WG Sebald: Bibliography of Secondary Literature

In the next few days I’ll draw to a close my present immersion into Sebald’s work, leaving The Natural History of Destruction, Campo Santo, Across the Land and the Water, Unrecounted and For Years Now for another day.It’ll prolong the moment when I can only reread Sebald, and also give me the chance to take a breather from his unique atmosphere of mourning and ghosts.  Sebald’s work induces in me a particular sensation of vulnerability and melancholy; splashing about in the deep end is luxurious in its own peculiar way, but immersion can become overwhelming. (Though I’m considering reading some Woolf next so simply substituting another flavour of haunting and reflecting on the work of memory.)

Previously I’ve compiled bibliographies of worthwhile secondary literature of writers whose work I hold in affection, Beckett and Kafka in particular. In Sebald’s case, Terry Pitt’s Vertigo should be the first stop for English-speaking Sebald obsessives, followed by Christian Wirth’s Sebald site for German speakers.

I’m sure the list below isn’t definitive. It represents those publications that caught my attention, which I plan to get around to reading sometime. If you think I’ve missed any that are worthwhile please let me know in comments.

  1. Saturn’s Moons: WG Sebald – A Handbook. Legenda, 2001. If you only buy a single piece of secondary material, this is the one to get. Jo Catling and Richard Hibbit have compiled an extraordinarily rich resource, including a huge secondary bibliography. The chapter on WG Sebald’s library alone makes this book worthwhile.
  2. Searching for Sebald: Photography After WG Sebald. Institute of Cultural Enquiry, 2007. There are some fancy editions of this book, but I have a softcover version. I have barely dipped into this beautifully produced book. Photographs in Sebald’s books constitute a parallel narrative, so I’m looking forward to studying this closely at some point.
  3. The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with WG Sebald. Seven Stories Press, 2007. I’ve read and enjoyed the Tim Parks essay, and will finish the other essays and interviews before moving on from Sebald.
  4. WG Sebald: History – Memory – Trauma. Walter de Gruyter, 2006. Looks like an interesting collection of essays, including Sebald’s Amateurs by Ruth Franklin.
  5. Reading WG Sebald: Adventure and Disobedience – Deane Blackler. Camden House, 2007. In his thoughts on the book, Terry Pitts said, “I will say that I found myself feeling that Blackler was often articulating how I feel as I struggle to understand why reading Sebald is unlike reading just about anyone else.”
  6. WG Sebald: Image, Archive, Modernity – JJ Long. Columbia University Press, 2007. Sebald’s work in context with the ‘problem of modernity’ looks right up my street.
  7. WG Sebald: A Critical Companion. Edinburgh University Press, 2004. Essays and poems include those by JJ Long and Anne Whitehead and George Szirtes.
  8. The Undiscover’d Country: WG Sebald and the Poetics of Travel. Camden House, 2010. Terry Pitt’s posts on this publication.
  9. After Sebald: Essays and Illuminations. Full Circle Editions, 2014. I picked this book up at its London Review Bookshop launch. Intriguing collection of essays by artists and writers as diverse as Coetzee, Tacita Dean, Robert Macfarlane and Ali Smith.
  10. Sebald’s Bachelors: Queer Resistance and the Unconforming Life – Helen Finch. Legends, 2013. I enjoy Helen Finch’s blog and Twitter account, and am very interested to read a book that Terry Pitts calls, “one of the most important books on Sebald to date”.

Some Well-Intentioned Reading Ideas for 2015 (updated)

These are not reading resolutions. Writers promising literary gifts lead me astray too easily for these ideas to be fixed in any way.

This year I read widely covering fifty or so writers, concentrating my reading more deeply only twice on Houellebecq and Anne Carson’s work. In 2015 I’d like to read more deeply into the work of some of my favourite authors: alternative Dante and Homer translations (and Adam Nicholson’s The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters) ,  more Ballard’s short stories, always more Beckett, John Berger, Roberto Calasso, more Anne Carson, the new Tom McCarthy, Robert Musil’s diaries, Hélène Cixous, Coetzee, Jenny Diski, Dostoevsky, Marguerite Duras, Pierre Hadot, Houellebecq’s new one if translated next year, Kafka’s short stories, László Krasznahorkai, Clarice Lispector, Bourdieu, Doris Lessing, Nabokov, Alice Oswald, Robert Macfarlane, Nietzsche, Atiq Rahimi, WG Sebald, Thomas Mann, Christa Wolf and Virginia Woolf.

Beyond these ‘old chestnuts’ (as Beckett called his favourite authors) I’m looking forward to unexpected surprises within the pages of the following new books, either missed in 2014 or due in 2015, by authors I have not read before:

  1. Kirmin Uribe – Bilbao – New York – Bilbao
  2. Claudia Rankine – Citizen: An American Lyric
  3. Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor – Dust
  4. Ceridwen Dovey – Only the Animals
  5. Karin Wieland (trans. Shelley Frisch) – Dietrich & Riefenstahl: The dream of the new woman
  6. Can Xue – The Last Lover
  7. Anna Smaill – The Chimes
  8. Han Kang (trans. Deborah Smith) – The Vegetarian
  9. Paul Celan – Breathturn Into Timestead
  10. David Winters – Infinite Fictions: Essays on Literature and Theory

There are several other writers whose older works I’d like to get around to exploring sometime soon including Jens Bjørneboe, Martin Shaw, Ivan Illich, Eva Hoffman, Ivan Goncharov, David Abram, Ágota Kristóf, Rebecca Solnit, Tomas Espedal and Elfriede Jelinek.

As always, distractions are greater than my ambition, but if I manage to take in a decent selection of the above I’m expecting a good year in reading. There are several other titles I have my eye on but I’m mindful of your patience and Molloy’s admission that ‘if you set out to mention everything you would never be done.’

Urban Departures

I am essentially urban in character, more contented within walking distance of a well-stocked bookshop and reliable eating place. Contemplative moments are snatched in art galleries, or during operatic or classical music performances. Though I grew up in an isolated, rarely visited country, from my twenties I made the city my stamping ground. Whether in the alleys of Naples, the culinary back streets of Barcelona, Parisian boulevards, or the grubby, winding streets of London, I feel that I am in my natural habitat. What is it that makes one of us urban in character, and the other drawn to rural life?

There are alternative landscapes I am drawn to when I feel confused or depressed. I have written before of my primordial love of deserts. Ancient forests, rivers, mountain tops, and the seaside. Intuitively I visit these places when I am low in spirits and invariably I return to the city brightened.

Reading Roger Deakin, years ago, awakened a curiosity about rural life. I began to wonder whether I could inhabit the countryside, willingly relinquish urban conveniences. I began to speculate whether urban life was in some way draining me of my life force, and acting as a catalyst for a protracted mild depression. Just over a year ago I laid the first stone of a new chapter. As always in England, urbanity is never far away, but the transition is now underway.

In my last post I referred to Olivia Laing. I finished her enthralling examination of the effects of alcohol on a series of writers. After putting The Trip to Echo Spring down, I wanted to stay with her voice so started her first book To The River. Though the same easy erudition is present, the tone is more contemplative. At first the subject brought to mind Robert Macfarlane, but after a few more chapters it was Roger Deakin’s voice that comes through in addition to Laing’s strong presence. Laing shares with Deakin this ability to bring forth images of absolute lucidity, images that the reader can also inhabit.

Finished but not Consummated

1.

Ah, yes, love, what they call love, it drives him to distraction, for it is one of that pair of things our kind may not experience, the other being, obviously, death.

Hermes, messenger to the Greek gods, son of Zeus, narrates John Banville’s novel, The Infinities. Centred around ‘old’ Adam (father and son are both named Adam), who lies in a coma, over the course of a single day each member of the family is dutifully paraded for the reader reacting to each other and to a mysterious family visitor. Hermes is given the best lines like the one above, otherwise the novel is disappointing after Banville’s previous brooding novel, The Sea. The ending is risible, pulling each divergent strand into a tidy conclusion in a manner akin to an Edwardian farce.

2.

Nature writing requires more than an account of a journey and representation of what a writer sees and hears to lift a narrative beyond a minor work. In Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places the writer’s fears and sensitivities raised the account to the luminescent. I persevered with his latest book, The Old Ways, but struggled to read more than five pages at a time without the soporific narrative inducing drowsiness. A mixture of tenacity and loyalty drove me to finish the book, but not without skipping whole paragraphs.

Thinking and Walking: An Etymology

Richard Misrach: White Man Contemplating Pyramids (1989)

Robert MacFarlane
The Old Ways

The relationship between thinking and walking is also grained deep into language history, illuminated by perhaps the most wonderful etymology I know. The trail begins with our verb to learn, meaning ‘to acquire knowledge’. Moving backwards in language time, we reach the Old English leornian, ‘to get knowledge, to be cultivated’. From leornian the path leads further back, into the fricative thickets of Proto-Germanic, and to the word liznojan, which has a base sense of ‘to follow or to find a track’ (from the Proto-Indo-European prefix leis- meaning ‘track’). ‘To learn’ therefore means at root – at route – ‘to follow a track’.

Ten Outstanding Books That Combine Walking and Thinking

Inspired by Verso Books’ excellent Guide to Political Walking, below is my guide to books that effortlessly combine walking, with musing about culture, literature, politics and geography, a form of exercise that I endorse.

  1. Wanderlust – Rebecca Solnit
  2. A Time of Gifts – Patrick Leigh Fermor
  3. Wildwood – Roger Deakin
  4. The Wild Places – Robert Macfarlane
  5. The Arcades Project – Walter Benjamin
  6. London Orbital – Iain Sinclair
  7. Mythogeography: A Guide to Walking Sideways – Phil Smith
  8. A Field Guide to Getting Lost  – Rebecca Solnit
  9. Psychogeography by Will Self
  10. The Lost Art of Walking – Geoff Nicholson

I’ll also point you to Paul K. Lyons’ compelling straight line walk across London, which some enterprising publisher ought to pick up.

Please make suggestions of any books that ought to expand this list.