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Sebald Miscellany August 2014


Before I go on vacation for a spell, I thought I’d toss out two Sebald tidbits just to keep everyone occupied – advance news of an important new book about Sebald and a video lecture on Sebald’s work.

First, I’ve just finished reading an advance copy of a new Sebald-related memoir Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory of W.G. Sebald, by Philippa Comber. A full review will be forthcoming around September 1. It will be the first book published by the new Propolis Books, which originates from The Book Hive bookstore in Norwich. Here’s the promotional text for the book from The Book Hive’s Facebook page:

In 1981 a young woman, recently moved to Norwich after being appointed manager of a psychiatric day-care centre in the city, went with some friends to the now defunct Noverre Cinema to watch Polanski’s Tess. Having spent the previous years living in Germany, a place whose people and language had struck a chord deep within her after first visiting as a teenager, another man had been asked along to the cinema whom mutual friends had thought she might like to meet. His name was Max.

From that first introduction a friendship immediately arose with the young German university lecturer to whom Philippa was to grow ever fonder of and closer to. Their love of European literature and poetry, of people’s personal histories and a shared sense of living in a state of suspended exile gave them great areas of topic for discussion and exploration, as well as identification. As their personal and professional lives carried on in the background – a period which provided difficulties for both of them – their friendship blossomed, until with the arrival of new work and so relocation, physical distance was put between them and contact gradually faded.

Shortly after a reconnection some years later, Max was killed in a car crash having suffered a heart attack at the wheel whilst driving on the A47.

With the use of her extensive diaries kept at the time, Philippa Comber has written not only a memoir about a period in her own fascinating life, with a list of extraordinary family members and friends that go back though English history and throws up some of the most unique characters this island has produced, but also a deeply touching, honest and revealing account of a relationship with a difficult man to know – by turns melancholic, outrageously funny, pessimistic, hopeful, proud and yet riddled with doubt. Ariadne’s Thread describes a man at a turning point in his life, as he begins to think about writing in a more serious capacity for himself, rather than just for academic purposes. Here we see, illuminated in a personal and frank manner, the ideas and motivations that came together in one man’s mind which subsequently went on to make him one of the most influential European writers of the 20th century.

Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory Of W.G. Sebald is published by Propolis, a new imprint based at The Book Hive. Propolis will specialise in idiosyncratic books which may not be able to find a home in the larger publishing market – or even ever have been considered for publication. To be starting out with a title about writers in Norwich, (albeit writers who are not from Norwich), seems a most fitting debut for a publishing house based in a bookshop in the centre of that Fine City.

Publication is scheduled for September 5.


LaCapra Lecture

The second item is an hour-long online video put up by Cornell University in September 2012 of a lecture by Professor Dominick LaCapra called “Sebald and the Narration of Trauma.” I confess that I have not had time to listen to it in its entirety yet, but the website says this about the lecture:

In his much-discussed texts, W. G. Sebald engages the classical double bind of a posttraumatic situation, particularly a situation in which one lives in the heavy shadow of atrocities one did not directly “perpetrate” but for which one nonetheless bears a sense of responsibility if not guilt.

Sensitive to both historical and formal problems in the writing of literature, this lecture explores the stylistic and substantive ways Sebald works his way into and at times through this double bind whereby one feels constrained endlessly to speak of the unspeakable.

The lecture is undoubtedly related to LaCapra’s 2013 book History, Literature, Critical Theory, published by Cornell University Press (description below).

In History, Literature, Critical Theory, Dominick LaCapra continues his exploration of the complex relations between history and literature, here considering history as both process and representation. A trio of chapters at the center of the volume concern the ways in which history and literature (particularly the novel) impact and question each other. In one of the chapters LaCapra revisits Gustave Flaubert, pairing him with Joseph Conrad. Other chapters pair J. M. Coetzee and W. G. Sebald, Jonathan Littell’s novel, The Kindly Ones, and Saul Friedlander’s two-volume, prizewinning history Nazi Germany and the Jews.

A recurrent motif of the book is the role of the sacred, its problematic status in sacrifice, its virulent manifestation in social and political violence (notably the Nazi genocide), its role or transformations in literature and art, and its multivalent expressions in “postsecular” hopes, anxieties, and quests. LaCapra concludes the volume with an essay on the place of violence in the thought of Slavoj Zizek. In LaCapra’s view Zizek’s provocative thought “at times has uncanny echoes of earlier reflections on, or apologies for, political and seemingly regenerative, even sacralized violence.”

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Fascinating stuff, Terry – more to add to the reading list!

    I have another Sebald book out today, by the way, co-edited with Lynn Wolff – ‘Witnessing, Memory, Poetics. H. G. Adler and W. G. Sebald’. More here!

    August 15, 2014

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