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Posts from the ‘W.G. Sebald’ Category

New Podcast About Sebald’s “Austerlitz”

The podcast About Buildings & Cities has recently done a two-part broadcast on W.G. Sebald’s final work of prose fiction, Austerlitz. You can track down episode numbers 77 & 78 through the website here.

Sebald’s novel is a natural for this podcast since Jacques Austerlitz is an architectural historian and a number of architectural spaces figure prominently in the book’s story, including London’s Liverpool Street Station, the Palace of Justice (Brussels), and the Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris). The podcast’s hosts, Luke Jones and George Gingell, read from Sebald’s book, give an overview of the plot, and discuss some of the key themes, including the kindertransport, the uses of photography in the novel, and, of course, some of the buildings referred to in Austerlitz. The two have a terrific conversation about the way in which Sebald continually hints at the Holocaust in Austerlitz, without quite discussing it overtly, and they ask if Sebald might have been too coy at times. Did Sebald see the Holocaust as a single aberrant event or part of a long-standing pattern of imperial genocides in Western history?

A long-time reader of Vertigo turned me on to the About Cities & Buildings podcast and now I’m a dedicated fan. Earlier episodes include subjects such as the filmmaker Patrick Keiller, New York’s Robert Moses, urbanist Jane Jacobs, and a four-part series on architect Zaha Hadid. Take a listen.

Esther Kinsky Wins First Sebald Prize

Photo of Esther Kinsky
Courtesy Transit Books

The new W.-G.-Sebald Literature Prize, endowed with 10,000 euros, was announced earlier this year by the German Sebald Society in conjunction with the cities of Kempten (Allgäu) and Sonthofen and the municipality of Wertach, where Sebald was born and grew up. Now, the first winner has been announced: writer and translator Esther Kinsky has been selected for her text “Kalkstein.” The jury selected Kinsky’s text from 900 entries submitted anonymously. Authors from Germany and abroad were able to submit an unpublished German-language prose text dealing with the topic of “Remembrance and Memory.” The jury included: Hans Jürgen Balmes (S. Fischer Verlag), Prof. Dr. Claudia Öhlschläger (University of Paderborn), Prof. Dr. Jürgen Ritte (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris), Marie Schmidt (Süddeutsche Zeitung) and Dr. Kay Wolfinger (Ludwig Maximilians University Munich).

“We are really overjoyed to have found such a worthy and suitable winner. The award of a writer who began working as a translator in a competition dedicated to a writer who had a worldwide impact through the translation of his texts written in England into German is a coincidence that can almost be described as fateful, “explains Prof. Ricardo Felberbaum, the first chairman of the society. “We have selected a text that lets landscape and stone speak in a fascinating way and thus develops a new poetics of remembrance that can be found in a similar way in the work of W. G. Sebald,” says Dr. Kay Wolfinger, lecturer at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and second chairman of the society. [Google translation of https://www.sebald-gesellschaft.de/preistraegerin-des-ersten-w-g-sebald-literaturpreises-esther-kinsky/%5D

This is the fourth prize Kinsky has won in 2020. The other three have been the Deutscher Preis für Nature Writing (German Prize for Nature Writing), the Christian-Wagner-Preis (Christian Wagner Prize), and the Erich Fried Preis (Erich Fried Prize).

The Great Flood – The Link

A few days ago I wrote about the radio program being aired by Resonance FM called “The Great Tide: Flooding, Landscape and Memory. The Great Flood of 1953.” There is now a permanent link so you can listen to the program anytime on Mixcloud here.

And just to remind you of the topic: “The Great Flood of 1953, the combination of a high spring tide and a storm over the North Sea, causing a surge to sweep across the East Coast, was the worst natural disaster in Britain of the 20th century, in which 307 people lost their lives in England and over 1,800 people in the Netherlands. It also produced one of the great works of English social history, ‘The Great Tide’ by Hilda Grieve, which tells the story of the flood disaster in Essex. In this programme Patrick Bernard discusses ‘The Great Tide’ with writer and social historian Ken Worpole; Edward Platt, author of ‘The Great Flood’; and Anne Johnson, a storyteller who runs Everyday Magic, a London-based charity which sends storytellers into state primary schools, and who lived on Canvey Island at the time of the flood.”

The Great Flood of 1953

Resonance FM has another intriguing radio program coming up tomorrow night, October 27 from 8:00 to 9:00 pm, London time: “The Great Tide: Flooding, Landscape and Memory. The Great Flood of 1953.” That year, the combination of a high spring tide and a storm over the North Sea caused a surge to sweep across the East Coast, creating the worst natural disaster in Britain of the 20th century, in which 307 people lost their lives in England and over 1,800 people in the Netherlands. It also produced one of the great works of English social history, The Great Tide by Hilda Grieve, a 900-page tome that tells the story of the flood disaster in Essex. In this program, Patrick Bernard discusses The Great Tide with writer and social historian Ken Worpole, Edward Platt, author of The Great Flood, and Anne Johnson, a storyteller who runs Everyday Magic, a London-based charity which sends storytellers into state primary schools, and who lived on Canvey Island at the time of the flood. The program will be re-aired Wednesday 10:00 am.]

Sebald referred to the “catastrophic incursions of the sea” that happened century after century on the English coastline facing the Netherlands when he wrote about Dunwich in The Rings of Saturn.

Resonance FM is a 24/7 HD radio station which broadcasts on 104.4 FM to central London, nationally on Radioplayer and live streamed to the rest of the world. Their schedule is here. At a later date, the program will be made available for listening on Mixcloud.

Last year, Resonance aired a two-part program “Walking with Sebald.” Links to listen to it can be found here.

Links, Sebald & Other – For October 2020

Barbara Kruger, Matchbooks, 1984

The world’s most comprehensive collection of concrete and visual poetry has been acquired by The University of Iowa, which has announced that its University Libraries have been chosen as the new home of the Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry. This website includes a number of entertaining short videos about the collection and a full-length documentary about the Sackners called Concrete. The collection contains over 75,000 items including books, periodicals, typewritings, drawings, letters, print portfolios, ephemera, rare and out-of-print artists’ books, and manuscripts that represents 20th-century art movements such as Italian Futurism, Russian and Eastern European Avant-gardes, Dada, Surrealism, the Bauhaus, De Stijl, Ultra, Dada, Lettrisme, and Ultra-Lettrisme.

Read more

Three Rings

A stranger arrives in an unknown city after a long voyage. He has been separated from his family for some time; somewhere there is a wife, perhaps a child. The journey has been a troubled one, and the stranger is tired. . . He moves with difficulty, his shoulders hunched by the weight of the bags he is carrying. Their contents are everything he owns, now. He has had to pack quickly. What do they contain? Why has he come?

So begins Daniel Mendelsohn’s new book Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate (University of Virginia Press, 2020). Mendelsohn, a classics scholar and humanities professor, is a natural story-teller and he has managed to turn a multi-century saga of literary criticism and history into an immensely entertaining, readable, and short(!) book. Three Rings originated as the Page-Barbour Lectures, which Mendelsohn delivered at the University of Virginia in 2019, and if only more literary criticism (and scholarship, in general) were delivered this way, it would have a much greater audience and impact.

There are actually three “strangers” or “rings” in Mendelsohn’s book, as we shall see, but his story begins with Odysseus.

In Book 19 of Homer’s Odyssey, the hero Odysseus has finally returned to Ithaca. Disguised, he has entered his own home, determined to murder his wife’s suitors and announce himself to her after many years of wandering. An old woman from the household offers him the traditional welcome of washing his feet and she recognizes a scar on his thigh. It should be a moment of great suspense and excitement—the great Odysseus is home at last! But instead, Homer begins a long digression into the past. As Mendelsohn puts it, Homer does the unexpected. He delays. And then he delays some more.

At this suspenseful moment the poet chooses not to proceed to an emotional scene of reunion between the old woman and her long-lost master. Instead, Homer brings the narrative of that encounter to a halt as he begins to circle back into the past: of how Odysseus got his scar in the first place. . . But this ring turns out to require another, since (the author of the Odyssey assumes) we must understand why Odysseus happened to be visiting his grandfather [at whose house he received the wound] in the first place. And so the poet traces a second circle, spiraling even further back into time.

Eventually, Homer works his way back to the moment when the old woman recognizes Odysseus’s scar and the narrative proceeds once again. These digressions into the past are ring compositions, a technique in which the narrative appears to stray away from its obvious direction only to eventually return to the point where it originally left off. “The material encompassed by such rings could be a single self-contained digression or a more elaborate series of interlocked narratives, each nested within another in the manner of Chinese boxes or Russian dolls.”

Auerbach Mimesis

Mendelsohn says that he got the idea for this book during the writing of his previous book An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and An Epic, when he was thinking about Eric Auerbach (1892-1957), a German Jewish scholar who left Germany in 1935 to live in Istanbul for more than a decade. It was there that Auerbach wrote his masterpiece Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, which was first published in 1946 and remains in print today. (I still have the copy I studied in college fifty years ago.) Mendelsohn started to wonder about “the connections between political exile and narrative digression” in connection with Auerbach, and so Auerbach becomes the first of the three “rings” in his book.

In Auerbach’s “epic journey through the literature of the West” there are “two cultural pillars” or styles into which all of literature could be divided: the Homeric or Greek technique, in which everything can be known and there exists, through the gods, a supernatural connection between all things; or the Hebrew style, which acknowledges that it is impossible to know everything and that the world is subject to interpretation. Mimesis, in part, tracks the ??? of these two styles throughout literary history.

Fenelon_Telemachus_Curll_1715

Mendelsohn’s second “ring” is the story of François de Salignac de La Mothe-Fénélon (1651-1715), a Catholic archbishop and writer, whose 1699 book The Adventures of Telemachus he calls “a fan-fiction sequel to the Odyssey.” Fénélon’s Adventures were originally constructed as “ethically instructive tales based on Homer’s Odyssey” that he used to teach the son of the Duke of Burgundy (and eventual heir to France’s Louis XIV), but which evolved into a fantastically convoluted series of digressions loosely based on Homer’s exploits.  Unfortunately for Fénélon, his “fantasia on Homeric themes” contained a number of lectures on good kingship, which Louis XIV took as an insulting critique of his own rule, and he banished the archbishop to an obscure post in far northern France.

Nevertheless, the Adventures became hugely popular and Mendelsohn speculates that it might have been the most widely read book in Europe throughout the eighteenth century until Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther came along in 1774. Not only that, but the Adventures was so widely received in the nineteenth century that it was translated into “Turkish, Tatar, Bulgarian, Romanian, Armenian, Albanian, Georgian, Kurdish, and Arabic, among many other languages.” In the twentieth century, Fénélon deeply influenced Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, a novel which suggests to Mendelsohn “that a vast series of digressions could themselves form the largest imaginable ring, one that embraces all of human experience.”

Mendelsohn’s third “ring” is W.G. Sebald. “The circles in Sebald’s restless narration lead us to a series of locked doors to which there is no key.” For Mendelsohn, Sebald is the embodiment of Auerbach’s preference for the Hebrew approach over the Greek, for the style that “refuses to reveal” over the one that is “all-illuminating.”

Auerbach’s distrust of the Greek technique raises a larger question about the problems of representation in literature, about the means by which writers make their subjects seem “realistic.” Naturally this question has plagued all kinds of artists as they have struggled with difficult subjects, one of the greatest and most difficult of these being, in our own time, the event that landed Auerbach in Istanbul: the German plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe during World War II. The difficulty of representation posed by this unimaginably destructive vent was most famously, if controversially, expressed in the oft-quoted dictum of Auerbach’s fellow German refugee Theodore Adorno: “nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht ze schreiben, ist barbarisch,” “to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric.”                                                                                                                                          

In this section, Mendelsohn traces his personal attachment to each of Sebald’s four key books of prose fiction, but focuses on The Rings of Saturn as “the most emblematic of this author’s strange style.” “The narrative rings, circles, digressions, and wanderings. . . we find in Sebald seem designed to confuse, entangling his characters in meanderings from which they cannot extricate themselves and which have no clear destinations.” While Homer’s rings eventually lead back to where they left off and to a new beginning, for Sebald “the twisting history of the world is written by the hiders.”

Three Rings is a book you must read for yourself, to witness Mendelsohn as he unravels and lays bare the connections between Homer, Auerbach, Fénélon, Sebald, and others. In a way, it’s ironic that Mendelsohn relates so intimately with those who believe in the “irretrievability of the past,” because for him the stories of the past are vital to understanding the present. What he transmits so magically in Three Rings is his infectious passion for learning and sharing with others.

New Sebald Book

Uwe Schütte, who teaches at Aston University in Birmingham, U.K., has published a new book W.G. Sebald: Leben und literarisches Werk. The publisher, De Gruyter, describes it as a book that “provides a comprehensive and critical overview of his literary work and surveys the extensive secondary literature.” It looks like the first biographical chapter might well present the most detailed information on Sebald’s life available to date. The 471-page book contains thirty-two photographs and is priced at a modest $28.99 in the U.S., even less on Kindle.

The basic Table of Contents is listed below. An extended Table of Contents and a generous preview of the biographical chapter can be seen using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature for this book.

Als Vorwort 
Zur Biografie
Nach der Natur: Ein Elementargedicht (1988)
Schwindel. Gefühle. (1990)
Die Ausgewanderten. Vier lange Erzählungen (1992)
Die Ringe des Saturn. Eine englische Wallfahrt (1995)
Aufzeichnungen aus Korsika und andere Interimswerke
Austerlitz (2001)
Ein Nachwort
Siglenverzeichnis
Abbildungsnachweis
Danksagung

Bruges-La-Morte

BrugeslaMortesScreenShot2

Film still from Ronald Chase’s Bruges-la-Mortes

It’s time to go sight-seeing in canal-laced Bruges, Belgium. The city still retains many vestiges of its medieval architecture and its city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You might have already seen modern Bruges in the entertaining 2008 crime/comedy movie In Bruges with Colin Farrell, but you can also see Bruges depicted in two film versions of the nineteenth-century novel Bruges-la-Morte by Georges Rodenbach (1855-1898), a Belgian Symbolist writer. Bruges-la-Morte (1892), probably the earliest novel to ever include photographs, tells the story of a widower whose grief over the death of his beautiful wife has turned him into a recluse in his own home, which is filled with reminders of his life with her. But then he attends an opera where he sees on stage a woman who looks very much like his deceased wife. He courts her, but this only leads to further tragedy. In the novel and in the films, the city of Bruges serves as one of the main characters.

Bruges-la-Morte, a 1978 film by Ronald Chase, has just been re-released and made available on available on Vimeo in a new hi-res, high definition restoration. Ronald Chase is primarily an director known for his innovative use of film and projection in the operas he has produced for companies around the US and Europe. On his website, Chase writes about the attraction that the city of Bruges held for Symbolists:

In the late 1800’s until the first world war Bruges was an escape for a certain type of romantic tourist.  The town had become almost deserted (the canals and waterways had dried up) and heavy fog and a feeling of sadness and despair hung over the city.  The English were especially drawn to Bruges, and often had a second house there.  A school of art around Symbolism was created by a small group of writers and artists surrounding the writer, Georges Rodenbach.  They gave Bruges a nickname – The Dead City.  The Symbolists believed in the power of dreams–they often felt dreams were filled with the real character of people, and were more truthful than waking life. Rodenbach wrote: “The essence of art that is at all noble is the DREAM, and this dream dwells only upon what is distant, absent, vanished, unattainable.”

Film still from Ronald Chase’s Bruges la Mortes

Chase writes more about the making of his film Bruge-la-Mortes on his website.

Film still from Roland Verhavert’s Bruges, die stille

The second version available on the Internet is Roland Verhavert’s Brugge, die stille, a 1981 film in Dutch. More entertaining than Chase’s version, it clearly had a much bigger budget, which means a great musical score, several strong actors, and a wonderful cinematographer in Walther van den Ende. But Verhavert veers off somewhere into cinematic Romanticism, while Chase managed to make a film that retained an integrity to Rodenbach’s Symbolist vision.

You can read more about Rodenbach’s groundbreaking book here at the post I wrote thirteen years ago. Since the publication of this first novel with photographs, many hundreds of novels and volumes of poetry have been written that also include photographs as an integral part of the author’s “text.” You can always see an extensive bibliography of these titles by hovering over the pull-down menu Photo-Embedded Literature at the top of my blog. My bibliography is currently complete from 1970 to 2019. I’ll be adding 1892-1969, in a few months.

Khnopff_-_Brugres-la-morte
Book cover design by Fernand Khnopff for “Bruges-la-Morte” by Georges Rodenbach, 1892, chalk and Indian ink on cardboard
{Public Domain-old}

Finally, for an absolutely wonderful vintage film tour of Bruges, watch the six-minute video of old film footage of the city, people, canals, and even some of the city’s animals from around 1910-12, painstakingly restored by Johan R. Ryheul.

Documentary Film of “The Natural History of Destruction” Receives Funding

AUSTERLITZ_3

Film still from Sergei Loznitsa’s Austerlitz, 2016.

The Lithuanian Film Centre has announced its second round of funding pre-approvals for 2020, which includes funding for a documentary film by Sergei Loznitsa about W.G. Sebald’s On The Natural History of Destruction. There is no word on how Loznitsa might make a film about such an argumentative short book (based on a series of lectures he delivered in Zurich). In On The Natural History of Destruction, Sebald writes about the astonishing devastation wrought by Allied air raids on German cities in World War II and the seeming absence of this history in Germany’s cultural memory, especially in its literature.

In 2016, Loznitsa made a film called Austerlitz, inspired by Sebald’s book of the same name. In that film, he simply followed tourists as they spent a summer day at the Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz in Poland.

Writing about this film in Unsung Films, Angeliki Coconi asked of the people wandering around Auschwitz,

Why are they here? What have they come to find? A memorial site that receives thousands of tourists every year; “this is the place where people were exterminated; this is the place of suffering and grief,” Loznitsa says. Yet there is a Disneyland feeling about this place, that we can’t come to grasp. . . This feels like an amusement park of death and torture, where genocide is seen as the ultimate holiday experience.

You can watch Austerlitz (and several other of Loznitsa’s films) here online (for a small fee).

Derecho

Monday, August 10, 2020. Derecho. I had never heard of the word before. I was just about to go to the grocery store when my wife turned on the noon news and we heard the weather gang talking about an oncoming storm of straight-line winds that might exceed 100 miles per hour. A derecho. It was headed for our town in less than twenty minutes. We would need to take cover in the basement by then.

When we emerged after a frightening forty minutes of listening to the wind thrashing, to the earth-shaking thud of falling trees, and to a real gusher of a downpour, we found our world had altered immeasurably. It seemed as if every tree in sight had been felled or broken in two. One tree was leaning against the front of our house, another lie across the back patio, having smashed everything that was once there.

In the end, the winds reached 140 mph at times. We lost all five of the large, old trees in our yard-an elm, a basswood, a locust, an ash, and a beautiful river birch. We were without electricity for eight and a half days, although we bought a generator to see us through. And we are still without local phone or Internet service twelve days later. I’m working off my iPad, which is tethered to my iPhone’s phone service at the moment. On the plus side, I passed my chainsaw merit badge.

All of this is to explain why I have been silent for so long. But now I am working on some new posts for Vertigo which should start going up before too long.