Catherine Clément’s The Call of the Trance

It isn’t easy to imagine the audience Seagull Books had in mind for Catherine Clément’s The Call of the Trance, insufficiently comprehensive for anthropology or psychology students though of some interest to both. Perhaps they were thinking of readers of boundless curiosity open to a series of loosely linked essays on the subject of trance or catalepsy throughout different times and social groups; if so, they found the right audience.

These days, at least in western civilisation, we pathologise the trance experience, correlating it with the neurotic. It wasn’t that long ago that the ecstatic experience was a mark of sainthood within the Catholic church, and plenty of other cultures still honour trance and catalepsy. Clément’s book keep me thoroughly absorbed for a few train journeys. These socio-religious essays on the trance experience offer a little re-enchantment in an age in which mysticism and eccentricity are now increasingly feared.

Sunandini Banerjee’s jacket design, showing John Collier’s Priestess of Delphi (1891) is another example of an exquisitely produced publication from Seagull Books.

Beautiful Books, Bibliophilia and Vladislavić’s Loss Library

If I were asked which publisher I admire most, I should say Seagull Books. In truth, possibly because I never request and very rarely accept review copies, I give individual publishers little thought (though I do also have fondness for Sylph Editions’ Cahiers Series). It is of course individual writers and their work that interests me.

I am especially fond of Seagull Books for two reasons: their commitment to making printed books that aspire to the highest aesthetic standards, and the specific writers and translators they publish. As this excellent essay on Seagull Book states, “Seagull’s identity hinges on Kishore’s personal encounters with writers and translators he meets, signs on, gets to know and not just likes but lavish affection on. His passion for a certain kind of publishing expresses itself as a romantic yearning, the professed need to be close to the great, to return to that word, in literature and art.”

At the moment I am slowly reading Ivan Vladislavic’s The Loss Library and Other Unfinished Stories, slowly because the essays inside are light, bright, and sparkling. David Winters captures their essence well in this review. Essays aside, the book itself is a joy, including the 12 collages by Sunandini Banerjee that accompany each essay. You can tell that this is a publisher that cares deeply about the books they produce.

Seagull Books has the depth and quality of backlist that feels like you can pluck off their shelves any one of the editions and be almost assured of a singularly rewarding experience. This afternoon I rummaged through my library and collected all my Seagull titles together, which includes old chestnuts like Sartre, Bernhard, Handke, Quignard and Schwarzenbach, but also new discoveries await like Nooteboom, Clément and Hilbig.

It is the sort of backlist that ignites my inner bibliophile urge to collect everything, but thankfully the scale of Seagull’s backlist outstrips the funds at my disposal.