and Wallace Stegner’s novel.

  26. But that means something completely different (not to mention that it brings in a useless allusion to the Stegner book).

  27. I speculate wildly because I am determined to do so, ho ho ho. (This pun comes to you courtesy of Raymond Smullyan, the world’s foremost {ma,lo}gician.)

  28. Adam swerved when Eve made puns –
    This should be studied by logicians.

  29. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    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).

    Conversely: for me and the other at least slightly linguistically aware Polish speakers English transcriptions of Russian are a never ending source of annoyance and frustration. They are creeping in everywhere! And lead to ridiculous spelling pronunciations (so -ch-, i.e. č, may end up as [x], not to mention details such as palatalization going out the window). From the POV of English it’s less painful as Russian is fairly distantly related, but for Slavic native speakers such botching seems unbelievably stupid.

  30. Trond Engen says:

    Of course. All Slavic languages should be spelled as Czech.

  31. I always Czech my spelling before publishing.

  32. The cognate svarva in Swedish has been specialized to “turn on a lathe”. This has no possible relevance to Deleuze.

  33. Deleuze on lathes (not my rendering, that’s for sure):

    # Nature is contingent, excessive and mystical essentially … Not unfortunately the universe is wild – game flavored as a hawk’s wing. Nature is miracle all. She knows no laws; the same returns not, save to bring the different. The slow round of the engraver’s lathe gains but the breadth of a hair, but the difference is distributed back over the whole curve, never an instant true – ever not quite. #

  34. And the commenter was enlightened.

  35. Well, I myself wasn’t particularly.

  36. I meant as to the relevance of everything to everything else. Whether you understand it or not.

  37. Ah, now there you’ve got me !

  38. Does this new “second-thoughts” click-to-edit feature have the effect of preventing comments appearing for 15 minutes ? That would sure slow things down on good days.

  39. A queue of that kind is Not A Good Thing. But maybe it would be too difficult to allow the editing of comments that have already appeared (= gone into the database). If so, I suggest reducing the edit time to 1 minute. If someone posts a long comment in haste, he has a minute to copy the text (a matter of seconds anyway), delete the comment and edit the text at leisure before posting again.

  40. Does this new “second-thoughts” click-to-edit feature have the effect of preventing comments appearing for 15 minutes ?

    No, and I don’t know why you’d think that — you can see it as soon as you hit “Post,” can’t you?

  41. I saw your reply to me six minutes after I posted mine — so there’s no such delay.

    There is also no indication that a comment has been edited, so in principle you should reload the page before posting to check for intervening comments (as usual) and reread what you’re responding to if it was less than 15 minutes old when you started.

    (Having the edited text replace the original in your own view does not mean it changes for everyone else (before they reload). Some comment systems do have a popup to tell you that there’s new/edited material in the thread and can display it without reloading the whole page, but that’s a bit excessive for here).

  42. Trond Engen says:

    Stu: I always Czech my spelling before publishing.

    Slavishly.

  43. Also, now that I see hat’s reply (not following my own advice there):

    Technically it’s a harder job to keep a temporary copy around without putting it in a database somewhere. But it could be in a draft state, only visible to the poster, until the edit period expired — Stu’s concern wasn’t irrelevant, but luckily unneeded.

  44. Technically it’s a harder job to keep a temporary copy around without putting it in a database somewhere. But it could be in a draft state, only visible to the poster, until the edit period expired — Stu’s concern wasn’t irrelevant, but luckily unneeded.

    Once again I have learned something, though I’ll probably forget it.

  45. Technically it’s a harder job to keep a temporary copy around without putting it in a database somewhere

    There’s no point in trying – just put temporary stuff in a temporary database. A temporary database is merely a database called “temporary”, to distinguish it from the “main” database. Either the temporary database is the same as the main one, but refers only to the data there marked with a flag as “temporary”. Or it’s a separate database.

    “Database” here means “a place where data are put so that they survive a server crash”.

  46. “A place where data are put” means a section of the file system on some computer, a section that contains the files in which the data are held.

  47. Trond Engen says:

    Lars: The cognate svarva in Swedish has been specialized to “turn on a lathe”. This has no possible relevance to Deleuze.

    In Norwegian too, although dialectal and quite possibly obsolete by now, replaced by dreie. I knew the word only from the phrase svarve hatter “make hats” from this song by Alf Prøysen and didn’t know it involved a lathe.

  48. Trond Engen says:

    And it didn’t even strike me how apt this is for this site!

    The song is inspired by an older idiomatic phrase, Det er forskjell på kong Salomo og Jørgen hattemaker “There’s difference between King Salomon and George the hatter”, a laconic comment on how courts and the law and life in general are skewed against the little man. But Prøysen’s song is about … contention. On the surface, at least.

    Ja, fysst så vil je nevne min stilling og min stæinn:
    je står og svarve hatter i Salomo sitt læinn.
    Sjøl bær’ je navnet Jørgen, så skilnaden er stor,
    men både je og Salomo kom nakne tel vår jord.

    Sola skinn’ på deg
    så skuggen fell på meg,
    men graset er grønt for æille.

    Når liljene på marken i fager blomstring står
    og æille himlens fugler sin glade trille slår
    Je nynne såmmå strofa i Hattemakergrend
    og morgendagen, Salomo, -hva veit vel vi om den.

    Sola skinn’ på deg
    så skuggen fell på meg,
    men graset er grønt for æille

    Har Salomo sitt måltid med vin og fyllte fat,
    je sug på harde skorper og kæille det for mat.
    Men det vi gjer ifrå øss dit vi i lønndom går
    blir gras til hyrdens hvite lam og Sarons sorte får.

    Sola skinn’ på deg
    så skuggen fell på meg,
    men graset er grønt for æille

    Når dronninga av Saba gjør Salomo visitt,
    je ser ‘a Lea Lettvint og hu har tenkt seg hit.
    Om leiet blir forskjellig frå silkeseng tel strå,
    vi går mot såmmå paradis og hører harper slå.

    Sola skinn’ på deg
    så skuggen fell på meg,
    men graset er grønt for æille

    Når sola synk og dale bak slottets tårn og tind,
    da kjæm den mørke natta med drøm og tankespinn.
    Da blir je sjøl kong Salomo, og hæinn blir kæinnskje den
    som står og svarve hatter uti hattemakergrenn,

    Og sola skinn på meg
    så skuggen fell på deg,
    men graset er grønt for æille.

  49. Trond Engen says:

    Stolen from some webpage.

  50. @Stu, given the will and the skill (and perversity enough) you could implement a comment drafting interface using session-lifetime cookies or other non-persistent browser-local storage. You can call that a database, and I won’t say it’s wrong, but it’s not a thing like MySQL which is what most people will think of. And specifically it’s outside the database instance that the rest of the blog is stored in.

    @Trond, svarva seems to have started out with pretty broad semantics, from ‘running around aimlessly’ to ‘bend’ — then ‘form’ in general, and then to forming a rotating object. ‘Turning on a potter’s wheel’ is now dreja, but used to be svarva too. Somewhere in there, hats may have been svarvat too. (Not to mention that the forms for hats may have been made on a lathe).

    Danish has dropped svarve long ago and uses dreje for both processes.

  51. The comment-editing timer appears to be purely local: if you write a comment in one browser and open the page in another browser (I used Chrome and Microsoft Edge), the copy in the second browser is not editable.

    Slavishly.

    Thread won.

  52. Trond Engen says:

    Somewhere in there, hats may have been svarvat too. (Not to mention that the forms for hats may have been made on a lathe).

    Yeah, I found some references to lathes and other tools for making hats, but I think it’s really the form that’s made on a lathe.

  53. John Cowan, this site doesn’t have logins for commenters, so there’s no way for it to know that you are the same person who posted the comment if you use a different browser. The browser you used to make the comment gets a cookie from the site (presumably) so it can be recognized for the editing, but that cookie is just for that browser.

  54. @H@: No, and I don’t know why you’d think that [comment not immediately posted for others to see] — you can see it as soon as you hit “Post,” can’t you?

    I can indeed, but I also can when I post a comment with more than one hyperlink. I see the comment, along with the message “your comment is awaiting moderation”, but no one else sees it until it has been released into the thread by “moderation”.

  55. @Stu, very good point. And in that case the post does exist in the blog database, just marked for moderation — as evidenced by the fact that Hat can see it.

    It’s actually a neat feature that you can see your own queued posts, I’m sure it didn’t used to be like that. More cookie magic.

  56. @Lars: as evidenced by the fact that Hat can see it

    In fact he didn’t say or even imply that. You have constructed a reality you will need to destruct once I point out (as you can verify in his comment above) that he said only: “No, and I don’t know why you’d think that — you can see it as soon as you hit “Post,” can’t you?”

  57. George Gibbard says:

    Lars is referring to Hat’s seeing posts awaiting moderation so he can moderate.

  58. Cookie magic has made it harder to see oursels as ithers see us.

    Somewhere along the IT line people picked up on “what you see is what you get” as a Good Thing. There was a tacit implication that what you see is what others see as well. But that is no longer the case.

    I have no idea what exactly my Facebook timeline looks like to other people. I would have to put effort into finding out.

    As a result of personalization, we no longer control the representation of ourselves in everyday life.

  59. @George: Lars is referring to Hat’s seeing posts awaiting moderation so he can moderate

    Thanks, I see that now. But I’m not clear on how that observation might help me to figure out when new comments by me, not awaiting moderation, become visible to others.

  60. On the contrary — it proves that there are cases where what you see is different from what everybody else sees, and that you have no way of knowing if the same applies to comments in their editing period. So your original question was very justified, sorry if that wasn’t clear.

  61. The front page, however, is not personalized, so when a comment shows up there it is publicly visible. In addition, my recently-commented-pages page is built by scraping the front page, so when a page turns red there, a new comment has become publicly visible, though the redness is user-specific.

  62. … the redness is user-specific.

    This just made me LOL for some reason.

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