The Verge of Silence

Gadamer on Celan and the Poetic Word

Daniel L. Tate

Abstract

Gadamer’s question “Are Poets Falling Silent?” is motivated by the “linguistic need” (Sprachnot) of modern lyric indicative of the “forgetfulness of language” (Sprachvergessenheit) that prevails today. In Paul Celan’s late work, Gadamer finds poetry that, bordering on the cryptic, stands on the verge of silence. Nevertheless, he insists that these poems do speak and that the title of Celan’s poem series, Breath-crystal, figures the truth of the poetic word. From this standpoint the paper discusses Gadamer’s hermeneutic understanding of the poetic word treating the constitutive elements of the poetic word as an event of language, the way this conception of the poetic word both embraces and yet departs from the usual understanding of the radical turn to language in modern lyric, and the meaning of Gadamer’s claim regarding the truth of the poetic word that fulfills the original saying power of language.