Two paragraphs, separated by many pages, from Gert Jonke’s “Individual and Metamorphosis” (The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 2012, volume XXXII).
I am an invention of my own self. Since coming upon myself facing myself I’ve been faced the whole time with the problem of how to place myself somewhere, in some place where I would be able either to find or somehow cobble together on my own, through hints and hunches at least, something like a roof, a lodging, a shelter for me and my head. In my case it was clear soon enough that this would be most feasible if I came to settle in a region of my own arranging, a plot of land in the realm of language, or narration.
How, nonetheless, from a purely technical standpoint, can language express what has always been inexpressible, grow literate enough to produce literature? Allow me to try illustrating it for you through an image. Picture language as a fence you’re erecting: letters and words as fence posts, sentences as fences put up around an area itself unknown, intangible, unmeasured, perhaps not even really accessible; but my fencing it in with language delineates its outlines to me, allows me to see its contours, even though I cannot gain access or perhaps do not even need to enter this area…
Jonke’s essay is fascinating and thought provoking. However, I’m halfway through his Awakening to the Great Sleep War (published by Dalkey Archive Press in 2012), and, to paraphrase Jonke, I’m not gaining much access yet.
Iain Sinclair with the jacket for his new book American Smoke.
London’s Test Centre has just announced a month of activities that I’d dearly love to see if only I were in London. Test Centre, just to remind everybody, is a publisher and art event organization that recently published Iain Sinclair’s excellent little book Austerlitz & After: Tracking Sebald, which I wrote about in April. Now, it seems that they’ve snagged the first month of the new art space simply known as F (located in a former Sea Cadets building in Stoke Newington) to house a series of events and a pop-up shop curated by Sinclair, Chris Petit, Stewart Home, and others. There’s no point in my even attempting to summarize the farrago of activities, so I’ll just steal a bit of the text from Test Centre’s website (but do check out the website as there is much more that I didn’t swipe):
A new Sebald-related exhibition by artist Karen Stuke has just opened up at The Wapping Project in East London’s Wapping district. Here’s how the artist’s website describes her project:
The installation, which includes monumental pinhole camera photographs taken in the book’s key locations, a metaphorical railway line and Jewish actors reading the novel is created by Stuke in collaboration with The Wapping Project’s curator Jules Wright. The commissioning of a German artist to respond to a work which deals with the Nazi oppression of Jews is not lost on Karen Stuke for whom the process has been often difficult and painful. Read more
Part of the disorientation of Sebald’s characters can be viewed as precisely an attempt to go astray, to resist compulsory heterosexuality and to transgress the borders of Germany and Europe in search of a queer affinity that might provide a source of resistance to the straightening and oppressive orientation of bourgeois society and family.
Helen Finch’s new book Sebald’s Bachelors: Queer Resistance and the Unconforming Life is an ambitious, thin book that contains a dense, closely argued “queer reading of Sebald’s work.” The result is one of the most important books on Sebald to date. I am sure that there are a number of Sebald readers, casual and otherwise, who will look askance at a queer reading of his work, but, as Finch demonstrates, the clues – both obvious and coded – are there in plain sight. Read more
Time seemed to stand still because it had to stop and eavesdrop on all the beauty and all the evening magic. Everything dreamed because it was alive, and everything lived because it was permitted to dream. ["The City," 1915]
Is there any writer who seems more clinically optimistic than Robert Walser? His deliciously confounding narrators – many of which are children or servants – instinctively grasp that ignorance is a precondition to certain types of happiness and wisdom, just as they understand that it is often the so-called unimportant things that really matter. Read more