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Posts from the ‘W.G. Sebald’ Category

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.

 

 

Sebald Issue of boundary 2 Journal

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Readers of W.G. Sebald are in something special. boundary 2: An International Journal of Literature and Culture has devoted the entire contents of Volume 47 Issue 3 to Sebald and it’s all available online for free.  Edited by Sina Rahmani , the title of the issue is “W. G. Sebald and the Global Valences of the Critical.” Here is what you can find in the issue.

Sina Rahmani, “Words, Not Bombs: W. G. Sebald and the Global Valences of the Critical.”

Sebald’s meteoric rise shines a light on the hegemonic role the anglophone literary market plays in the processes that authors and their texts undergo when they migrate from a national literary market to a planetary readership. Indeed, migration offers a key to Sebald’s oddball career and its place in literary history. Like many of the literati holy orders into whose ranks he has been admitted, Sebald’s biography is marked by a permanent departure from the land of his birth.

Uwe Schütte, “Troubling Signs: Sebald, Ambivalence, and the Function of the Critic.”

His unconventional authorial identity cannot be fully comprehended without an appreciation of the critical writings and, in turn, his transformation from scholar to writer. The most prominent feature of his work in the critical sphere is the stubbornly contrarian stance Sebald assumed toward his peers in German studies specifically and the Germanic literary establishment more generally. . . .Only when both sides of Sebald’s coin [his critical writings and his imaginative writings] are considered in concert can one begin to grasp the power and significance of his career.

Stuart Burrows, “The Roar of the Minotaur: W. G. Sebald’s Echospaces.”

I will describe the contours of this different dimension, in the belief that Sebald’s distinctive contribution to the global novel lies in his reordering of the space of representation. This reordering is both literal and metaphorical. It is literal, in the sense that Sebald’s work explores actual spaces: the pages upon which his novels are written, which become inextricable from the world being described, and the landscape being traversed, such as the Suffolk coastline in The Rings of Saturn (1998); it is metaphorical, in the sense that Sebald’s work explores a set of imaginary spaces nested within each other, those spaces occupied by his characters, who inhabit several worlds simultaneously, and those allocated to the narrative voice, which speaks to us out of a clearly demarcated yet ultimately unlocatable place.

Yahya Elsaghe, “Penelope’s Crossword: On W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz.”

The crossword as a form has the upper hand over the rhizome as a metaphor for textuality—something it shares with other allegories of memory like a ‘wonderblock’ and ‘palimpsest’ as well as ‘signs and characters from the type case of forgotten things’.

Sina Rahmani, “The Stateless Novel: Refugees, Literary Form, and the Rise of Containerization.”

This ‘prose book of an undetermined kind,’ Sebald’s coy descriptor for Austerlitz, offers an instructive lesson about the novel of the global era, which has become a formal container providing refuge to any and all narrative and literary forms. In the same way that the shipping container is completely unconcerned with its own contents, Austerlitz furnishes us with incontrovertible evidence that in a stateless era, the foundational distinctions between written and visual, fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose, analytic and creative, and, as Stuart Burrows points out in his contribution to this issue, verbal and written have been eradicated.

Isa Murdock- Hinrichs, “Adaptation, Appropriation, Translation: Sebald on the Silver Screen.” Murdock-Hinrichs examines two films based upon books by Sebald: Grant Gee’s Patience (After Sebald) (2012) and Stan Neumann’s Austerlitz (2015).

Gee’s deliberate transformation of the visuals in the film into a maze of images whose uniform intelligibility is obscured represents a translation of Sebald’s disjunction between text and visual.

. . .

Neumann highlights the various qualities of visuals as he weaves static images, alternative film stock, and printed materials into the film. The camera is the translator of the narrative of the literary text by further portraying the instability of systems of meaning.

Global Critical Forum

“This special issue of boundary 2 has sought out translations of articles and reviews of different Sebald texts. The Global Critical Forum highlights the array of responses and mixed feelings Sebald solicits in different national contexts.”

Nissim Calderon, “Sebald or Gevalt?” [Originally published in Yedioth Ahronoth (Tel Aviv, Israel) in 2009.]

Sebald’s Rings of Saturn is a particularly bad text; bad precisely because it features his idiosyncratic and excellent style but lacks the content to justify it. It is an empty style, like the painter Salvador Dalí, who in his youth paved the way for art’s new surrealist path but in his later years became a serial producer of the “Dalí style.”

Rodrigo Fresán, “The Sebald Case.” [This is a slightly revised translation of an article published in Letras Libres, a Spanish- language monthly literary magazine published in Mexico and Spain, in July 2003.]

In the here and now, the departed Sebald is very, very interesting for those who have survived him, for the many that quietly concede in hushed tones, perhaps out of fear of falling victim to a Pharaoh’s curse, his some-what exaggerated prestige, and for the many more that swear by his divine name they continuously invoke in vain—to remain in good standing and to have a ready response to the question, What are you reading at the moment? Sebald serves, functions, protects, and refreshes best, and is so fashionable, so useful for the nouveaux riche of the intelligentsia. Sebald is practical and legible; he grants a certain prestige to his user and his consumer. Sebald is not only learned but also produces the agreeable effect, or impression, of cultivating and producing evangelical astuteness.

Maria Malikova, “Witnessing the Past in the Work of W. G. Sebald.” [This article was published in 2008 in Отечественные записки (Notes from the Home-land: A Journal for Slow Reading).]

Artist and photographer Jan Peter Tripp was a key figure in the career of German writer and critic W. G. Sebald. . . .[in Sebald’s 1998 essay on Tripp] he provides a graphic display of the evolution of the role of the visual in [his] poetics from photographs of objects, faces, landscapes, architecture, and paintings, to depictions of the very organ of sight, the mechanism of vision: eyes, fixed directly on the reader- viewer, demanding a reciprocal gaze, an ethical reaction.

He Ning, “The Bricolage of Words and Images: W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz.” [This article is translated from a Mandarin article 文字与照片的拼接—评W. G.赛巴尔德的《奥斯特里茨》, which appeared in Trends of Foreign Literature (《外国文学动态研究》) in 2012.]

Austerlitz’s method of piecing together memories through recategorizing the photos he has into a spatial rather than temporal order reifies what I call a retroactive act of bricolage, an innovative way to reconstruct the protagonist’s own narrative. Inspired by the art of photography, he seems to find a psychological equilibrium between his defense mechanism (i.e., selective amnesia) and his desire to recover and rediscover his own identity.

The issue concludes with an article not about Sebald but one closely aligned with his lectures on “Air War and Literature,” included in On the Natural History of Destruction. Sina Rahmani conducts an interview with Emran Feroz entitled “Death from Above: An Afghan Perspective on the US Drone War.”

boundary 2 has an unusual editorial statement:

The editors of boundary 2 announce that they no longer intend to publish in the standard professional areas, but only materials that identify and analyze the tyrannies of thought and action spreading around the world and that suggest alternatives to these emerging configurations of power.

The Paris Review Interview with W.G. Sebald

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When I arrived in Norwich that morning on the train from London, Max had been waiting at the gate. I recognized him from the photograph on the back of The Emigrants. He was shy at first as we drove through the streets of Norwich in his rattletrap Peugeot, but he soon grew talkative, pointing out the eleventh-century Norman cathedral that towers immensely over the town and going on about his dealings with publishers, agents, advances—a writer’s shoptalk.

The Paris Review has removed the paywall for the interview that James Atlas did with W.G. Sebald in 1999—but only until Sunday, July 12! So hurry over and read this excellent piece. After a visit at his house, Sebald took Atlas for a drive through Norwich and then later they visited the poets Michael Hamburger and Anne Beresford in their ancient cottage. Atlas (1949-2019) was a publisher and writer, most notably as the biographer of Delmore Schwartz and Saul Bellow. He would have been a great Sebald biographer, I think.

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.

It would not be surprising at all that Sebald might insist that Browne is the source for this paraphrased quote rather than Herbert, for he used Browne as a source and a handy foil throughout The Rings of Saturn and it would make sense that the closing statement be shoehorned so that it appear to come from Browne. But had Sebald read Herbert? And might he have lifted from him the idea of be-ribboning mirrors and turning canvasses to the wall so that the spirits of the dead would not be distracted on their passage?

We know that Sebald read Still Life with Bridle. In an interview Sebald did with then Los Angeles Times Book Editor Steve Wasserman at the Los Angeles Public Library in 2001, Sebald recounts having disliked Herbert’s book when he read it first in English but then loving it when he read it in French. (I had earlier written said that it was not known if Sebald read Herbert’s book, but a Vertigo reader kindly pointed out that the point is settled on p. 372 of Saturn’s Moons.*) Still Life with Bridle is primarily about Dutch art of the seventeenth century, a subject that Sebald addresses several times in The Rings of Saturn, most notably in his discussion of Rembrandt’s painting The Anatomy Lesson (1632). The quote we have been looking at from Herbert is the last sentence in “Epilogue,” the final of ten short “Apocryphas,” pieces in which he freely mixes up fact and fiction to tell brief stories that often include real historical characters, such as Rembrandt and Vermeer. When Herbert’s book first came out, Matthew Stadler, writing in the New Times Book Review, was troubled about “this untraceable blurring of fact and fiction” in the Apocryphas, but this is exactly what Sebald would have loved about them. It’s easy to see why Sebald would have been attracted to Herbert’s description of the departure of the dead soul.

Curiously, when The Rings of Saturn was initially reviewed in the New York Times on July 26, 1998, Roberta Silman wrote in her opening sentence:

This is a hybrid of a book — fiction, travel, biography, myth, and memoir — that obliterates time and defies comparison. Stunning and strange, it may remind you of Zbigniew Herbert’s Still Life With a Bridle or Nabokov’s Speak, Memory, or the work of Italo Calvino, Walter Benjamin or even Jonathan Swift, yet by the end you know it is like none of these.

Silman picked out Herbert’s book for other reasons, but now it seems prescient for this other linkage between the two authors.

Herbert’s book was reissued in 2012 by the terrific Notting Hill Editions. Translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter.

*Jo Catling. Saturn’s Moons: A W.G Sebald Handbook. Routledge, 2019.

 

 

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.

“Walking with Sebald” Programs Online

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At the Kindertransport Memorial, London

My previous post alerted readers to a radio program called “Walking with Sebald,” aired online by London radio station 104.4 Resonance FM on two nights in February. This fascinating program is now available to listen to anytime through the links below.

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Novo Cemetery, London

Patrick Bernard follows in the footsteps of W. G. Sebald and his eponymous character Austerlitz as he explores the East End of London with poet Stephen Watts (a friend of ‘Max’ Sebald who accompanied him on many of his walks). They are joined by Nadia Valman and David Anderson from Queen Mary University of London as they visit many of the locations in the novel to uncover the layers of history hidden beneath the surface of the city and Sebald’s text. In the first episode Patrick and his guests walk from Exchange Square behind Liverpool Street Station – where Austerlitz first arrives to London on the Kindertransport – to Brick Lane where Stephen reads a poem dedicated to Altab Ali and Bill Fishman.

There are more photographs of the walk here.

“Walking with Sebald” Broadcast

The London radio station 104.4 Resonance FM is about to broadcast a two part series called “Walking with Sebald.” Part one will go on at 8:00 PM London time Tuesday on the program called “Clear Spot”and will repeat Wednesday at 10:00 AM.  Here’s the information from their website:

Walking with Sebald: Austerlitz and the East End (Part 1). In this two-part programme Patrick Bernard follows in the footsteps of W. G. Sebald and his eponymous character Austerlitz as he explores the East End of London with poet Stephen Watts (a friend of ‘Max’ Sebald who accompanied him on many of his walks). They are joined by Nadia Valman and David Anderson from Queen Mary University of London as they visit many of the locations in the novel to uncover the layers of history hidden beneath the surface of the city and Sebald’s text. In the first episode Patrick and his guests walk from Exchange Square behind Liverpool Street Station – where Austerlitz first arrives to London on the Kindertransport – to Brick Lane where Stephen reads a poem dedicated to Altab Ali and Bill Fishman. Follow our progress at walkingwithsebald.wordpress.com/. Sound recorded by Milo Thesiger-Meacham and photography by Karen Lacey-Holder. [Repeated Wednesday 10am.]

Part two will be broadcast at 8:00 PM Thursday and rebroadcast Friday morning at 10:00 AM. At some point in the future, the two broadcasts will become available to listen elsewhere. I’ll post details when I know more. It’s easy to listen. Just click on the button that says “Listen Live” and the Resonance FM radio app will open right up on your screen.

Be patient! The Resonance FM website loads very slowly.

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)