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Paul Celan was undoubtedly the greatest post-World War II German-writing poet, and Anselm Kiefer one of the greatest living German artists. These two giants can be seen to meet through a series of artworks that Kiefer dedicates to the depiction of Celan’s Todesfugue (Fugue of Death). Bringing together the verbal and the visual, the color of gold symbolizes life, while ashes symbolize exile and death. In a melancholic gesture of thought, Germany claims ownership of the gold and by extension over Origin. In this way, the Jews are reduced to ashes. Behind this traumatic encounter between gold and ashes, that appears in both Celan’s and Kiefer’s work, there looms a no less traumatic encounter between fire and spirit: the German soul is metaphorically identified with the inflaming and illuminating element of fire, while the Jewish soul is aligned with the element of spirit, or ether. The values of gold and ashes on the one hand, and of fire and spirit on the other, are intrinsically connected; and following Heidegger and Derrida, it can be said that the identification of the German soul with fire is precisely what gives it the claim of sovereignty over gold, and ultimately over Origin. This is also the source of Germany’s philosophical justification for expelling the Jews to exile and death. The Judeo-German differend, with all its horrific violence, so this article argues, is locked within this quadrangle chest of gold, ashes, fire and spirit.
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Journal of Aesthetics and Phenomenology
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Margarete and Her Spectre
Dror Pimentel
To cite this article: Dror Pimentel (2017) Margarete and Her Spectre, Journal of Aesthetics and
Phenomenology, 4:1, 15-29
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VOL. 4, NO. 1, 1529
Dror Pimentel
History and Theory Department, Masters Program for Theory and Policy of Art, Bezalel Academy for Art & Design,
Paul Celan was undoubtedly the greatest post-World War II German-
writing poet, and Anselm Kiefer one of the greatest living German
artists. These two giants can be seen to meet through a series of
artworks that Kiefer dedicates to the depiction of Celan’s Todesfugue
(Fugue of Death). Bringing together the verbal and the visual, the
color of gold symbolizes life, while ashes symbolize exile and death.
In a melancholic gesture of thought, Germany claims ownership
of the gold and by extension over Origin. In this way, the Jews are
reduced to ashes. Behind this traumatic encounter between gold and
ashes, that appears in both Celan’s and Kiefer’s work, there looms
a no less traumatic encounter between re and spirit: the German
soul is metaphorically identied with the inaming and illuminating
element of re, while the Jewish soul is aligned with the element of
spirit, or ether. The values of gold and ashes on the one hand, and of
re and spirit on the other, are intrinsically connected; and following
Heidegger and Derrida, it can be said that the identication of the
German soul with re is precisely what gives it the claim of sovereignty
over gold, and ultimately over Origin. This is also the source of
Germany’s philosophical justication for expelling the Jews to exile
and death. The Judeo-German dierend, with all its horric violence,
so this article argues, is locked within this quadrangle chest of gold,
ashes, re and spirit.
How can we speak of a picture? Does a picture need to be spoken of? Perhaps we should
refrain from any attempt at verbalizing the visual at all, since the visual begins precisely
where language ends. Moreover, even if the visual did say something, it could only say what
cannot be articulated in language. I shall open then with the question of verbalization. is
question concerns the possibility of verbalizing the visual; that is, of rendering it verbally.
It should be stressed that the term “verbalization” here does not only intend the actual
description of the visual in linguistic terms, the articulation of its various shapes and colors
in language; it also stands for the disclosure of its secret. It could therefore be said that a
proper verbalization of the visual does not only include an appropriate lingual description
of its colors, textures, forms, brush strokes and so forth, it must also include the laying bare
of the secret of the visual, which intrinsically resists verbalization. In this sense, the essence
of any proper verbal representation of the visual lies precisely in revealing its secret.
Kiefer; Celan; Heidegger;
Derrida; Holocaust; spirit
© 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Dror Pimentel
For this to hold true we must begin with the assumption that the picture holds a secret;
a secret whose secrecy emanates from its resistance to verbalization; in the fact that it
avoids verbalization, eludes it, is inaccessible to it; in other words, in the fact that it does
not conform to the order of the signier. It is therefore within our reach to draw a rst
conclusion: every work of art worthy of its name bears a secret. is secret, which eludes
interpretation, description and verbalization, and condemns it to innite hermeneutics, is
precisely its habitat.
Margarete, Shulamith
Aer this short introduction, it is time then to get to work, that is, to the work of verbali-
zation. A proper verbalization of Anselm Kiefer’s picture, Your Golden Hair Margarete (see
Figure 1), would involve taking into account not only visual aspects of it such as color, form
and style; but also, and primarily, its secret. is secret revolves around dierence. e picture
deals with dierence: it bestows it with form and visibility and exposes its various aspects,
spaces and depths. Furthermore, the picture dwells within dierence “itself,” as is appro-
priate for every proper work of art worthy of its name, so Heidegger would have argued.
What is the nature of this dierence? Dierences are innumerous, as are things. Four dif-
ferent types of dierence can be identied in Kiefer’s picture, dierences that are intimately
intertwined, as is the hay in the haystack it depicts. e rst of these is genre dierence. If we
follow the method of phenomenological reduction and deal precisely with what our eyes
can see, disregarding the preconceptions with which we would approach the picture, we see
that the picture is comprised of a semi-abstract, oil-painted, rural scenery background, on
Figure 1.Anselm Kiefer, Your Golden Hair Margarete (1981). Oil, emulsion, and straw on canvas, 130 ×
170cm, Amsterdam, Sanders Collection. © Anselm Kiefer.
which a kind of hay aura is mounted. e picture therefore situates itself between the pic-
torial and the sculptural, that is, between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional:
the pictorial space is constructed by the atness of the canvas on the one hand, and by the
spatial volume of the mounted haystack on the other. In terms of genre classication, the
picture could be said to be a relief. e picture is also situated between the traditions of
classical painting and of the ready-made. One can conclude that Kiefers work is a hybrid,
comprised, on the one hand, of a traditional oil painting which constructs a ctional space
by employing a perspective technique; and of a ready-made artwork on the other, made by
the assimilation of objects whose meaning is thus altered.
e second dierence is also genre related: it is the dierence between the traditions of
landscape and portrait painting. On the one hand, one can identify motifs of traditional
landscape painting in the picture. On the other hand, the hay aura breaks with naturalism
and presents the picture as a portrait to the viewer’s gaze. e hay aura attached to the
picture can be seen as locks of golden hair, seemingly outlining the contour of a face, while
the face itself is absent. e assumption concerning the existence of an absent face in the
picture is reinforced by the presence of the black paint strokes found within its empty
contour, which, for a brief moment, can be observed as marking traces of a pair of eyes and
a mouth. is assumption is further reinforced as we attend to the expressive (both in form
and in content) text situated above the hay aura: “Dein goldenes Haar Margarete” (your
golden hair Margarete). e viewer can therefore assume that the hay aura represents the
golden hair of Margarete, whose absent face supposedly appears in the picture.
ere is yet another dierence that needs consideration. We will refer to this as a medium
dierence. At rst glance we notice that, as well as the painting, the picture also contains
the aforementioned text. At this point we should suspend our phenomenological naiveté
and attend to the source of this text, assuming its presence in the picture is not arbitrary.
e phrase: “Your golden hair Margarete” may sound familiar to those acquainted with
post-World War II German culture. e phrase is taken from Paul Celan’s breathtaking
poem Todesfugue (Fugue of Death).1 e appearance of this phrase within the framework
of the picture suggests that the picture in its entirety alludes to the poem by Celan, or to
use his original name, Paul Antschel.2 e picture not only alludes to Celan’s poem, but is
also nurtured by it, responds to it, one could even speculate, is inspired by it. It is worth
mentioning that this picture is part of an entire corpus dealing with the Todesfugue, which
Kiefer continues to revisit throughout the years. us, one could even be drawn to conclude
that the picture is in fact an attempt to visualize the poem.
e picture thus also resides within the dierence between verbal and the visual medi-
ums, both in the sense that the verbal as such is tangibly present in it, and in the sense that
the picture is a visualization of Celan’s poem from which the verbal element appearing in
it is taken. As such, the picture cannot be properly understood without attending to Celans
poem; its meaning must be derived from a certain anity with the poem itself.
e three dierences we have identied so far are formal in essence: the genre dierence
between painting and sculpture; the style dierence between landscape and portrait painting;
and the medium dierence between painting and poetry. Within these three dierences the
picture resides. Here we arrive at yet another dierence, the fourth in number, which can
be described as a dierence of content, assuming that we can still distinguish between form
and content, something the picture constantly subverts.
e picture clearly alludes to the line: “Your golden hair Margarete.” For those familiar
with the Todesfugue, this allusion will seem somewhat strident in its partiality. For a more
complete picture, one should study the poem more closely. ose familiar with it will be
aware of the fact that this poem is comprised of a poetical juxtaposition that places the
golden hair of Margarete in contradistinction to the ashen hair of Shulamith. What is missing
from the picture is precisely the completing line: “Your ashen hair Shulamith.
e lines: “Your golden hair Margarete” and “Your ashen hair Shulamith,” are set along
the poem and placed one against the other in its conclusion. e vivid contradistinction
between the golden hair of Margarete and the ashen hair of Shulamith serves as a metaphor
for what can be called the Judeo-German dierend: that is, the fundamental contradistinc-
tion between the Jewish and the German peoples, with all its respective historical, cultural,
philosophical and theological contexts. erefore, what is absent from the picture is pre-
cisely the other side of the Judeo-German dierend. What cries out in its absence, given
the presence of Margarete’s golden hair, is precisely Shulamiths ashen hair.
But despite its absence, the unrepresented ashen hair of Shulamith is still present in the
picture, perhaps even to a greater degree than the represented golden hair of Margarete.
is presence of absence can be seen as an embodiment of Derridas spectral logic, elabo-
rated in his later work. According to the spectral logic which no longer obeys the laws of
identity and contradiction, a things absence only reinforces its presence. It is precisely in
its absence that the thing haunts us. Here we get a rst glimpse of the secret of the picture:
less than representing the golden hair of Margarete, the picture represents the impossibility
to be rid of the ashen hair of Shulamith. In fact, what is depicted in the picture is precisely
the dierence between present Margarete and absent Shulamith. What is depicted in the
picture is this in-between residing between Margarete’s golden hair and Shulamith’s ashen
hair, serving as a poetical metaphor for the in-between of the Judeo-German dierend.
e pictures secret lies therefore within the framework of the Judeo-German dierend,
which is metaphorically represented in the tension between the present Margarete and the
absent Shulamith. is tension is further highlighted in the examination of its other forms
of representation in the poem. Besides the dierence between Margarete and Shulamith, the
poem also articulates the tension of the Judeo-German dierend in at least three additional
contexts: place, sovereignty and culture.
e blue-eyed German soldier lives at home while the Jew lies in the dust. e Germans
are the landlords, owners of the land and the place, while the Jews are vagabonds exiled
to the kingdom of dust, as the Germans take over the place the Jews were cast out of. is
placement of the Germans, vis-à-vis against the displacement of the Jews, stands both in the
concrete meaning of actual ownership of land, house and estate, and in the wider context
of living in peace without intimidation or anxiety.
Occupation and ownership of place also aord the Germans the right to sovereignty.
Echoing Hegels master and slave dialectic, the Germans act and the Jews are activated. e
Germans command and the Jews obey. e Germans, while shooting them and setting their
dogs on them, command the Jews to play and dance before their death, to dig their graves
with their own hands and to then dwell within them. For their part, the Jews keep laboring,
as would true slaves: they “jab deeper into the earth” until they themselves become dust,
and and as smoke, “rise into air.” In other words, the Germans are sovereigns: they possess
the authority and power with which they trample the Jews to death.
e Germans are also the masters of culture: they are portrayed as virtuous artists who
compose and play, turning even death into a masterpiece. e other culture, the culture of
Jerusalem, is not even considered to be autonomous; in fact, it would seem that, if the Jews
have any anity with culture at all, it is only due to the Germans bestowing it on them.
Under the guidance of the German cultural spirit, they are forced to play more sweetly
before they die, and in this way their death can be considered as cultural.
e Judeo-German dierend is thus manifested in the poem in the trinity of German
dominance over place, sovereignty and culture. e ditching of the Jews into dust is a direct
result of their being denied this trinity: the denial of sovereignty enables the Germans to
ditch the Jews to their death; the denial of a proper place denies the Jews the possibility to
resist; and the denial of culture grants the Germans moral justication.
Gold and Origin
But what exactly is the Origin of German dominance over place? e Origin of this domi-
nance is Origin itself. And what is Origin if not gold? e values of Origin, place and gold
thus stand together in a relation of identity. As in an act of alchemical witchcra, place,
sovereignty and culture are melted together into the ebullient alloy of gold which glimmers
in Margaretes hair.
e question arises as to the precise nature of this relation of Origin to gold; how
exactly gold acquires the status of an Origin. A closer reading of the line: “Your golden
hair Margarete,” gives a better understanding of this. Literally, it says that Margaretes hair
is naturally golden, that is, blond. is is due to the fact that, due to its Nordic roots, blond
hair is relatively common amongst the German people, or at least more so than amongst
the Jewish people. Celan is not the rst to identify blond hair with being German. In this
sense, Nietzsches nickname for the Arian race, “the Blond Beast,” comes to mind. But why
does Celan choose to exchange blondness with gold? Why does he not just write “Your
blond hair Margarete?” Celan’s word choice by no means comes from an intention to enrich
the meanings connected to gold beyond the mere meaning of blond hair color. Indeed,
Margaretes hair, as a synonym for the German people in general, is blond, but also much
more than that.
A closer consideration of the values connected to gold sheds light on its relation to the
theme of Origin. Gold is a desired substance, so desired as to arouse anxiety and rush, and
hence is accumulated by kings and protected in bank vaults. Why does gold arouse such
irresistible desire? Gold arouses desire since, besides being glimmeringly beautiful, it is
noble in the chemical sense due to the fact that it tends, not only not to wear out or accu-
mulate rust, but also not to blend with other materials. Rather, it maintains its identity, that
is, its originality. By maintaining its originality, it is also extremely dicult to forge. is is
precisely what gives it its value. It can also be added that, due to this fact, gold is also used
by philosophers, Heidegger in this case, as a metaphor for truth.3
e values of Origin and originality are not only related to gold in a literal sense, but
also metaphorically: a short reection on these metaphors would allude to expressions such
as “the golden age,” “golden dome” (usually attributed to Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem),
and “golden sands” (usually attributed to the shores of the land of Israel). e term “golden
age” is usually used to describe a glorious era, in which new cultural peaks are reached, and
where new knowledge and paradigms are discovered and articulated. In the golden age of
the Renaissance, for example, Western culture reached unprecedented peaks in art and sci-
ence, while during its own golden age the Jewish community in Spain achieved impressive
accomplishments in poetry and philosophy. Similarly, in the context of ancient Greece, the
term “golden age” stands for the outstanding achievements of Greek culture in almost every
eld. is term highlights that it was neither Egypt nor Babylon, Phoenicia nor race, but
rather Greece which served as the cradle of Western culture, where its inalienable assets
were created almost out of thin air: philosophy and science, art and democracy, dialogue
and tragedy, and so on.
Nevertheless, the term “golden age” in its Greek context might hold yet another meaning,
a meaning not necessarily unrelated to the common meaning just mentioned. We shall refer
to this meaning with the term “proximity.” Proximity to what? To Origin, of course. e
term “golden age” should thus be understood as stemming from a privileged proximity to
Origin. e cultural achievements of the era are not the reason for, but rather the outcome
of, this proximity to Origin. Following Heidegger, it may be said that, in this golden age of
the cradle of Western culture, this pioneering era of beginning and inception, something
was closer, and hence more available, to man than it is today.
But what precisely does this proximity to Origin mean, and what is the nature of this
Origin? Origin stands here as a name for the simple, the immediate, the available and the
unmediated. It stands as a name for that which is stripped of any veil and semblance, and
gives itself away excessively; it stands for that which is prior to adorning itself with the
fabric of substitutions and signications, representations and images, deferrals and delays.
Origin can be viewed as a sort of a hole in an all-encompassing net; that is, a hole in the
fabric of signiers, given that it is precisely that which cannot ever be signied. In this way,
it serves as a focal point around which the fabric of signiers is woven, that is to say, culture
in general. In other words, Origin is that pre-economical ing that haunts us from without
of the economy of the sign before it eventually becomes lost in it.
Following Heidegger, it could be said that man appeared to be closer to Origin during
the golden age of Greece. Something in that coating of signiers was still weaker, looser,
closer; and man was not as alienated from Origin. at is precisely how man could dwell
within it, and precisely what endowed the age with its golden radiance. We touch here upon
the original meaning of gold in its metaphorical sense. Gold is the color of Origin. Gold is
Origin, as that which comes from Origin and declares its proximity to man.
To come back to Celans poem, the questions arise as to why gold is appropriated to
Margarete alone, what gold has to do with Germany, and why gold is German and ashes
Jewish. In order to address these questions, we must take another detour, this time through
loss: Origin is not simply that which once used to be. Origin is that which once used to be
and is no longer. Loss would appear to be constitutive of Origin, the fate of Origin. is loss
of Origin can be named caesura, that is, Origins destined seizing.4 From a historical point
of view, the moment of the loss of Origin (the caesura) can be traced to the moment of
departure from the golden age of Greece, which is also the moment of the birth of modernity
at large. As such, it becomes a synonym for exile.
We can now suggest that major elements of German culture may be constituted precisely
out of some imagined privileged proximity to Origin, and as such, out of an everlasting
mourning for its destined loss. In this sense, German culture can also be portrayed as carry-
ing a distinct mark of melancholy. e term melancholy is appropriated here from psycho-
analytical discourse: Freud distinguished between normative and pathological mourning.5
In its normative form, the loss of the loved object is compensated for in time by substitution
with a new object, while in its pathological form the mourner refuses any substitution and
is thus doomed to xation in desperate longing for the lost object. is is precisely the
melancholic position, marked by a stubborn refusal of any substitution of the lost object.
It is nonetheless a disastrous refusal, since the melancholic mourner is willing to give up
his own life in his devotion to the lost object.
It is not only mourners who face the loss of the object. Whether we like it or not, we
are all faced with a similar loss, that is, the loss of our rst object: the maternal body. is
loss is compensated for in time with the substitutive body of the lover, thereby opening the
path for the continuation of life and the succession of generations. e melancholic posi-
tion is characterized by the denial of this principle of exchange, accompanied by the erce
refusal of a substitute. Hence, melancholy is not just a pathological reaction to the loss of
a loved one; it becomes a world view, organized around a stubborn resistance to the very
exchangeability principle inscribed in the body of the object of desire. It is precisely this
exchangeability principle upon which culture as a whole is grounded.
e melancholic world view does not only apply in the case of an individual, but also
to a culture at large: culture also faces the loss of an object, the loss of the dwelling within
Origin as occurred in the golden age of Greece. In this sense, German culture can be viewed
as melancholic precisely because it identies its Origin in Greece, perhaps more so than any
other culture. As such, it does not cease to name Origin, as well as the ssure which ripped
it apart. According to the logic of melancholy to which German culture adheres, its purpose
and interest are devoted to the reconstitution of this Origin while denying its destined loss.
One could even say that Germany’s so called “special way” (Sonderweg)6 is marked by the
claim of an exclusive proximity to Origin, as well as of the distinguished destiny of the
revitalization of this proximity in present times. e belief in this proximity and destiny
justies its privileged right, in its own eyes at least, to have a distinguished relation to the
culture of Origin, or the original culture, that is, ancient Greece.
In that context, three German gestures of thought employing this melancholic world
view will be mentioned. e rst is that of the greatest German poet, Friedrich Hölderlin.
According to his private mythology, Hölderlin identies Origin with primordial Greek
divinity, and accordingly, the golden age with man’s privileged proximity to it.7 What makes
the Greek golden age distinguishable is precisely the proximate dwelling of mortal man
alongside immortal gods: the gods dwell side by side with man, constantly engaging his
life in dierent ways, thus enabling him to bathe in their glimmering radiance. e caesura
that inevitably terminates this proximity is articulated in terms of the “default of the gods,
in the sense of their failure of arrival that abandons man to loneliness and neglect.
e second gesture of thought would be that of Friedrich Nietzsche, who links Origin
with the notion of the Dionysian. As described in his book, e Birth of Tragedy, the pri-
mordial Dionysian life energy, harnessed to Apollonian design and manifested through it,
is the distinct feature of the original Greek tragedy.8 As such, tragedy is viewed by Nietzsche
to be the force that drove Greek culture to its heights. Despite Nietzsche’s explicit secularity,
this narrative, like Hölderlins, can be viewed mainly as an aesthetic-theological narrative of
dwelling amongst the gods. In Nietzsches case, it is the dwelling with Dionysus within the
framework of the original Greek tragedy. For him, the caesura is to be located in the shi
from the tragedy of Aeschylus to that of Euripides, whose primary addressee is Socrates,
the inventor of Philosophy.
e third gesture of thought is that of Heidegger, who shis the notion of Origin to
an ontological context by identifying it with Being. is is precisely how we should come
to terms with his turn to pre-Socratic thought, issuing as it does from an age in which
Being is articulated for the rst time.9 For Heidegger, the caesura—the violent rupture
from Origin—is located in the shi from pre-Socratic thought to Platos invention of the
Idea which founds metaphysics.
e primordial gods; Dionysus; Being: three names, three German gestures of thought
that articulate lost Origin. It is the dwelling in proximity to this very Origin that enabled
the golden age of Greece. is is the very Origin that has been utterly lost in the caesura of
modernity, or in modernity as caesura. e German melancholy, so to speak, is apparent
in the denial of the destined loss of Origin. Germany sees itself as the one whose histor-
ical destiny it is to overcome the malignancies of modernity in reclaiming Origin. is
responsive position leads to the consideration of Germany in its own eyes as its sole heir
and beneter. is alleged inheritance of Origin is what grounds the incessant striving for
reclamation of Origin, here and now. e “mania” of Ger-mania, so to speak, lies in the
denial of the destined loss of Origin, and hence in the attempt to reclaim its glory within
the bounds of history.
We can conclude that the inheritance of Origin, that is, the inheritance of gold, is pre-
cisely what stands at the core of Germany’s claims over place, sovereignty and culture that
are portrayed in Celans poem. ese claims are justied by Germany’s alleged privileged
proximity to Origin, whose luminous gold can be seen in Kiefer’s picture, as though woven
into Margarete’s hair.
Gold and dwelling
Germany’s claim to the inheritance of golden Origin serves as the key to a comprehensive
understanding of Kiefer’s picture. Here we should return to the formal dierences with
which we started, and see how they merge with the dierence of content, whose meditation
paves the way to the secret of the picture.
Firstly, the picture as a whole can be viewed as a visual manifestation of Celans poem.
Kiefer manages to manufacture a comprehensive visual realization of Celan’s poetic met-
aphors, and in this way the German claim of sovereignty, due to its exclusive proximity to
Origin, is masterfully depicted.
Secondly, it is as if Margarete’s golden hair is cascading over the depicted landscape,
thereby bridging the dierence in genre between portrait and landscape and making it
impossible for the picture to be classied according to either of these two categories. e
layering of the trace of Margaretes face within the scenery of the landscape links Margaretes
golden hair directly to the golden landscape of Germany. It is as if Margaretes golden hair
is draping over the face onto the landscape and ooding the whole of the scenery, thereby
forging a link between the gold of the hair and of the land. Similarly, the space of Margarete’s
traced face, crowned with the aura of golden hair, is lled up with landscape scenery. e
black lines of the furrows, that lead the viewer’s eye straight into the vanishing point deep
in the pictures upper le side, serve at the same time as the lines that trace the contours of
Margaretes face. e landscape of the face and the face of the landscape are thus ooded
with gold. is is the gold of Origin, over which Germany lays its claim.
irdly, the merging of the face with the landscape is also highlighted in the merging of
the dierence between the two-dimensional, pictorial, aspect of the picture and its three-
dimensional, sculptural and ready-made aspect: Margaretes hair is made of three-dimen-
sional locks of hay axed to the two-dimensional picture. is merging allows for the
avoidance of a metaphorical reading of the hay as representing Margarete’s hair, and instead
allows for its literal reading as real bundles of hay belonging to the landscape itself. e
haystack thereby fullls the role of a transitional object, representing not only Margarete’s
golden hair, but also the golden hay sheaves piled up in the harvested elds of Germany.
e choice of actual hay to represent both the hay sheaves and Margaretes hair is not
accidental: the hay sheaf serves as a symbol of the Fascist movement, as well as of the source
of its name (fascio in Italian means “sheaf”). In its Fascist context, the sheaf represents
both the sentiment of solidarity that unies the group, as well as the nationalist sentiment
that ties the group to its land. Since antiquity, the hay sheaf has symbolized the relation of
man to his land, and more precisely, it has symbolized this relation as guaranteed by God.
In Greek mythology for example, the hay sheaf serves as a symbol of Demeter, the Greek
goddess of yield.
We hereby enter a triangular space: the space of dwelling which constitutes the relation
between man, God and earth. God, as lord of rain and dew, is responsible for nurturing the
earth and guaranteeing its yield, while man labors the land to earn his bread in sweat. e
yield is the gi of the land to man; gratitude for his work, for his devoted nurturing. e
yield is also what assures man’s dwelling on his land, in his country and his fatherland, under
his vine and g. is dwelling is secured by God’s benevolence that enables the nurture of
the land and therefore the nurture of man. Man in his turn, pays gratitude to God for His
benevolence with the sacrice of the rst yield of the land.
From time immemorial, golden wheat has symbolized this righteous human dwelling
on the face of the earth. is dwelling is enabled by the fact that man has found his proper
place in the in-between between earth and God. Human dwelling always dwells in the in-be-
tween. e in-between, i.e., dierence, becomes a place of residence. Wheat, rising up from
within the in-between, symbolizes the unifying dwelling of man in the in-between between
earth and God. is dwelling in the in-between is also a dwelling in the neighborhood of
Origin. e gold of wheat, symbolizing the dwelling in the in-between, thus merges with
the gold of Origin. e gold of wheat serves thereby as a testimony to the gold of Origin.
It can therefore be said that the picture itself dwells within the in-between of human
dwelling between earth and God. In fact, this in-between of dwelling is precisely what the
picture depicts. e picture dwells in the in-between in two senses: rstly, the picture itself
sustains a tension between poles: between the pictorial and the sculptural, between land-
scape and portrait, and also between the visual and the verbal. But as we have seen, there is
another polar tension that underlies this sense of tension: the tension of the in-between. e
values of the in-between, gold, wheat, land and yield, are all present in the picture, and are
joined together in a visual manifestation of the space of human dwelling. God’s presence is
also depicted in the picture through the color of blue, a color which has always symbolized
the celestial and the heavenly. is blue celestial presence juts out between the golden-grey
furrows, as if to testify to God’s generosity that is manifested in guaranteeing the yield, as
well as to mans dwelling in its shelter.
While Kiefer’s picture maintains the visual values of naturalistic painting, it also tran-
scends them in manifesting metaphysical and theological values of the human dwelling
within the golden in-between of Origin. In addition to these values, the picture retains a
historical value by binding together the depiction of human dwelling in the in-between
with the dim shadows of German history.
Relating gold solely to Margarete consequently relates the human dwelling space solely
to Germany. In this sense, the picture speaks less of human dwelling in general, and more
of the dwelling of Germany as the alleged leader of human race. In etching his picture with
Celans verse, Kiefer opens up the picture to the disturbing presence of the Judeo-German
dierend. He does this by giving visual manifestation to Germany’s claim over the human
dwelling place, over the in-between, gold, site and Origin. Origin, as well as the dwelling
within it, belongs exclusively to the German people: the most metaphysical of all peoples, as
Heidegger says. It is as if an invisible thread weaves together the gold of Greek Origin and
the hay sheaves of the German elds in Margaretes hair. is nationalistic appropriation
of Origin is precisely the origin of Germany’s claim over sovereignty, power and culture;
and hence the exclusion of the Jews as described in the Todesfugue. e visual magic per-
formed by the meister from Germany weaves the gold of Greece’s lost Origin into the elds
of Germany and into the hair of Margarete.
We have so far discussed the gold, but not the ashes. I have claimed that the line: “Your
golden hair Margarete” cannot be read without its shivering coupling: “Your ashen hair
Shulamith.” Shulamiths ashen hair, as a metaphor for the fate of the Jewish people in general,
is present in the picture in a spectral fashion. A closer look reveals that Shulamiths ashes
are also present in the picture itself. e ashes can be seen to be woven like locks of hair
within the furrows, ornamenting Margaretes golden hair like an aura in stripes lingering up
to the horizon. ese ashes are depicted in a range of colors shiing from white and ebony
to yellowish and azure. As such, the furrows of Germany’s fertile elds are saturated, not
only with the gold of Origin, but also with the ashes of the Jews.
It can be further argued that it is not only Shulamiths ashen hair that is spectrally present
in the picture, but also Shulamith herself. A close study of the picture reveals Margaretes
golden hair to be decorated with a kind of black crescent shape hovering above it that is
painted in nonchalant brush strokes. A minimalist contour of a face can be identied in
this crescent, situated behind Margaretes absent face, like a shadow clinging to it and fol-
lowing it wherever it goes. It is as if the spectral gure of Shulamith creeps out from behind
Margarete to haunt her. It is as if, reduced to ashes, Shulamith haunts Margarete even more
ercely than when she was alive. As such, it is clearly not only gold that is to be found in
the picture, but also ashes.
e question arises as to the precise nature of this inner link between gold and ashes. e
two are placed in face to face opposition. As already stressed, gold holds the values of the
site and Origin, and by extension, the value of human dwelling. is dwelling is within the
benevolent in-between opened up between the earth and the gods, and is by right and not
by favor. Gold is therefore the color of home and of life, while ashes are the color of exile
and death. Gold carries the value of life at its fullest, of life at its peak, of life in its rightful
place, that is, within Origin. Ashes, on the contrary, carry the value of life excluded and
displaced, of life outside home, of life outside of the site and Origin: in exile. Ashes carry
the value of life of humiliation and disgrace; of life of dependency on the benevolence of
the sovereign, surviving on his leovers and subjugated to his good will: by favor and not
by right. is is not really life; it is a relic of life, the ember le behind aer life has been
burned to the ground. Ashes, therefore, carry the value of spectral life, serving as a faint
trace of lives as they once were and will be no more.
e shocking violence of the Judeo-German dierend is therefore manifested in Celan’s
poem and Kiefer’s picture in the symbolic juxtaposition of gold and ashes, along with the
values they carry. e golden German land, the land of the site and Origin, is saturated
with the ashes of the Jews. It is impossible to be rid of these ashes, since, like Shulamith’s
shadow hovering over Margarete, they haunt Germany with their spectral presence. e
ashes of the Jews are Germany’s worst nightmare.
Fire, spirit
Given the oppositional relation between gold and ashes, the question arises as to whether
they also possess some kind of causative anity; whether gold does not just serve as the
mere opposite of ashes, but also as their cause; whether it is in fact gold, in all its grandeur,
that reduces life to the misery of ashes. e Judeo-German dierend oers a framework
within which to better comprehend the relation between gold and ashes: oppositional or
causative, or indeed both. In particular, we must ask whether Germany’s privileged acces-
sibility to Origin exists in the subjective as well as the objective sphere. In other words, we
must ask whether Germany also sees itself as unique and exclusive when it comes to the
subject: man himself, and not just to the object: the site and Origin.
Nazi ideology localized the exclusivity of the German subject in the body. An entire
proto-scientic discourse was formed in order to outline the physical qualities that justify
the supremacy of the Arian race. But what if the origin of German supremacy resided
not in the body but in the spirit? Heidegger was the one who suggested precisely this in
dening German supremacy in spiritual terms. is was his contribution to Nazism, and
at the same time, what caused his expulsion from Nazism. Heidegger provided Nazism
with a conceptual framework which philosophically validated its racist conceptions; but at
the same time, it was this philosophical service, so to speak, that came to uproot him from
Nazi ideological ranks. What he had to say on the supremacy of the German spirit was so
alien to Nazi discourse, which was widely based on racist materialistic argumentation.10
For a better understanding of how German supremacy is argued to be localized in the
spirit, we must follow Heidegger’s irtation with this word, ‘spirit’ (Geist). In Being and
Time, as illustrated by Derrida, Heidegger insists on avoiding the use of this word due to its
heavy metaphysical connotations.
As part of the analysis of Dasein, Heidegger is at pains to
distance himself from any metaphysical conceptions of the subject that would consider the
subject in terms of a transcendental focal point: those of Descartes, Kant, and Husserl, for
example. To his mind, the articulation of man in terms of spirit, mainly in German Idealism,
is grounded in this metaphysical conception of man as subject that originated in Descartes.
Hence this word should be denounced and its philosophical employment avoided. Instead,
Heidegger formulates a rather new conception of subjectivity, Dasein, deriving its humanity
from its responding to the call of Being. However, during the 1930s, alongside his appoint-
ment to rector of Freiburg University and his enlistment to the Nazi party, Heidegger omits
the quotation marks in which he had thus far wrapped the word ‘spirit’ in his writing, and
instead passionately embraces this allegedly banned word in his philosophical discourse.
From a denounced word derived from the lexicon of the metaphysics of the subject, ‘spirit’
suddenly becomes a term that reects Heidegger’s own conception of subjectivity as Dasein.
Nevertheless, this embracing of spirit comes with a fundamental shi in meaning. e
identication of the non-corporal element in man with spirit is rooted in the Greek iden-
tication of psyche (soul) with pneuma, that is, the element of ether. is conception of
the non-corporal element of man in terms of ether, as one of the four Greek elements,
has become common in Western culture and is echoed in several European languages.
What is important here is that, in spite of all this, when Heidegger adopts the notion of
Geist (spirit) he abandons the metaphorical gestures of ether that traditionally accompany it
and re-inscribes Geist in the domain of the element of re. Geist transcends its pneumatic
nature and becomes ame. In order to validate this conceptualization of Geist in terms of
re, Heidegger looks to the German poets Friedrich Hölderlin and Georg Trakl, both of
whom were haunted by the ame of Geist.
e question arises as to why Heidegger is so fascinated with the ame. What is fascinat-
ing to him is its unexpected and unshaped outbursts. e inaming ame ts Heidegger’s
thought like a glove, since it depicts metaphorically the ek-static nature of man as Dasein.
As Dasein, man is dened by his ek-static ek-istence, that is, his ability to constantly be
outside of and ahead of himself, and thus to transcend the ontic level of beings and to reach
the ontological level of Being.
In his article on Trakl, Heidegger argues that the ame, not only erupts, but also shines
forth. In its outbursts of re, the ame opens forth an illuminated space, granting visibility
to previously concealed beings.12 With this, Heidegger attaches the quality of illumination
to his line of argument. As a whole, Heideggerian philosophy revolves around the space
of aletheia, which is the space of the appearance of truth thought in terms of light and
illumination: truth is an illuminated space in which beings come to stand in their phenom-
enological visibility. is space of appearance called truth is nothing but man himself. In
its ek-static transgression, spirit illuminates things while bringing them forth into visibility
and disclosure. In short: ek-sistence as ecstasy enables aletheia.
Aer the “turn” (Kehre) occurring in Heidegger’s thought at the beginning of the 1930s,
Dasein goes through a process of nationalization: it ceases to be an anxiety driven existen-
tial entity, as portrayed in Being and Time, and instead reappears as a collective national
entity. e same goes for the spirit: from that time on, spirit as ame is collectivized. It is
not thought any longer in the singular, but rather in the plural, as belonging to the German
people as a whole, and to the German people alone. In this sense, Germany assumes exclu-
sivity over the accessibility of the space of aletheia that is illuminated by the outbursts of
the inamed spirit.
In this sense, Germany assumes exclusivity over the accessibility of the space of aletheia
that is illuminated by the outbursts of the inamed spirit. Other peoples, those of America
and Russia in particular, have long forgotten this. With the aid of the reign of quantity
and number, they have turned the inamed ek-stasy of spirit into the conatus of self-
preservation; that is, to the subject in its metaphysical sense, entrenched within self-certainty
and self-armation. Nor is Being equally accessible to everyone; it also goes through the
process of nationalization. Since only the German spirit in its ek-static frenzy can bring
Being to appearance, it too belongs solely to Germany.
As we can now see, gold and re belong together as both are connected to radiation and
illumination. Fire is the element which bestows gold, both literally and metaphorically:
literally, since gold must go through the re’s purgatory process in order to acquire its golden
quality. Metaphorically, since re, as a metaphor for ek-static ek-sistence, is what grants
man the dwelling space of the site and Origin, which is nothing but the space of gold. Gold
is the trait of Origin in its objective aspect, while re is the trait of Origin in its subjective
aspect. Gold serves therefore as metaphor for Origin, while re serves as metaphor for
human ek-static transgression to Origin. Gold and re are therefore melded together into
one and the same space, that is, the space of Origin in its very own originality. As such,
gold and re belong to Germany.
Conclusion: where there is gold there must be ashes
Together with its inaming and illuminating character, blazing spirit also carries within
itself the possibility of destruction. We can thus conclude that ashes do not spontaneously
appear out of the blue. e detour through the values of spirit and re reveals the causal
relation that exists between gold and ashes: gold is the color of the site and Origin, and the
safe dwelling within Origin is guaranteed by the inaming blaze of spirit. In its illuminat-
ing inammation, spirit grants access to Origin. But the same inaming blaze of spirit that
allows the hold of gold is at the same time that which generates ashes. Gold is not just the
binary opposite of ashes. Now it turns out to be its cause. ese ashes bear a proper name:
they are the ashes of Shulamith, i.e., the ashes of the Jews; the ashes of those whose soul
breathes pneumatic spirit rather than inaming spirit; the ashes of those who gave their
spirits back to their Maker in the inamed furnaces of Auschwitz.
e discussion of Kiefer’s picture and Celan’s poem opens a new vista on the horrors of
the Shoah, manifesting as it does for the rst time as an eect of German melancholy, of
that everlasting yearning (Sehnsucht) for the gold of lost Origin. And all of this is due to
the German spirit, with its blazing illumination, wishing to retrieve golden Origin from the
darkness of oblivion. As we have seen, the inammation of the German spirit is accompanied
by a destructive dimension, which would perhaps be present in any attempt to lay hold on
Origin. In this case, it is manifested in the consummation of the Jews, as well as of itself,
and their reduction to ashes. e inamed melancholy of the German spirit simultaneously
produces both the illumination of Origin as well as the ashes of catastrophe. It may thus
be said, that the re burning in the furnaces of Auschwitz, which reduced the esh of the
Jews to ashes, is nurtured by the re burning within the depths of the German soul. To
paraphrase the Judeo-German poet Heinrich Heine: one can say that where there is gold,
there must also be ashes.13
is essay opened with the initial statement that Kiefer’s picture holds a secret. is
secret, it can now be said, is embodied in the values of gold, ashes, re and spirit. ese
four elements: the gold of Origin; the ashes of extinction; the re of the German soul, and
the spirit of the Jewish soul, together form a kind of a quadrangle, a chest, if you wish. is
is the Pandoras Chest of the Judeo-German dierend, within which lies the secret depicted in
Keiefer’s picture.
1. Celan, “Fugue of Death,” 33–4.
2. Celan was a Romanian refugee who was subjugated to forced labor during the war, who later
settled in Paris where he eventually drowned himself by jumping into the river Seine. Celan
was Antschel’s pseudonym, composed from the reverse order of letters of his original name.
3. Heidegger, “On the Essence of Truth,” 119.
4. On the notion of caesura, see Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger, Art and Politics: e Fiction of
the Political, 41–7.
5. Freud, "Mourning and Melancholia," 201–18.
6. e "special way" (Sonderweg) is the way in which German thought thinks of the conduct of
Germany throughout history. According to this way of thinking, a special role of leadership
and responsibility has always been preserved for Germany in the course of history, which
permits it to act in a somewhat dierent manner than other nations.
7. Hölderlin's melancholic mythology is described most comprehensively in his acclaimed poem
"Bread and Wine". See Hölderlin, "Bread and Wine," in Hyperion and Selected Poems, 178–87.
8. Nietzsche, e Birth of Tragedy, 1–49.
9. Heidegger's thought—from Being and Time up to the Zelikon Seminars dating from the
1950s—is lled with references to pre-Socratic thought, especially to the various ways in
which Being is portrayed in it. For example, an important discussion on the primordial
pre-Socratic meaning of Being is found in his article on Anaximander’s Fragment, which
is believed to be the rst written philosophical text ever in Western culture. See Heidegger,
"Der Spruch Des Anaximander," 321–74.
10. e nationalization of spirit in order to justify the Nazi discourse with philosophical
argumentation occurs mainly in two texts dated from the 1930s: Introduction to Metaphysics
and e Rectorate's Speech. See Heidegger, Einführung in die Metaphysik; Heidegger, Die
Selbstbehauptung der deutschen Universität.
11. Derrida, Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question, 23–57.
12. Heidegger, "Die Sprache im Gedicht: Eine Erörterung von Georg Trakls Gedicht," 55–6.
13. Heinrich Heine, the Judeo-German poet (1797–1856), is known to have said that where books
are burned, people will eventually be burned too. is prophetic prediction came true aer
the rise of the Nazi party to power.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
Notes on contributor
Dror Pimentel teaches at the Bezalel Academy for Art and Design Jerusalem. Among his books:
e Dream of Purity: Heidegger with Derrida (Magnes Press, 2009 [Hebrew]); Aesthetics (e Bialik
Institute, 2014 [Hebrew]). Being Written: Heidegger with Derrida (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming
Celan, P. 1972. “Fugue of Death.” In A. Alvarez (ed.) Paul Celan: Selected Poems, pp. 33–34.
Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Derrida, J. 1989. Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Freud, S. 2005 [1946]. “Mourning and Melancholia.” In Adam Phillips (ed.) On Murder, Mourning,
and Melancholia, pp. 201–218. London: Penguin Books.
Heidegger, M. 1950 [1946]. “Der Spruch Des Anaximander.” In Holzwege, pp. 321–374. Frankfurt
a. M: V. Klostermann.
Heidegger, M. 1971 [1952]. “Language in the Poem: A Discussion on Georg Trakl’s Poetic Work,” in
On the Way to Language, pp. 159–198. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Heidegger, M. 1983 [1935]. Einführung in die Metaphysik, Gesamtausgabe, 40. Frankfurt a. M:
V. Klostermann.
Heidegger, M. 1984 [1946]. “e Anaximander Fragment.” In Early Greek inking, pp. 13–58.
San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Heidegger, M. 1985 [1952]. Die Sprache im Gedicht: Eine Erörterung von Georg Trakls Gedicht,
Gesamtausgabe, 12. Frankfurt a. M: V. Klostermann.
Heidegger, M. 1993 [1929]. “On the Essence of Truth.” In David F. Krell (ed.), Basic Writings: From
Being and Time (1927) to e Task of thinking (1964), pp. 111–138. Haneley: Routledge & Kegan
Heidegger, M. 2000 [1934]. Die Selbstbehauptung der deutschen Universität Gesamtausgabe, 16.
Frankfurt a. M: V. Klostermann.
Heidegger, M. 2000 [1935], Introduction to Metaphysics. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
Heidegger, M. 2009 [1934]. “Rectorship Address: e Self-Assertion of the German University,” in
Günter Figal (ed.) e Heidegger Reader, pp. 108–111. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press.
Hölderlin, F. 1990 “Bread and Wine.” In Eric L Santner (ed) Hyperion and Selected Poems, pp. 178–187.
New York, NY: Continuum.
Lacoue-Labarthe, P. 1990. Heidegger, Art and Politics: e Fiction of the Political. Oxford: Blackwell.
Nietzsche, F. 2000 [1872]. e Birth of Tragedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Full-text available
In a quest after the essence of memory, a crucial distinction is made between the notions of memory and remembrance, following Plato’s distinction between mneme (memory) and hypomnesis (archive). The article’s main argument is that memory has to do with the technical aspect of life, while remembrance has to do with what we live for. This is because the unwilled event of remembrance, which un-joins time, is always remembrance of one thing alone, i.e. the Thing. The notion of the Thing—addressed both by Heidegger and Freud—is analyzed in its psychoanalytic, theological and historical sense, as located in un-archiveable time, and as appearing in a spectral, violent fashion in our daily lives. Discussion is accompanied with examples taken from Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time and François Ozon’s film “Frantz.”
Full-text available
When Adina Bar-On--artist and teacher of abundant acclaim--asked me to write a text to accompany the Aesthetics and Bias exhibition, the first question that came to mind was about “bias,” the meaning of which was not entirely clear to me. Moreover, I was troubled by the connection between “bias” and “aesthetics,” two words that appeared to have no manifest connection. The word bias is important, as we will soon see; decoding its meanings can forge a path to understanding the exhibition.
The primordial meaning of Being; Being and beings; the hermeneutic character of Heidegger’s philosophical interpretation; presence, presencing, and the sway of presence; time, form, and limitation; apeiron as resistance to limitation; reification as dissembling; the contamination of pure presence by permanence and demarcation; inwardness and purity; the proper and the improper; the sway of presencing as justice, improper presence as injustice; whiling as an impossible possibility; the ontological ethic of responsiveness to whiling; reification as disorder; disorder and its overcoming are integral to order; hierarchical differences between whiling presence and reified presence, proper and improper, inside and outside; the radiant realm of aletheia, the unconcealed; the ontological difference and the aletheic space; the divine and the uncanny; the face as mask and idol; the order prior to order, the other of the Other; reification and the metaphysical conception of Being; the forgottenness of Being.
Die "Holzwege" sind nach "Sein und Zeit" das berühmteste Buch Martin Heideggers. Mit dem "Kunstwerk-Aufsatz" enthält es einen der grundlegenden Texte der Ästhetik des 20. Jahrhunderts. Hier wie in den weiteren Aufsätzen dieses Bandes aus den Jahren 1936 bis 1946 ("Die Zeit des Weltbildes" und Heideggers Interpretationen zu Hegel, Nietzsche, Anaximander, Rilke und Hölderlin) werden einzelne Fragen aus dem Zusammenhang des seinsgeschichtlichen Denkens entfaltet. Diese "Holzwege" verlassen den viel begangenen Pfad der Metaphysik und führen hinaus ins Offene. Wer Heideggers Denken der Geschichte des Seins nach der "Kehre" kennenlernen will, bleibt auf diesen Band angewiesen.
From “The Origin of the Work of Art”