Dr. Ralp Schock, literary editor of the Saarland Radio, will host a two and a half hour radio program about W.G. Sebald on Tuesday January 26 starting at 20:00 (German time). Titled “Ein Themenabend mit und über W. G. Sebald,” the program on station SR-2 will include readings, discussions, and recollections of Sebald from friends and colleagues. Here is the link to the program’s s web page. The program is designed to air on the seventy-first anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Some of the individuals rumored to be participating in the program include author and musicologist Wolfgang Schlüter, Sebald’s publisher at the German firm Carl Hanser Verlag Michael Krüger, artist Jan Peter Tripp, and Dr. Uwe Schütte, who is reader in German at Aston University.
Every year I read many more books than I can find time to write about on Vertigo, and so I use the category Recently Read as a way of bringing attention to the occasional book that stands out but isn’t quite at the heart of what I tend to write about here. Two books have lingered in my imagination over the last couple of months – Elise Blackwell’s The Lower Quarter (Unbridled Books, 2015) and Michelle Bailat-Jones’ Fog Island Mountains (Tantor, 2014). Read more
I let my coffee run cold and thought about detectives. Partners depend on one another’s eyes. The one says, tell me what you see. His partner must speak assuredly, not leaving anything out. But a writer has no partner. He has to step back and ask himself – tell me what you see. But since he is telling himself he doesn’t have to be perfectly clear, because something inside holds any given missing part – the unclear or partially articulated.
Patti Smith’s M Train (I presume the M stands for memory) is essentially a series of conversations with the dead and pilgrimages to the haunts and grave sites of writers past: Rimbaud, Burroughs, Bowles, Genet, Wittgenstein, Camus, Sebald, Plath, Mishima, Akutagawa, Dasai. Comprised of a patchwork quilt of genres, it combines autobiography with a book of dreams, a touch of travel writing, a salute to coffee houses, an ode to memory. Smith, who is a latter-day Beat and an admitted Romantic, blends a deep, if non-denominational spirituality with an unshakable commitment to fate. She reads Tarot cards, believes in dreams, isn’t concerned if she loses a camera or a favorite overcoat or realizes she has forgetfully left all of her luggage in a hotel room as she boards a flight. Unlike the A train that Smith takes to her ramshackle bungalow on the boardwalk of Far Rockaway, her M train delightfully meanders through time and place without warning or direction. Read more
The Literarisches Zentrum in Göttingen, Germany will host a program led by two Sebald experts – Sven Meyer und Uwe Schütte – on Monday, December 14, 2015. The program is called “W.G. Sebald: Zwischen Kanon und Außenseitertum” (Between Canon and Outsider). Tickets are required and may be purchased online. Here is the description of the program from the website:
Acht zahlende Gäste waren anwesend, so will es zumindest die Legende, als W.G. Sebald 2001 im Literarischen Zentrum aus Austerlitz las. Als er am 14. Dezember desselben Jahres bei einem Autounfall ums Leben kam, war der Autor gerade zu Weltruhm gelangt. Selten ist eine so rasch vollzogene Kanonisierung zu beobachten gewesen wie die Sebalds in den 2000ern. Aber zugleich galt der gebürtige Allgäuer und Literaturprofessor im englischen Norwich immer als Außenseiter des deutschen Literaturbetriebs.
An seinem Todestag laden wir zu einem Rundgang durch sein Werk ein, um dem insularen Phänomen Sebald auf die Spur zu kommen, geleitet von zwei Kennern: Uwe Schütte, Autor mehrere Bücher zu Sebald, hat seinerzeit bei ihm promoviert und Sven Meyer ist der Herausgeber zweier Bände – u. a. der Lyrik – aus dem Nachlass.
After a gap of nine months or so, I returned to Patrick Modiano’s novels again. By sheer chance, I selected two books written six years apart that each involve a young man who is taken in and sheltered briefly by a couple: Honeymoon and Out of the Dark. In Honeymoon, first published in 1990, Jean B. is a Parisian documentary filmmaker who decides to disappear from the lives of his wife and his daughter and his wife’s lover. He fakes a trip to Brazil, hides out in Milan for a while, and then returns to Paris determined to live the remainder of his life in cheap hotels. In typical Modiano fashion, the narrator’s decision turns on an event that happened long ago. Eighteen years earlier, while in Milan, Jean had accidentally learned of the recent suicide of a Frenchwoman. Honeymoon is the story of the connection between Jean and the woman who committed suicide, whose name was Ingrid. Read more
In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks and as police turn their attention to Brussels – especially its Molenbeek neighborhood – I couldn’t help but recall a long and prescient section in Teju Cole’s novel Open City (Random House), which I wrote about when it was published in 2011. For more than fifty pages (one-fifth of the book), Julius, the half-Nigerian, half-German narrator, lingers in Brussels, ostensibly searching for more information about his oma, his grandmother, who had moved there many years earlier. But most of the time he loiters, walks the city, hangs around the predominantly immigrant neighborhoods, and visits an Internet cafe to keep up on emails and to make telephone calls. Julius is surprised at the extent to which “Islam, in its conservative form, was on constant view” in Brussels, even more so than back home in New York City. Julius enjoys Brussels’ vibrant, diverse population, but also is aware that there have been a number of ugly incidents, hate crimes against Africans and Muslims. During his repeated visits to the Internet cafe, he becomes friendly with Farouq, a Moroccan who seems to run the place. Over conversations that begin casually but quickly turn up in intensity, the two talk about their backgrounds, literature, and politics. They discuss Sharia law, Israel and the Palestine situation, Hamas and Hezbollah, the Belgian literary theorist Paul De Man, and the Moroccan writers Mohamed Choukri and Tahar Ben Jelloun. Julius eventually learns that Farouq had nearly completed his M.A. in critical theory (he had once dreamt of being the next Edward Said), but his thesis committee accused him of plagiarism and Farouq quit school angrily. “I lost all my illusions about Europe.” Read more
“Political power is always criminal.”
In Ricardo Piglia’s novel The Absent City, the central figure, if you will, is a machine that embodies the memories of one Elena Obieta, the wife of Macedonio Fernández, a writer who, upon her early death, wanted desperately to keep his wife’s memories intact and thus had them transferred to a machine built by an engineer named Richter.
OK. At this point we need to take a momentary time out to properly set the stage for the preceding sentence. Macedonio Fernández was a real Argentinian writer (1874-1952) who is generally regarded as the most important mentor to Jorge Luis Borges. His wife Elena died in 1920. Ronald Richter (1909-1991) was an enigmatic Austrian scientist who emigrated to Argentina and, with huge financial support from Juan Péron, claimed in 1951 to have discovered an inexpensive way to create atomic energy, a claim that was soon proven to be false. What Piglia does in The Absent City is take actual figures from Argentinian history, morph them slightly, and transpose them to a later date (roughly the mid-1990s) to create the cast of characters that populate his novel. Read more
The six stories in Assumed Name (five written in 1975 and one in 1968) show Ricardo Piglia working out the strategies that he will exploit in his later novels, two of which I have written about in my most recent posts. In these stories we witness his ingenious reinvention of the genre of noir crime fiction, his tendency to leave unresolved the primary conflicts that occur in his fiction, and his deft manner of encoding the history and politics of Argentina into the backdrop of his writing. These highly compact stories focus on the lives of losers and rebels. There are boxers, under- and unemployed men in boarding houses, small time criminals, a madwoman, prostitutes, an anarchist on the run from the police. In “The End of the Ride” (which features the journalist Emilio Renzi, who also appears in several of Piglia’s novels), the exaggerated noir atmosphere of an overnight bus ride through a nightmarish landscape of darkness, rain, and fog, with occasional stops in dreary small towns for cheap food and gin, seems to stand in for the dominate mood in Argentina in the 60s and 70s. Renzi is traveling to see his dying father one last time after a suicide attempt. “One can become accustomed even to this,” he grimly tells his seatmate, an ex-opera singer who “emitted a sweet perfume like that of dead flowers.” Read more