“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
The fabulous Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company is currently working on a major new dance called Analogy, which involves using W.G. Sebald’s story of Ambros Adelwarth from The Emigrants as part of the program. Here’s the official description from the company’s website.
Analogy (working title) is the Company’s newest creation, currently in development. Bill T. Jones, along with Janet Wong (Associate Artistic Director of the Company) and the Company dancers, are developing a new evening-length work in two parts, focusing on the memory and the effect that powerful events have on the actions of individuals and-more importantly-on their often unexpressed inner life. In Analogy (working title), Jones continues to explore the intermingling of text, storytelling and movement, paying special attention to how new experiences can be had through the coalescing of these elements. Informing the work are two literary sources-an interview conducted by Jones with Dora Amelan (a French-Jewish nurse and social worker) chronicling her life experiences, as well as the story of Ambros Adelwarth, from W.G. Sebald’s celebrated historical novel, The Emigrants – that ruminate on the nature of service and duty, and inquire into the characteristics of a life well lived.
Who owns words? Can you inherit them? Do you have a special responsibility for words that have been written “to” you? These are just some of the questions raised by Joseph McElroy’s 1998 brief, rich novel The Letter Left to Me.
Inspired by Bibliomanic‘s intelligent passion for McElroy’s writing, I recently decided to dip back into my half shelf of McElroy’s books. I first encountered McElroy sometime in the early 1970s through A Smuggler’s Bible and have had a soft spot for his books ever since, especially Lookout Cartridge. I adore McElroy’s sentence-making and I’m attracted to the breadth of his interests, which includes technology, cognition, history, family, Brooklyn, sports, and more. Read more
[photograph by Álvaro Sánchez-Montañés]
Here is a summer-themed post for all of those Vertigo readers who might find themselves on a beach in the coming months, trying to eject a few grains of sand from in between the toes.
On the opening page of The Rings of Saturn, W.G. Sebald’s narrator reflects briefly upon the walk through the county of Suffolk which he is about to relate to us in the remainder of the book.
In retrospect I became preoccupied not only with the unaccustomed sense of freedom but also with the paralysing horror that had overcome me at times with the traces of destruction, reaching far back into the past, that were evident even in that remote place.