Detail from Albrecht Durer’s “Melancholia I” (1514)
Over at The Quietus, Adam Scovell has written an insightful review of the exhibition “Melancholia – A Sebald Variation” which I reported on recently. The exhibition is at the Inigo Rooms at Somerset House in London until the 10th of December. Scovell’s piece includes a wonderful photograph of a young Sebald riding a bicycle that is worth checking out.
Coming up on November 13, one of the exhibition’s artists Guido van der Werve will talk about his work with John-Paul Stonard and screen a film. Stonard is an art historian and writer who recently reviewed van der Werve’s work for The Guardian. The event is free but registration is required. Here’s the blurb from the web page where you can register:
The Dutch artist Guido Van der Werve makes films based on his personal interests, including extreme sports. For Nummer Vierteen: Home (exhibited in the Melancholia exhibition), he completed an epic 1000-mile triathlon between the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw, where Chopin’s heart is preserved, and the cemetery of Père Lachaise in Paris, where the composer’s body was laid to rest. Here Van der Werve will discuss this film and his other more recent work, alongside a screening.
And there is still time to register for the conversation on the exhibition with John Banville, Brian Dillon, and Lara Feigel tomorrow November 8.
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
Albrecht Durer, “Melencholia I” [Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Here is more about the exhibition “Melancholia: A Sebald Variation,” which I posted about last week. From the Eventbrite invitation:
John Banville and Brian Dillon in conversation with Lara Feigel
Free discussion followed by a drinks reception
Is melancholy, as Freud thought, an indulgent, unproductive form of mourning? Or can it be a form of sadness that is ultimately uplifting for the consciousness it brings of life and its more startling possibilities?
The exhibition “Melancholia. A Sebald Variation” (Inigo Rooms, Sept 21-Dec 10) traces a melancholic path from Albrecht Dürer to W.G. Sebald to Anselm Kiefer to Tacita Dean. Here John Banville and Brian Dillon, both melancholic writers with an interest in Sebald, will use the exhibition as a springboard to reflect on the theme of melancholia.
Wed 8 November 2017 18:30 – 20:00 GMT.
Great Hall, King’s College London, Strand Campus
The tickets are free but you must register.
Guido van de Werve, Nummer Veertien: Home (video still), 2012*
At Inigo Rooms, King’s College London, Somerset House East Wing, the exhibition “Melancholia: A Sebald Variation” has just opened and can be seen until December 10, 2017. To quote from the exhibition’s website
“Melancholia: A Sebald Variation” takes the viewer on a Sebaldian journey from the ruins of 1945 to the present day. It begins at that ‘zero hour’ after the war when melancholy found its physical form in the rubble scattered throughout its cities after the Second World War and its human form in the refugees who wandered around them.
Tracing its way from the ruins of Britain and Germany to the suburbs of contemporary Holland, the exhibition aims to provoke reflection about the European condition and about the nature of melancholy itself. Is it, as in Freud’s formulation, an indulgent, unproductive form of mourning? Or can it be, as for Sebald, a form of sadness that is ultimately uplifting because it enables loss to bring with it a consciousness of life and its more startling possibilities?
Alongside Dürer’s Melencolia I this exhibition will display works from a wide range of international artists, including Dexter Dalwood, Tacita Dean, Susan Hiller, Tess Jaray, Anselm Kiefer, George Shaw, Guido van der Werve, and Jeremy Wood, as well as archival materials and a film of Sebald in discussion with Susan Sontag.
This exhibition has been done in collaboration with the Centre for Contemporary Culture in Barcelona (CCCB) which presented some of these works in their 2015 exhibition “Sebald Variations” curated by Jorge Carrión and Pablo Helguera, which I wrote about at the time.
*For more on van der Werve’s 54 minute video, click here or watch a brief clip of it here. A CD of the requiem he composed for the work can be purchased here.
As part of the Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin this year, Markus Joch and Uwe Schütte will talk about W.G. Sebald on Tuesday, September 12 at 19:00 at the Institut Français. Tickets here.
The full program (in German or in English) can be found here. The long list of invited guests is impressive and includes people such as Edward Snowden (via Skype), artist Christian Boltanski, László Krasznahorkai, Yoko Tawada, Yasmina Reza, mystery writer Donna Leon (one of my favorites), Salman Rushdie, and Hari Kunzru. Several other programs caught my attention:
Thursday September 7 at 22:30 is a screening of a new film about James Baldwin and race called I Am Not Your Negro, which I have seen and highly recommend.
Saturday September 9 at 15:00 is a meeting for people wishing to join book clubs; two of the books under consideration are Sebald’s Austerlitz and Peter Weiss’s The Aesthetics of Resistance.
Sunday September 10 is devoted to graphic novels.
Almost Island online literary magazine has published my essay “Five Novels, Five Photographs” in their Spring 2017 issue. In this essay, I look at five novels in which only a single photograph is used, examining both the different strategies that writers employ when they embed photographic images in their fictional narratives and looking at the impact a single photograph can have on a text. The five novels I chose to write about are:
Jeff Jackson’s debut novel Mira Corpora (Two Dollar Radio, 2013), a grimly beautiful coming-of-age novel that reminds me of Larry Clark’s infamous 1971 photobook Tulsa, with its insider’s vision of a group of teenagers whose lives centered around sex, drugs, and alcohol. Jackson’s second photo-embedded novel Novi Sad came out in 2016 from Kiddiepunk.
Nicholas Rombes’s first novel The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing (Two Dollar Radio, 2014), a noir-saturated exploration of images (both moving and still) and their relationship with truth. Rombes is currently a major contributor to the website The Lost Signals Collection, which describes itself as “an archive of speculative texts, images, sounds, and moving pictures lost to history. It is interested in interrogating what might have been, and what might yet be ….”
Wright Morris’s Plains Song (Harper & Row, 1980), is, as far as I know, unique amongst novels with embedded photographs, in that it uses one photograph which repeats at the opening of each of the book’s fourteen chapters. Plains Song is structured as a multigenerational family tree and thus the photograph that is repeated throughout the book serves as a refrain that encapsulates the gist of Morris’s story.
Konrad Bayer’s Der Kopf des Vitus Bering: Ein Porträit in Prosa (Walter Verlag, 1965), a deliberately fragmented, rambling, hallucinogenic prose work that is ostensibly (but only marginally) about the final days of Vitus Bering (1681–1741), the Danish cartographer for whom the sea that separates Siberia from North America was named.
Dubravka Ugrešiƈ’s The Museum of Unconditional Surrender (New Directions, 1999), a novel about what it means to be an exile, extensively references photographs and photography.
Three years ago I wrote about the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s plans to develop a dance around the Ambros Adelwarth segment of W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants. “Analogy/Ambros: The Emigrant” just had its world premiere on July 21, 2017 at Dancer’s Workshop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The dance is the final section of a trilogy which was first performed as a unit on the nights of July 27-29 at American Dance Festival 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. There is a 9 1/2 minute interview with Bill T. Jones on the dance on Soundcloud. The 90-minute dance was reviewed by Susan Broili in the Raleigh, North Carolina newspaper The News & Observer, in which the following excerpt appeared:
“Analogy/Ambros: The Emigrant” begins with the live sound of whispering voices and Bill T. Jones’ recorded recitation of evocative text from W. G. Sebald’s The Emigrants, a fictionalized history of four men, including Ambros Adelwarth, a German manservant who serves as companion to Cosmo, the privileged son of a wealthy Jewish family. The narrative tracks Ambros’ experience traveling with Cosmo, through Europe and the Middle East on the eve of WWII.
The recorded text describes how Ambros Adelwarth and his charge, Cosmo, asleep on the deck of a steam ship on their way to an excursion abroad, are visited by a quail, who lands on Cosmo, settles down to sleep, and then flies away in the morning.
In this work, Jones and collaborators, who include assistant artistic director Janet Wong, amaze with their scope and with the engaging quality of the multi-media elements woven seamlessly into the work.
The live music provides a rare treat as does the dancers’ singing with professional flare. Most of the time, their singing, both in solos and in harmony with others, is achingly beautiful.
A new nine-CD audio set of W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz has just been issued. The entire book is read by Michael Krüger, Sebald’s long-time friend and publisher. Plus, there is a section of Austerlitz read by Sebald in 2001 at the Unterberg Poetry Center of New York’s 92 Street Y, which can be seen on YouTube. Krüger gives an excellent reading of Sebald’s final novel, speaking in a gentle, slow intonation that sounds much like Sebald himself. There is also a related six-minute podcast reviewing the new CD set that can be heard (and downloaded) at the website of WDR3. From 1968 to 2013, Krüger worked at Carl Hanser Verlag, which was Sebald’s German publisher from 1998 until 2008.
In Europe, the CD set is available from multiple sources that have links on the Random House website. In the US, the set can be purchased from multiple sources through Amazon. The list price is surprising affordable at €29,99 in Europe, with prices starting at $35 in the US.
[This post was edited and updated after I received my copy of the CD set.]
In an interview in the current issue of The Paris Review, Ali Smith recounts going to a 1998 interview for a fellowship at the University of East Anglia.
I got met at the office by a man named Max—a very nice German man who took me along the corridor to the interview and who sat in as an onlooker. That night, I got home, I went to bed—and I woke up in the middle of the night, going, Oh dear God —was that Sebald?
It was. Smith got the fellowship and got to know Sebald a bit.
What I know, even from that tangent, is that he was an incredibly charismatic figure, he was like no one I’ve ever met. Plus, not many people know that he was funny, funny, funny. He was laugh-out loud droll. We haven’t yet begun to understand his rigor, as a writer.
On reading Sebald:
Austerlitz [is] the most uneasy novel I’ve ever read, a novel uneasy with the notion of being a novel. I read all of Sebald’s books again after his death, and it was very different from reading them when he was alive.He is utterly despairing, particularly in The Rings of Saturn. It’s terrible, beautiful, and there’s no hope. And then you get to Austerlitz, and in Austerlitz despair is ultimately a fiction, too.
I’m a big fan of the The Paris Review interviews, but the interviews with Ali Smith and Percival Everett in this summer’s issue (#221) are terrific. They are two smart writers. Kudos to the interviewers – Justin Taylor and Adam Begley.
Peter Mendelsund cover design for The Emigrants, (New Directions, 2016)
In the current issue of The New Yorker (June 5 & 12, 2017), James Wood writes at length about W.G. Sebald. It’s a nice, modestly insightful overview of Sebald’s four books of prose fiction, interspersed with bits and pieces of Sebald’s biography, but its basically a rehash of several essays Wood has previously written about Sebald. Perhaps in an effort to find some new way to approach the writer, Wood decides this time to examine “W.G. Sebald, Humorist.” Wood has to work hard to uncover examples of Sebald’s dry, ironical humor, which is more apparent in interviews than in his prose fiction. It’s not at all clear what prompted Wood to write about Sebald now, although he does reference the “handsome new editions of Vertigo, The Emigrants, and The Rings of Saturn” designed by Peter Mendelsund and published by New Directions a full year ago (editions, unfortunately, that did nothing except package the old editions in new covers).
There will be a symposium “Po Sebaldzie” (“After Sebald) at the Goethe Institute in Warsaw on June 10, 2017. Everything I can find is in Polish. There is a website and a Facebook page.
Finally, H.G. Adler’s massive scholarly book Theresienstadt 1941-1945: The Face of a Coerced Community has been published in an English translation for the first time, thanks to a collaborative effort between the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Terezin Publishing Project. There is more information and a complete Table of Contents here. The translator is Amy Loewenhaar-Blauweiss. Unfortunately it’s not cheap! I’ve written about Adler a number of times in recent years.