Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Metaphor of Czernowitz

A Group of Poets in Chicago is discussing the Poet Paul Celan.
As I Sit again with Celan in preparation I ruminate over the Metaphor of Czernowitz.
Czernowitz a city currently in the Ukraine was For many years in Poland and later Austria.
The City is a Metaphor for a lost world. A world of shared difference.
For hundreds of years the most creative places in the world were not Paris, Rome or London. In fact the most creative places were places of profound heterogeneity. These same cities today are mono cultures but before 1900 and into the first half of the last century they were the fonts of European culture.
Trieste, Vienna, Krakow, Prague, Czernowitz, Budapest, Istanbul, Smyrna, Odessa, Warsaw, Berlin. These were all diverse cities and places where Modernity was born. Celan was born into this world; the world of Rilke, Schiele, Freud, Dvorak. The essential element to this world was cosmopolitan heteroginety.
The Czernowitz of Celan's parents youth and Celan's early years was a place of mixing. German, Romanian, Ukrainian and Yiddish were all central to the city's life. Celan grew up in an environment where one had to be on guard and know about the "other" in many ways the way New York is today. You needed to be in dialogue with outsiders and this made for a rich cultural life.
The Metaphor of Czernowitz has been under attack now for 100 years. Ideas like Wilson's "self determination" Irredentism, Nationalism has created a world were we are expected to live with people like ourselves as if the whole world is to be homogenized. Today the the Metaphor of Czernowitz is being destroyed in Baghdad- and the world again will be the poorertrading a homogenized dead city for a diverse city.

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