Language as Landscape in J. H. Prynne and Paul Celan

  • Nicola Thomas
Part of the Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies book series (GSLS)


Thomas compares the representation of text as space (and space as text) in the work of Paul Celan and J. H. Prynne. Prynne and Celan share a distinctive spatial vocabulary of hostile landscapes, subterranean spaces and contingent dwellings. In both cases, this is underpinned by some form of scepticism regarding language’s capacity to produce meaning. Drawing on Derrida’s concept of ‘trace’, and the notion of literary space more broadly, this analysis explores the role of archaeology and geology in Prynne and Celan’s work of the 1960s and early 1970s. It reads Celan’s theory of the meridian in the context of this critical discourse of meta-linguistic or meta-textual spaces, suggesting various ways in which both writers conceive of the poem itself as a literary space of intersubjective encounter in difficult terrain.


  1. Bachmann, Ingeborg. 1993. Werke. Edited by Christine Koschel, Inge von Weidenbaum, and Clemens Münster. Vol. 1, 4 vols. Munich; Zürich: Piper.Google Scholar
  2. Baer, Ulrich. 2000. Remnants of Song: Trauma and the Experience of Modernity in Charles Baudelaire and Paul Celan. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bode, Christoph. 1992. A Mercia of the Mind: Geoffrey Hill’s “Mercian Hymns” and the Poetical Transcendence of Time and Place. In Regionalität, Nationalität und Internationalität in der zeitgenössischen Lyrik, ed. Lothar Fietz, Paul Hoffmann, and Hans-Werner Ludwig, 313–342. Tübingen: Attempto-Verlag.Google Scholar
  4. Brinkmann, Roland, and Werner Zeil. 1956. Abriß der Geologie 1: Allgemeine Geologie. Vol. 1, 2 vols. Stuttgart: Enke.Google Scholar
  5. Brinton, Ian. 2009. His Brilliant Luminous Shade. In A Manner of Utterance: The Poetry of J. H. Prynne, ed. Ian Brinton, 11–22. Exeter: Shearsman.Google Scholar
  6. Celan, Paul. 1986. Collected Prose. Translated by Rosemarie Waldrop. Manchester: Carcanet.Google Scholar
  7. ———. 2007. Poems of Paul Celan. Translated by Michael Hamburger. Anvil Press Poetry.Google Scholar
  8. ———. 1996. Sprachgitter: Vorstufen, Textgenese, Endfassung. Edited by Heino Schmull. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  9. ———. 1999. Der Meridian: Endfassung—Entwuerfe—Materialien. Edited by Bernhard Böschenstein and Heino Schmull. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  10. ———. 2003. Die Gedichte. Kommentierte Gesamtausgabe. Edited by Barbara Wiedemann. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  11. ———. 2005. Mikrolithen sinds, Steinchen. Die Prosa aus dem Nachlaß. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  12. de Certeau, Michel. 2011. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven Rendall. Oakland: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  13. Chalfen, Israel. 1991. Paul Celan: A Biography of His Youth. New York: Persea Books.Google Scholar
  14. Derrida, Jacques. 1976. Of Grammatology. Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore; London: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  15. ———. 1988. Letter to a Japanese Friend. In Derrida and Différance, ed. David Wood and Robert Bernasconi. Translated by David Wood and Andrew Benjamin, 1–5. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  16. ———. 1994. A Shibboleth for Paul Celan. In Word Traces: Readings of Paul Celan, ed. Aris Fioretos. Translated by Joshua Wilner, 3–74. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  17. ———. 2005. Sovereignties in Question: The Poetics of Paul Celan. Edited by Thomas Dutoit. Translated by Outi Pasanen. New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Dorn, Edward. 1989. Gunslinger. In Durham, NC. London: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Englund, Axel. 2012. Still Songs: Music in and Around the Poetry of Paul Celan. Farnham, UK; Burlington, VT: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  20. Felstiner, John. 1995. Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Foucault, Michel. 1986. Of Other Spaces. Translated by Jay Miskowiec. Diacritics 16 (1): 22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gawoll, Hans-Jürgen. 1995. Spur. In Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, ed. Joachim Ritter and Karlfried Gründer, vol. 9, 1550–1558. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft Darmstadt.Google Scholar
  23. Günther, Siegmund. 1895. Physische Geographie. Stuttgart: Göschen.Google Scholar
  24. von Hallberg, Robert. 2006. Celan’s Universality. Michigan Quarterly Review 155 (2).
  25. Hamacher, Werner. 1996. The Second of Inversion: Movements of a Figure Through Celan’s Poetry. In Premises: Essays on Philosophy and Literature from Kant to Celan. Translated by Peter Fenves, 337–388. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Heidegger, Martin. 2003. ‘Wozu Dichter?’ In Holzwege, 269–320. Frankfurt a.M.: Klostermann.Google Scholar
  27. Huppert, Hugo. 1988. “Spirituell”. Ein Gespräch mit Paul Celan. In Paul Celan, ed. Werner Hamacher and Winfried Menninghaus, 319–324. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  28. Hutchinson, Ben. 2011. Modernism and Style. In Basingstoke. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  29. Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe. 1999. Poetry as Experience. Translated by Andrea Tarnowski. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Ladkin, Sam, and Robin Purves. 2007. Introduction. Chicago Review 53 (1): 6–13.Google Scholar
  31. Lefebvre, Henri. 1991. The Production of Space. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  32. Lewis, Pericles. 2007. The Cambridge Introduction to Modernism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lotze, Franz. 1955. Geologie. Berlin: de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  34. Manger, Klaus. 2005. Entwurf einer Landschaft. In Kommentar zu Paul Celans ‘Sprachgitter’, ed. Jürgen Lehmann, Jens Finckh, Markus May, and Susanna Brogi, 350–357. Heidelberg: Winter.Google Scholar
  35. May, Markus, Peter Gossens, and Jürgen Lehmann, eds. 2008. Celan-Handbuch: Leben, Werk, Wirkung. Stuttgart: Metzler.Google Scholar
  36. Menninghaus, Winfried. 1980. Paul Celan: Magie der Form. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  37. Nora, Pierre. 1996. Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past. Edited by Lawrence D Kritzman. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Vol. 1, 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Perloff, Marjorie. 2006. Sound Scraps, Vision Scraps: Paul Celan’s Poetic Practice. In Reading for Form, ed. Susan J. Wolfson and Marshall Brown, 177–202. Seattle: University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
  39. Pöggeler, Otto. 1962. Ach, die Kunst! Die Frage nach dem Ort der Dichtung. In Der Mensch und die Künste: Festschrift für Heinrich Lützeler zum 60. Geburtstage, ed. Günter Bandmann, Peter Bloch, and Wilhelm Perpeet, 98–111. Düsseldorf: Schwann.Google Scholar
  40. Prynne, J.H. 2008. Huts. Textual Practice 22 (4): 613–633.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. ———. 2013. Poems. Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe.Google Scholar
  42. Reeve, N.H., and Richard Kerridge. 1995. Nearly Too Much: The Poetry of J. H. Prynne. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Roebuck, Thomas, and Matthew Sperling. 2010. “The Glacial Question, Unsolved”: A Specimen Commentary on Lines 1–31. Glossator 2: 39–78.Google Scholar
  44. Sauer, Carl Ortwin. 1925. The Morphology of Landscape. Oakland: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  45. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1976. Translator’s Preface. In Of Grammatology, ed. Jacques Derrida. Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ix–lxxxiix. Baltimore; London: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Thomas, Nicola. 2016. Stark, Necessary and Not Permanent: Huts in the Work of Paul Celan and J. H. Prynne. German Life and Letters 69 (3): 350–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Tobias, Rochelle. 2006. The Discourse of Nature in the Poetry of Paul Celan: The Unnatural World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Werner, Uta. 1998. Textgräber: Paul Celans geologische Lyrik. Munich: Fink.Google Scholar
  49. Westphal, Bertrand. 2011. Geocriticism: Real and Fictional Spaces. Translated by Robert T. Tally Jr. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicola Thomas
    • 1
  1. 1.St Hilda’s CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations