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Last Exit

Craig Panthers

I’m not sure why authors sometimes want to signal to us in advance what the experience of reading their book is going to be like. Maybe it’s a momentary crisis of self-doubt or an honest attempt to assist the reader. On pages 5 and 6, Jen Craig tells us what we should expect as we read her book Panthers & the Museum of Fire. “You have to imagine a book,” the narrator (also named Jen Craig) tells us, before clarifying that the book she is referring to is really a manuscript.

As soon as you started the manuscript, you would find yourself waiting for it to start, to really start. You kept flicking pages and reading and flicking—not skipping any pages, but flicking them all the same—and the whole time you were reading you were waiting for the story in the manuscript to start for real. This feeling, you have to realise, kept up the whole time. There was never a moment when you thought you had started on the section of the manuscript where the real part began. At first you would have been flicking the pages and thinking, well she could have cut these paragraphs and all of these pages here, cut all of it so far, and yet this feel of needing to cut most of what you were reading persisted until the end. In fact the whole of the reading seemed to be just the prelude to a reading; it pulled you along from one sentence to the next, and you held on for some reason, never doubting for an instant that the real part of the story would be about to begin; and even when you knew, later on, when it was evidently too late, that there was no real part—when you watched yourself holding on to your role in the reading like an idiotic fool, holding on for the real part to begin when all the time there never was a real part, all the time there was nothing but the reading of the manuscript one word after another.

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The Miraculous Expanding Stream

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bdrov7kqcjclxixoi7yhsdbrqeIn Iowa, where I live, it is going to get to at least 24 below zero Fahrenheit this week, maybe colder. The wind chill from this Arctic vortex will be about -50. I plan to stay indoors and read. If you need something to get you through your winter doldrums, I suggest Remedios Varo’s beguiling brand of Surrealism. Wakefield Press has just put out a small volume called Remedios Varo: Letters, Dreams & Other Writings, translated by Margaret Carson. Best known as a painter, Varo (1908-1963) was born in Spain and then became twice an exile. She first fled the Spanish Civil War, going to Paris where she met up with the city’s circle of Surrealist artists, only to be forced out of France to Mexico in 1941, where she lived for the rest of her life. While few of the pieces in this book are dated, internal evidence suggests that most of them were written in Mexico.

Varo’s letters to an odd assortment of recipients, including other artists, are terrific. Here’s Varo writing to her ex-husband, the painter Gerardo Lizarraga Istúriz:

It’s hard for me to understand the importance the recognition of your talent seems to have for you. I thought that for a creator the important thing is creating and that the fate of the work was a secondary issue, and that fame, admiration, people’s curiosity, and so on, were inevitable consequences, more than things to be desired.

And in a letter to another, unidentified painter, Varo explains that she has previously been reincarnated as a cat, next as an object that “passes over us at 300,000 kilometers per second,” and then as a piece of quartz from which she was freed by a bolt of lightning, which caused her to pass into “the body of a voluptuous woman who was walking by.” She describes her current body as quite “a catch! Greek nose. Seductive curves without being obese . . . So what, I have a few wrinkles? It’s the equivalent of the noble patina that fine objects acquire.” Read more

Photography-Embedded Fiction & Poetry 2018

Here is my bibliography of works of fiction and poetry published in 2018 containing embedded photographs.  You can see bibliographies for other years underneath the pull-down menu “Photo-Embedded Literature” at the top of Vertigo.  I also maintain bibliography that spans 1892 to the present at Library Thing  (http://www.librarything.com/catalog/VertigoTwo).  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 March 6, 11, 2019.]

 

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Forrest Gander. Be With. NY: New Directions, 2018. Contains a poem sequence called “Littoral Zone,” which consists of six photographs by Michael Flomen, each facing a section of the poem that, at least in part, includes verbal equivalents and/or references to the image. See my review of this book here. Read more

Mothlight

mothlight

I needed her to say the words, I needed her to spell it out. But the conversation continued, driven by useless bits of information.

Adam Scovell’s Mothlight is a quietly unsettling novel narrated by Thomas, a young academic lepidopterist who specializes in studying and collecting moths. Growing up, Thomas was obsessed with two elderly women—Phyllis, a professor of entomology and a collector of moths, and her sister Billie. At first, Thomas’s obsession revolved around a mystery—why did Phyllis treat her sister with such open disdain? “What had Billie done, I thought, that Phyllis Ewans considered so awful as to behave so coldly towards her?” After Billie died, Thomas became the elderly Phyllis’s caretaker, and his obsession switched to something else entirely. “Our lives were somehow mimetic of each other,” Thomas noticed that he and Phyllis shared a “synchronicity.” Then, when Phyllis dies, Thomas inherits her house and her extensive moth collection. But her death “cast my obsessions into a startling cage from which I could not escape.” He feels that Phyllis’s memories are starting to intermingle with his own and that she is sometimes eerily present, even touching him. His obsession is now an illness and to cure himself he decides he must unravel the mystery of Phyllis and Billie. Read more

Some Sebald Duplicate Titles for Sale

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I have several duplicate Sebald books in my collection that could use good homes. $25 each plus $2.50 media rate postage per title (within the US).

Logis in einem Landhaus. Hanser, 1998. Second printing. Cloth bound. An unread copy without dust jacket.

For Years Now. Poems by W.G. Sebald, Images by Tess Jaray. Short Books, 2001. First edition. Paper bound. An unread copy. SOLD.

Die Beschreibung des Unglücks. Residenz Verlag, 1985. First edition. Cloth bound. A fine copy without a dust jacket.

Schwindel. Gefühle. Eichborn, 1990. First edition of Vertigo. Cloth bound. A very good copy with very minor evidence of wear at corners of the binding. Without the original cardboard sleeve. SOLD.

Austerlitz. Hanser, 2001. First German edition. Cloth bound. An unread perfect copy with fine dust jacket. SOLD.

Email me: terry2127 at gmail dot com.

Payment by Cash app (all you need is a debit card), Apple Pay (you need an iPhone), PayPal, or personal check (books shipped after it clears).

Patience (After Sebald)

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Film still from Patience (After Sebald).

Today is the seventeenth anniversary of the death of W.G. Sebald, and it seemed like a good time for another shout out to Grant Gee’s excellent documentary Patience (After Sebald). I’ve watched Patience numerous times and it never fails to impress me. It’s also a sad reminder of what we lost when Sebald died suddenly at the age of 57. I wrote about Gee’s film shortly after it came out in 2011.

There are several ways to see Patience. It’s currently available on the streaming service Mubi (although, unfortunately, not in the United States). If you aren’t already a subscriber, you could take advantage of whatever promotion Mubi is offering in your location. In some locations they apparently offer a seven-day free trial subscription, while elsewhere the gambit is $1 a month for the first three months. The film is also available to Fandor subscribers. You can either rent or buy a digital version of the film on iTunes or get the DVD on Amazon.

Recently Read: Michelle Bailat-Jones & Olga Medvedkova

Unfurled Going Where

Michelle Bailat-Jones. Unfurled. NY: Ig Publishing, 2018.
Olga Medvedkova. Going Where. London: Sylph Editions, 2018. The Cahiers Series 33.

Neither of us realized we had been living in a borderland all that time, a place where rules are too often unspoken, never declared. We didn’t understand there were passports and checkpoints involved. And that not all three of us would make it through.

So begins Michelle Bailat-Jones’s second novel Unfurled, whose narrator Ella is about to have one very bad week. Ella is a veterinarian, highly sensitized to the health and needs of animals, but prone to ignoring those things that make her own well-being precarious. Almost simultaneously, Ella’s father is killed in an accident and she discovers she is pregnant. What Bailat-Jones does here is to flip the obvious scenario, which would be to close down Ella’s past and open up her future. Instead, the death of Ella’s father reveals that there were secrets he had hidden from her throughout most of her life. And bearing a child is not a future that she envisions for herself. She decides she will eventually terminate the pregnancy. Read more

A New General Introduction to W.G. Sebald Is Published

Schutte Sebald Book Cover

Let me just say right from the start that Uwe Schütte’s new short, general introductory book W.G. Sebald is excellent. Published in Liverpool University Press’s “Writers and their Work” series, Schütte’s book is now the place to start with one’s study of Sebald. I am really surprised that something like this had not been done in the seventeen years since Sebald’s death. It seems so simple, doesn’t it—summarize an author’s life, books, and impact in 130 pages? Schütte makes this look easy, which is a credit to the clarity of his writing and critical thinking. But in truth this is not an easy genre to master. And undoubtedly, some passage of time is required so that a solid body of critical writing can amass and, in turn, be evaluated.

From 1992 to 1997, Schütte was Sebald’s sole post-graduate student at the University of East Anglia, and thus, he notes, “I could witness his meteoric rise to international literary fame from a close distance.” Schütte’s book contains seven chapters, five of which are dedicated to specific books by Sebald: After Nature, Vertigo, The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, and Austerlitz. “From After Nature to Austerlitz, [Sebald’s] goal is always to create a poetic truth, to make visible the invisible, to allow the metaphysical to enter the profane.” Schütte is good at outlining the sources for these five books—how much originated originated from Sebald’s own life and personal experience, how much from his German upbringing, and what came out of his extensive research. The Rings of Saturn, for example, was not intended to be a book but was simply a plan to make ten walks in East Anglia and write ten articles for a German newspaper. Read more

“The sickness of my language”: Hilbig’s “The Females”

Hilbig Females

I had gradually begun to transform into a sickness.

Wolfgang Hilbig’s The Females (Two Lines Press) is an angry explosion of a novel. The target of Hilbig’s haunting wrath in this brief book is the nation of his birth, the German Democratic Republic. Hilbig (1941-2007) lived in East Germany until he was finally allowed to emigrate in 1985 to West Germany.

Whenever I’d felt within me the unforeseen power to examine myself, even to know myself, and consequently, perhaps, expunge the germs of my sickness, I found that the state snatched every tool from my hands . . . For me, reality had been stolen and annihilated, so by necessity I had to exist as a form of annihilated reality, as a mere delusion of reality, and by that same token had to annihilate the reality of the people around me.

This book is that annihilation. Read more

Sebald Symposium in London November 29, 2018

Leonardo da Vinci, Whirlpools of Water. Windsor, Royal Library.

The Institute of Advance Studies at University College London has announced a one-day symposium on W.G. Sebald. There is a call for papers “on any aspect of turbulence, in the widest sense.” Proposals are due November 8. See below for details, or visit the website. For more on the topic of turbulence, look here.

Call for Papers

Turbulence: The Work of W.G. Sebald

An Interdisciplinary Symposium

Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS), UCL, London, 29 November 2018

This symposium explores the theme of turbulence in the literary work of W.G. Sebald (1944-2001), from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Sebald’s work is celebrated for its rich and complex accounts of journeys, including by air, a mode of travel which we commonly associate with the distinctive feeling of turbulence. In addition however, our enquiry considers the idea of turbulence in wider senses. We link it for instance to the vertiginous sensations of travel in general in this writing, and recognise that turbulence may not end on arrival, for a destination, once reached, can itself seem disorienting and to shift in uncanny ways. We are interested too in turbulent experiences of travels into the past, memory and intertextuality; and those produced for the reader by Sebald’s complex poetics and narrative techniques. Crucially too, we will investigate the multi-disciplinary, multilingual travels which Sebald’s writing undertakes into new languages, media, forms and contexts as other artists engage with it in their own work, and we look forward to conversations with distinguished practitioners in a variety of fields. 

Speakers include poet Stephen Watts; novelist, academic and critic Angharad Price (Prifysgol Bangor) and visual artist Simon Faithfull (Slade School of Fine Art).

Our symposium will be followed on the morning of Friday 30 November by an exploration of parts of the East London featured in Sebald’s novel Austerlitz, on a guided walk with Stephen Watts and David Anderson (UCL).

 Call for Papers

We invite twenty-minute papers on any aspect of turbulence, in the widest sense, and attendant phenomena in the work of W.G. Sebald and others. We are especially interested in submissions which address interdisciplinary and comparative aspects of our themes.

Please submit an abstract (200 words) and a short biography (100 words) to Mererid Puw Davies, Department of German / SELCS, UCL (mererid.davies@ucl.ac.uk), by 8 November 2018. Speakers will be notified by 12 November 2018. 

Registration and Further Details

Both the symposium and the walk are free to attend. All are welcome and online registration will open soon. In the meantime, please send any questions or register your attendance with an email to mererid.davies@ucl.ac.uk.