GLOTTAL CHOICES.

Poet and translator Pierre Joris has a blog, Nomadics, which he calls “A place for tracings, translations, meanderings, notings, explorations, etc. of a mainly writerly nature.” A recent post, “Celan, Kafka & the Glottal Stop,” discusses an essay by Matthew Landis “on the connection of certain themes in Paul Celan’s poetry & Jacques Derrida’s writings,” a subject that I fear does not interest me. I was, however, interested in Joris’s criticism of Landis for relying solely on the (apparently dreadful) Popov/McHugh translation of Celan and its mendacious introduction, which claims that as a boy Celan “was sent to a work camp and his family (Romanian Jews living in Germany) were sent to Auschwitz. While in Auschwitz, Celan’s mother died from a wound to the throat.” Joris follows the quote with “Note: Celan and his parents did not live in Germany, but in Czernowitz, then part of Rumania, today part of the Ukraine. They were not sent to Auschwitz, but to work camps along the Bug river, on the Romanian/Ukrainian border”; about the “wound in the throat” he says “in 40 years of reading Celan and the vast Sekundärliteratur on his work, I have never come across this bit of information.”
One result of this reliance is that Landis uses Popov/McHugh’s “The glottal stop is breaking/ into song” as a springboard for this meditation: “The glottal stop is the breaking off of sound by the pressing of the laryngeal folds (the glottis) together. In addition to this breach in voice, we have a breach in space. The break after ‘breaking’ again leaves a space into which the song emerges.” A nice point, except that Celan’s own words were “Der Kehlkopfverschlußlaut/ singt.” The glottal breach before “into” occurs only in translation. As Joris says, “when thinking through Celan (or any other foreign-language poet) via his poems it is essential to rely not only on one translation & its accompanying introduction, but to go to the original and quote it too.”
(Incidentally, Joris writes: “In the manuscripts of the Celan poem, the title was given as “Frankfurt, ע, September” and alternatively as “Frankfurt, Ayin, September” — i.e. it included the glottal stop in the title…” The letter ayin does not represent a glottal stop but a voiced pharyngeal fricative, although many Israelis now pronounce it as a glottal stop in some contexts.)
I took the title of this post from Joris’s lively essay “A Glottal Choice” (from his book A Nomad Poetics), which describes how he came to be the multilingual person he is today:

I was born between languages, I first spoke Lëtzebuergesch, a dialect of the western Rhineland and the Moselle river valley, from Middle-High-German with Frankish roots. Not a dialect, a language, a langue, a tongue, a mother tongue I was never taught how to write — and whose passage from spoken dialect into codified, standard written form happened, unknown to me, during my passage through the scholastic institutions, to flower into an irredentist yet useful tool for a local literature when I had already turned my back & gone West to write in my fourth…
At any rate, one always writes in a foreign language. Be it mother tongue or
foreign language, language is always foreign, other, second — & only therefore can one find a home therein. All writing, all poetry is a trek toward language, our other, the station, the staying on the passage through time, I am a space traveler trying to write myself into an oasis corner, an amen corner as I circumambulate the polis of my life span, stopping here and there. Yet even that station, that mawqif is never a given, but always a wrestling so as to expulse the slag, to burn the dead wood and rearrange the stones in the ruins of the old camp. For all poetry rewrites language against itself.

He talks about first learning English through falling in love with an English woman, about the hip quality of English in post-WWII Germany, about finding On the Road on a beach in Spain and Naked Lunch in the erotica section of a Luxembourg bookstore—”All of which stood me in good stead when, at nineteen, in Paris, I discovered Eliot and through him most quickly came to Ezra Pound’s Cantos in Shakespeare & Company, where I sat nightly reading and wondering if I should quit medical school… Reading Pound made me understand that poetry was a full-time, lifelong occupation, not a genteel activity for rainy weekends.”
If you’re wondering about “mawqif,” it’s Arabic; the root w-q-f means ‘stop,’ the verbal form being waqqaf in Levantine Arabic and the noun mawqef (laazem tǝnzel bǝl-mawqef ǝž-žaaye ‘you have to get off at the next stop’) or waqfe (fii عanna waqfe عasǝr daqaayeq b-ḥama ‘we have a ten-minute stop in Hama’). Wehr/Cowan defines mawqif as ‘stopping place; station; (cab, etc.) stand; (bus, train, etc.) stop; parking lot; parking place; stopover, stop; place, site; scene, scenery; position, posture; situation; attitude; stand, position, opinion’ (it seems Arabic words are as multivalent as Irish ones); I don’t know from what context Joris got the word and how exactly he is using it, but the general sense is clear.

Comments

  1. I don’t really like the Hamburger translation either, although of course my German isn’t good enough to really tell.
    I do think the point about Auschwitz is an important one: Celan, more than almost any other poet, has been the victim of a general Holocaustization of mid-20th century Jewish literature. This is a really pernicious process, because it severs the work of any author from his own concerns and lumps it in with a homogeneous mass of Oprah Book Club Shoah memoirs. Of course, a lot of mid-20th century Jewish literature was about the Holocaust. But not all. Celan, in particular, was much more interested in questions of language and ontology than in personal tragedy, which is why he sustained a decades-long and highly specialized engagement (and correspondence) with Heidegger.
    Incidentally, I think I recommended A Nomad Poetics in one of the threads here a few months ago. Is that where you found it? I had somehow assumed that his pontificating about Derrida and Deleuze would be enough to ward you off from it completely.

  2. I don’t know this poem, but I looked it up in a commented Celan (Kommentierte Gesamtausgabe by Barbara Wiedemann) and a link is made to Kafka, who died of tuberculosis of the larynx (Kehlkopf) and his story Josefine, die Sängerin oder Das Volk der Mäuse, written when he was already ill, in which he describes singing as a laryngeal piping or squeaking. It says the Hebrew consonant was originally a guttural – a Kehlkopfverschlußlaut, like the first letter of the name Kafka. Fwiw.

  3. Sorry – I should have read your link!

  4. It sounds like Joris is channeling Radio Yerevan here. And whassamatta him, he can’t write “secondary literature” in plain English??

  5. Incidentally, I think I recommended A Nomad Poetics in one of the threads here a few months ago. Is that where you found it?
    I think so.
    And whassamatta him, he can’t write “secondary literature” in plain English??
    He likes playing around with different languages. Like certain bloggers I could name.

  6. My longstanding infatuation with Belgium has now spilled over to cover Luxembourg as well, especially after passing through last year and discovering that in the local bladets and krants, French and German articles nestle together on the same page, while Luxembourgish is the main language of the birth and death announcements. (I hear from a passing Internet that Luxembourgish is also staging a revival in cultural journals; maybe your Learned Readers can confirm or deny? The Otherwise Learned may also be interested in this audiovisual course in the language: you have to register, but they don’t even require an email address.)
    So, is there much about Luxembourgish in the book, or is it mostly Writerly Writing About Writerly Writing? (Which undoubtedly has a place, just not an especially prominent one in my lately rather quotidian life.)

  7. Hey, des, long time no see! I regret to report that Amazon’s “search within” function finds only three references to Luxembourg, none of them of interest to you. Give my regards to the princessor!

  8. Will do!
    I was a bit busy moving to the Netherlands, learning the language, getting married, having a baby and stuff for a couple of years, but a degree of equilibrium is starting to return now.
    Shame about the book, though. (Becoming multilingual in Luxembourg is apparently the default though – it crosses my mind to wonder if the Americans who think all Europeans know four or more languages have in fact confined their travels to the Grand Duchy, where they really do.)

  9. I was intrigued by the reference to “amen corner” in the text, as I know Amen Corner in London, by St.Pauls, quite well. So I had to find out why it was called that.
    Pages of Google refer to a band or certain holes at Augusta, but I finally found:
    Many of the streets around the area of St Paul’s Cathedral have names which relate to the area’s religious importance. In medieval times, at the end of each day, the great cathedral would be closed up and the Dean and Chapter would process, with members of the cathedral staff and choristers, through the surrounding streets on their way back to their residence. At certain points they would stop and prayers would be said – - at Creed Lane, the ‘Creed’ would be recited, at Sermon Lane a sermon would be delivered, at Ave Maria Lane the ‘Ave Maria’ would be sung and then ‘Amen’ would be said at Amen Corner, the end point of the procession. The Dean & Chapter reside at Amen Court….
    …as indeed they still do. I used to visit the family of a Canon there.
    All OT, of course, but may be of slight interest.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    … the Dean and Chapter would process, with members of the cathedral staff and choristers, …
    And this procession of dozens of people happened at the end of each day? It seems overdone to me. Every Sunday, perhaps, and even that would seem a bit much.

  11. All OT, of course, but may be of slight interest.
    Of great interest! Thanks for digging it up and sharing it.

  12. There’s no explaining Christians, M-L.

  13. There’s no explaining Christians, M-L.

  14. I’m surprised by this statement:
    > The letter ayin does not represent a glottal stop but a voiced pharyngeal fricative, although many Israelis now pronounce it as a glottal stop in some contexts.
    As a twentieth-century Ashkenaz, Celan presumably never pronounced the ayin as a voiced pharyngeal fricative; what does it matter that some Mizrakhi speakers today pronounce it as one (especially in liturgical registers), or that in ancient times it likely was often pronounced as one?

  15. JE: There’s no explaining Christians
    Easy. No television.

  16. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Amen Corner, the Welsh pop group led by one Andy Fairweather-Lowe, in the latter half of the Sixties, were unbelievably popular with the local girls when we went on a rugby tour of S. Wales, when I was fifteen. They were awful (Amen Corner), but local ‘talent’ is judged by different criteria in small cultures. A similar thing happens in Norway, where they still talk about a group that won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1923 — not ABBA, they’re Swedes, another one, possibly Ah-ha.

  17. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Apparently the pop group was named after a 1954 play called The Amen Corner, by James Baldwin. Wiki doesn’t say what that was named after.

  18. As a twentieth-century Ashkenaz, Celan presumably never pronounced the ayin as a voiced pharyngeal fricative; what does it matter that some Mizrakhi speakers today pronounce it as one (especially in liturgical registers), or that in ancient times it likely was often pronounced as one?
    Because it makes no sense to use “ayin” as a symbol of a glottal stop when Hebrew has a letter, aleph, that actually represents a glottal stop. Celan, as an educated man, presumably knew the difference, and I strongly suspect the “ayin” in the title is doing something other than representing a glottal stop.

  19. I added the actual definition to the inadequate Wikipedia page:
    Amen corner is literally a U.S. term for “that part of a meeting-house occupied by persons who assist the preacher with occasional and irregular responses” (OED), “a conspicuous corner in a church occupied by fervent worshipers” (Merriam-Webster).
    Since a church is a main setting in the Baldwin play, I presume that’s what he had in mind.

  20. A.J.P. Crown says:

    That’s interesting that it had a completely different origin in the US from the St. Paul’s derivation that Paul gives.

  21. Richard J says:

    In my previous job I used to have lots of dealings with the Luxembourgeois office [1]. It was interesting that the German-speaking staff and the French-speaking staff seemed to have parallel teams – I rarely worked with a Teutophonic partner supervising Francophonic staff.
    [1] Bunch of useless over-charging pillocks who never responded to emails/voicemails, but I digress.

  22. Robert Berger says:

    By co-incidence, my late grandmother was a native of Czerowitz, now Chernivtsi, Ukraine, and settled in the US as a teenager.

  23. Robert Berger says:

    By co-incidence, my late grandmother was a native of Czerowitz, now Chernivtsi, Ukraine, and settled in the US as a teenager.

  24. There’s a media niche open for a Luxemberger sandwich. I imagine it with stinky cheese and some especially tasty kind of meat.

  25. There’s a media niche open for a Luxemberger sandwich. I imagine it with stinky cheese and some especially tasty kind of meat.

  26. “media niche” => “market niche”. Brain damage problem.

  27. “media niche” => “market niche”. Brain damage problem.

  28. Many remarkable people came from Czernowicz — most notably, after Celan, Josef Schmidt, the diminutive but magnificent Jewish tenor.

  29. > Because it makes no sense to use “ayin” as a symbol of a glottal stop when Hebrew has a letter, aleph, that actually represents a glottal stop.
    But aleph has other uses as well. For example, since “aleph b’Iyar” means “Iyar first” (and so on), “Aleph, September” would risk sounding like “September first”.
    Also, even in Ancient Hebrew, aleph was often completely silent, not even representing a glottal stop. (This was especially common in Aramaic loanwords, but happened even in such native words as קוֹרֵאת qōrēth “read”-FEM-SING-PRES.) So for choosing a Hebrew letter to represent the glottal stop for a poem title, there are definitely reasons that one might prefer ayin over aleph.
    (Which is not to dismiss the idea that the ayin is doing something besides representing the glottal stop, just to raise the possibility that maybe it isn’t.)

  30. OK, fair enough. You obviously know a good deal more about the subject, and I defer to your judgment.

  31. David Marjanović says:

    Is that “silent” aleph here a mater lectionis for the long e?

  32. > Is that “silent” aleph here a mater lectionis for the long e?
    Not exactly. It’s a form of the verb קָרָא qārā’ “read, call out”. I think the aleph must once have been pronounced when it came at the end of the verb, since otherwise it would presumably have been written as a hei (like with the verb קָרָה qārāh “happen”, which today is pronounced the same) — I don’t know how long ago it became silent there, maybe in the latter half of Classical Antiquity? — but in forms like קוֹרֵאת qōrēth it’s definitely been silent since ancient times, and for all I know (which isn’t as much as Hat seems to give me credit for), maybe it’s always been silent. So I guess it’s like a mater lectionis, except that instead of helping indicate the vowel, it helps indicate the underlying root.
    (But I’m sure Hat has other readers who know a lot more about Ancient Hebrew, and for that matter Modern Hebrew, than I do; hopefully one of them can chime in with corrections or more information.)

  33. David, this aleph (very, very likely) used to be pronounced. The root qr’ “to read” is well attested, and the glottal stop does get pronounced in some other words derived from it, for example in Qārā’īm (Karaites) or in the Arabic Qur’ān. The Hebrews just got lazy and stopped pronouncing glottal stops in syllable codas (can you blame them?).
    Calling this one a mater lectionis would have gotten you into a long argument with my Hebrew professor.

  34. Lukas, as I said, the aleph was certainly pronounced in certain forms of that verb, which is why it’s in the root. But are you saying that it was pronounced in the form קוֹרֵאת qōrēth, specifically?

  35. David Marjanović says:

    I see, thanks.

  36. Ran, yes, there are reasons to propose that. Essentially, first you have comparisons to sister languages: I can’t use the specific form qōrēṯ as Arabic forms the female participle differently, but it works for many other Hebrew words that have a silent aleph: for example rōš ראש “head” is ra’s رأس in Arabic, with a pronounced glottal stop. This and parallel observations suggest that, at some point, Hebrew elided the glottal stop in syllable codas, lengthening the nuclear vowel in the process (ā > ō is common in Hebrew). Since the consonant text of the Hebrew bible was considered sacred, scribes left the aleph where it was even though it was not being pronounced any more.

    Assuming that this process produced qōrēṯ קוראת as well allows to explain this form from same paradigm as strong verb forms: *qāri’ṯ > *qōre’ṯ > qōrēṯ becomes analogous to *šāmirṯ > *šōmerṯ > šōméreṯ.

  37. Interesting, thanks! That makes sense. :-)
    Well, mostly makes sense. The ra’š > rāš > rōš explanation for ראש would put the elision of the glottal stop even before the Canaanite shift. Since the Canaanite shift took place before Hebrew was even its own language, long before the Biblical consonants were set down, it doesn’t explain why we have the aleph in that word. But the Wikipedia article on the Canaanite shift explains this away by saying that “In two of the above lexical items ( and rōš) one will notice that the shift did not only affect long vowels, but also short vowels occurring in the vicinity of a historically attested glottal stop in Canaanite.” Which is kind of weak, but I guess there’s only so much we can know about these things. :-)

  38. I guess there’s only so much we can know about these things.
    That’s why historical linguistics is such a frustrating field!

  39. Since the Canaanite shift took place before Hebrew was even its own language, long before the Biblical consonants were set down, it doesn’t explain why we have the aleph in that word.

    Oh dear. I used the first example that came to mind… which turns out not to be an example (well, sorta). My apologies.

  40. “head” is ra’s رأس in Arabic, with a pronounced glottal stop.”
    For what it’s worth, I don’t remember any glottal stop in the local dialect I’m used to. The government center downstream from the commercial district in Amman is ras al-eyn (head of the eye? head of the spring?) and the phrase for “Yes, I’ll do it” is “ala rasi”–”it is on my head” (if I don’t).

  41. According to Forvo, at least some varieties of Arabic have a glottal stop there.

  42. marie-lucie says:

    Ran: I guess there’s only so much we can know about these things.
    LH: -That’s why historical linguistics is such a frustrating field!
    It is not a field for the impatient. But when you do solve a problem, you feel you have really done something! And often one problem solved turns out to point to the solution of another problem. It is like doing a giant, multi-dimensional puzzle. Rewards are few and far between, but when you do get them, you really appreciate them.

  43. Sounds too much like real life for me.

  44. Sounds too much like real life for me.

  45. David Marjanović says:

    According to Forvo, at least some varieties of Arabic have a glottal stop there.

    And at least some of the others have fused it with the r, yielding an emphatic r that has no letter. This sound appears to be very common in Algeria (both in Arabic and the Berber languages, and even in Kwarandzyey) and is also used to represent the uvular r of French loanwords.

  46. This is a highly interesting discussion. Also, if you’ve read my blog recently I’ve made, I think, ample notice of Joris’ justifiable criticisms. I plan on editing the essay taking them into account and continuing my self imposed study of German in order to attempt to more faithfully work with Celan’s writing. It’s my contention, and I think Joris’ thinks so too…at least the beginning of his essay gave the impression…that some of my fundamental points about the relationship between Celan and Derrida, and the usefulness of a poetics of negation that considers the breach and the interruption and uses these tropes in order to tease out the “traces” of repression hidden within the fabric of language, are still salient and worthwhile points even as my essay is currently constituted. That said, all of the criticism has been helpful in sharpening my own thinking and furthering my own explorations into language.

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