I made the logo for this website by using cutlery to form the Hebrew letter “shin”. (You can get aprons, mugs and other apparel with the logo.)The Hebrew letter shin, which you’ll find in my logo, marks the entrance to many traditional and religious Jewish homes. Shin stands for שדי, Shaddai, meaning the Almighty. It is written on the cover of a ritual object called a mezuzah, which is a scroll usually encased in a small decorative box. The word itself translates to “doorpost,” which is where it is placed, and the scroll contains the very verses from which the obligation to affix a mezuzah to the doorpost is derived. My logo has no such religious application. Rather it marks the head of every page on this website, the way logos usually do. It designates a cultural rather than a religious realm where recipes replace verses.
The Hebrew letter shin of my logo represents the word “shibboleth,” which refers to a password or cultural marker. This blog presents my shibboleth, the homolog from the Book of Judges, whose pronunciation distinguished the Ephraimites from the Gileadites. Freud referred to the Oedipus complex as “the shibboleth that distinguishes the adherents of psychoanalysis from its opponents” (SE 7: 226). About the famous poem Schibboleth by Paul Celan, Jacques Derrida writes in his eponymous text “le poème ne dévoile un secret que pour confirmer qu’il y a là du secret”. (“The poem does not reveal a secret except to confirm that there is, there, a secret.”)1 It is this resistance to meaning that relates the shibboleth to Freudian theory. I try to unearth national narratives through the shibboleths, cultural passageways and passwords I analyze in my writing and cooking.
Here is my attempt at an English translation of Celan’s Schibboleth. I tried translating Paul Celan’s poem while heavily relying on the translation by Edward Mackinnon in Paul Celan’s Political Touchstone, but also Michael Humberger and Christopher Middleton’s translation published in Paul Celan – selected poems (Penguin Modern European Poets, 1972).
Together with my stones,
heavy with weeping
behind the bars,
they dragged me
to the middle of the market,
where the flag unfurls to which
I did not swear an oath.
double-flute of the night:
think back to the dark
in Vienna and Madrid.
Set your flag at half-mast,
today and for-ever.
here too reveal yourself,
here in the midst of the market.
Call the shibboleth, call it out
into the foreignness of your homeland:
February. No pasarán.
you know of the stones,
you know of the waters,
I shall lead you away
to the voices
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- Jacques Derrida, Schibboleth: pour Paul Célan (Paris: Galilée; 1986), p21.