In the second section of the new book Witnessing, Memory, Poetics: H.G. Adler & W.G. Sebald, edited by Helen Finch and Lynn L. Wolff, we find essays by Katrin Kohl, Kirstin Gwyer, and Lynn L. Wolff grouped under the rubric “Witnessing Trauma and the Poetics of Witnessing.” The first essay is Katrin Kohl’s “Bearing Witness: The Poetics of H.G. Adler and W.G. Sebald.” Using as a touchstone Theodore Adorno’s now-infamous statement that “to write poetry after Aushwitz is barbaric,” Kohl examines how Adler and Sebald cope with the ethical issues of “bearing witness” through their poetry and fiction, focusing mostly on Adler’s novel Eine Reise (The Journey) and exclusively on Sebald’s Austerlitz. The principal contrast, of course, is that Adler was a survivor of the concentration camps while Sebald’s life was essentially untouched by the war or the concentration camps. Read more
Propolis, the publishing arm of Norwich’s The Book Hive, is holding a London book launch for Philippa Comber’s Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory of W.G. Sebald at the Chelsea location of Daunt Books on Friday October 17, starting at 6:30 PM.
158-164 Fulham Road
London SW10 9PR
Five days later, the Royal Academy of Arts is having a launch for Tess Jaray’s new book The Blue Cupboard: Inspirations and Recollections. It will be held on Wednesday October 22 from 6:30-8:00. In 2001, Jaray and Sebald collaborated on the book of artwork and poems For Years Now. In addition to be a wonderful artist, Tess is an excellent writer. Here’s a link to my piece on her earlier book Painting: Mysteries & Confessions (2010).
The Academician’s Room
The Keeper’s House
Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House, Picadilly
London W1J 0BD
RSVP by October 16: firstname.lastname@example.org
My essay “A House Divided,” on S.D. Chrostowska’s book Permission: A Novel (Dalkey Archive, 2013), can be read over at 3AM:Magazine. Permission struck me as a complex and deliberately contradictory book that I simply could not shake free of. I was particularly taken by the variety and sophistication of the ways in which Chrostowska used photographs in her book. I would glance at them expecting to quickly consume the image and then move on with the text; but the images repeatedly stole my attention, and I found myself eventually going back to the text having been taken somewhere entirely unexpected and yet related. After multiple readings, I feel that it’s a compelling novel of ideas unlike almost anything I can think of, except, perhaps, Fernando Pessoa’s equally unclassifiable The Book of Disquiet.
Toward the end of W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, Jacques Austerlitz tells the book’s narrator that he has just read a “heavy tome, running to almost eight hundred close-printed pages, which H.G. Adler, a name previously unknown to me, had written between 1945 and 1947 in the most difficult of circumstances, partly in Prague and partly in London, on the subject of the setting up, development, and internal organization of the Theresienstadt ghetto, and which he had revised several times before it was brought out by a German publishing house in 1955…” It was a struggle for Austerlitz to understand the difficult German and he often spent an entire day translating a single page. “I might as well say it was almost as difficult for me as deciphering an Egyptian or Babylonian text in hieroglyphic or cuneiform script. The long compounds, not listed in my dictionary, which were obviously being spawned the whole time by the pseudo-technical jargon governing everything in Theresienstadt had to be unraveled syllable by syllable.” But Austerlitz persisted until the end and “read down to the last footnote,”anxious to absorb every detail of the terrible place where he had been imprisoned and where his mother had perished. Sebald’s retelling of Adler’s seminal study Theresienstadt 1941-1945: Das Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft. Geschichte, Soziologie, Psychologie,embodied in a single sentence some ten pages long, has resulted in new and widespread interest in Adler’s books, most of which had languished during his lifetime before falling into oblivion.
Hans Günther Adler was born in Prague in 1910. In 1941 he and his family were sent by the Nazis to a Jewish workcamp, then to Theresienstadt, where they remained for two and a half years before being moved to Auschwitz. Adler was the sole member of his family to survive the Holocaust. At the end of the war, he began his immensely detailed study of Theresienstadt, which was finally published in 1955. Taking up residence in London, he eventually produced more than twenty books, including the three novels. Until recently, none of Adler’s books were available in English translation, but by the end of 2014, it will be possible to read all three of his published novels in English for the first time thanks to Modern Library: The Journey (2009), Panorama (2012), and The Wall (December 2014).
In October 2012, a conference was held in London on the subject H.G. Adler/W.G. Sebald: Witnessing, Memory, Poetics, coordinated by Helen Finch and Lynn L. Wolff. Thankfully, Camden House has just published a volume of essays that emerged from the conference: Witnessing, Memory, Poetics: H.G. Adler & W.G. Sebald. In the first section of the book we hear from Finch and Wolff, Adler’s son Jeremy Adler, Adler’s translator Peter Filkins, and scholar Jo Catling. Read more
“Why write? to remember? or to give? or at last to forget.”
“Unlike ancient seers, I foretell the past.”
In Ancient History: A Paraphase (Knopf, 1971), Joseph McElroy once again uses a favorite device – the personal letter – in a novel dedicated to reliving, dissecting, and realigning the past. The narrator is Cyrus, a professional anthropologist who seems to work for a foundation. (As usual, basic facts remain elusive in McElroy’s world.) Cy is also what we today might call a stalker. He is obsessed with Dom, an outsized figure in New York literary and political circles – a character often identified as a kind of Norman Mailer figure. “Dom…you’re a hero. A real American one, messy though late-model.” Cy has followed Dom to conferences and public appearances, he has managed to ferret away some of Dom’s unopened mail (destroying letters he thinks Dom wouldn’t want to see), and, most recently, he has moved into Dom’s building. On the night in which Ancient History takes place, Dom has apparently committed suicide by leaping out his apartment window and Cy has surreptitiously made his way into the now empty apartment in Manhattan. There, using Dom’s fountain pen and Dom’s paper, he writes a letter to Dom (“my ideal listener”), a letter which is the text of Ancient History. Read more
The phrase “Ariadne’s thread” usually refers to the process of solving a maze or other complex problem through a physical trace (the mythical ball of thread) or a some method of recording and verifying one’s options and decisions. In Philippa Comber’s new memoir Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory of W.G. Sebald, the thread ultimately leads us back into the maze that was W.G. Sebald. In 1980, Comber, a young English-born psychotherapist living in Berlin whose marriage was “foundering,” moved to Norwich for a new job. In August 1981 she joined up with a small group of friends and others to see Roman Polanski’s movie Tess. Among the group was Sebald, then in his mid-thirties and a lecturer at the University of East Anglia. Comber and Sebald hit it off. Read more
Before I go on vacation for a spell, I thought I’d toss out two Sebald tidbits just to keep everyone occupied – advance news of an important new book about Sebald and a video lecture on Sebald’s work.
First, I’ve just finished reading an advance copy of a new Sebald-related memoir Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory of W.G. Sebald, by Philippa Comber. A full review will be forthcoming around September 1. It will be the first book published by the new Propolis Books, which originates from The Book Hive bookstore in Norwich. Here’s the promotional text for the book from The Book Hive’s Facebook page:
In 1981 a young woman, recently moved to Norwich after being appointed manager of a psychiatric day-care centre in the city, went with some friends to the now defunct Noverre Cinema to watch Polanski’s Tess. Having spent the previous years living in Germany, a place whose people and language had struck a chord deep within her after first visiting as a teenager, another man had been asked along to the cinema whom mutual friends had thought she might like to meet. His name was Max.
To read Joseph McElroy’s 1969 novel Hind’s Kidnap: A Pastoral on Familiar Airs (Harper & Row) is to be airlifted into the midst of a Joycean thicket of daily life, to find oneself privy to events, references, and conversations that you are not prepared to understand and which may never become clear. Amidst the New York City of one-term mayor John Lindsay and the student protest movement, Jack Hind is obsessed for years with the unsolved kidnapping of a young girl named Laurel Hershey (this was ten years before the real-life kidnapping of Etan Patz grabbed the headlines and put his photograph on milk cartons). Spurred on by the mysterious appearance of a new clue, Hind again takes up the search for the long missing girl. but it is really the reader who gets kidnapped by McElroy and taken for a meandering trip through the mind and daily life of Hind and, for a brief spell, that of his wife Sylvia. Accustomed as we are to fictions that have edited out the extraneous, everything in McElroy’s second novel strikes us as extraneous at first. Like Hind, we find that we don’t know what constitutes a clue amongst all of the signs, conversations, and messages that he encounters daily. While Hind dutifully analyzes the trivia of his mostly ordinary life, the reader dutifully tries to analyze the overwhelming minutiae that McElroy fearlessly provides. Thus, Hind’s Kidnap sends both Hind and the reader on simultaneous searches for meaning.
Another audio recording of W.G. Sebald has surfaced on the Internet. Over at Lesungen.net, there is a recording of Sebald reading nearly all of his essay “Her kommt der Tod die Zeit geht hin: Anmerkungen zu Gottfried Keller” from Logis in einem Landhaus (translated as “Death Draws Nigh, Time Marches On: Some Remarks on Gottfried Keller” in the English edition). Sebald was participating in one of Literarisches Colloquium Berlin’s Studio LCB project, along with several other specialists in German-language literature, but Sebald’s is the only recording from the November 25, 1997 session currently available. (Apparently the others have yet to give permission.) After a brief introduction to Logis, which appeared in print the following year, Sebald begins reading about eight pages into the essay, beginning with page 104 (page 102 in A Place in the Country). The recording then fades out 50:44 later as he reads the penultimate page of the essay.
It’s time to think about visiting France in September. The Centre Culturel International de Cerisy has announced a week-long colloquium on Sebald and the issue of documentary ethics in literature. It’s quite an impressive group of participants and it all takes place in a 17th century chateau. (Everything that follows is from the CCIC website, where there is this additional information, including details on each of the participants.)
“W.G. Sebald: Littérature et Éthique Documentaire”
Monday Septembre 3 through Monday Septembre 10, 2014
DIRECTION : Mark ANDERSON, Muriel PIC, Jürgen RITTE
ARGUMENT : History is no longer the past but also the present in which the reader must act. (Andrew Bowie cité par Sebald dans Campo Santo) Read more