In Iowa, where I live, it is going to get to at least 24 below zero Fahrenheit this week, maybe colder. The wind chill from this Arctic vortex will be about -50. I plan to stay indoors and read. If you need something to get you through your winter doldrums, I suggest Remedios Varo’s beguiling brand of Surrealism. Wakefield Press has just put out a small volume called Remedios Varo: Letters, Dreams & Other Writings, translated by Margaret Carson. Best known as a painter, Varo (1908-1963) was born in Spain and then became twice an exile. She first fled the Spanish Civil War, going to Paris where she met up with the city’s circle of Surrealist artists, only to be forced out of France to Mexico in 1941, where she lived for the rest of her life. While few of the pieces in this book are dated, internal evidence suggests that most of them were written in Mexico.
Varo’s letters to an odd assortment of recipients, including other artists, are terrific. Here’s Varo writing to her ex-husband, the painter Gerardo Lizarraga Istúriz:
It’s hard for me to understand the importance the recognition of your talent seems to have for you. I thought that for a creator the important thing is creating and that the fate of the work was a secondary issue, and that fame, admiration, people’s curiosity, and so on, were inevitable consequences, more than things to be desired.
And in a letter to another, unidentified painter, Varo explains that she has previously been reincarnated as a cat, next as an object that “passes over us at 300,000 kilometers per second,” and then as a piece of quartz from which she was freed by a bolt of lightning, which caused her to pass into “the body of a voluptuous woman who was walking by.” She describes her current body as quite “a catch! Greek nose. Seductive curves without being obese . . . So what, I have a few wrinkles? It’s the equivalent of the noble patina that fine objects acquire.” Read more
I have several duplicate Sebald books in my collection that could use good homes. $25 each plus $2.50 media rate postage per title (within the US).
Logis in einem Landhaus. Hanser, 1998. Second printing. Cloth bound. An unread copy without dust jacket.
For Years Now. Poems by W.G. Sebald, Images by Tess Jaray. Short Books, 2001. First edition. Paper bound. An unread copy. SOLD.
Die Beschreibung des Unglücks. Residenz Verlag, 1985. First edition. Cloth bound. A fine copy without a dust jacket.
Schwindel. Gefühle. Eichborn, 1990. First edition of Vertigo. Cloth bound. A very good copy with very minor evidence of wear at corners of the binding. Without the original cardboard sleeve. SOLD.
Austerlitz. Hanser, 2001. First German edition. Cloth bound. An unread perfect copy with fine dust jacket. SOLD.
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Film still from Patience (After Sebald).
Today is the seventeenth anniversary of the death of W.G. Sebald, and it seemed like a good time for another shout out to Grant Gee’s excellent documentary Patience (After Sebald). I’ve watched Patience numerous times and it never fails to impress me. It’s also a sad reminder of what we lost when Sebald died suddenly at the age of 57. I wrote about Gee’s film shortly after it came out in 2011.
There are several ways to see Patience. It’s currently available on the streaming service Mubi (although, unfortunately, not in the United States). If you aren’t already a subscriber, you could take advantage of whatever promotion Mubi is offering in your location. In some locations they apparently offer a seven-day free trial subscription, while elsewhere the gambit is $1 a month for the first three months. The film is also available to Fandor subscribers. You can either rent or buy a digital version of the film on iTunes or get the DVD on Amazon.
Michelle Bailat-Jones. Unfurled. NY: Ig Publishing, 2018.
Olga Medvedkova. Going Where. London: Sylph Editions, 2018. The Cahiers Series 33.
Neither of us realized we had been living in a borderland all that time, a place where rules are too often unspoken, never declared. We didn’t understand there were passports and checkpoints involved. And that not all three of us would make it through.
So begins Michelle Bailat-Jones’s second novel Unfurled, whose narrator Ella is about to have one very bad week. Ella is a veterinarian, highly sensitized to the health and needs of animals, but prone to ignoring those things that make her own well-being precarious. Almost simultaneously, Ella’s father is killed in an accident and she discovers she is pregnant. What Bailat-Jones does here is to flip the obvious scenario, which would be to close down Ella’s past and open up her future. Instead, the death of Ella’s father reveals that there were secrets he had hidden from her throughout most of her life. And bearing a child is not a future that she envisions for herself. She decides she will eventually terminate the pregnancy. Read more
Let me just say right from the start that Uwe Schütte’s new short, general introductory book W.G. Sebald is excellent. Published in Liverpool University Press’s “Writers and their Work” series, Schütte’s book is now the place to start with one’s study of Sebald. I am really surprised that something like this had not been done in the seventeen years since Sebald’s death. It seems so simple, doesn’t it—summarize an author’s life, books, and impact in 130 pages? Schütte makes this look easy, which is a credit to the clarity of his writing and critical thinking. But in truth this is not an easy genre to master. And undoubtedly, some passage of time is required so that a solid body of critical writing can amass and, in turn, be evaluated.
From 1992 to 1997, Schütte was Sebald’s sole post-graduate student at the University of East Anglia, and thus, he notes, “I could witness his meteoric rise to international literary fame from a close distance.” Schütte’s book contains seven chapters, five of which are dedicated to specific books by Sebald: After Nature, Vertigo, The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, and Austerlitz. “From After Nature to Austerlitz, [Sebald’s] goal is always to create a poetic truth, to make visible the invisible, to allow the metaphysical to enter the profane.” Schütte is good at outlining the sources for these five books—how much originated originated from Sebald’s own life and personal experience, how much from his German upbringing, and what came out of his extensive research. The Rings of Saturn, for example, was not intended to be a book but was simply a plan to make ten walks in East Anglia and write ten articles for a German newspaper. Read more
I had gradually begun to transform into a sickness.
Wolfgang Hilbig’s The Females (Two Lines Press) is an angry explosion of a novel. The target of Hilbig’s haunting wrath in this brief book is the nation of his birth, the German Democratic Republic. Hilbig (1941-2007) lived in East Germany until he was finally allowed to emigrate in 1985 to West Germany.
Whenever I’d felt within me the unforeseen power to examine myself, even to know myself, and consequently, perhaps, expunge the germs of my sickness, I found that the state snatched every tool from my hands . . . For me, reality had been stolen and annihilated, so by necessity I had to exist as a form of annihilated reality, as a mere delusion of reality, and by that same token had to annihilate the reality of the people around me.
This book is that annihilation. Read more
Tess Jaray, “Sketch from a letter to W.G. Sebald,” circa 1999. Pencil on photocopy.
“All’estero & Dr. K.’s Badereise nach Riva: Version B,” a group exhibition at the Croy Nielsen gallery in Vienna, takes its inspiration from two chapters in W.G. Sebald’s Vertigo (Schwindel. Gefühle). Curated by Saim Demircan, this is part of an annual “gallery share” event called, appropriately, “curated_by,” which involves twenty-one galleries across Vienna. Read more