Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Searching for Sebald

The book I hold in my hands hardly qualifies as Light Summer Reading. For one thing, it weighs in at a hefty four and a half pounds, and for another, a few drips from a sticky summer drink would spoil those gorgeous glossy pages.

Searching for Sebald: Photography after W.G. Sebald, edited by Lise Patt, encompasses a mixture of analytical and creative responses to Sebald's genre-bending texts and their enigmatic images. I've read a great deal of Sebald criticism, but this is the first collection that attempts to analyze Sebald's aesthetic while reproducing aspects of that aesthetic.

It is simply a gorgeous book, if a bit quirky. Some of the creative pieces are only tangentially related to Sebald's texts, but this is appropriate since Sebald's texts are often only tangentially related to themselves. Sebald was an artist of association, a tourist of the tangent, taking readers on remarkable journeys that achieve their destinations by indirection, accretion, and accident.

Likewise this book, which juxtaposes sophisticated theoretical readings of Sebald's works with, for instance, photographs of "The Minimalls of Downey, California," still shots from a video called "Antarctica," and a stunning group of visual images collected by three scholars as they retraced the walk through East Anglia Sebald described in The Rings of Saturn.

For Sebald that walk was circular, a series of fragmentary arcs spiralling around a central sense of loss. Searching for Sebald continues that walk but brings the absent author into the center of the circle. It's a heavy book, solid as a brick and warm as a body and breathing with the presence of W.G. Sebald.

1 comment:

jaywalke said...

_The Rings of Saturn_ reminds me of that old science show "Connections." He meanders so far from the path, touching every tree, rock and elephant along the way, that it seems he'll never make it back, but he always does.

Word verification: ssanet - what Shakespeare wrote when deep into a tun of ssack.