Kafka and the Golem

Translating Paul Celan
  • John Felstiner


Direct Speech Demonstrative Pronoun Glottal Stop Indefinite Pronoun Golem Tradi 
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  1. 1.
    Walter Benjamin, ‘Franz Kafka’, in Schriften, ed. Th. W. Adorno and Gretel Adorno (Frankfurt, 1955) 2:222. For a translation of this and other essays see Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York, 1969) p. 134. Celan cited the sentence in his speech ‘Der Meridian’ (1960): Celan, Gesammelte Werke (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1983) 3:198. (This collected edition, in five volumes, is hereafter referred to as GW.)Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Letter to Margarete Susman, 22 Aug. 1924, in Franz Rosenzweig, Briefe und Tagebucher, 2 (1918–29) ed. Rachel Rosenzweig and Edith Rosenzweig Scheinmann (The Hague, 1979) p. 982.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Kafka’s ‘man from the country’, who approaches the doorkeeper in ‘Before the Law’, evidently derives from the Hebrew ‘am haarets, ‘the common people; an ignoramus’, or literally a person of the land, and more literally of the earth: see Heinz Politzer, Franz Kafka: Parable and Paradox (Ithaca, NY, 1966) p. 174.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    See Gershom Scholem, ‘The Idea of the Golem’, in On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, trans. Ralph Manhein (New York, 1969) pp. 158–204. Celan owned the German edition, Zur Kabbala und ihrer Symbolik (Zurich, 1960). On the golem legend see also Micha Josef bin Gorion, Der Born Judas (Wiesbaden, 1959); Sigrid Mayer, Golem: Die literarische Rezeption eines Stoffes (Bern, 1975).Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Celan, La Rose de Personne, trans. Martine Broda (Paris, 1979) p. 71.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    For biographical material see John Felstiner, ‘Paul Celan: The Strain of Jewishness’, Commentary (April 1985) 44–55.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    For material on Celan’s early years see Israel Chalfen, Paul Celan: Eine Biographie seiner Jugend (Frankfurt, 1979).Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Derrida, ‘Shibboleth’, in Geoffrey Hartman and Sanford Budick (eds) Midrash and Literature (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986). This paper was originally given in French at the International Paul Celan Symposium, University of Washington, Seattle, 14 Oct. 1984. Derrida also makes a connection between the opening of a door in this poem and Elijah, since the person holding the infant during circumcision sits on ‘Elijah’s Chair’.Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition (New York, 1979) p. 80.Google Scholar
  10. 27.
    Otto Pöggeler, ‘Kontroverses zur Ästhetik Paul Celans (1920–1970)’, Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft, 25:2 (1980) 226.Google Scholar
  11. 30.
    Kafka, Tagebücher 1910–1923, ed. Max Brod (Frankfurt, 1973) p. 310 (20 April 1916). Kafka reportedly liked the atmosphere of Prague’s old Jewish quarter evoked in Gustav Meyrink’s novel Der Golem (1915): Gustav Janouch, Conversations with Kafka (New York, 1953) p. 47. Johannes Urzidil says that one Friedrich Thieberger was a Hebrew teacher of Kafka’s: ‘Two Recollections’, The World of Franz Kafka, ed. J.P. Stern (New York, 1980) p. 60; Thieberger later published The Great Rabbi Loew of Prague (London, 1955). Marthe Robert, As Lonely as Franz Kafka, trans. Ralph Manheim (New York, 1982), deals beautifully with Kafka’s vexed Jewishness.Google Scholar
  12. 32.
    Kafka, Tagebücher, p. 333 (25 Sept. 1917).Google Scholar
  13. 33.
    Kafka, Tagebücher, p. 219 (8 Jan. 1914).Google Scholar
  14. 37.
    Kafka, ‘Fragmente’, in Hochzeitsvorbereitungen auf dem Lande, ed. Max Brod (Frankfurt, 1966) p. 348.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Daniel Weissbort 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Felstiner

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