Since W.G. Sebald’s sudden death in 2001, the cult of the Britain-based German writer has spread fast. Known for his exquisite prose works that, in their combination of the real with the fictional, push at the limits of what novels can be, he is considered one of the foremost German writers of his generation. He was also a poet.
Across the Land and the Water brings together a selection of the poems he never published in book form, if at all. Translated by Iain Galbraith, the volume sketches out a life on the move. Stretching over 37 years, the volume includes poems that Mr Galbraith found jotted down in Sebald’s archives on scraps of paper, others written on menus, theatre programmes or headed paper from hotels. They emerge on trains or at the “unmanned/station in Wolfenbüttel”, Sebald covertly observing fellow commuters as he evokes the differing landscapes shuttling past.
Unlike his epic, vertiginous prose, these poems are often condensed and sparse. And yet they contain many of the themes that would obsess Sebald throughout his writing life. The poet spent his later years in Britain, working at the Universities of Manchester and East Anglia. Preoccupied with memory, desire and the ghostliness of objects, Sebald can evoke in one poem the faded glamour of “a forgotten era/of fountains and chandeliers” or a “turn-of-the-century/frock-coat and taffeta bow” while in another he will speak of an “ugly/tower block” or “moribund supermarkets”. This shift between differing eras could seem forced or artificial. And yet Sebald manages such movement with a lightness of touch. Indeed, the driving force behind his work is a search for the past, for the forgotten or overlooked: “I wish to inquire/Into the whereabouts of the dead.”
Across the Land and the Water: Selected Poems 1964-2001 by W.G. Sebald reviewed in The Economist.
Don't miss Chris Petit's superb, Sebaldian new film Content whilst it is still on 4OD. Mark Fisher reviewed Petit's "informal coda" to his 1979 film Radio On in Sight & Sound recently, and wrote:
At one point in Chris Petit’s haunting new film Content, we drive through Felixstowe container port. It was an uncanny moment for me, since Felixstowe is only a couple of miles from where I live – what Petit filmed could have been shot from our car window. What made it all the more uncanny was the fact that Petit never mentions that he is in Felixstowe; the hangars and looming cranes are so generic that I began to wonder if this might not be a doppelgänger container port somewhere else in the world. All of this somehow underlined the way Petit’s text describes these “blind buildings” while his camera tracks along them: “non-places”, “prosaic sheds”, “the first buildings of a new age” which render “architecture redundant”.
Content could be classified as an essay film, but it’s less essayistic than aphoristic. This isn’t to say that it’s disconnected or incoherent: Petit himself has called Content a “21st-century road movie, ambient”, and its reflections on ageing and parenthood, terrorism and new media are woven into a consistency that’s non-linear, but certainly not fragmentary (more...)
The centrality of melancholy to Sebald's work is probably the equivalent of Bernhard's cynicism; manifestations, that is, of contingent facts of life: the peace of the East Anglian landscapes, for example, compared to the venal denial of Vienna. Writers become who they are for many reasons, some more obvious than others. Self's thesis is that distance from Germany and closeness to the Jewish community in Manchester guided Sebald's determination to bare witness to the Holocaust and thereby help to remove the taint on Germany. But more than that: to bare witness to the presence of destruction in the peace of the English present. He writes about the destruction of German cities by the Allies and the destruction of nature in the abattoir of industry. Self's lecture is particularly welcome for bringing the English taint to our attention (more...)
Excellent post over on This Space which ranges from Amis through to Bernhard and W.G. Sebald...
After Meg’s really superb piece yesterday and all the responses, this seems frivolous but it’s the week-end!
In a recent SAS newsletter there was some good advice on what to do when rejected. For me it’s cooking. Banging pots and pans about, rocking a sharp mezzaluna blade against a tender stalk of celery, stabbing a tomato, hissing through a fennel bulb with a Japanese Global knife, are little acts of retribution. Cooking is something I turn to in all times of writing crises – at the first sign of a deadline or the smallest glitch in a plot.
It was the sight of the zucchini fiori that got me started… those furled globes waiting to be filled with ricotta and basil. Somewhere in the 70’s Shirley Conran wrote in Superwoman that life’s too short to stuff a mushroom. Well life’s too short, NOT to stuff a zucchini fiori and dip it in egg and Japanese breadcrumbs and fry till golden. And then there are the heaps of different sized and shaped tomatoes… some for roasting, some for salad, some for gazpacho… that fill my basket because we all know the same tomato can't be used for everything!
But I have to confess to cooking because basically I’m greedy. And right now with the leaves swirling down, I’m greedy for summer to last.
I’ve taken Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
quite literally this summer and without the hassle of Ryanair have been living a life of the Italian countryside… in London. I’ve shopped at my local Farmers Market in Bute Street every Saturday (even taking back egg-boxes) and have come home laden with enough produce to feed the Titanic.
Right now it’s the turn of tiny plums straight from English orchards tasting of almonds and the late summer figs, still holding their sweetness. Except figs aren’t too eco-friendly because of airmiles. But I’ve marked the fig trees around the streets of Kensington and Chelsea. They’re laden with tiny, green goblets and I’m watching them just as possessively as I’m watching the olives on my single olive tree growing in a pot on my terrace. Figs on hot toast is not far off!
There’s nothing better than slow-roasted chicken done on a bed of red peppers and vegetables in a wood-fired oven. Perhaps I might be converting a corner of my tiny terrace?
I have ‘wood-fire oven’ envy of anyone who’s built their own…Lucy Coats
Now I’m heading off to the kitchen to bake biscotti. But I do on occasion write and even read, so on a bookish endnote, taking Anne Cassidy’s (sorry Anne couldn't find your exact blog on this) remark to heart that we should be physically putting books into the hands of others, here are some I’ve read this summer:
Vertigo on Sebald's "blurbing":
In the August 15, 2008 New York Times Book Review, Rachel Donadio wrote about the business of blurbing, that “tangled mass of friendships, rivalries, favors traded and debts repaid, not always in good faith.” Recently, Fourth Estate, a HarperCollins (UK) imprint, published a book by Philip Hoare called Leviathan - with an approving quote by W.G. Sebald. Since Sebald died in 2001, I was instantly curious (more...)
The Summer 2008 edition of The Quarterly Conversation is up online -- and the site has a neat new look and feel. Particularly noteworthy is the interview with Christophe Claro author of Madman Bovary (recently reviewed here on ReadySteadyBook).
As most of you will know, The Quarterly Conversation is the brainchild of Scott Esposito. Something I should've mentioned previously is Scott's excellent review of J.J. Long's W.G. Sebald: Image, Archive, Modernity.
Via Vertigo: W.G. Sebald’s German publishing house Hanser is announcing that a new book of his poetry will be out September 10, 2008. Called Über das Land und das Wasser:Ausgewählte Gedichte 1964-2001, it’s a 120-page volume edited by Sven Meyer (more...)