Poets and thinkers reflect on the road to re-turn

Hölderlin, Heidegger, Celan, Perse, and Badiou have reflected on the journey “Hinauf und Züruck“/Upwards and Back home.

In 1801, Hölderlin wrote the elegy “Heimkunft”/Homecoming-To the related ones and in 1803, the hymn Der Ister.

In 1924, Saint-John Perse published the long poem Anabase (which T.S. Eliot translated in 1930.)

In 1942, Heidegger gave a lecture course on Hölderlin’s “The Ister” and in 1943, an address on his elegy, titled “Homecoming-To the related ones.”

In 1955, Celan wrote the poem “Heimkehr”/Return home and in 1963, the poem “Anabasis” (cf. Hebrew עליה/aliya/going up to Israel).

In 2005, Badiou published the book The Century, which includes analyses of the anabasis in Perse and Celan.

In 2013, in his study Thinking the Poetic Measure of Justice: Holderlin-Heidegger-Celan, Charles Bambach drew on Levinas to criticize the ontological legacy of the Odyssean homecoming in light of the ethical legacy of the Abrahamic exodus.

Most recently, in his 2016 paper “Alain Badiou’s anabasis: rereading Paul Celan against Heidegger,” Tom Betteridge draws on The Century to propose the materialist legacy of Badiou’s Xenophonic anabasis as an alternative to Bambach’s opposition between Heideggerian/Homeric homecoming and Levinasian/Biblical exodus (an opposition which re-turned to Erich Auerbach’s comparison of Agamemnon and Abraham in the 1st chapter of his 1946 Mimesis). Based on the etymological undecidability of the Greek verb ἀναβαίνειν, which means both “to embark” and “to return” (The Century, p. 83), Badiou’s notion of anabasis combines the disciplined innovation of a “re-ascent towards the source” with the uncertainty of an “exiled experience of beginning.”


Ever the pianist in love, Pantelis Polychronidis, my “other self,” might prefer a different Heimkehr/Return home, the last of Richard Strauss’s five lieder, op. 15 (1886).


December 27, 2015

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