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Posts from the ‘Georges Rodenbach’ Category

W.G. Sebald, Tacita Dean, Georges Rodenbach, Will Stone & More


A couple of weeks ago I called attention to an exhibition that had just opened in London called “Melancholia: A Sebald Variation.” Poet and translator Will Stone recently paid a visit to the Inigo Rooms of Somerset House and wrote a review of the exhibition for The London Magazine. “This exhibition constitutes a rare gift” to the viewer, he wrote. Unfortunately, the magazine doesn’t provide online access to non-subscribers, so I asked Will if I could reprint small portions of his piece.

According to Will, the exhibition is really “about destruction, or rather W.G. Sebald’s eponymous work On the Natural History of Destruction (1999) and the way melancholy alluringly affixes to these tragic scenes, which, once having leaked away the reality of their human suffering, become artistically aligned images whose visual message creates a space for new creativity.” Read more

Photography and Literature Film Series

Source Photography Literature Cover

In conjunction with their forthcoming issue # 75 on  “Photography and Literature,” Source Photographic Review is putting up seven related films on their website – one every Friday from August 9 through September 20.  More details on the issue and the films can be seen here.

Friday August 9
Bruges-la-Mort (16 minutes)
A Symbolist book about a man obsessed with his dead wife, and fascinated by a dancer who resembles her. Thought to be the first photographically illustrated novel (1892). Film includes interviews with Clive Scott, French professor and Will Stone, a poet / translator who illustrated the most recent translation of the book with his own photographs.

Friday August 16
Austerlitz (30 minutes)
WG Sebald’s last novel, like its predecessors, is illustrated with mysterious photographs. Sebald scholar Jonathan Long visits locations featured in the book and explores how the photographs correspond to (or conceal) reality. Clive Scott, Sebald’s former colleague, recalls conversations with the author about the book. Michael Brandon-Jones, the technician who prepared Sebald’s manuscripts for publication, talks about how the books were arranged and the different sources of the visual material they contain. Read more

Books Becoming Butterflies (more on Georges Rodenbach)

After my most recent post on Georges Rodenbach‘s novel Bruges-la-Morte, artist and Airform Archives blogger Steve Roden sent me a link to his 2008 project in Kortrijk, Belgium called when books are like butterflies.  Loosely inspired by Rodenbach’s book, Steve created an environment that visitors could walk through while listening to sounds that were generated using Rodenbach’s text.  The ambient sounds emanated from speakers placed within folded books with specially made dust jackets.

i began by notating every sound in the book as well as every color that appears in sequence, and used these lists to generate a sound work, a text work, and a set of images. the installation consisted of a series of 15 sculptural forms, each using two books and an audio speaker. the text and images exist in the form of printed dust jackets which cover the books, and visually frame the sound as it emanates from the speaker. the text follows the description of every sound in the book, in sequence, with each text also following the color sequence of the book. the images are mostly background images from victorian photographs i have collected over the years, that somehow relate to the generator of every sound in the text (such as swan’s wings, or a bell).

…my main interest was in creating a space of intimate wandering…

Enjoy the links!

I Might Give Up Reading for This (Almost)

As a big fan of Georges Rodenbach’s novel Bruges-la-Morte, the first fictional work to include photographs, I’m delighted to learn about the LibriVox version of the book.  LibriVox (“accoustical liberation of books in the public domain”) creates free, easily downloadable audio books.  Because they use works that are in the public domain (at least within the US), many of the titles are fairly obscure.  Tucked in and around long-forgotten works like The Briefless Barrister by John Godfey Saxe and The Romance of Modern Chemistry (1910!) by James C. Philips, one can find other titles by Sophocles, William James, Wilkie Collins, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, just to name a few authors whose works were added in the month of July.

Take a listen to Bruges-la-Morte (in French), excellently read by “Ezwa.”

(Thanks, Anette!)

Shadows Across the Text


Some of the photographs in the Max Ferber section of W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants harken back to what is probably the earliest work of fiction ever to embed photographs, Georges Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-Morte. Somehow I feel that Sebald knew this seminal work, which was first published in book form in 1892 (after appearing serially in Paris’ Le Figaro). Rodenbach’s Symbolist novel is the story of love and murder in the “dead” city of Bruges. From the author’s Foreword:

In this study of passion I have tried first and foremost to evoke a city as one of the principal characters. This city, associated as it is with states of the soul, can advise, dissuade and persuade people to act in certain ways…

What I wish to imply is this: that it is the town which directs all that occurs there…

bruges-canal.jpgFrom Bruges-la-Mort. bruges-houses.jpg

Hugh Viane, despondent over the death of his wife, frequently wanders alone through Bruges:

…engrossed in his musings he mechanically wended his way among paths which his imagination had peopled with sombre images, a sense of the isolation of his existence weighed heavily upon him. From the windows of the funereal dwellings that stretched in spectral fashion along the margins of the canals, with their gable-ends reflected like skeletons of crepe in the waters, a mortuary impression was conveyed that seemed like the foreshadowing of a speedy dissolution. (page 22)

A little more than a half a century later, the Manchester of Sebald’s Max Ferber is also a dead city, one “built of countless bricks and inhabited by millions of souls, dead and alive.” A page later (page 151) Sebald’s narrator describes his arrival by taxi into Manchester:

Views opened up across the wasteland… that had once been the hub of one of the nineteenth century’s miracle cities, but, as I was soon to find out, was now almost hollow to the core. As we drove in among the dark ravines between the brick buildings, most of which were six or eight storeys high and sometimes adorned with glazed ceramic tiles, it turned out that even there, in the heart of the city, not a soul was to be seen, though by now it was almost a quarter to six. One might have supposed that the city had long been deserted, and was left now as a necropolis or mausoleum.

emigrants-manchester.jpg From The Emigrants. emigrants-house.jpg

In the final paragraph of Rodenbach’s Foreword, he explains the strategy behind his inclusion of photographs:

It is because of this essential connection between these scenes of Bruges and the events described in the story that photographic reproductions of the former have been inserted in the text – the quays, deserted streets, old dwellings canals, béguinage, churches, goldsmith’s shops where sacred objects are made, belfries, – so that all those who read this work may themselves feel the presence and the influence of the city, experience the contagiousness of the long shadows of the high towers as they fall across the text.

Rodenbach’s choice of words reveals his Symbolist leanings – “presence”, “influence”, “contagiousness.” He sees these photographs of the unpeopled streets and buildings of Bruges being suggestive rather than literal, and for this reason I think he is a legitimate predecessor to Sebald. Even the most dumbly literal of Sebald’s photographs usually operate on multiple levels.

I assume that Rodenbach’s use of photographs in Bruges-la-Morte (it went through a number of editions between 1892 and 1914) must have been some kind of an influence on the Surrealists, who were also drawn to the photographs of Eugène Atget (1857-1927).

atget-paris.jpg Eugene Atget, Un Coin, Rue de Seine, 1924

My quotes from Bruges-la-Morte are taken from the edition published in London by Atlas Press in 1993. The Atlas Press edition describes itself as a revision by Terry Hale of the original 1903 translation by Thomas Duncan. Without looking into accuracy at all, I found the Hale/Duncan version considerably more evocative and smoother reading than a new translation by Mike Mitchell and Will Stone, published in 2005 in Cambs, Great Britain by Dedalus Press.However, two points distinguish the Dedalus edition and make it a great shelf-companion to the Atlas Press book. The Dedalus Press edition has a worthwhile Introduction by British novelist Alan Hollinghurst and it also replaces the original photographs with contemporary ones by Will Stone, a fascinating (almost conceptual) experiment demonstrating that Rodenbach’s Bruges may still be found today.