The Black Star: Lived Paradoxes in the Poetry of Paul Celan

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Celan’s poetry is deemed universal and experimental, and its main characteristic is to “explore possibilities of sense-making”. His poetry is also acknowledged to be the apex of Jewish post-Holocaust poetry, contending with existentialist questions such as the existence God in the Holocaust and the possibility of restoring Jewish identity. In this paper I will examine how Celan uses paradoxes in his poetry to create atheistic and skeptical expressions. The technique of paradox expresses the concurrent existence of two contradictory possibilities; the article will present three types of paradox typical of Celan’s poetry: (1) the affirmation and denial of the existence of God; (2) the mention of rituals from Jewish tradition, while voiding them of their conventional meaning; (3) the use of German, specifically, for the reconstitution of Jewish identity. My main argument is that paradox in Celan’s work creates a unique voice of atheism and skepticism, since it preserves the ideas that it rejects as a source for fashioning meaning. In order to explore how Celan constructs paradox, I will use Wittgenstein’s resolutions of the paradoxes that emerge from the use of language, and I will show how they illuminate Celan’s use of this technique. The article will examine three Wittgensteinian methods of resolving the paradoxes that Celan employs in his oeuvre: highlighting, containing, and dissolving
Original languageAmerican English
Article number100
Pages (from-to)100
Number of pages15
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2017


  • Celan
  • Wittgenstein
  • Paradox
  • Atheism
  • Skepticism


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