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Take a Train Journey with Sebaldsound

Ear Edgeland Sebald 2

Here’s another audio piece about W.G. Sebald to help you through whatever level of confinement you are subjecting yourself to these days. Nick Warr and Guy Moreton recently taped a fascinating conversation about Sebald while taking a train journey and the recording they made is now up on Soundcloud. Warr and Moreton meander through many topics, including Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn, his use of photographs, and the significance of the trains that keep appearing in his work. Here’s their description of the thirty-three minute program.

The third episode in the [‘Ear of the Edgeland’] series finds us back on the rural railways, from Norwich to Lowestoft.

Commissioned by Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, ‘Sebaldsound’ acts as a complimentary audio piece to the 2019 exhibition ‘Lines of Sight’ about the artist W G Sebald.

In this episode ‘Lines of Sight’ curator Nick Warr talks to artist and academic Guy Moreton about the landscape, Sebald’s life and work, whilst travelling on part of the journey featured in Sebald’s much revered book The Rings of Saturn.

Sebaldsound includes field recordings by Oliver Payne with ‘Increasingly Absorbed In His Own World’ and ‘When the Dog Days Were Drawing To An End’ composed by The Caretaker for his album ‘Patience (After Sebald)’.

Guy Moreton is a photographer and teaches at Solent University, Southampton. Dr. Nick Warr is Curator of Photographic Collections, University of East Anglia and co-author of the forthcoming book W.G. Sebald: Shadows of Reality.

“Lines of  Sight: When a Literary Landscape Comes to Life”

Cantu Sebald

“Lines of  Sight: When a Literary Landscape Comes to Life,” an essay by Francisco Cantú is currently available online in the Virginia Quarterly Review Spring 2020 issue. In his essay, Cantú meditates on landscape, violence, and borders, inspired by a walking trip he took along the Suffolk Coast described in W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. Cantú’s 2018 book The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border explored the harsh realities of the U.S./Mexican border and it made several top ten book lists that year. To better understand the issues facing those who were trying to smuggle themselves north into the U.S. he enlisted as a Border Patrol agent for a while.

In “Lines of Sight,” Cantú writes of the universality of Sebald’s message.

I first began to read Sebald during the years I worked in the deserts of Arizona, as an agent for the US Border Patrol. I was in my early twenties, living alone in a two-bedroom home built for mine workers in the former copper town of Ajo. I read his books one after another in that hot, silent, sparsely furnished house, encountering detailed descriptions of his European wanderings and long digressions into obscure chapters of world history, immersing myself in places and stories that were distant and foreign, yet still somehow familiar. The way Sebald interrogated his surroundings—the reminders of horror he found in abandoned buildings, pieces of detritus, swaths of cleared land—reminded me, perhaps, of the glimmers of violence I encountered day after day in the borderlands. Despite writing from another continent and another decade, Sebald somehow seemed to be speaking about the precise moment I was living in, about the very nature of my own work as an agent of oppression, about the violence being imprinted into me each day as I rose to police the border. More broadly, his work gave language to how violence has been normalized throughout history and written into our landscapes, cities, cultures, and bodies. Sebald’s books taught me, in effect, to look for what had been hidden in plain sight all around me.

Read the piece now. Cantú warns on his Twitter feed that the piece will eventually go behind a paywall.

History as Amnesia: Adam Scovell’s “How Pale the Winter Has Made Us”

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‘… I am a voluntary exile, a wanderer by design, unwise with a purpose, everywhere a stranger and everywhere at home, letting my life run its course where it will, rather than trying to guide it, since, in any case, I don’t know where it will lead me.’
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey

How often is the main character of a novel a city and not a person? In Adam Scovell’s new novel How Pale the Winter Has Made Us, the first thing we see (after the epigraph from Goethe quoted above) is a reproduction of a 19th century photographic postcard of the cathedral of Strasbourg, France towering over the roofs and chimneys of the city. Isabelle, our narrator, who is staying in Strasbourg while on break from her university, has just learned that her father has committed suicide back in London. She is living at her partner’s apartment while he is conveniently on business in South America. Stunned by the death of her father, a failed painter, and at war with her “harridan mother,” Isabelle contemplates extending her stay in Strasbourg indefinitely. The idea comes to her “to stay in the city, and in some sense map it.”

And so it is that Isabelle spends the winter alone in Strasbourg, exploring its streets and its history. As a scholar, perhaps it’s natural that she pours herself into research as a way of dealing with the mixture of grief and guilt she feels over her father’s death and her failure to return home to help her mother deal with the estate. Isabelle wanders, sits in coffee shops, and examines antiques. Eventually, a sense of melancholy settles in as Isabelle begins, in a strange way, to enjoy her isolation and loneliness, as she explores the lives of some of the intriguing citizens of Strasbourg’s history, several of whom Scovell has conveniently invented. Read more

The House That Jack Built: John Hawkes’s The Cannibal

Hawkes Cannibal

When I was young and the traveling fair came around every spring, they sometimes brought with them a funhouse called The House That Jack Built, meant to suggest a structure built by a crazed architect. Inside was a mildly scary maze that consisted of floors that were uneven or that would suddenly go soft on you, mirrors and optical illusions, horrible noises, paths with misdirections and dead ends, and other tactics meant to make the space the size of a mobile home feel as spacious as a mansion.

I was reminded of that as I read John Hawkes’s first novel The Cannibal (New Directions, 1949). The book begins and ends in 1945, during the final days of World War II, diverting with a middle section that takes us back to 1914 and the onset of the previous World War. In 1945, the Americans are sweeping across Germany in the final days of the war. We are in a bombed-out town called Spitzen-on-the Dein, a landscape of buildings that are tilting or half falling down, the streets littered with abandoned carts and bomb craters. The opening scene is the empty insane asylum, which sits on a hill surrounded by charred earth, fields with dead cows, and stunted trees. The omniscient narrator, Herr Zizendorf, is the Editor of the wonderfully named local paper, the Crooked Zeitung. Zizendorf is a reluctant narrator who doesn’t bother to announce his presence or use the pronoun “I” until page 32. He prefers to stay in the background most of the time, until the end of the book when he reveals that he is the ringleader of the final event.

We are slowly introduced to an odd cast of characters: Madame Stella Snow, Jutta, the Census-Taker, The Duke (a tank commander in the previous World War), Herr Stintz, a tuba-playing school teacher, and a handful of others. Relationships and chronology are often ambiguous. But the writing is lush, thrilling.

The Mayor, with his faded red sash, was too blind to tend to the chronicles of history, and went hungry like the rest with memory obliterated from his doorstep. Their powerful horses of boney Belgian stock, dull-eyed monsters of old force, had been commandeered from the acre farms for ammunition trucks, and all were gone but one grey beast who cropped up and down the stone streets, unowned, nuzzling the gutters. He frightened the Mayor on black nights and trampled, unshod, in the bar garden, growing thinner each day. Children took rides on the horse’s tail and roamed in small bands, wearing pasteboard Teutonic helmets, over the small confines of the town. The undertaker had no more fluid for his corpses; the town nurse grew old and fat on no food at all. By mistake, some drank from poisoned wells.

This is writing I would follow anywhere. Read more

“Walking with Sebald” Programs Online

Kindertransport Memorial

At the Kindertransport Memorial, London

My previous post alerted readers to a radio program called “Walking with Sebald,” aired online by London radio station 104.4 Resonance FM on two nights in February. This fascinating program is now available to listen to anytime through the links below.

Novo Cemetery

Novo Cemetery, London

Patrick Bernard follows in the footsteps of W. G. Sebald and his eponymous character Austerlitz as he explores the East End of London with poet Stephen Watts (a friend of ‘Max’ Sebald who accompanied him on many of his walks). They are joined by Nadia Valman and David Anderson from Queen Mary University of London as they visit many of the locations in the novel to uncover the layers of history hidden beneath the surface of the city and Sebald’s text. In the first episode Patrick and his guests walk from Exchange Square behind Liverpool Street Station – where Austerlitz first arrives to London on the Kindertransport – to Brick Lane where Stephen reads a poem dedicated to Altab Ali and Bill Fishman.

There are more photographs of the walk here.

“Walking with Sebald” Broadcast

The London radio station 104.4 Resonance FM is about to broadcast a two part series called “Walking with Sebald.” Part one will go on at 8:00 PM London time Tuesday on the program called “Clear Spot”and will repeat Wednesday at 10:00 AM.  Here’s the information from their website:

Walking with Sebald: Austerlitz and the East End (Part 1). In this two-part programme Patrick Bernard follows in the footsteps of W. G. Sebald and his eponymous character Austerlitz as he explores the East End of London with poet Stephen Watts (a friend of ‘Max’ Sebald who accompanied him on many of his walks). They are joined by Nadia Valman and David Anderson from Queen Mary University of London as they visit many of the locations in the novel to uncover the layers of history hidden beneath the surface of the city and Sebald’s text. In the first episode Patrick and his guests walk from Exchange Square behind Liverpool Street Station – where Austerlitz first arrives to London on the Kindertransport – to Brick Lane where Stephen reads a poem dedicated to Altab Ali and Bill Fishman. Follow our progress at walkingwithsebald.wordpress.com/. Sound recorded by Milo Thesiger-Meacham and photography by Karen Lacey-Holder. [Repeated Wednesday 10am.]

Part two will be broadcast at 8:00 PM Thursday and rebroadcast Friday morning at 10:00 AM. At some point in the future, the two broadcasts will become available to listen elsewhere. I’ll post details when I know more. It’s easy to listen. Just click on the button that says “Listen Live” and the Resonance FM radio app will open right up on your screen.

Be patient! The Resonance FM website loads very slowly.

The “Impersonal Autobiography” of Annie Ernaux

ernaux years

 

Annie Ernaux’s The Years (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2019, translated by Alison L. Strayer), which launched the concept of “collective autobiography,” vacillates between two very distinct forms of narrative. First published in France as Les Annees in 2008, the premise is that an unlikely pair of narratives can work together dialectically to construct a more complex self-portrait of the author. In one strand, Ernaux provides a history of post-war France as seen through her own subjective experiences and her very personal lens. These portions are written in first person plural, in ‘we.’ The second, alternating narrative is that of her own story as she grows up, except that Ernaux turns the ‘I’ of autobiography into the ‘she’ of biography. Ernaux treats the memories she has of herself as if they were the observations of another. Needless to say, the reader has to do a bit of recalibrating to bring the “we” and the “she” narratives into a singular story, but trust me, it works. Read more

W.G. Sebald Literature Prize & Conference Announced in the Allgäu, Where He Grew Up

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The stele with the relevant text from Vertigo as seen on the Sebaldweg, near Wertach, Germany, birthplace of W.G. Sebald.

The Allgäu, the Bavarian region southwest of Munich where W.G. Sebald was born and raised, is extending its effort to claim its native son who fled to England. Sebald was born in Wertach im Allgäu and later lived in Sonthofen, two towns which, along with nearby Kempten in Allgäu, have launched the Deutsche Sebald-Gesellschaft, or German Sebald Society. A few years after his death, the Allgäu region established the Sebaldweg, or Sebald Walk, a 12-kilometer hiking trail that somewhat follows the route that Sebald describes in the “Ritorno in Patria” section of Vertigo, in which the Sebald character returns to the town of his birth. (Do yourself a favor and take a delightful stroll along the Sebaldweg with Saim Demircan over at Frieze.)

Now, the German Sebald Society has announced an annual Sebald Literature Prize of 10,000 EUR for a longer prose text in German on the subject of “Gedächtnis und Erinnerung” (shall we say “memory and recollection”?). German-speaking authors from around the world may submit to the competition by April 30, 2020. The prize is endowed, which implies that it will be awarded annually into the future.

In addition, during November 20-22 of this year, there will be a conference in Sonthofen on the topic of “Nebelflecken und das Unbeobachtete” (“nebulae and the unobserved”), at which time the Sebald Literature Prize will be awarded. The papers of the conference will apparently be published. Further instructions for applying to both the competition and the conference can be found here.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Theater in Kempten is going to stage “Die Ausgewanderten – vier lange Erzählungen” or “The Emigrants – Four Long Stories,” a dramatization of Sebald’s 1992 book, with eight performances between March 5-27.

What would Sebald have thought of all of this?

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The actors from the Theater in Kempten production: Julia Jaschke, Annette Wunsch, Christian Kaiser, Hans Piesbergen. Photo © Birgitta Weizenegger.

 

Photography-Embedded Fiction & Poetry 2019

Here is my bibliography of works of fiction and poetry published in 2019 containing embedded photographs.  You can see bibliographies for other years underneath the pull-down menu “Photo-Embedded Literature” at the top of Vertigo. If you know of a book that I have not mentioned, please let me know in a comment. My thanks to the many Vertigo readers who have already pointed out books that I had not known about. [Added to on January 21, February 4, 5, 11, 2020.]

Barnes coat

Julian Barnes. The Man in the Red Coat. London: Jonathan Cape, 2019. Barne’s novel contains a number of reproductions of well-known 19th century paintings and cartes-de-visites of Parisian personalities.

Chlala paper camera

Youmna Chlala. Paper Camera. n.p.: Litmus Press, 2019. This Beirut-born, trilingual (Arabic, English, French) author combines poetry about life between languages, air strikes, real-life and possibly fictional bits of narrative… with a few photographs and a lot of stills from one of her Super 8 film projects. She deliberately chooses motion-blurred, overexposed, grainy frames that dialog with the text without there being an explicit link.

Christle crying

Heather Christle. The Crying Book. NY: Catapult, 2019. Brief prose pieces and excerpts from other writers about crying, interspersed with occasional photographs. Read more

Dreamlife of Debris

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In an interview with London Jazz News, musician Kit Downes talks about how his two recent albums Obsidian and Dreamlife of Debris (both for ECM Records, 2018 and 2019, respectively) were inspired by W.G. Sebald and by Grant Gee’s film Patience (After Sebald):

LJN: And continuing the “place” theme in a more abstract way, can you tell us about W.G. Sebald (both albums contain references to his work) and his influence on the music?

KD: The title, Dreamlife of Debris, itself comes from a supposed quote by Nabakov, mentioned in a documentary film about W.G. Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn. The quote itself alludes to the way we can project emotion and character onto inanimate objects, to the point where they feel like they have their own life, dreamt by us – like a musician and their instrument in a way, especially the organ (being the enormous chaotic collection of pipes, whistles and reeds that it is).

These objects could be mundane and everyday, or galaxy clusters and gas giants – whatever the scale. This quote (in reference to the book) is alluding to the way Sebald finds meaning in these isolated landmarks and events on his walking tour through Suffolk by using them as springboards for enormous mental leaps of association and story telling – to places across the world and from other times.

This resonated with me – these unlikely combinations of instruments, alluding to different styles and periods, with no established pretext, meeting together in a space with no singular character. I enjoyed the risk of diving into that challenge, and enjoyed the strange dream-like space that we often found ourselves in musically.

Read more