Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Printed Path

I spent the day yesterday at an interesting Tate event: ‘The Printed Path: Landscape, Walking and Recollection’: ‘taking the late German-born writer WG Sebald as their guide, artists and writers consider our relationship to place and its recollection’. The event was linked to the Sebald-inspired Waterlog exhibition which is now on in Lincoln (I probably won’t get to it but I can say that the catalogue is quite good). Waterlog includes a superb new film by Tacita Dean, Michael Hamburger (2007), in which the poet and translator of Hӧlderlin (who features in Sebald’s Rings of Saturn) is seen talking about his apple trees. So inspired were we by seeing this that today we headed straight for Apple Day at Fenton House to buy a selection of unusual apples... Anyway, Waterlog also features Alec Finlay, Jeremy Millar, Simon Pope, Matthew Hollis, critic Brian Dillon and George Szirtes, poet and friend of Sebald’s, all of whom were at Tate Britain for ‘The Printed Path’. Robert Macfarlane is also in Waterlog but was not at the Tate – hardly surprising given how busy he seems to be... Having published The Wild Places, he is now apparently working on a biography of Sebald.

The Sebaldian sense of a landscape haunted gave an opportunity for the ‘Printed Path’ organisers to include Mark Fisher talking about hauntological music, with extracts from Brian Eno and the Belbury Poly, both of whom I have talked about here before. The Tate event also included Iain Sinclair (always good value), Geoff Dyer (also excellent), Marina Warner and her colleague from Essex University, Philip Terry, who has taken an Oulipian strategy from Queneau’s Morale Élémentaire and applied it to landscape. Terry’s Elementary Estuaries are a string of brief descriptors like a text piece by Fulton or Long - they can be seen at the V&A site.

One of the themes of the day was the notion of travelling the landscape in the footsteps of a writer. This is what Macfarlane is now doing in the case of Sebald and he’s hardly the first - I myself once went on a trip to Suffolk searching for Sebaldian locations like Dunwich beach (see my photograph below). At the Tate, Iain Sinclair talked about the walk he wrote about in The Edge of the Orison, following John Clare’s ‘journey out of Essex’, Geoff Dyer described his disappointment on finally finding D H Lawrence’s house in Sicily, Alec Finlay read a poem about his trip to the remains of Wittgenstein’s home in Norway, and Brian Dillon related his attempt to trace Robert Smithson’s Monuments of Passaic. Dillon’s article describing this trip is referred to in an interesting blog, New Jersey as an Impossible Object. I may expand in this blog on some of the themes covered in ’The Printed Path’ when I have a bit more time...


Roman Krznaric said...

I wished I'd been at the Sebald event at the Tate. Like you, Plinius, I have followed Sebald's paths in The Rings of Saturn by walking along the Suffolk coast. Whenever I walk anywhere near Dunwich Heath I find myself getting completely lost, Sebald style. He obviously left some of his disoriented spirit among the heather. On my one very brief personal encounter with Sebald he was extremely funny and made me laugh my head off, so I think he could have made a fun walking companion, rather than simply one who is haunted by the ghosts of memory - as he seems always to be depicted today. Even he understood that you can laugh at a serious world.

Plinius said...

Thanks Roman. I agree about Sebald's dry humour, which was in evidence on the one occasion I saw him give a reading. That evening he read from 'Austerlitz', in German, followed on by his translator Anthea Bell, who provided the English version. I forgot to mention that at 'The Printed Path' they played a recorded extract of Sebald reading from 'Austerlitz' in English. Although it's a painfully obvious thing to say, the voice was really haunting, and exactly as one would imagine from reading the prose.