Saturday, July 29, 2006

In "Campo Santo", the eponymous essay of his posthumous collection, Sebald describes a visit to a Corsican cemetery. In excellent Sebaldian style he plunges past the yawing headstones and surrounding shrubbery to the underlying cultural practices -- the surround. In describing the local theatrics of mourning, he has this (which seems somehow emblematic) to say:

"In truth of course there is no discrepancy between such calculation and a genuine grief which actually makes the mourners seem beside themselves, for fluctuation between the expression of deeply felt sorrow, which can sound like a choking fit, and the aesthetically -- even cunningly -- modulated manipulation of the audience to whom that grief is displayed has perhaps been the most typical charateristic of our severely disturbed species at every stage of civilization."

Of course now, here, almost five years out from his own death, his description of physically and mentally wandering around in a cemetery feels like an instance of horrible, reified prescience. But then so did all his work. Strange, moving to register that his catalogues of/meditations on doom and destruction were so beautiful too.


Blogger jdeshell said...

Dear Laird,
Oh, we so don't agree on Sebald. We'll have to sit down some time and you can try to convince me he's not burdened by a fatal Teutonic ponderousness. Give me Bernhard, Jelenick or even Handke any time. We hope you are well, and we'll have to get togther soon. Cheers, J

12:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Me, I love Sebald. And RINGS OF SATURN especially, because I love Thomas Browne.

BTW, although your book is not supposed to be coming out until September (at least according to Amazon) they were selling it at St Mark's Books in New York today and I picked up a copy. Very curious to read it.

Gabriel M

7:25 PM  
Blogger Laird Hunt said...


Funny, the folks who don't go for Sebald, the ones I've come across anyway, feel extra fierce about their dislike, and it quickly jumps past I don't like it to, more or less, he sucks. Due (the fierceness of the reaction not the general dislike) perhaps to the Sebald moment, already slipping past, where his name was popping up everywhere and we were all supposed to care so much about his project? I can buy not getting on with what he was doing and how he did it (fair enough), but not the he sucks thing.

Re the fatal Teutonic ponderousness -- to my eye it is punctured over and over again by humor. Don't you think all the de facto melodramatic moaning and groaning and staggering about on the verge of collapse and couples in mid-gig looking like sea monsters, twins who are exact replicas of Kafka, etc. speaks to something besides ponderoustrosity?

Oh, and I like Bernhard too.


10:58 AM  
Blogger Laird Hunt said...

Gabriel -- thanks for getting the book. Yeah, it's definitely weird that it is starting to pop up in bookstores already. It's too early, methinks...

10:59 AM  
Blogger jdeshell said...

Dear Laird,
No,I'm not saying he sucks (I only read one book, Rings of Saturn). I just can't understand the attraction. Some writers whom I really respect (you, f'r instance) really like him, and I, for the life of me (for that one book anyway) just didn't get it. I'm guessing there was also some reaction to the bandwagonning of his career as well. As I get older, I realize the larger than expected (by me, anyway) number of blind spots I've developed. Pynchon, Musil, Vollman, most jazz, Bataille, scallops, ethics, David Lynch etc. Hope you are well, J

11:40 AM  
Blogger jdeshell said...

Oh, can't wait to read the book. J

11:41 AM  
Blogger Laird Hunt said...


Apologies for folding you into a larger phenomenon of Sebald sucks folks I've encountered -- that wasn't fair and I know better (well, I think I do!) Incidentally, knowing that you and others weren't on board with the Sebald train prompted me some time ago to take a step back and try to figure out whether or not I had succumbed to mass hysteria or something. I didn't get anywhere at all with this weak gesture at self-examination, but it did give me pause.

Anyway, as widely and deeply and smartly as you read... you don't need Sebald.



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