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Posts from the ‘Will Stone’ Category

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

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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

Vertiginous Links for the New Year

Five Dials #26 is focused on German writing, with a number of new short stories by young German writers, plus three essays on W.G. Sebald: Uwe Schutte’s “Teaching by Example,” Amanda Hopkinson’s “A History of Memory or a Memory of History?,” and Anthea Bell’s “A Translator’s View.”  These essays are three of the five originally commissioned and aired by BBC radio one year ago.  (The two essays not reprinted here are those of Christopher Bigsby and Georges Szirtes.)

Helen Finch has added her thoughts to the discussion about the recent BBC radio dramatization of Austerlitz in a blog post wonderfully called “Sebald was more interesting than the husband: Austerlitz and l’effet du réel.”   Finch makes the case that we should be judging the radio drama on whether or not it contains “the emotional truth” of the original book.

If Michael Butt tried to present the emotional truth of Austerlitz, as he felt it, in his radio drama, who is to say that his classic BBC drama version, complete with slamming doors and tearjerking music, does not represent that important affective aspect of Sebald’s work which might otherwise be lost behind his complex irony and academic erudition? Or is it the case that if we allow ourselves to be bewitched by Sebald’s artistry into thinking that his work is just a reproduction of the real, nothing more and nothing less, we have consigned ourselves to the realm of kitsch that is the death of art?

Over at The White Review is a nice piece by Will Stone called “Oradour-sur-Glane: Reflections on the Culture of Memorial in Europe” that speaks to some of Sebald’s preoccupations in Austerlitz with Holocaust sites, architecture, and memorials.

Entering Oradour and obeying bold signs to the memorial ruins, I was surprised to find myself in a vast car park, a limitless expanse of tarmac, more suited one would think to a sports complex or shopping mall. There on the sleek asphalt of the car park I observed luxury coaches with their tinted glass and climate controlled interiors spill their chattering cargoes, just as they will now in the newly constructed ‘reception area’ at Auschwitz I in Poland. Cars of suntanned visitors parked obediently between the freshly painted lines, disembarked and moved off all in the same direction, as if drawn by some unspecified magnetic source towards the giant modern bunker of a building that sat in a kind of man-made hollow. I realised as I followed them down the smart new concrete steps to the lower level that this was a relatively new visitors centre, inaugurated in 1999 by President Chirac, a largely superfluous building, the new scourge of every memorial site in Europe, whether merely ruins or formal cemetery. For today it is considered not quite enough to have solely the memorial itself before which to contemplate man’s destructive capability, the intricacies of murderous folly and the resulting nerve straining conclusion. Again and again some shadowy authority slips in between the individual and their private purpose and imposes an artificial construction in their path, which they have to wade through, straddle or circumnavigate before they can get back to the path they thought they were on.

Did Teju Cole deliberately write twelve essays in twenty twelve?  I wouldn’t put it past him.  Here are links to each and every one.

I’m sure of nothing, and writing essays is one of the ways I sort through my doubts.

Place in the Country

And finally, among the books we can look forward to in 2013 is Jo Catling’s translation of Sebald’s important book A Place in the Country (originally Logis in einem Landhaus, by WG Sebald.  According to The Guardian, the book is due to be released in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton/Penguin May 2, but Amazon doesn’t have the US edition coming out from Random House until January 2014.  It looks as if Random House is going to use the same cover as the German edition, which is a beautiful watercolor by the Swiss writer Gottfried Keller, who is the subject of one of the biographic essays in this.  The only place I can currently find an image of a possible Hamish Hamilton cover is over at the New Books in German website, which shows something entirely different for the UK edition.

Happy 2013!

Death Nestled within Death

Michael Hamburger’s desk, as shown in The Rings of Saturn.

A little while ago (well, March, to be exact), the poet Will Stone put up on his website an essay he had written in 2007 upon the death of his friend and fellow poet Michael Hamburger.  Unpicked Apples – Memories of Michael Hamburger is a moving and admiring remembrance of Hamburger and a tribute to one of the last survivors of that “‘civilised’ generation of, for want of a better expression we might call ‘men of letters’.”  Hamburger was the translator of two of W.G. Sebald’s books of poetry – After Nature and Unrecounted – and he appears as a character early on in Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn.

Embedded within Stone’s memories of Hamburger are his recollections of Sebald’s sudden death in 2001 and some moments Stone and Hamburger shared as they tried to come to terms with that tragic accident.

I also remember an exchange following his attendance at Max [Sebald]’s funeral in Norfolk in which Michael sought to express the severity of the sudden loss of Max, to articulate the onerous sense of vacancy left by his passing, which was that much more than the premature loss of a well-loved creative man in late middle age. I always had the feeling from his often guarded reverence for Max that Michael realised astutely the true reach and sacrifice of Sebald’s vision, not only the writings that had made him an icon in the Anglophone world, but the painstaking assemblage of an entire work through long gestation, the vital consequence of his uncompromising labour of literary absorption…

Vertigo (the magazine, this time)

Will Stone Terezin

Almost a year ago I wrote about Will Stone’ book of poetry Glaciation, which includes a poem entitled SS Fort Breendonk, dedicated “In memory of WG Sebald.”  (Glaciation, by the way, recently won the 2008 Glen Dimplex Prize for poetry from the Irish Writers’ Centre.)  In a few days  the British film magazine Vertigo will publish poet Will Stone’s new essay At Risk of Interment – WG Sebald in Terezin and Breendonk, which deals with the holocaust-related aspects of Sebald’s book Austerlitz. Stone’s essay will includes his own photos of Breendonk.

Stone, Ice, Birds, History

I’ve been on the road recently and spent a bit too much of the past week staring at embroidered words that seemed to read: FAST! EAT BELT WHILE SEATED. That may be why I decided to read a new book of poems when I returned home.

Will Stone’s Glaciation came out in 2007 from Salt Publishing in Cambridge, England. According to the book jacket, he is a poet, photographer, and translator, with a degree in Literary Translation from the University of East Anglia. In an earlier post on Georges Rodenbach, I wrote about Stone’s translation of Rodenbach’s seminal photographically-illustrated novel Bruges-la-Morte, in which Stone updated the late 19th century photographs of Bruges with his own contemporary versions.

Stone’s poems dwell on the brute power of nature, the unending tragedy that is history, and the probable futility of throwing out fragile life lines in the form of art. Over and over, birds articulate the bitter truth like a Greek chorus.

Birds cry out sadly as they wheel again
back and forth over the sucking abyss,
over the monstrous plaster limb of ice.

[from Glaciation]

Toward the end of Glaciation, Stone includes a poem entitled SS Fort Breendonk, which is dedicated “In memory of WG Sebald.” Only a few pages into Sebald’s book Austerlitz, the title character Jacques Austerlitz gives what amounts to a brief history of the architecture of fortifications. The following day the book’s narrator takes a train from Antwerp (where the fortress conversation had taken place) to visit nearby Fort Breendonk, which had been a German prisoner of war camp run by the SS during WWII. “A monolithic, monstrous incarnation of ugliness and blind violence”; so begins the narrator’s desciption of his visit, which runs for some ten pages or so.

The narrator of Stone’s poem also explores “the surgical tunnels” of the fort where “men like us but not like us howled.”

They propped the condemned at the stake,
and afterwards got the Jews in
to collect the clogs, hose down the posts.
And the birds sang after the execution,
as was the custom.

And, like Sebald, Stone questions official attempts to memorialize places of horror and to educate present generations about the nearly unimaginable past.

‘The complexities of human nature are displayed here,’
states the tourist literature.
‘We welcome schoolchildren.’ And
‘It must never happen again.”
That sort of thing…

“Poems”, Stone writes, “are trapped passengers”

unable to decide how to tackle
the assailant.

[from Explanation to an Academic]

Shadows Across the Text

bruges-original-edition.jpg

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.

bruges-atlas-edition.jpgbruges-dedalus-edition.jpg