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Posts Tagged ‘W. G. Sebald’


May 15, 2015 | by

Notes on becoming dust.


Mihály Munkácsy, Dusty Country Road II, 1883.

Since he applied paint thickly, and then repeatedly scratched it off the canvas as his work proceeded, the floor was covered with a largely hardened and encrusted deposit of droppings, mixed with coal dust, several centimeters thick at the center and thinning out towards the outer edges, in places resembling the flow of lava. This, said Ferber, was the true product of his continuing endeavors and the most palpable proof of his failure. It had always been of the greatest importance to him, Ferber once remarked casually, that nothing should change at his place of work, that everything should remain as it was, as he had arranged it, and that nothing further should be added but the debris generated by painting and the dust that continuously fell and which, as he was coming to realize, he loved more than anything else in the world. He felt closer to dust, he said, than to light, air or water. There was nothing he found so unbearable as a well-dusted house, and he never felt more at home than in places where things remained undisturbed, muted under the grey, velvety sinter left when matter dissolved, little by little, into nothingness. —W. G. Sebald (trans. Michael Hulse), The Emigrants

Before my godfather and great-uncle Julio became dust, he was a troublemaking, cheating, charming man. When he was a teenager, he stole a closetful of my grandmother’s summer clothes, sold them, and spent the money on prostitutes. When I was three, he got into a gorilla suit and popped out at me, making me cry. Not long before he died, during our final game of Scrabble, he played the word enzapment and maintained that it was real. It’s like entrapment, he said, but with a zap. I acquiesced and tallied his fifty-plus points. When he died, his wife, Maria Cristina, had his body cremated and put into a basketball-size, biodegradable clamshell urn.

I’d be lying if I said casting his ashes was traumatic. The truth is, it was one of the most cathartic and satisfying experiences of my life. Read More »

Didactic Seuss, and Other News

January 17, 2013 | by

  • If Dr. Seuss books were titled according to their subtexts, they would be harder to read.
  • Conversely, can you ID these books from their phantom covers? It’s nearly impossible!
  • A cache of Robert Burns manuscripts and letters has been discovered—a major find.
  • The 2013 Yale Writers’ Conference is now accepting applications. Je Banach will lead a seminar on literary discourse; visiting faculty includes Tom Perrotta, Susan Orlean, and ZZ Packer.
  • “By all means be experimental, but let the reader be part of the experiment.” Sebald’s writing tips, compiled by his students.


    Adaptation: An Interview with Ramona Ausubel

    June 7, 2012 | by

    My conversation with Ramona Ausubel took place in the ether between upstate New York and California, from a small desk in my bedroom to her home in Santa Barbara. I wore something slobbishly inappropriate and kept one eye on my three kids as I typed. A tired Ausubel was herself caring for her newborn infant. So I cannot tell you about her curly red hair, her slippers, or the tone of her voice. I cannot tell whether you can smell the Pacific from her house. You will have to imagine these details, an appropriate exercise for thinking about an author whose debut novel is so wholly original it climbs new heights of imaginary prowess.

    While the world might be sick with our busy-making and e-mail interviews, Ramona Ausubel’s debut novel, No One Is Here Except All of Us, offers an antidote. Impossibly she has set her story in both a fabled land where magic is plentiful and in the brutish depths of World War II. Though the novel is concerned with identity and community, there is nothing quaint in Ausubel’s confluence of the domestic and the historic. History seeps through cracks in stories and prayers the characters tell as they reimagine the borders and rulebooks of a small town. The patterns of home replicate into the patterns of the planet, but a reader finds nothing small in these small acts. —Samantha Hunt

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    Terry Winters

    April 10, 2012 | by

    Terry Winters works on the fifth floor of a Tribeca walk-up. It is a steep climb, but the space is serene and open, decorated with a few large Nigerian ceramics, a framed Weegee photograph, and of course Winters’s own drawings and watercolors (he does his oil painting in a studio in the country). It is also remarkably free of clutter for an artist who describes himself as an “image junky.” Winters spends a lot of time here—“I try to show up for the job,” he remarks when I ask him about his daily practice—though he does not have much by way of routine, allowing the needs of the project to shape his day.

    This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of Winters’s first solo show at the Sonnabend Gallery. Now represented by Matthew Marks, Winters’s work continues to be informed by the ideas that animated his very first exhibition. One constant—besides his New York studio, where he has worked from the very start of his career—has been his use of found images, which he faithfully collects and assembles into collages that serve as miniature laboratories for future paintings. But the collages, with their layers and juxtapositions, their invocation of modern technology (several feature visible URLs, linking to universities and laboratories) and natural forms, are also lovely in their own right. Read More »


    Enrique Vila-Matas on ‘Never Any End to Paris’

    June 6, 2011 | by

    Decorated with numerous awards in his native Spain—including the same Premio Rómulo Gallegos that catapulted his friend Roberto Bolaño to international renown—Enrique Vila-Matas has pioneered one of contemporary literature’s most interesting responses to the great Modernist writers. Taking the Modernists as towering giants that will never be equaled, Vila-Matas works to inscribe himself—at times literally—in the margins of their works. His tools are irony, parody, paradox, and futility, and his goal is to mix fact, fiction, and autobiography in order to depict not reality but truth. I asked him about his newly translated novel Never Any End to Paris—his third in English—based on the time he spent in Paris as a young writer attempting (and gloriously failing) to triumph as Hemingway did.

    Never Any End to Paris uses your youth in Paris to explore ideas of creativity, influence, and identity. The narrator is a writer whose facts and dates are similar to yours, though—I think—he both is and isn’t you. Do you think art requires certain compromises with reality?

    Which reality? If you mean the conventional “consumerist reality” that rules the book market and has become the preferred milieu for fiction, this doesn’t interest me at all. What really interests me much more than reality is truth. I believe that fiction is the only thing that brings me closer to the truth that reality obscures. There remains to be written a great book, a book that would be the missing chapter in the development of the epic. This chapter would include all of those—from Cervantes through Kafka and Musil—who struggle with a colossal strength against all forms of fakery and pretense. Their struggle has always had an obvious touch of paradox, since those who so struggled were writers that were up to their ears in fiction. They searched for truth through fiction. And out of this stylistic tension have emerged marvelous semblances of the truth, as well as the best pages of modern literature.

    This sentiment is very similar to something you say in Paris—“where there is a mirage there is life”—and it reminds me of something I heard you say in an interview: that for the modernists the quest is rectilinear, in contrast to that of Ulysses, whose quest was a circle. In your books, what inspires this search?

    In a movie by Wim Wenders, Nicholas Ray says “you can’t go home again.” Sometimes I think about this phrase, and in order to calm down I imagine myself as a Chinese who came home. “I’m just a Chinese who returned home,” wrote Kafka in a letter. Sometimes I wish I were this Chinese, but only sometimes. Because the truth is that what I write frequently brings me to a descent, a fall, a journey within, an excursion to the end of the night, the complete opposite of a return to Ithaca. In short, I long to journey endlessly, always in search of something new. Always alert.

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    Staff Picks: A Bouquet to Sybille Bedford; Martin Amis in Brooklyn

    April 29, 2011 | by

    Illustration by Richard Dodd for Five Dials.

    Five Dials released their latest issue last evening, but I’m still enchanted by “A Bouquet to Sybille Bedford,” with an essay by Aliette Martin, Bedford’s translator and literary executor. —Thessaly La Force

    I’ve been racing through The Tale of the 1002nd Night, Joseph Roth’s last published novel. Set in pre-WWI Vienna, when “the world was deeply and frivolously at peace,” it begins with a fairy-tale visit by the Persian Shah and ends in bankruptcy, alcoholism, and despair. But Roth’s basic buoyancy—unless it is that of the translator, Michael Hofmann—makes this sad story a joy to read. —Robyn Creswell

    Terry Eagleton’s On Evil is a cogent study of a subject about which much is assumed, and little questioned. I often found myself disagreeing with his views, but I appreciated his careful writing, his stylish analysis, and, most of all, his ability to make theory both relevant and exciting. —Rosalind Parry

    This Sunday, I read David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary. The narrator writes nonlinearly about a relationship through definitions for words like aloof and fraught. Here's Levithan with “catharsis”: “I took it out on the wall. I LOVE YOU. I LOVE YOU. YOU FUCKER, I LOVE YOU.” Is the couple still together? We never find out. —Angela Melamud

    Christian Lorentzen on Martin Amis’s move to Brooklyn. And rambling with W. G. Sebald in East Anglia. —T. L.