Tag Archives: w.g. sebald

Sebald Documentary Gets U.S. Distribution

Other than the inclusion of Rick Moody in this film, sounds pretty good:

Patience (After Sebald) has been picked up for U.S. distribution. Directed by Grant Gee, the film is a documentary-essay that explores the writing and influence of the late German author W.G. Sebald. According to reports, the film will open at Film Forum in New York City on May 9, 2012.

Gee’s documentary explores the author’s work as well as history, art, architecture, and landscape, weaving in commentaries by Rick Moody, Robert Macfarlane, Tacita Dean, and others. It apparently takes the form of a walking tour of the eastern coast of England, just like Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn.

Wood on Austerlitz

Sebald’s photographs of humans in this book can be said to be fictional twice over: they
are photographs of invented characters; and they are often photographs of actual
people who once lived but who are now lost to history. Take the photograph of the
rugby team, with Austerlitz supposedly sitting on the front row, at the far right. Who
are these young men? Where did Sebald get hold of this faded group portrait? And is it
likely that any of them are still alive? What is certain is that they have passed into
obscurity. We don’t look at the portrait and say to ourselves: ‘There’s the young
Winston Churchill, in the middle row.’ The faces are unknown, forgotten. They are,
precisely, not Wittgenstein’s famous eyes. The photograph of the little boy in his cape is
even more poignant. I have read reviews of this book that suggest it is a photograph of
the young Sebald – such is our desire, I suppose, not to let the little boy pass into
orphaned anonymity. But the photograph is not of the young Sebald; I came across it in
Sebald’s literary archive at Marbach, outside Stuttgart, and discovered just an ordinary
photographic postcard, with, on the reverse side, ‘Stockport: 30p’ written in ink.
(Sebald once told me, in an interview, that about 30 per cent of the photographs in The
Emigrants had an entirely fictitious relationship to their supposed subjects.)


More here
.

Mapping Sebald

Now this sounds like the kind of thing you would have read about in one of Sebald’s books:

I saved the most fascinating and astonishing section for last. Richard Sheppard has indexed all of the interviews conducted with Sebald for every reference to a name, a title, or a topic. If the reader wants to see what Sebald said about, say, Theodor Adorno, Jane Austen, Henry Ford, Jean Genet, Gruppe 47, Ernest Hemingway, Adolf Hitler, Herman Melville, Virginia Woolf, animals, butterflies and moths, depression, irony, the Treblinka trials, or countless other names or topics, the index will direct you to the appropriate interviews. (Now, all you have to do is track the interviews down.) Two of my favorite topics in the index were: “surgery, fear of” and “greatest wish: to live outside of time”.

One hopes beyond hope that they have invented a few entries whole cloth.

Sebald the Academic

Odd that Sebald was so PC- and email-adverse. One would think, given the way his books work, that the Internet would have been an intriguing concept to him. That and more in Uwe Schütte’s memories of living the academic life with Sebald.

Including this evidence that conservative government in Britain did one good thing, albeit on accident.

Sebald the philologist particularly detested the penetration of universities by management-speak, whereby the academy was redefined as a part of the “knowledge industry”. The liberal free spirit that had characterised his first decade at UEA had disappeared for good, and his reaction from the mid-1980s onwards was to retreat into an “inner emigration” by becoming an author.

Sebald’s Involvement in His Translation

It seems that it was heavy, which makes this non-German-reading fan of Sebald rejoice.

A fair amount has already been written about turning Sebald’s German into English, a process that always involved the considerable participation of Sebald, who, of course, was extremely articulate in English. The two essays in Saturn’s Moons add to the well-established image of Sebald and translator collaborating almost as equals. As the illustration above shows, Sebald was perfectly capable of rephrasing – or even completely rewriting – the work of his own translator, which might well have been unnerving for those who took on the task of “Englishing” his German.

But Hulse provides a rare glimpse into the break-up of their professional (and personal) relationship that seems to expose a rarely seen side of Sebald. . . .

More at Vertigo. Make sure to click over for a shot of Sebald’s annotations of an ms page of Hulse’s translation.

Also, I’ve been hearing great things about Saturn’s Moons, which is mentioned in Vertigo’s post.

Sebald Coverage

A Common Reader is doing a summer series on Sebald, starting with Austerlitz.

The character Austerlitz shares Sebald’s interest in architectural history, having what Sebald describes as an “astonishing professional expertise”. They are both interested in “monumentalism”, the tendency of 19th governments to “erect public building which would bring international renown to the aspiring state”. Four examples from the early parts of the book are Lucerne railway station (destroyed by fire in 1971), The Palace of Justice in Brussels, the Great Eastern Hotel in London, and the Belgian fort of Breendonk (which was used as a concentration camp by the Nazis). Sebald’s fascination with these huge buildings evokes a sense of dread, an almost agoraphobic fear of the vast spaces inside them with their closed-off rooms, endless corridors and maze-like structures. He records Austerlitz as saying, “we know by instinct that outsize buildings cast the shadow of their own destruction before them and are designed from the first witn an eye to their later existence as ruins”.

These places have the power to infest the mind with their embedded memories for days after the visit. Sebald describes a visit to Breendonk and writes that the building “seemed to be like the anatomical blueprint of some alien and crab-like creature”. While walking down one of the many tunnels inside it, he “had to resist the feeling taking root in my heart, one which to this day often comes over me in macabre places, a sense that with every forward step, the air was growing thinner and the weight above me heavier”.

Sebald Interview

Even though it’s ten years old, I thought I’d link to this Sebald interview since it has been making the rounds. (By which I mean, some obscure blogs and slightly-less-obscure blogs have been linking it.)

But anyway, what Sebaldist wouldn’t love hearing a decade-old interview make days before Sebald tragically lost his life?

On Sebald’s Room in Terezin

Rick Poynor has an interesting blog post about what’s probably one of the most infamous photos in all of Sebald’s books: the one of the room of shelves that he included with Austerlitz.

It seems that on Daniel Blaufuks became so enraptured by Sebald’s photo that he went on toe make an entire book about Terezin, including his own rephotograph of the photo:

In 2007, Blaufuks’ obsession also takes him to Terezín — to the Small Fortress, where he quickly finds the room. But it isn’t possible to enter the building through the doorway that says Geschäftszimmer (office) and he peers through the window from the courtyard, from the same angle that he decides Sebald must also have seen the room, “as this was the exact point of view of the photograph in his book” — this is to assume, of course, that Sebald took the picture. Then, turning the page, one finds Blaufuk’s color photograph of the room, looking just as much like a stage set waiting for someone to enter as the empty room in Sebald’s novel, except that the furniture has changed, there are fewer files more precisely organized in their cubbyholes, and Blaufuk has omitted the clock with its hands set exactly at six o’clock. Oddly, for someone who has studied the room so closely, he cannot remember whether the clock was still there at the time of his visit. If he took this picture from the courtyard through the bars and the windowpane, as he implies he did, the results are spectacularly good.

Here’s an image of the Austerlitz spread in which Sebald’s image occurs. For me, one of the most upsetting pleasures of reading Austerlitz was the moment when I did open to this spread, unanticipated and breathtaking for the way in which the shelves first overwhelm the image, and then the image itself overwhelms the page. It’s moments like this that showed Sebald as a master of his medium, and I do not think that the experience of turning a page onto something like this can be reproduced in an electronic book.

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.

Six Questions for Louise Rogers Lalaurie, Translator of The Explosion of the Radiator Hose by Jean Rolin

For more interviews, follow this link.

As I noted earlier this month in my interview with Charlotte Mandell, I’m hoping to run more interviews on this site in 2011. This is the second in my making good on that goal.

I read Jean Rolin’s autobiography/memoir/novel The Explosion of the Radiator Hose earlier this month for a review and immediately caught whiffs of Sebald and Chatwin. The book, which will be published in April of this year by the Dalkey Archive, is a fragmentary account of the author’s journey transporting a used car from France deep into the Congo.

As in books of this genre, the plot of The Explosion of the Radiator Hose is only one of many things going on here–a counterhistory of the Congo, an up-close look at the machinery of late capitalism, a inter-textual response to Conrad, Proust, and, yes, Sebald.

I’ve interviewed the book’s translator, Louise Rogers Lalaurie to convey more about this excellent book and it’s very interesting author, Jean Rolin. The Explosion of the Radiator Hose is the first of his books the be translated into English, but after reading this I think you’ll join me in wanting to hear more from him.

Here’s how Rogers describes herself in her own words:

Louise Rogers Lalaurie studied English, literary translation, and art history at the University of Cambridge, and worked in book and magazine publishing in London before moving to France in 1991. Her published translations include short stories by Delphine de Vigan, Serge Joncour, and Catherine Millet, and exhibition catalogs and monographs for leading Paris museums and fine art publishers. She is currently researching an MPhil on French livres d’artistes at the University of London Institute in Paris.

SE: Since this book is based on a strange sort of postmodern, Sebaldian adventure that Rolin undertook—involving sailing on a cargo ship and smuggling a car through Congolese customs—I wanted to get some sense of him as an individual and a writer. Is he known for being an adventurous sort? Are his previous books similar to The Explosion of the Radiator Hose?

LR: English-speaking readers will recognize Jean Rolin as a classic lone male traveler and writer, broadly comparable to authors like Paul Theroux, P.J. O’Rourke, and others. In France, I would say he’s probably had greater critical than popular success, although his backlist is long, and all of it in print! He’s a classic travel writer in many ways, but his full-length works are mostly presented as fiction, with elements of memoir and autobiography. I was talking about Explosion to a Paris-based English academic just today—he characterized him very aptly as a “psycho-geographer.” His travels are all real, as far as I know, but they are a process of self-mapping, too, and the vehicle for his distinctive worldview as conveyed in his writings. In this sense, he’s also comparable to Sebald and Bruce Chatwin. Like them, he might be said to have created a genre all his own—French reviewers have described his work as “Rolinian.” He has a clear preference for “underbelly” places, conflict zones, port zones, peripheral zones (literally, in the case of Zones and La Clôture, his explorations of the Paris beltway or périphérique, and the Boulevard Ney, part of the city’s petite ceinture). He portrays marginal characters with great humanity and empathy, and he also writes reportage and travel pieces for leading French magazines and newspapers, recently collected in L’homme qui à vu l’ours—which includes some of the source material for Explosion. Translating Explosion has whetted my appetite to read much more: L’organisation (written in the 1990s but describing a period touched on at the very end of Explosion) is his “hindsight” account of his involvement as a young man with the Gauche prolétarienne, a Maoist revolutionary group born of the May ’68 uprising; Chemins d’eau (“Water ways”) is an alternative tour of France on the country’s canal system; Un chien mort après lui, his most recent book, is a themed compendium of travels and encounters with stray dogs—a sidelong look at the human societies co-existing with them, and a book about “errance” itself. To name but a few.

SE: Throughout The Explosion of the Radiator Hose Rolin continually references W.G. Sebald and gives some reason to think he admires him as a thinker and a writer. (Rolin also prominently mentions Conrad and Proust as influences, among others.) At times the book even resembles Sebald in how it arranges the cultural history of European imperialism under the logic of Rolin’s personal adventure. Do you know of any links between Rolin and Sebald, and how exactly do you look at Explosion—history as otherwise told, memoir, etc?

LR: I’ve yet to meet Jean Rolin in person, and I’ve never asked about his links with Sebald, but I agree that his vision of the intersections of geopolitical and personal history (sometimes random and absurd, sometimes full of bizarre coincidences, immanent patterns) is comparable to Sebald’s. Explosion is quite like The Rings of Saturn in many ways—the wry humor, the affectionate cameo portraits, the lyrical descriptions, the historical scope, the “self-mapping,” and the underlying melancholy, with hints of death and suicide. As I mentioned earlier, the book is also a quite “Chatwinian” mix of travelogue and fictional narrative (both in the first person), with elements of memoir. As you point out, it also has a very strong sense of history, of crossed personal and geopolitical destinies, and (arising out of that), the “human comedy” and the absurd. Warren Motte, writing in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, has described Explosion as a “loiterly” novel—the narrator is bound up in his own past, his identity, his relationship with his father, but he digresses into great swathes of Congolese history, too: his extended, detailed and powerful account of Patrice Lumumba’s journey to violent death ends with the narrator figuring out (somewhat crestfallen) that the deposed leader probably didn’t cross the exact spot where the radiator hose explodes . . . With regard to Sebald, Rolin’s narrator (his fictionalised self?) takes him to task at times, accusing him of failing to quote his sources, and of anti-French sentiment. But it’s quite tongue-in-cheek – a kind of back-handed tribute, I think: the “little man” (Rolin’s self-deprecating persona in the book) squaring up to the literary giant. And as you say, Sebald isn’t the only literary heavyweight honored here—Conrad and Proust are everywhere.

SE: I loved the exchange you allude to here—Rolin first complaining that Sebald makes a “ridiculous, unpleasant character a Frenchman” before retracting it when “Sebald unleashes a series of violent anti-Belgian diatribes.” Rolin plays it quite well, implying a kind of Gallic outrage on behalf of his fellow Frenchmen before taking it all back when Sebald insults the neighboring Belgians. To continue on with the Sebald comparisons for a moment, Rolin seems to be a much more fragmentary writer than Sebald; whereas Sebald knit so much together into his lengthy chapters and paragraphs, Explosion is characterized by many, many short, discreet chapters (although the overall impression is of continuity amidst digression). With so much in the mix here, what did you see as the central strand of this book, that one thing that under it all this book was most “about”?

LR: “Continuity amidst digression” perfectly describes the book’s “loiterly” pace: Rolin’s and the car’s slow journey underpins everything. And of course, a river runs through it (to coin a phrase . . . ). Without wanting to sound too trite, it’s tempting to see the text’s relentless forward movement and eddying digressions as a metaphor for the stately Congo River itself. The chapters are carefully crafted building blocks, each one starts in a subtly or surprisingly different “place” from the last, carrying the reader along. I think the central strand of the book—and what has always touched me most about it—is its portrayal of human hopes and dreams, the quest for advancement and a sense of purpose in life, in Paris, Kinshasa, or anywhere. It’s about how people cling to hopes and delusions—through the life stories they tell themselves, and through tiny, practical, ambitious or utterly megalomaniacal schemes—and about how those hopes and delusions can be built up and shattered. This is what underpins the first-person narrative, and virtually every encounter and character sketch in the book, every historic life story retold. The Audi‘s gradual deterioration en route to Kinshasa, and the description of a transporter truck rolling out of a parking lot in northern Paris, bound for Africa, loaded with battered VW Combis packed to the roof, are brilliant metaphors or emblems of the same theme.

SE: It’s strange sometimes, the shape that hope and/or delusion can take. I’m thinking of when Rolin describes Che Guevara, who attempted to free the agrarian Congolese from the tyranny of the land, only to learn that they already owned their land and were indeed free. So Che reasons that “ways would have to be found of fostering the need to acquire industrial goods” in order to put them into a proper relationship of subjugation so that they’ll begin to want the revolution that Che knows they need. Rolin rightly, and ironically, compares this rhetoric to that of any multinational corporation looking to exploit these individuals. As with the Che anecdote, in this book we see so many forces that head into the Congo to shape it per their own wants and desires . . . do you see anything genuinely Congolese emerging in this story? Lumumba, perhaps?

LR: The passages about Che in the Congo are a great example of Rolin’s wry comedy and sense of the absurd! Also, the region’s surreal way of taking “in-comers” completely off-course, thwarting their schemes, warping their take on reality, leading them somewhere they never intended. That’s one “genuinely Congolese” characteristic, perhaps, that emerges here and in other Western texts I’ve read about the Congo, not least Heart of Darkness of course. It also seems to me that Rolin’s many portraits and cameos go some way to evoking a national character–I get a sense of a rich mix of irrepressibility and ebullience, gentleness and quiet dignity in adversity, pragmatism and archaic superstition, hard-headed realism and fervent faith in Christianity or traditional beliefs. There are touching portrayals of bravado and humility, coupled with allusions to past violence and atrocities experienced by people who cling to hope in the face of experience, finding ways to get by. We see level-headed self-preservation and concern for others; selfish, tricksy characters and people prepared to go far out of their way to help, with no thought of reward. Foudron (the exiled colonel whose family in Kinshasa are the recipients of the Audi) is resigned if philosophical, and a very sick man, but he doggedly pursues his carefully laid plan, doing what he can for the advancement of his family. Lumumba, as portrayed in the account of his last days, shows aspects of all this. In many ways, his character, story, and fate stand for the nation as a whole.

SE: I’d like to shift gears here and ask you a little about the translation of this book. To start, the prose throughout Explosion is excellent—it’s very honed and precise with some clause-ridden, intricate sentences, but it never feels overcooked or wordy. What do you think is most characteristic about this prose, and did you consult with Rolin or any particular source material while doing this translation?

LR: I think you’ve put your finger on exactly what is most characteristic about Rolin’s prose. He‘s a heroic advocate of long sentences, using clauses like building blocks, taking the cumulative effect of the discrete short chapters right down to the level of individual sentences. I tried hard to match Rolin’s register and clause sequences, and to preserve the flow of the original sentences. But while French grammar is very robust and can hold things together over many lines, English has a tendency to come apart in your hands if you over-stretch it! I did re-order the clauses very occasionally, for readability, and to keep things “up together.” Jean Rolin read the translation, and was characteristically concerned to check the precision of specific terms. We ran the ship-board terminology past a friend of his in the industry, so I learned the correct vocabulary in English for parts of container ships! With regard to his/the narrator’s family history, he also—naturally—wanted to make absolutely sure that the distinction between Vichy France and the Free French resistants (including his father) was clear in English. As with any translation, I checked Rolin’s quoted sources in English: Michael Hulse’s fabulous translation of The Rings of Saturn (which I’ve read several times before), Jerry Allen’s book The Sea Years of Joseph Conrad, snippets of Proust and Conrad… I also did some background reading, for example Tim Butcher’s marvelous travelogue Blood River (an almost exact mirror image of Rolin’s journey), and Barbara Kingsolver’s extraordinary novel The Poisonwood Bible.

SE: Did these source books go beyond serving as background information to furnish words or insights that aided you in the actual translation of the book?

LR: Well, to give one small example, Barbara Kingsolver’s novel clarified the term pagne (the traditional Congolese loincloth, but also a general term for the colorful cotton prints worn everywhere in sub-Saharan Africa). And Tim Butcher’s journey often corroborated placenames, political personalities, and historical events in English. But beyond that, both were invaluable as vivid, immersive accounts of the region, its atmosphere, and its people. Both texts compared and contrasted interestingly with Rolin’s narrative as travelogue, fiction, memoir and history. That applies to Sebald, too, but above all, The Rings of Saturn resonated in so many ways with Explosion’s narrative voice and technique, the hero/author’s personality, and his worldview.

For more interviews, follow this link.

THE SURRENDER

The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


LADY CHATTERLEY'S BROTHER

Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


THE LATIN AMERICAN MIXTAPE

5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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