In The Correspondence Artist, Barbara Browning’s debut novel, Vivienne has a paramour whose identity must be kept secret. But since Vivienne seems to want to tell us all about him or her, she invents a handful of personas to stand in for her lover: a world music rock star from Mali, an Israeli novelist, a Basque revolutionary, and a Vietnamese artist. Vivienne moves the story deftly back and forth between her fantasy lovers, telling us about their trysts and sharing their discussions on film, contemporary art, jazz, literature, Jacques Lacan, and other topics familiar to the international art intelligentsia. In the hands of many other writers, conversations like these often come off stilted or speechy, but Browning lets Vivienne talk directly to the reader in a natural, comfortable, almost chatty manner that is totally convincing. She asks us questions and worries, for example, that we might not be following her explanations of Lacan. “Am I losing you?” she asks us as she attempts to summarize Lacan’s observations on the various meanings of the word “letter.” Read more
Posts from the ‘Ben Lerner’ Category
At the University of East Anglia’s #NewWriting website, former Sebald student Luke Williams has posted his article A Watch on Each Wrist: Twelve Seminars with W.G. Sebald, which originally appeared in the anthology Saturn’s Moons: W.G. Sebald – A Handbook. Williams’ vivid recollections of Sebald, the professor, provide wonderful and insightful reading. His essay gets its title from the fact that he would observe Sebald apparently wearing two wrist watches in class. “Why two watches? Why one digital and one analogue? Why was the analogue watch turned face down? I didn’t know.” The answer, which I found quite quite surprising, is revealed at #NewWriting in the comments section. So, click here to make your way over there and read Williams’ piece.
At the always-worth-reading Los Angeles Review of Books there is an essay called Imperfect Strollers: Teju Cole, Ben Lerner, and W.G. Sebald, and the Alienated Cosmopolitan by Michelle Kuo and Albert Wu. I’ve written about both Lerner and Cole.
What ultimately drives Sebald’s narrator is not doubt, but desire: to believe in a shadow world; to find evidence of it in the wondrous impossibilities of the natural world; to tell stories of metamorphosis, and therefore to imagine the indestructibility of soul, being, or spirit. Through these desires, we escape the mourning that we each have equally inherited. Thus, unlike Cole and Lerner, Sebald does choose a position from where his narrator speaks. In grief yet also in wonder, he invites us to observe alongside him. What certainties arise from his observations? The history of our world, for Sebald, is like a thread of a thousand yards woven by silkworm. Our recent past has broken it irrevocably.
Melilah: Manchester Journal of Jewish Studies 2012 Supplement 2 is devoted to Memory, Traces and the Holocaust in the Writings of W.G. Sebald, edited by Jean-Marc Dreyfus and Janet Wolff. (Yes, the official title given at the website and on the magazine title page doesn’t match the title shown on the sample cover.) At Melilah’s website, the entire issue can be downloaded as a PDF for free. Here’s the list of contents:
- Memory, Traces and the Holocaust in the Writings of W.G. Sebald by Jean-Marc Dreyfus and Janet Wolff
- ‘And So They Are Ever Returning to Us, the Dead:The Presence of the Dead in W.G. Sebald by Carole Angier
- Kindertransport, Camps and the Holocaust in Austerlitz by Jean-Marc Dreyfus
- The Peripatetic Paragraph:Walking (and Walking) with W.G. Sebald by Monica B. Pearl
- I Couldn’t Imagine Any World Outside Wales: The Place of Wales and Welsh Calvinist Methodism in Sebald’s European Story by Jeremy Gregory
- Utter Blackness: Figuring Sebald’s Manchester by John Sears
- Max Ferber and the Persistence of Pre-Memory in Mancunian Exile by Janet Wolff
- The Uses of Images: W.G. Sebald & T.J. Clark by Helen Hills
- Novel Crime, Hunting and Investigation of the Trace in Sebald’s Prose by Muriel Pic
- Notes on Contributors
Finally, to continue the Manchester theme, I’m going to make a link to something I wrote in 2011. I was invited to submit an essay to the French magazine Ligeia: Dossiers Sur L’Art for an issue devoted to “Ruines, Photo & Histoire.” My essay The Silent Catastrophe: Sebald’s Manchester, was published as La Catastrophe Muette, translated by Zaha Redman. I’m putting the previously unpublished English version up on Vertigo here.