January 19, 2013
Ω Three years ago, Five Dials, the online magazine from Hamish Hamilton published some of the notes that David Lambert and Robert McGill took down as they attended one of W.G. Sebald’s last classes on writing. Their piece, then called “The Collected ‘Maxims’,” has reappeared unchanged as “Max Sebald’s Writing Tips.” It’s too bad that Five Dials doesn’t get mentioned, and there is no link to that issue (number 5), which, as I noted at that time, was a “goldmine” of articles dedicated to Sebald. So here’s a reminder of what’s in Five Dials 5:
The new issue of Five Dials is very much an issue devoted to W.G. Sebald. Nearly half of the 32 pages are related to him in one way or another. The issue opens with a “Letter from the Editor” (Craig Taylor) entitled “On Translation and Sebald.” This is followed by “A Little Trick of the Mind,” in which four translators ( including Sebald’s primary English translator Anthea Bell) discuss “the world’s second oldest profession.” (Bell’s father edited The Times crossword puzzle, we learn.) She talks about translating the Asterix books and Sebald, although most of what she says here about Sebald she has said elsewhere.
Joe Dunthorne, a writer and, perhaps more importantly, a striker for the England Writers’ Football Team, writes about reading Austerlitz and what it meant to him as he moved to London.
Simon Prosser (publishing director for Hamish Hamilton) provides An A to Z of W.G. Sebald, an alphabetical soup of reminiscences grouped under subheadings such as Bavaria, Climate, Kant, Lac de Bienne (the one place Sebald felt truly at home), Smoking, and Zembla.
And lastly there is a short piece by the late author Roger Deakin.
Ω Not too long ago I wrote about Laird Hunt’s great 2012 book Kind One. Now there is an interview with him by Roxanne Gay over at Bookforum. Laird gives a very interesting and articulate discussion on a wide range of topics, including the issue of literary genre.
The fact that all the ghosts and witches and detectives and space ships had to operate in the relative shadows for many years brought its own rewards and much brilliant work, some of which is being retroactively anointed (think of the canonizing of Philip K. Dick), but it has also presented us with the strange and distorting notion that there is anything inherently unusual about the inclusion of such elements in writing worthy of being celebrated far and wide.
My first and lasting literary light-ups were European, French in particular, and what we think of as being related to genre is everywhere in writings published by France’s biggest houses. Whether we’re talking de Maupassant or Robbe-Grillet, Jean Echenoz or Marie Ndiaye, S & M, the supernatural and the gangster are all there, unapologized for, and have been for years.
Ω And don’t overlook László Krasznahorkai’s piece in the New York Times, “Someone’s Knocking at My Door.” It’s just damned wicked writing.
“Yes, it’s the weak who invite violence who are the problem.”
April 3, 2007
The most obvious way in which Sebald’s legacy as a writer can be seen is in the number of works of fiction that have appeared in the past decade employing photographs.But there are a number of works of fiction and of poetry that pay homage to Sebald in other ways.I’ve just acquired three works of fiction that acknowledge their debt to Sebald without apparently trying to “do a Sebald,” as one author notes.At the moment, all three novels lie in my ever growing stack of unread books, but here are some preliminary notes.
The first book is Sarah Emily Miano’s Encyclopedia of Snow, published in Great Britain by Picador in 2003.Miano is a former student at Sebald’s University of East Anglia (though I have yet to discern if she studied with him).Dedicated to W.G. Sebald, the book has received decidedly mixed reviews and my first few minutes with it were not promising.According to the dust jacket, The Encyclopedia of Snow purports to be a manuscript discovered in the trunk of a vehicle abandoned in a Buffalo, NY blizzard. The manuscript contains alphabetically arranged entries somehow dealing with snow from Angel to Zenith.Following a Prologue, which is written in the form of a newspaper article describing the blizzard, there is a cagey two-page note Editor’s Note addressed “Dear Reader” that simply seems to me to be too staged.After the main body of the book (the alphabetical entries referring to snow) the book concludes with a twenty-page section of notes – including some useful entries on obscure authors (some of whom will be very familiar to Sebald’s readers) and some self-indulgent entries like a definition of an encyclopedia – and an overly-mysterious Epilogue.At first glance, it all looks a bit too structured for a manuscript found in a car.First editions with the author’s tipped-in autograph are available from several sources.
Laird Hunt’s The Exquisite was published in 2006 by Coffeehouse Press of Minneapolis.It’s described as a “post 9/11” novel that takes place in downtown Manhattan.One blurb on the rear cover describes the book as being “as fun to read as [Raymond] Chandler, but spookier. A noir koan, in a New York designed by Escher.” Clearly, this is one of those blurbs that ought to set off warning bells. The book’s main character joins “a nefarious crew,” whose ringleader (a connoisseur of herring, no less) is somehow related to the corpse in Rembrandt’s famous painting The Anatomy Lesson (also familiar to all Sebaldians). At the end of his book, Hunt provides an Acknowledgements page. “While many books informed and inspired this one, W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, translated from the German by Michael Hulse, provided key thematic and linguistic irritants throughout the writing of The Exquisite.” Recognizing that he was not alone in trying to figure out how to channel Sebald into his own work, Hunt says “I decided not to try, as it seemed to me so many were trying, to ‘do a Sebald’, i.e. truffle page with visual images, eschew novelistic sleight of hand in favor of quietly patterned and heavily mediated observation, and inject the whole with a steady drip of melancholia.” My copy is a signed first edition acquired from Book Buffs in Denver.
Enrique Vila-Matas, the Spanish author of the generally well-liked Bartleby & Co., wrote El Mal de Montano (Montano’s Malady) in 2002, but it has only appeared in English earlier this year (2007) simply titled Montano and published by Harvill Secker, London.Montano turns out to be the son of the narrator (another “unreliable narrator” according to the dust jacket) and he is suffering from writer’s block, which seems to be a common topic for writers these days.The book jacket promises that many of the writers with whom Montano is obsessed will make an appearance in the novel, including “Cervantes, Sterne, Kafka, Musil, Perec, Bolaño, Coetzee, Sebald, and Magris.”Apparently, these writers have set the bar so high that poor Montano is reduced to describing his attempt to exorcize them.
If I ever finish any of these novels I will post a further report.And before too long I’ll do a post on some contemporary poets who also lay claim to being under the influence of Sebald.