Barcelona monument mistranslates Celan, misrepresents the Holocaust

The monument is a quality marble tomb round about where the sea gate was, on which Habsburg general Josep Moragues’ head hung in a cage for 12 years from 1715-1727, his body having previously been quartered on the Ramblas. This for surrendering on a Bourbon pardon at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession and then going back on his word and trying to escape to Mallorca.

The marble is inscribed with a Paul Celan verse, Fadensonnen. The original:

über der grauschwarzen Ödnis.
Ein baum-
hoher Gedanke
greift sich den Lichtton: es sind
noch Lieder zu singen jenseits
der Menschen.

A good English translation from John Felstiner:

over the grayblack wasteness.
A tree-
high thought
strikes the light-tone: there are
still songs to sing beyond

The Catalan version by Arnau Pons used on the monument:

Sols de fil
damunt l’erm gris negrós.
se amunt, un pensament
polsa el so de la llum: encara
queden cants per a ser cantats més enllà
dels homes.

Arbrant-se destroys the meaning of the poem. In the original the thought is already, eternally tree-high, the sun and grayblack recalling Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Arnau Pons humanises, temporalises it, having the thought tree-itself on-high. Vulgar millenialism of this kind is easy and obvious in German, but it wasn’t what Celan wanted to say–in fact it may have been exactly the opposite. Arnau Pons either didn’t understand this, or he wasn’t interested.

Half the organising committee didn’t get what this damn Jewboy was on about either, so next to the marble there is a silly flagpole with some traditionalist Guimerà. Parish-pump nationalism this may be, but it at least avoids the Holocaust-denying absurdity of associating someone who bet his shirt on the wrong flavour of absolutism with someone trying to make sense of his having survived it.

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