Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Searching for Sebald

Some time ago I talked about W.G. (Max) Sebald and especially his book Austerlitz. I also mentioned his way of using photographs interwoven with his text.

Not only has Sebald the writer been an important influence in the world of literature, but his use of photographs and imagery has also generated serious interest in different and new ways of using and understanding the photographic image.

After a long delay I finally got hold of a new book "Searching for Sebald: Photography After W.G. Sebald". It's published by the slightly quirky looking (but quite intriguing) Institute of Cultural Inquiry.

My fear was that the book would be dauntingly academic and was probably the unfinished thesis offcuts from some obscure Sebald symposium , but although I've only flicked through it, it doesn't seem quite as heavy duty as I suspected (though it's certainly a heavyweight tome even in paperback) and there are a few essays about the likes of Autobiogeography and Negative Indexicality... It's actually quite multidisciplinary with not only a series of essays and papers, but interviews and also artists responses to Sebald and his work.

I probably won't read every essay, but some certainly appeal to me on first sight and it should keep me going (and thinking) on and off through the winter (and probably take me back to re-reading some of Sebald's superb books and musings as well).

Among the many many topics are:

"Sebald's Invisible Cities"
"A Truth That Lies Elsewhere"
"But the written word is not a true document," a conversation with W.G. Sebald
"Gathering Evidence of Ghosts: W.G. Sebald's Practices of Witnessing" etc etc

"W.G. Sebald's books are sui generis hybrids of fiction, travelogue, autobiography and historical expos , in which a narrator (both Sebald and not Sebald) comments on the quick blossoming of natural wonders and the long deaths that come of human atrocities. All his narratives are punctuated with images--murky photographs, architectural plans, engravings, paintings, newspaper clippings--inserted into the prose without captions and often without obvious connection to the words that surround them. This important volume includes a rare 1993 interview called "'But the written word is not a true document': A Conversation with W.G. Sebald about Photography and Literature," in which Sebald talks exclusively about his use of photographs. It contains some of Sebald's most illuminating and poetic remarks about the topic yet. In it, he discusses Barthes, the photograph's "appeal," the childhood image of Kafka, family photographs, and even images he never used in his writings. In addition, Searching for Sebald positions Sebald within an art-historical tradition that begins with the Surrealists, continues through Joseph Beuys and blossoms in the recent work of Christian Boltanski and Gerhard Richter, and tracks his continuing inspiration to artists such as Tacita Dean and Helen Mirra. An international roster of artists and scholars unpacks the intricacies of his unique method. "

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard about this book, but will now have to find a copy... perhaps from the library first though! Thanks for pointing it out.

I'm always happy to see Sebald getting attention, his understated but completely honest concern is the sort of thing too lost among those who shout. Even without the pictures I think he would be relevant to photographers, for the degree to which place is interwoven with memory in his writing.

If you haven't already read it, the other book of his I likes ad much as Austerlitz is The Emigrants.