Poppy and Memory


Good morning, Magda,

I saw your quote from Mohn und Gedächtnis, which I believe to be one of the most significant passages in Celan’s work, this morning, and I wanted to ask you what you thought the affinity between memory and poppy might be. When I read it, I always think of these words of Beckett, rendered here at third hand, because I don’t have the English original with me:

Proust had a bad memory… He who has a good memory remembers nothing, because he forgets nothing. His memory is uniform, a slave of routine, at once function and condition of his impeccable habit, an instrument of reference rather than of discovery…

This strikes me as particularly relevant in the case of Celan for whom the curtailment of individual memories (or figments of prosthetic recollection, which are the same, such as the sister who appears in so many of his poems) and the preponderance of negative space, of snows and skies, gives the bare objects that appear an almost theological force. You probably know that Celan received electroshock treatment in 1967; among the effects of this still-controversial remedy is a wiping-away of whole swaths of memory; for probably sentimental reasons, I always imagine this happened earlier with Celan. But then it is considered by many researchers that life itself is narrative, and by others that depression is, fundamentally, a defective manner of encoding memories, so that everything appears more general, less distinct under the shadow of encroaching darkness. These are things I need to think about much more, but it is nice to be reminded of them, so that I, who also have a questionable memory, not for these reasons, but because I am always jumping from one thing to another, can write this down as a reminder to pursue them further. Best wishes.