#jewishartist: Der Briefwechsel zwischen Paul Celan und Gisèle Lestrange

#jewishartist: The correspondence between Paul Celan and Gisèle Lestrange

In November 1951, Paul Celan met the painter and graphic artist Gisèle de Lestrange, with whom he remained close until the end of his life - despite or because of the great differences in their origins and personal history. What they both had in common was a great creative sensitivity and a desire for artistic expression. The bond between the two withstood all the problems of their love relationship and marriage for years: even when they separated because Paul Celan's mental state made it impossible for them to live together, the two remained close.

Between December 1951 and March 1970, i.e. shortly after their first meeting until about a month before Celan's suicide on April 20, 1970, Gisèle and Paul Celan exchanged 737 letters. These letters offer an intimate insight into the lives of two of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century: a language artist traumatized by the Shoah, who is broken by the guilt of the survivor, and a confident, self-determined woman and highly gifted, sensitive artist. In their correspondence, the two explore a wide range of topics, from the personal to the philosophical.

Celan and Lestrange's letters reflect their respective interests in language, literature and art. As a poet, Celan often concerns himself with the power of words and explores how they can be used to express feelings and ideas. He expresses his admiration for Lestrange's writing, noting that her "language is like a river and her words like a bridge". His own writing is often marked by a great sensitivity and a focus on the nuances of language.

Lestrange similarly focuses on language and its ability to encapsulate thought, often taking a more philosophical approach than Celan. She ponders the limits of language and how it can be used to communicate ideas. In one letter, she notes that "the words we use never match the ideas we want to communicate." She also discusses the power of literature, noting its ability to explore the depths of human experience.

The two also discuss very personal topics, such as their respective experiences in World War II. Celan reflects on the horrors of the Holocaust and expresses his grief and pain at the loss of life. Lestrange reflects in a similar way, but from a completely different perspective, on the effects of the war that has had a lasting impact on European society. This is clear to her, even though she survived the war and the German occupation relatively unscathed as the daughter of an aristocratic Catholic French family. The correspondence offers a unique insight into the inner lives of these two artists and is a testament to the power of the written word.

The correspondence is the theme of the chamber opera Heartland by the Berlin composer Sarah Nemtsov, which will be performed in concert at the JCOM concert on March 22, 2023. Further information about the concert can be found here.

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