On Representing a Scream in Literature

Fantastic find by Vertigo:

At this point in Austerlitz, while his narrator still wanders through the fortress, Sebald resorted to a nested set of memories. His narrator recalls Claude Simon’s novel Le Jardin des Plantes, into which Simon, who had been tortured in Breendonk, weaves the story of Gastone Novelli, who had been similarly tortured (albeit at Dachau). Upon his liberation, Novelli fled “civilization” for remote parts of the Brazilian jungle, where he lived with a small tribe whose language consisted “almost entirely of vowels, particularly the sound A in countless variations of intonation and emphasis” (to quote from Austerlitz). When Novelli returned to Europe, one of the recurring themes of his paintings became the letter A, often “rising and falling in waves like a long-drawn-out scream,” as Sebald put it.

It is curious to see how the two books typographically depict this string of As. In Sebald’s Austerlitz, on the left, the run of vowels is elongated into what could be a multi-row scream. On the right we see how Simon’s The Jardin des Plantes (as it is called in English) turns the As into a tidy, block-like structure that strikes me as more visual than verbal.



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