Skip to content

Hall of Mirrors

“I feel like a character in a novel written by myself who runs into a character in a novel written by himself.”

I’m not sure how a book as finely written and original as Mark Henshaw’s Out of the Line of Fire stayed under the radar for nearly three decades, but my guess is that it has something to do with the fact that the author is Australian. How could I resist a novel that opens with the purloined line: “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler” and then invokes the name of Walter Abish, one of my favorite writers?

First published in 1988, then reissued in 2014 by Melbourne’s Text Publishing, Out of the Line of Fire reads like a compelling mystery, except that it is laced with bite-sized doses of philosophy drawn from the likes of Kant, Husserl, Hegel, and Wittgenstein. Most of the quotations that Henshaw extracts from their writings deal with the broad question of how language works and how we believe we experience the world, all of which he uses to raise questions about the nature of literature itself (and, by extension, the nature of the book we are reading). Read more

The Arca Project: An Exhibition Inspired by the Work of W.G.Sebald

steven-scott-resized[print for the Arca Project by Steven Scott]

More than fifteen years after his death, the writings of W.G. Sebald continue to inspire artists and exhibitions. The latest example is an announcement by the PayneShurvell gallery, whose next exhibition will be “The Arca Project: An Exhibition Inspired by the Work of W.G.Sebald.” According to their website, “The Arca Project is an exhibition consisting of 16 visual and 16 textual responses to one single image. Each response has been realised as a limited edition print, developed and made by Invisible Print Studio.” The exhibition is scheduled to open April 1 at a location about a half hour north of Ipswich in Suffolk, England (details at their website).

In the same way that The Rings of Saturn takes a single idea, a walking tour, to open up a wide range of ideas and conversations, The Arca Project sent 16 international artists and 16 writers exactly the same image and asked them to interpret the image as they wished (the only limitation was the uniform paper orientation and size). The recurrence of this image offers many interpretations. All are fictitious. It is a game of false interpretations. The idea is to have artists and writers in a Sebaldian mix of fact and fiction, documentary and reality. Read more

“It is how to live”: Eleni Sikelianos

sikelianos-happy

Make Yourself Happy is the fifth book of poetry by Eleni Sikelianos issued since 2001 by the fine Coffee House Press, just north of me in Minneapolis. I’ve been reading and rereading this compelling book for the past two weeks. Kudos to Coffee House Press for turning out a beautifully designed and produced book that is visually elegant and wonderful to hold.

As a poet, Sikelianos like to think big. Her books deal with topics like science, mythology, history, ecology, extinction, and even, as she writes in one poem sequence in this new book, “the history of man.” Previous books have included a nearly 190-page poem dedicated to California (The California Poem) and a book-length biography in poems (You Animal Machine (The Golden Greek)). Sikelianos is also one of a handful of poets who regularly uses photographs in her books, with four of her Coffee House Press books having imagery of one kind or another.

Make Yourself Happy consists of three long poem sequences, followed by two short stand-alone poems. “Make Yourself Happy” is comprised of 39 individual poems.  Superficially, one might say that the sequence explores the many meanings of “happiness,” whether it’s eating croissants in Paris or simply being alive. But Sikelianos is after something far deeper and more complex than that. Slowly but surely, as this nearly 60-page poem sequence evolves, Sikelianos unravels the whole notion of happiness. Yes, there is a true, indomitable form of happiness that “baffles what’s trying to get in” to destroy it, but there are also false states of happiness that are driven by things as simple as the consumption of sugar-filled snacks or the indulgence in drugs like heroin. Heroin, violence, misery, and other decidedly unhappy themes are always lurking in these poems. In one poem, we see happiness used with decidedly Orwellian intent:

In the United Arab Emirates there is now a Ministry of Happiness
“You can be happy as long as you keep your mouth shut.

Read more

New Sebald Handbook

springer-verlag-handbook

Springer Verlag and J.B Metzler have just announced a significant handbook on W.G. Sebald. W.G. Sebald-Handbuch: Leben – Werk – Wirkung, edited by Claudia Öhlschläger and Michael Niehaus. I don’t have any further information about the volume’s contents, beyond what can be found on the publisher’s website. The hardcover version is scheduled for release on March 22, 2017. An ebook is also forthcoming. Details here.

The volume contains contributions from a number of Sebald researchers, who deal with his entire body of work as a writer. Essays cover Sebald’s themes (trauma and memory, the natural history of destruction, the Holocaust, home, etc.) as well as the characteristics of his writing (intertextuality, the connection of text and image, etc.), his guiding motifs (melancholy, travel), and the presence of other media (photography, painting, architecture) in his texts. From the publisher’s website: Read more

Sebald Links – January 2017

constantino_performance-with-spyglassfrom Valerie Constantino’s “Performance with Spyglass”

A new exhibition based on W.G. Sebald’s After Nature has just opened up in Sacramento, California. Here’s the information from the website of Sacramento State University:

Valerie Constantino presents “Crossing Sublime (After After Nature),” an exhibit of recent works that kicks off Sacramento State’s art shows for the spring semester. The show runs Jan. 23 to Feb. 22 at the Robert Else Gallery with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27, and an artist talk from 4 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7. Regular gallery hours are noon to 4:30 p.m.

A lecturer at Sacramento State and American River College, Constantino has created new works inspired by W.G. Sebald’s narrative poem After Nature. The pieces consider the fluid crossings of time, matter, and being, and include photo-montages, collages, mixed media on paper, sculptural elements, writing, and an audio component. Sebald’s publisher describes his work as a “haunting vision of the waxing and waning tides of birth and devastation that lie behind and before us.” For Constantino, Sebald’s ruminations of the interrelatedness of materiality and transcendence substantiated analogous themes in her work.

“Sebald composed his text from a presumed kind of intimacy with two historically notable figures in tandem with a third voice, a variant of his own,” Constantino says. “My presentation alleges firsthand knowledge of its own selected subjects: artist Anne Ryan and cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova.”

Constantino’s process of making art is one of personal expression and investigative research. “Such explorations are themselves worthwhile and may not necessarily convey an overarching message,” she says. “Because the work in this exhibition is diverse and based on interpretations of the lives and works of others, an appreciation for each individual work, as well as its conceptual relationships to the whole, would be ideal.”

Ω

I recently finished reading Dušan Šarotar’s book Panorama (Peter Owen World Series, 2016), which I plan to write about soon. It’s a book that was openly done in admiration of Sebald. Now, Šarotar has written the introduction to the first Slovenian translation of Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, and his English-language publisher has posted a translation of Šarotar’s piece. Take a look.

Photography-Embedded Fiction & Poetry 2016

Here is my bibliography of works of fiction and poetry published in 2016 containing embedded photographs.  You can see bibliographies for other years underneath the pull-down menu “Photo-Embedded Literature” at the top of Vertigo.  I also maintain a more complete bibliography that spans 1892 to the present at Library Thing  (http://www.librarything.com/catalog/VertigoTwo).  I am always updating these lists as I learn of new books.  If you know of a book that I have not mentioned, please let me know in a comment. My thanks to Vertigo readers who have already brought books to my attention! [Revised January 29, February 11, April 4, July 23, 2017.]

ball-how-to-set-fire

Jesse Ball. How To Set a Fire and Why. NY: Pantheon, 2016.  A rather wild high-school girl who reads authors like Antonin Artaud and Alfred Jarry decides to join an Arson Club as her way of rejecting modern life. The novel contains a single photograph – a very grainy version of a well-known image (from a stereograph) of several men standing around the open coffin of Jesse James.

bantock-pharos

Nick Bantock. The Pharos Gate: Griffin & Sabine’s Lost Correspondence. SF: Chronicle Books, 2016. Heavily illustrated. A continuation of the famous series.

boullosa-before

Carmen Boullosa. Before. Dallas: Deep Vellum, 2016. Translated into English from the 1989 Spanish title Antes by Peter Bush. Boullosa’s incandescent novel about “the non-verbal world I invented or inhabited as a child” contains a single, very blurry photograph of a landscape with a waterfall. See my review here. Read more

On Peter Mendelsund & Jerry Bauer

sebald-set-mendelsund

The inventive and distinguished designer Peter Mendelsund is responsible for the new book covers on New Directions’ recent reissue of W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants, Vertigo, and The Rings of Saturn. The most recent post on Mendelsund’s blog Thoughts is called “After Sebald.” In this wonderful piece, Mendelsund writes about how the intersection of his family memories and his reading and re-reading of Sebald contributed to the evolution of the new designs. Additionally, Mendelsund expounds his theory about The Emigrants. “I was, then, on my third reading of Sebald’s The Emigrants, and it began to occur to me in this re-reading, first as a hunch, and then as a gathering certitude, that this book was a kind of refracted, prismatic biography…comprising the actual life of Ludwig Wittgenstein.”

(Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Ulf!)

bauer-sebald-cropped

While we’re on the subject of New Directions, they have recently posted the contact sheet of the photo shoot that resulted in the portrait of Sebald by Jerry Bauer for the back flap of the dust jacket of their original hardcover edition of Vertigo. Bauer (1934-2010), often called “the author’s photographer,” made portraits of an endless list of writers including Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, Jack Kerouac, Gore Vidal, Patricia Highsmith, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Joyce Carol Oates. Reputedly a very private person, no portrait, no obituary, no biography of Bauer seems to exist.

sebald-bauer-contact-sheet

Recently Read: Two Slim Books by Josipovici and Berger/Platonov

berger-josi

The first release from the new House Sparrow Press is a beautifully produced book/CD combo called A Sparrow’s Journey: John Berger Reads Andrey Platonov. The book contains a short story by Platonov (1899-1951) called “Love for the Motherland, or A Sparrow’s Journey: A Fairytale Happening,” along with a piece of writing by Berger that is obliquely about Platonov called “That Have Not Been Asked: Ten Dispatches about Endurance in Face of Walls,” a brief essay about Platonov’s story by Robert Chandler (who co-translated it with his wife Elizabeth), and an even briefer piece about discovering this previously untranslated story by Gareth Evans, editor of House Sparrow Press (among other things). Platonov’s story about a fiddler and a sparrow was written in 1936 in homage to Alexander Pushkin in advance of the one hundredth anniversary of his death in 1937.

A Sparrow’s Journey is one of those publications that remind you how wonderful it is to hold and read a book. Smartly designed and nicely printed on thick paper, handling this small volume is like holding a sparrow in your bare hands. The accompanying CD of a recording of Berger reading the Platonov story is housed in it’s own paper folder with artwork by Georgia Keeling.  The story fits into 25 slim pages but Berger takes a full 44 minutes to read it in his quiet, luscious, and deliberate voice and I didn’t want the reading to come to an end. Somehow, Berger’s reading gave me insights into Platonov’s story that I never suspected were there. More information about A Sparrow’s Journey can be found at the publisher’s website.

As I was writing this yesterday, word spread that John Berger had died at the age of ninety. Do yourself a favor and get this publication and listen to his voice over and over.

cd-sleeve-sample-content-3 Read more

15th Anniversary of Sebald’s Death

sebald-schriftsteller-102_v-gseaclassicxl

WDR radio has produced a 15-minute program in memory of the 15th anniversary of W.G. Sebald’s death on December 14, 2001. You can listen here.

New Book: “Über W.G. Sebald”

schutte-uberDe Gruyter has just issued a new book edited by Uwe Schütte titled Über W.G. Sebald: Beiträge zu einem anderen Bild des Autors. According to an announcement  by the German Department at Aston University where Schütte teaches:

The aim of the book is to provide a counterweight to the dominant strands in Sebald criticism by excluding over-researched topics like the novel Austerlitz and themes such as melancholia, Holocaust and memory.

Instead, the volume explores unpublished texts (such as Sebald’s early novel and his film script on the life and death of Immanuel Kant), revisits the critical discussions initiated by his polemical writings on Alfred Döblin and Alfred Andersch, and explores the Luftkrieg und Literatur debate. Another focus of the volume is philological groundwork, as it were, to establish the biographical and factual background to Sebald’s writings on his native region, the Allgäu, and to his prose volume Schwindel. Gefühle.

In addition to addressing often overlooked or ignored aspects of his writings, the specific approach of the volume was to include contributions from post-docs, Auslandsgermanisten and private scholars in an attempt to break free from the often tautological critical debates taking place within German academia.

The book’s authors include Sven Meyer, Melissa Etzler, Michael Hutchins, Uwe Schütte, Scott Bartsch, Peter Schmucker, Kay Wolfinger, Christoph Steker, Christian Hein, Ulrike Dronske, Markus Joch, Jakob Hayner, Axel Englund, Adrian Nathan West, Florian Radvan, and Ralf Jeutter. Further information on the book can be found at the De Gruyter website. The entire Table of Contents can be viewed online.