Economy of the Unlost: (Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan) (Martin Classical Lectures)

Economy of the Unlost: (Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan) (Martin Classical Lectures)

Anne Carson

Language: English

Pages: 160

ISBN: 0691091757

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The ancient Greek lyric poet Simonides of Keos was the first poet in the Western tradition to take money for poetic composition. From this starting point, Anne Carson launches an exploration, poetic in its own right, of the idea of poetic economy. She offers a reading of certain of Simonides' texts and aligns these with writings of the modern Romanian poet Paul Celan, a Jew and survivor of the Holocaust, whose "economies" of language are notorious. Asking such questions as, What is lost when words are wasted? and Who profits when words are saved? Carson reveals the two poets' striking commonalities.

In Carson's view Simonides and Celan share a similar mentality or disposition toward the world, language and the work of the poet. Economy of the Unlost begins by showing how each of the two poets stands in a state of alienation between two worlds. In Simonides' case, the gift economy of fifth-century b.c. Greece was giving way to one based on money and commodities, while Celan's life spanned pre- and post-Holocaust worlds, and he himself, writing in German, became estranged from his native language. Carson goes on to consider various aspects of the two poets' techniques for coming to grips with the invisible through the visible world. A focus on the genre of the epitaph grants insights into the kinds of exchange the poets envision between the living and the dead. Assessing the impact on Simonidean composition of the material fact of inscription on stone, Carson suggests that a need for brevity influenced the exactitude and clarity of Simonides' style, and proposes a comparison with Celan's interest in the "negative design" of printmaking: both poets, though in different ways, employ a kind of negative image making, cutting away all that is superfluous. This book's juxtaposition of the two poets illuminates their differences--Simonides' fundamental faith in the power of the word, Celan's ultimate despair--as well as their similarities; it provides fertile ground for the virtuosic interplay of Carson's scholarship and her poetic sensibility.

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realizes that he forgot to hoist the white sail. A messenger is dispatched to bring the true story to the father, but Aigeus has already read the deathsail and accepted its version. He throws himself into the sea. The messenger is addressing the father’s corpse when he says: βιότου κέ σε μᾶλλον ὄνασα πρότερος ἐλθών. [I would have given you a profit greater than life if I had come sooner.]8 Simonides’ messenger states his case as economically as possible. His verb (ὄνασα, from ὀνίνημι “to

somewhat unusual economic circumstances. For the other two monuments at Thermopylai were set up at public expense by the Amphictyonic League, but the stone for Megistias was inscribed (that is, paid for) by Simonides himself “because of a bond of guest-friendship between the two of them” (κατὰ ξεινίην).12 It is interesting, then, that this poem, for which Simonides unusually received no remuneration, makes use of the standard metaphors of exchange in an unusual way. Simonides highlights the

reference to the alchemical code and to the history of Rosa Luxemburg.56 A mysticism of roses and suffering is found in the earliest Greek alchemical texts, but also evokes the head wound dealt to Rosa Luxemburg in her last hour. “Stars above the sandbed” may allude to a sign in the sky traditionally sought by alchemists at the end of the nigredo phase. Celan replaces this sign with “hornlight of your Romanian buffaloes.” One critic finds here a reference to a letter of Rosa Luxemburg with which

Sprich auch du, sprich als letzter, sag deinen Spruch. Sprich— Doch scheide das Nein nicht vom Ja. Gib deinem Spruch auch den Sinn: gib ihm den Schatten. Gib ihm Schatten genug, gib ihm so viel, also du um dich verteilt weißt zwischen Mittnacht und Mittag und Mittnacht. [Speak so you, speak as the last, say your say. Speak— But split the No not from Yes. Give your say also the sense: give it the shadow. Give it shadow enough, give it as much as you know is assigned to you

emphasizes that such a “single roof” is continuously woven out of three interrelated obligations: to give, to receive, to repay. Considering these three requirements, we begin to see how the moral life established by such transactions differs from that of a money economy. A gift has both economic and spiritual content, is personal and reciprocal, and depends on a relationship that endures over time. Money is an abstraction that passes one way and impersonally between people whose relationship

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