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Sebald Miscellany October 2016

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On September 9 of this year, a symposium on “The Poetry of W.G. Sebald” was held at Stockholm University under the organization of Axel Englund. The participants were:

Axel Englund: “W.G. Sebald as poet: an introduction”
Iain Galbraith: “’A cover / of marbled faux / leather’: the uses of surface in the poetry of W.G. Sebald”
Adrian Nathan West: “Coincidences without antecedents, histories without verification”
Uwe Schütte (with Melissa Etzler): “On W.G. Sebald’s unpublished poetry”
Sven Meyer: “Our brothers the ducks: Sebald’s birds”

Thankfully, translator and writer Adrian Nathan West has posted on his blog (which I highly-recommend) a transcript of his presentation.

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Ukrainian film director Sergei Loznitsa’s newest release is a 94-minute film called Austerlitz, which premiered in Venice earlier this year. According to a review in the New York Times, “Mr. Loznitsa varied between calling his work an adaptation and a ‘variation'” of Sebald’s novel of the same name. Austerlitz recently had its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Andréa Picard has written a short piece about the film:

What happens when the memorial and the museological meet — when places of death and destruction are transformed into tourist destinations? Sergei Loznitsa’s new film Austerlitz (which takes its title from, and enters into cryptic and compelling dialogue with, the final masterpiece by the great novelist W.G. Sebald) is a stark yet rich and complex portrait of people visiting the grounds of former Nazi extermination camps, and a sometimes sardonic study of the relationship (or the clash) between contemporary culture and the sanctity of the site…

Here’s the link to a short trailer for the film.

 

A Literature of Restitution

Restitution

This summer, Manchester University Press released an affordable paperback edition of A Literature of Restitution: Critical Essays on W.G. Sebald, edited by Jeannette Baxter, Valerie Henitiuk, and Ben Hutchinson. The paperback version is priced at $29.95, compared to the 2013 hardcover edition, which runs around $99. For the most part, the various authors managed to at least partially focus on the theme alluded to in the book’s title, lending the volume a sense of unified purpose. Here are my brief summaries of the thirteen essays included in A Literature of Restitution. Keep in mind that I am in no way attempting to convey the rich complexity of each author’s argument. My goal has been to hint at the direction that each essay heads and to mention or quote ideas that stood out for me. It’s true (so far) that I have never met an anthology of essays about Sebald that I didn’t like, but this one holds a number of essays that provoked me to rethink some key things about his writing.

Part 1: Translation and Style

1. Quite fluent in English, Sebald worked closely with each of the translators who labored to bring his original German-language texts into English. Arthur Williams’ essay “W.G. Sebald’s Three-Letter Word: On the Parallel Worlds of the English Translations” closely examines the differences between the German and English versions and he concludes by saying that:

the translations reveal more about Sebald than his masterly use of language. We discover a writer polishing his expertise with his literary medium and understanding his oeuvre increasingly as one long story, with many varied parts and individual messages, but with a constant underlying ethos…We can chart how he used the opportunity afforded by the translations to refine structures, to create clarity, to moderate early moments which he, perhaps, later regretted (as in, for instance, the quite brutal caricatures of his fellow West Germans in Schwindel. Gefühle.)

Read more

Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador

Moya Revulsion

I was obliged to return to a country inhabited by drooling freaks with criminal features.

For a longtime admirer of Thomas Bernhard, it was a little eerie to read Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Revulsion: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador. Castellanos Moya’s mimicry of the narrative voice of some of Bernhard’s novels – especially Old Masters and Woodcutters – feels nearly pitch perfect, and the transposition from post-Nazi Austria to post-civil war era El Salvador is a brilliant piece of stagecraft. Read more

New Revelations about Sebald’s Austerlitz

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There is a fascinating and revealing article on the New Yorker‘s literature-oriented blog, Page-Turner, that sheds new light on Sebald’s research for his final work of prose fiction Austerlitz. In his essay “W. G. Sebald and the Emigrants: How a friendship with two elderly Jewish refugees inspired the German novelist,” writer André Aciman describes how casual conversations with another father, Martin Ostwald, whose son attended the same kindergarten as Aciman’s, led to the remarkable discovery that Ostwald’s parents had met Sebald and had corresponded with him numerous times. Aciman’s tale is wonderfully told and illustrated with great photographs provided by Ostwald.

If you haven’t read Aciman’s Out of Egypt: A Memoir (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1994), you really should.

Thanks to all the Vertigo readers who alerted me to this article.

Eve Out of Her Ruins

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Eve walks by, her hair like foamy night, in her skin-tight jeans, and the others snigger and suck in their teeth in lust, but I – I just want to kneel down. She doesn’t look at us. She isn’t afraid of us. She has her solitude for armor.

Saad is one of the four teen-aged narrators who take turns telling us about their lives and interconnected friendships in the poor, gang-ridden Troumaron neighborhood of Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. In Troumaron, “one day we wake up and the future has disappeared.” Saad, who worships Eve, has also fallen under the spell of Rimbaud and writes poetry on the walls of his room at home. Ananda Devi’s Eve Out of Her Ruins is a novel of conversations, emotions, aspirations, and setbacks. Forget where it takes place or the nationality of the author. This is a novel of haunting language with a powerful message about gender and violence.

Eve is the remarkable character at the center of Eve Out of Her Ruins. She is constructed from the different perspectives of Devi’s four narrators – the poet Saad, Clélio, who has already been to prison for his misdeeds, Savika, a young woman who is determined to give Eve her unquestioning love, and Eve herself. Eve is a student by day and prostitute by night. At home her father upbraids and beats her while her mother (“a small pile of shame”) weakly sits by. For years, boys and men have had their way with Eve. But Eve thinks she has found a way to avoid the fate that seems to await her and her friends. She has developed a kind of mind/body separation that allows her to think she is using the men who use her body. Read more

Summer Distractions

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OK. It’s summer, the distractions are numerous, and the pile of half-read and unread books is mounting. And now I’m away for a week in Door County, which is on a narrow peninsula at the northern tip of Wisconsin, surrounded by Green Bay and and the north end of Lake Michigan. The books that I have brought with me with have to compete with the many distractions that Door County offers, so I don’t know how much progress I’ll make. Bear with me. Vertigo will reconvene in a week or two with a write up off Ananda Devi’s fine (more than fine!) book Eve Out of her Ruins, another stellar offering from Deep Vellum Publishing.

The Scattered Shrapnel of the Unknown: Carmen Boullosa’s “Before”

Boullosa Before

But I’ll start at the beginning. Sure, I was like those children, I was one of those awkward children, and here I am cut off from their world forever. Children! I was like you once!

Carmen Boullosa’s narrator is reliving and re-exploring memories of her childhood. It’s a childhood like many – full of blissful moments, mysteries, embarrassments, misunderstandings, intense fear. This is a common – if not cliched – theme in countless novels, but the return to childhood that Carmen Boullosa has given us feels unlike any other book that I have read. I can’t say enough about Boullosa’s incandescent writing, which glows from within, radiating possibilities, contradictions, ambiguities.

In Before, it is we, the readers, who are made up, invented:

When I decided to tell you this, to invent you in order to tell this, and by having an interlocutor to have words myself, I didn’t imagine the bliss my memories would bring. Though I can exaggerate slightly my epiphany, I might say I’ve come alive again.

And what’s real are the memories:

They all rush up, want my hand, as if they were children, shouting “me first,” and I don’t know which to take first, for fear that one will rush out, decide not to come back in a fit of pique.

Read more

“Midpoint”: John Updike’s Pointillist Poem

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Engraver and Apprentice, in their room
Of acid baths and photophobic gloom,
Transform to metal dots ten shades of gray…

I have never been a fan of John Updike’s writing, but I have to admit I was really curious when a Vertigo reader mentioned that Updike had published a book of poetry in 1969 that contained numerous photographs. “Midpoint,” the long poem that opens Midpoint and Other Poems (NY: Knopf, 1969), was written “to take inventory of his life at the end of his thirty-fifth year – a midpoint,” as the book’s dust jacket puts it. As it turned out, “Midpoint” was written a few years prematurely, since Updike (1932-2009) lived to be nearly seventy-seven.

“Midpoint” has five sections or cantos.  X.J. Kennedy referred to the poem as “a personal history in heterogeneous parts —terza rima; a family photo album; a celebration in Spenserian stanzas of metals, ceramics, and polymers; Poundian cantos, complete with glosses; and a meditation in heroic couplets…” (April 1993, New Criterion). Each canto begins with an “argument” that sets forth the poet’s own summary of that section. In Canto 1, the “Introduction,” Updike writes of “early intimations of wonder and dread” and opens with the telling line “Of nothing but me, me.” Then comes Canto II, “The Photographs,” which consists only of a brief argument and twenty-one photographs of Updike and his family – grandparents, parents, siblings, himself at multiple ages, his wife (the book came out five years before his divorce from Mary), and his children. Read more

Photo-Embedded Literature – 1970-1989: Bibliography

Here is my bibliography of works of fiction and poetry published in the years 1970-1989 containing embedded photographs.  You can see individual bibliographies for other years underneath the pull-down menu “Photo-Embedded Literature” at the top of Vertigo.  I also maintain a comprehensive bibliography that spans 1892 to the present at Library Thing (http://www.librarything.com/catalog/VertigoTwo). As of today, July 5, 2016, that bibliography contains 228 fiction titles and 68 poetry titles. I am always updating these lists as I learn of new books.  If you know of a book not included on my list, please let me know in a comment. [Updated July 15, 25, 2016.]

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Kobo Abe.  The Box Man.  NY: Knopf, 1974. Contains nine b&w photographs, almost assuredly by Abe himself. This is the first English translation from the Japanese original Hako Otoko, published in 1973. For my review of this book, click here.

Bayer vitus bering rigmarole Read more

Two Key Books on Sebald Reissued in Paperback

Wolff Hybrid Poetics

The Berlin-based publisher De Gruyter is releasing an affordable paperback edition of Lynn Wolff’s W.G. Sebald’s Hybrid Poetics: Literature as Historiography, which first came out two years ago. With the hardcover version currently priced at €89.95 (or $126) the paperback price of 19.95 (in both euros and dollars) is welcome news. It comes with high praise from Richard Sheppard, who wrote in Journal of European Studies:

Wolff’s book does not, however, simply challenge the interested reader to think about Sebald’s literary work in a meta-representational way, it also shows the academic reader the advantages of familiarity with his critical work, the benefits of wrestling critically with – as opposed to just paraphrasing – the relevant secondary literature, the insights that come from the careful analysis of manuscript sources, and the creative understanding that derives from close reading, untrammelled by theoretical ideas for which Sebald had little or no time. Wolff has been publishing carefully researched, insightful and authoritative work on Sebald since 2007, but the originality and depth of her excellent new book will raise her into the top echelon of those younger scholars who have made Sebald’s life and work one of their primary preoccupations.

The edition should be available any day now.

Restitution

And Manchester University Press has also released an affordable paperback edition of A Literature of Restitution: Critical Essays on W.G. Sebald priced at £17.99 and $29.95 (the 2013 hardcover edition is $99.99). According to Lynn Wolff’s review of this title, “The volume’s organizing principle, the question of restitution, lends this book a much clearer profile than other edited volumes on Sebald. Taken together, the contributions provide readers with an excellent overview of Sebald’s oeuvre…The variety of perspectives from both within and beyond German Studies further sets this volume apart from other publications by offering fresh insights and new contexts within which to consider Sebald’s works.” The paperback version is already widely available. Note: Manchester University Press is currently offering a 50% discount on all titles (although the sale is valid only in the UK and Europe). No word on when the sale ends.

I’m looking forward to reviewing both titles later this summer.