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Posts from the ‘Rings of Saturn (Ringe der Saturn)’ Category

So That the Soul Would not Be Distracted

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A very astute reader of Sebald’s work sent me an email recently noting that the final sentence of The Rings of Saturn (1995) bears a striking resemblance to the final sentence of the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert’s book Still Life with Bridle: Essays and Apocryphas (London: Jonathan Cape, 1993).  What’s up with this, we both wondered?

Here’s Sebald:

And Sir Thomas Browne, who was the son of a silk merchant and may well have had an eye for these things, remarks in a passage of the Pseudodoxia Epidemica that I can no longer find that in Holland of his time it was customary, in a home where there had been a death, to drape black mourning ribbons over all the mirrors and all canvasses depicting landscapes or people or the fruits of the fields, so that the soul, as if left the body, would not be distracted on its final journey, either by a reflection of itself or by a last glimpse of the land now being lost for ever.

Here’s Herbert. describing how a family prepares for the departure of the soul of a recently deceased Dutch merchant in the seventeenth century:

Then they would cover all the mirrors in the house, and turn all the pictures to the walls so the image of a girl writing a letter, of ships in open sea, of peasants dancing under a tall oak, would not stop the one who wanders toward unimaginable worlds from going on his way.

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Take a Train Journey with Sebaldsound

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Here’s another audio piece about W.G. Sebald to help you through whatever level of confinement you are subjecting yourself to these days. Nick Warr and Guy Moreton recently taped a fascinating conversation about Sebald while taking a train journey and the recording they made is now up on Soundcloud. Warr and Moreton meander through many topics, including Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn, his use of photographs, and the significance of the trains that keep appearing in his work. Here’s their description of the thirty-three minute program.

The third episode in the [‘Ear of the Edgeland’] series finds us back on the rural railways, from Norwich to Lowestoft.

Commissioned by Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, ‘Sebaldsound’ acts as a complimentary audio piece to the 2019 exhibition ‘Lines of Sight’ about the artist W G Sebald.

In this episode ‘Lines of Sight’ curator Nick Warr talks to artist and academic Guy Moreton about the landscape, Sebald’s life and work, whilst travelling on part of the journey featured in Sebald’s much revered book The Rings of Saturn.

Sebaldsound includes field recordings by Oliver Payne with ‘Increasingly Absorbed In His Own World’ and ‘When the Dog Days Were Drawing To An End’ composed by The Caretaker for his album ‘Patience (After Sebald)’.

Guy Moreton is a photographer and teaches at Solent University, Southampton. Dr. Nick Warr is Curator of Photographic Collections, University of East Anglia and co-author of the forthcoming book W.G. Sebald: Shadows of Reality.

“Lines of  Sight: When a Literary Landscape Comes to Life”

Cantu Sebald

“Lines of  Sight: When a Literary Landscape Comes to Life,” an essay by Francisco Cantú is currently available online in the Virginia Quarterly Review Spring 2020 issue. In his essay, Cantú meditates on landscape, violence, and borders, inspired by a walking trip he took along the Suffolk Coast described in W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. Cantú’s 2018 book The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border explored the harsh realities of the U.S./Mexican border and it made several top ten book lists that year. To better understand the issues facing those who were trying to smuggle themselves north into the U.S. he enlisted as a Border Patrol agent for a while.

In “Lines of Sight,” Cantú writes of the universality of Sebald’s message.

I first began to read Sebald during the years I worked in the deserts of Arizona, as an agent for the US Border Patrol. I was in my early twenties, living alone in a two-bedroom home built for mine workers in the former copper town of Ajo. I read his books one after another in that hot, silent, sparsely furnished house, encountering detailed descriptions of his European wanderings and long digressions into obscure chapters of world history, immersing myself in places and stories that were distant and foreign, yet still somehow familiar. The way Sebald interrogated his surroundings—the reminders of horror he found in abandoned buildings, pieces of detritus, swaths of cleared land—reminded me, perhaps, of the glimmers of violence I encountered day after day in the borderlands. Despite writing from another continent and another decade, Sebald somehow seemed to be speaking about the precise moment I was living in, about the very nature of my own work as an agent of oppression, about the violence being imprinted into me each day as I rose to police the border. More broadly, his work gave language to how violence has been normalized throughout history and written into our landscapes, cities, cultures, and bodies. Sebald’s books taught me, in effect, to look for what had been hidden in plain sight all around me.

Read the piece now. Cantú warns on his Twitter feed that the piece will eventually go behind a paywall.

W.G. Sebald Literature Prize & Conference Announced in the Allgäu, Where He Grew Up

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The stele with the relevant text from Vertigo as seen on the Sebaldweg, near Wertach, Germany, birthplace of W.G. Sebald.

The Allgäu, the Bavarian region southwest of Munich where W.G. Sebald was born and raised, is extending its effort to claim its native son who fled to England. Sebald was born in Wertach im Allgäu and later lived in Sonthofen, two towns which, along with nearby Kempten in Allgäu, have launched the Deutsche Sebald-Gesellschaft, or German Sebald Society. A few years after his death, the Allgäu region established the Sebaldweg, or Sebald Walk, a 12-kilometer hiking trail that somewhat follows the route that Sebald describes in the “Ritorno in Patria” section of Vertigo, in which the Sebald character returns to the town of his birth. (Do yourself a favor and take a delightful stroll along the Sebaldweg with Saim Demircan over at Frieze.)

Now, the German Sebald Society has announced an annual Sebald Literature Prize of 10,000 EUR for a longer prose text in German on the subject of “Gedächtnis und Erinnerung” (shall we say “memory and recollection”?). German-speaking authors from around the world may submit to the competition by April 30, 2020. The prize is endowed, which implies that it will be awarded annually into the future.

In addition, during November 20-22 of this year, there will be a conference in Sonthofen on the topic of “Nebelflecken und das Unbeobachtete” (“nebulae and the unobserved”), at which time the Sebald Literature Prize will be awarded. The papers of the conference will apparently be published. Further instructions for applying to both the competition and the conference can be found here.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Theater in Kempten is going to stage “Die Ausgewanderten – vier lange Erzählungen” or “The Emigrants – Four Long Stories,” a dramatization of Sebald’s 1992 book, with eight performances between March 5-27.

What would Sebald have thought of all of this?

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The actors from the Theater in Kempten production: Julia Jaschke, Annette Wunsch, Christian Kaiser, Hans Piesbergen. Photo © Birgitta Weizenegger.

 

Dreamlife of Debris

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In an interview with London Jazz News, musician Kit Downes talks about how his two recent albums Obsidian and Dreamlife of Debris (both for ECM Records, 2018 and 2019, respectively) were inspired by W.G. Sebald and by Grant Gee’s film Patience (After Sebald):

LJN: And continuing the “place” theme in a more abstract way, can you tell us about W.G. Sebald (both albums contain references to his work) and his influence on the music?

KD: The title, Dreamlife of Debris, itself comes from a supposed quote by Nabakov, mentioned in a documentary film about W.G. Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn. The quote itself alludes to the way we can project emotion and character onto inanimate objects, to the point where they feel like they have their own life, dreamt by us – like a musician and their instrument in a way, especially the organ (being the enormous chaotic collection of pipes, whistles and reeds that it is).

These objects could be mundane and everyday, or galaxy clusters and gas giants – whatever the scale. This quote (in reference to the book) is alluding to the way Sebald finds meaning in these isolated landmarks and events on his walking tour through Suffolk by using them as springboards for enormous mental leaps of association and story telling – to places across the world and from other times.

This resonated with me – these unlikely combinations of instruments, alluding to different styles and periods, with no established pretext, meeting together in a space with no singular character. I enjoyed the risk of diving into that challenge, and enjoyed the strange dream-like space that we often found ourselves in musically.

There are several wonderful videos on Downe’s website, including one about Dreamlife and one for his piece “Rings of Saturn” from the Obsidian album. (Also, make sure to watch the video with Aidan O’Rouke.) If you are a Spotify subscriber, ECM recently released its entire music catalog on Spotify after years of refusing to. So go enjoy Kit Downe’s music there or find the CDs or LPs. Or go to Downe’s website where there are several older pieces you can listen to. This is terrific music, the instruments like sonic universes slowly passing by each other.

On the album, Downes plays piano and organ, Tom Challenger plays tenor saxophone, Stian Westerhus plays guitar, Lucy Railton plays cello, and Sebastian Rochford, drums.

UPCOMING CONCERT NOTE: Kit Downes will be appearing at the Royal Academy of Music, Sainsbury Theatre, London on January 31, 2020. According to its website, the “event opens with the presentation of honorary membership of the Royal Academy of Music to eminent jazz pianist and alumnus Kit Downes, who then leads his trio, ENEMY, and students from the Jazz and Strings departments in a side-by-side performance.”

2632-downes-groupThe musicians of Dreamlife of Debris:
Sebastian Rochford, Kit Downes, Tom Challenger and Lucy Railton. Photo courtesy ECM.
(Minus Stian Westerhus, Guitar)

Ghostland

Ghostland Parnell

Edward Parnell’s Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country is a highly personal exploration of the idea of “haunted” in literature and film. It’s also a bit of travel guide, a dash of history, and a family memoir. But as in so many things, it’s the blending that counts and Parnell is an expert bartender. I don’t think he ever uses the word but I felt as if he were trying to demonstrate how various terroirs affect the ghost stories and the strange folk lore that then show up in the fiction and cinema that he has loved since childhood. To do this, he guides us through large swaths of Great Britain in search of the sites depicted in these books and films. As we ride next to and walk alongside the thirty-something Parnell, making pilgrimages to locations where, for example, The Wicker Man was filmed or where some of the tales of Algernon Blackwood were set, we also learn bits and pieces of Parnell’s own life, how he came to love these kinds of books and films, of the difficult deaths of his parents, and the shock when he learns his own brother has a lymphoma that will eventually kill him, too.

Parnell is not an academic and he makes no claim to be covering an entire field, although he writes about scores of nineteenth and twentieth century writers and filmmakers. Some of their names might be familiar, like Walter De La Mare, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Machen, or F.W. Murnau. But Parnell enthusiastically introduces us to names that have, for the most part, become forgotten and lost, names like M.R. James, Lawrence Gordon Clark, L.P. Hartley, Susan Cooper, and Alan Garner. Moreover, Parnell made me want to pursue some of their books and films as well.

Parnell is also a natural tour guide. I would accompany him on a road-trip anywhere. It seemed like he covered the breadth of England from East Anglia to Penzance, from Southampton to the Lake District, with even a dip into Wales for good measure. As an American, I was lost most of the time (there’s no map in the book). But it didn’t matter. I was caught up in the endless charm of English place names like Deeping High Bank, Crowland, Tyne and Wear, Lakenheath, Mow Cap, and Llanymawddwy. I should also mention, for those who care, that he’s quite the bird watcher.

Parnell is most wonderful writing about the Fens, “the unnerving flat landscape of my youth.”

I used to love the anticipation before you ran up the grassy bank: would the tide be in so that you’d feel yourself standing at the seaside, or would you be confronted with a green-and-brown expanse of mud and saltmarsh, the distant water barely visible at the edge of your vision? In the summer the landscape seemed kinder, its harsh edges softened by the pale blooms of cow parsley that grew rampantly along the dykes. My granddad called it “kek”, and one of his sluice-keeping tasks would be to burn it off and the other weeds that would clog the drainage ditches later in the season; in his eighties and early nineties, when I drove him around his old stamping ground, he would wistfully point out tinder-dry stands of dyke-side grasses he’d like to put a match to.

The book’s epigraph comes, appropriately, from W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants: “And so they are ever returning to us, the dead.” As a bonus for us Sebald readers, there are some genuine gifts tucked away inside Ghostland. The first occurs during a trip to Suffolk, when he visits Somerleyton Hall, which plays a prominent role in The Rings of Saturn. Parnell takes the official guided tour of the Victorian mansion, asks pointed questions of his tour guide, and snoops around the grounds, all with a mind to tell us how much of Sebald’s description of Somerleyton is factual. The second gift occurs when Parnell discovers that his friend owns the house where Sebald lived when he first came to Norfolk to teach at the University of East Anglia in 1970. Sebald eventually used that very house as the setting for where Dr. Henry Selwyn and his wife lived, in the first story in The Emigrants. As Parnell and his friend talk, she explains that the Selwyns were largely based on her father-in-law and mother-in-law, and she describes some of the transformations that Sebald made with their characters. All of which makes for some fascinating stuff for Sebald readers.

I count it as a blessing that Parnell never truly defines what he means by “haunted” because it lets him roam rather freely. Several times he shifts to the more expansive word “unsettling” and that allows him to not only bring Sebald underneath his umbrella, but it lets him write about such things as Graham Swift’s novel Waterland and the filmmaker Derek Jarman, just to name two examples.

Ghostland took me by surprise. I tend to avoid anything that deals with the haunted or the Gothic or with fairy tales. But a friend recommended the book and I am glad I trusted him. Ghostland, which is filled with Sebald-like photographs and film stills, was published by the William Collins imprint of HarperCollins, London, in 2019.

The Backlisted Podcast Visits ‘The Rings of Saturn’

Backlisted

My favorite literary podcast does Sebald! Yes! The crew at Backlisted: The Literary Podcast (John Mitchinson and Andy Miller) plus guests Philip Hoare and Jessie Greenglass discuss W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn in episode 105, which was let loose on the world November 11. Here’s the description of the full episode from the podcast’s website:

In this episode John and Andy are joined by Philip Hoare, a broadcaster, curator, filmmaker and writer whose books include biographies of Stephen Tennant and Noel Coward, the historical studies Wilde’s Last StandSpike Island: The Memory of a Military Hospital, and England’s Lost Eden.  His book Leviathan or, The Whale won the 2009 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. His most recent book, RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR, is published by Fourth Estate. Philip presented the BBC Arena film The Hunt for Moby-Dick, and directed three films for BBC’s Whale Night.  He is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Southampton, and co-curator of the Moby-Dick Big Readhttp://www.mobydickbigread.com.  

The second guest is the writer, Jessie Greengrass, the author of two books. Her first, the short story collection, An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It, won the Edge Hill Prize and a Somerset Maugham award (and was enthusiastically praised by John in the episode of Backlisted devoted to Huysmans). Her novel, Sight, was published in 2018, and was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and longlisted for the Wellcome Prize. Jessie lives in Northumberland with her partner and their two children.

The main book under discussion is The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald, first published in German by Eichborn Verlag in 1995 and in an English translation by Michael Hulse by the Harvill Press in 1998. Before that, John ventures back in timed space with The Years by Annie Ernaux and Andy is blown away by Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson.

The foursome have an intelligent, wide-ranging discussion of the book, including Sebald’s use of photographs. Hoare, who goes swimming every morning at 3:00 AM (think about that for a moment!), talks about the “echo space” wherever photographs appear in Sebald’s texts—”where the words stop and the picture takes over.” Greenglass thinks of Sebald’s books as those “curious complicated cabinets” in which you can’t see the joints. I was so inspired by the comments on the books by Annie Ernaux and Fiona Benson that I immediately ordered both. Go have a listen.

‘The Blind Tourist’ Radio Program Does “The Rings of Saturn”

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The Blind Tourist With Adriene, a weekly program on the independent public radio station WFMU in East Orange, New Jersey, describes itself as “your weekly trip across the world with radio, stories, histories, languages and more. A travel show turning chaos into different chaos.” The most recent show (December 5, 2019) begins a two-episode program dealing with W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn.

“Bookclub! The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald” is an hour-long mashup of readings, lectures, music, film scores, and more. During the first hour you can hear the voices of Sebald, Theodore Adorno, and others, jazz, an excerpt from the film Woman in the Dunes, brief pieces by Brian Eno and Benjamin Britten, readings from Flaubert and Kafka, and more. I found the program extremely sophisticated and listenable. Adriene introduces her concept about seven minutes into the program. To show just how deep and far Adriene is seaching for material to be included in her program, take these two examples, which blew me away. The first is Winfried Mühlum-Pyrápheros’s “Musica Nova Contemplativa,” which was originally created in 1964 as a purely visual score with its roots in minimalism and Fluxus. It was recorded only once, in 1970, and has just been reissued. The second is the dreamy song “Papa Loco” by the Haitian singer Nathalie Joachim.

To listen to this wonderful program and see the playlist for Part I, go here and simply click on “Pop-up player.” The second part will appear December 12.

Sebald-Inspired String Quartet To Be Played in Brooklyn Dec. 5

Momenta Quartet

Contemporary American composer/musician Elizabeth Brown’s string quartet Just Visible in the Distance will be part of the Interpretations program at Roulette in Brooklyn Thursday, December 5 at 8:00 PM. It will be played by the Momenta Quartet, to whom the piece is dedicated. If you can’t make the concert, you can watch them play the fifteen and a half minute piece on Brown’s website. Brown says this about her composition:

Just Visible in the Distance (2013) consists of intuitively assembled small movements, each flowing into the next. Persistent musical material from some of my earlier pieces resurfaces often. The title is from W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, a book I love and have read many times.

That night’s event also includes compositions by Frances White, performances by baritone/narrator Thomas Buckner, and a video/sculpture installation by artist Lothar Osterburg. More information can be found here. Roulette is located at 509 Atlantic Avenue (Entrance on the Corner of Third Avenue; Accessible Entrance on Atlantic Ave).

Jane Benson’s “Song for Sebald”

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Detail of a “Song for Sebald” print, © Jane Benson

New York artist Jane Benson has been exhibiting a series of hand-cut archival inkjet-prints called “Song for Sebald.” In the exhibition, the prints are accompanied by music Benson has commissioned from Matthew Schickele. Here’s the full description from her website:

In “Song for Sebald,” Jane Benson explores the themes of separation and belonging through a radical encounter with the writer W.G. Sebald’s novel, The Rings of Saturn.  Benson begins with the physical text of the novel and a knife.  By carefully excising every part of the text except the syllables of the musical scale – do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti – she uncovers what we might call the “potential music” of Sebald’s prose:  a set of notes with a full tonal range hovering both inside and outside of the novel, untethered from the original text and radically disjointed within itself.  

From that point of radical excision and destruction, Benson moves to the process of re-creation. Benson actualizes the novel’s potential music through a process that links together author, artist, composer, and performer.  Each of the novel’s ten chapters produces a separate movement created collaboratively by composer Matthew Schickele; in each, the pace of the music is guided by the spaces between the excavated syllables (the spaces Benson has cut) and its emotive lyric determined by a set of improvisations guided by elements of Sebald’s prose.  Each chapter/movement has its own mood, dynamics, and process of creation, depending on the characters and themes of the original novel, and on interactive processes determined by Benson and Schickele.  The collaged recordings of each movement are encountered by viewers in sound pods equipped with headphones that are presented alongside each chapter of incised text, with the entire score played in the gallery daily at noon. 

Sebald’s experimental fiction and essays demonstrate a preoccupation with displacement, foreignness, and extraterritoriality, reflecting his own experience of self-imposed exile from his native Germany.  Both thematically and formally, Sebald’s prose reflects its author’s experience of radical dislocation; his narrators often seem to stand apart from their physical and textual surroundings, the stories they tell – at once personal and impersonal – reflect the creative potential of estrangement and disorientation. 

Benson’s work explores and expands this same creative potential; her elaborate and multi-stage process creates gaps and absences in order to stitch them together over time and across media, in a process of collaboration that links together nationalities, disciplines, genders, and fields of creative work.  In this, Song for Sebald not only gestures toward the work of a single author, but also speaks with urgency to our present international moment, in which the plight – and the promise – of displaced persons has become more important than ever before.

At Benson’s website, you can see all of the images and hear an eleven minute sample of Schickele’s haunting and spare music. (And yes, Matthew Schickele is the son of Peter Schickele, the sometimes comedic composer.)