Abstract

This article examines Paul Celan’s use of the terms cola and breath-unit in his notes for the 1960 “Meridian” address. In the 1920s, Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig developed their “colometric translation” of the Bible, using the breath-unit to capture, in German, the spoken qualities of the Hebrew Bible by allowing the human breath to dictate line divisions. Celan repurposed the breath-unit for his post-Shoah poetics: it registered, for him, a further disruption of the Hebrew-German translational link, following the demise of the Jewish community of readers. Celan’s breath-unit became a measure of silence, marking the pauses between poetic lines as sites of interrupted breathing, which entail a painful encounter with deformation and murder. Furthermore, if Buber and Rosenzweig used their breath-inspired cola to bypass the traditional line divisions of biblical verse, Celan’s radicalized breath-unit can be understood as a response to the musicality attributed to his earlier poetry; he drew on the singularity of the breath to forge ever shorter lines and vertical, severed poems that culminate in the lost or buried word.

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