“Perhaps we can say that every poem is marked by its own ‘January 20’?”
-Paul Celan, 1960
The Murmur of Democracy is a monthly group performance organized by artist Matthew Girson. During each performance audience members reflect on the successes and failures of Democracy by reading and listening to each other and for each other. Chosen texts are poems, letters, testimonies, and speeches of survivors of hatred, bigotry, sexism and other forms of oppression. Many of these texts are catalogued in the archive of this website.
Murmurs are held on the twentieth day of every month. More information is below. Other information about the objectives, history, and structure of The Murmur of Democracy can be found by navigating through the menu of this site.
On January 20, 1942 fifteen high-ranking Nazi officials met in Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin, to plan and implement the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. In other words, January 20, 1942 was the day that the systematic annihilation of Europe’s Jews was organized and made official as state policy. Commemorating this historical event provides an opportunity to stand together in our ongoing fight against hatred, bigotry, oppression, and violence.
Paul Celan (1920 – 1970) was a Jewish poet who survived the Holocaust in a series of Nazi labor camps. He was the only member of his immediate family to survive. The quotation above is from a speech he gave upon receiving the Georg Buchner Prize in Darmstadt, Germany in 1960. In the speech he first mentioned ‘January 20’ in reference to the 19th century novella, Lenz, written by Buchner. In that story January 20 was the day that the title character began a journey. Later in the speech Celan states, “But do we not all write from and toward some such date? What else could we claim as our origin?” Without making it explicit, Celan linked the date of the Wannsee Conference to a creative journey through art and poetry. He never mentioned the Nazis and their violence and hatred, nor did he invoke any anger, anguish, or suffering. Instead he spoke about the power of art and poetry.
“Perhaps we can say that every poem is marked by its own ‘January 20’?” These words are a call to action for writers, artists, and all citizens who value democracy. This website is a resource to commemorate history, to celebrate the words of survivors from all types of hatred, bigotry, sexism and oppression, and to take action against narrow mindedness, xenophobia, and divisiveness.
Democracy is a process and a project. Reflecting on its failures helps to empower its successes.