Unconsoled and unsettled

decayetude:

Wonderful account of the unsettling effect on a fellow blogger of a classic book

Originally posted on Passing Time:

It’s rare that I finish a novel that I really haven’t enjoyed and find myself obsessed with it.  That’s what’s happened, though, with Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled .  This is a novel I was strongly recommended to read, and I can see why.  I can recognise its beauty and brilliance.  I can recognise the things it has in common with works that I love and revere – Butor’s L’Emploi du temps , for example, and W G Sebald’s Vertigo , or The Rings of Saturn .

But the experience of reading it – I so nearly gave up.  It was as if I was trapped in one of my own anxiety dreams.  Knowing I need to be somewhere, that I’m responsible for something, and finding that time and space are conspiring against me.  From the start, the protagonist appears to know, vaguely, that he is here (wherever that is) in…

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THE LAST DAY AT WATERSTONES.BY STEVEN BENSON

On the first of February,I entered this edifice with a heavy heart and for the very last time.

I had remembered,from the early/mid 1980s,when this building had been an extraordinarily(I mean this literally) deserted building, a blackened, dust-begrimed extinct Behemoth of a shop:”Cripps”, which still, at its demise, in around 1980,employed dressmakers

To pass it, in its closed state, I felt I had to cross my fingers against who knows what peril or evil, so forbidding its  bleak prospect.

A few years later it became Hudson’s Book shop, where, I recall, in my mid 20s, browsing the LPs of its record section, a separate shop run by MDC.

MDC and Hudson’s became Dillons,in turn taken over, in the remorseless tread of capitalist expansion, by Waterstone’s(then WITH the inverted comma!), when the latter closed its huge ornate branch in a former concert hall , further up Bold Street.

Waterstones(now WITHOUT the inverted comma!) is , of course, a national chainstore; but is also beginning to become a Benjaminesque remnant of itself, stripped, to some degree, of its market value trappings, as the chain struggles (because of Amazon and the internet and Kindles) and closes some of its branches.

The Bold Street branch, (and Hudsons and Dillons in situ before it),was special; semi non-corporate. Lovingly refurbished, after the dark days after the death of Cripps,with its ironwork frontage and elegant staircase, spread over four and a half floors , and with the first Liverpool branch of Costa Coffee(whatever one thinks of this tax-evading conglomerate as an entity-this, again, was a quirky, individualistic Costa, if that is not an aporia): this was a book shop with character.

…………………………………………………………………..

It feels again as if my past were vanishing behind me :

Blacklers

Lewis’s

Now even Bold Street Waterstones

………………………………………………………………….

So this is both a eulogy and an elegy: to a bookshop which, whilst part of a sequence of national chains, managed to retain its sense of self.

Most of the staff of the bookshop are to be re-located to the Liverpool One branch; and all of the Costa staff to other branches. That, at least, is good.

But I sit in the cafe-the ubiquitous, emblematic bookshop cafe-with the closed off two floors above and the half-empty shelves…. and it seems as if the ghosts of Cripps, Hudsons, MDC and Dillons are beckoning to me….

…………………………………………………………………..

R.I.P Bold Street Waterstones…and , yet, for evermore(in memory, anyway)

——————————————————-

Please feel free to add any reminiscences of Cripps, Hudsons, MDC, Dillons or Bold Street Waterstones below….

TWO HAIKU-ESQUE POEMS: THE SEA RE-CLAIMS BUT MAN FIGHTS BACK.BY STEVEN BENSON

“OUR PAST

VANISHES

BEHIND US”(W.G.SEBALD)

ABERYSTWYTH. THE GREAT STORM OF JANUARY 2014

Aberystwyth was

Riven

With great

Storms.

I mourned

As the

Beautiful

Sea-front

Was

Torn Up;

And rocks were

Catapulted

Onto the

Road,

Which itself

Was

Shredded and

Dis-integrated into

Sand….

The Sea-defences

Failed;the

Victorian Shelter

Slumped

Down,

Crippled by the

Ferocious

Merciless

Sea

…………………………

Aberystwyth, Mon Amour….My past

……………………

Please

Repair the

Decimated

Promenade;

So that the

Cultural

Capital of

Cymru is

Restored

To its

Glory….

And MY

Past

Again, feels

WHOLE in the

Present;

At least

In memory

__________________________________________________________________________________

2.RE-BUILDING THE RAILWAY LINE; A POEM FOR RAILWAY GEEKS

The angry

Waves

Broke up the

Coast

Supporting the

Railway line

Between

Tywyn and

Y Bermo;

So that it

Hung

Skeleton-like,

Above the

Collapsed

Embankment;

And
Ruthlessly

Strewn with

Boulders,

Spewed Up

By

The sea

………………………………………………………………………………………..

{but all is not lost, because Arriva Trains Wales(the operating company’s) website  stated they are already starting to repair the railway, with an estimated re-opening of Easter; this lifeline to isolated communities strewn between Machynlleth and Pwllheli}; so that…

………………………………………………….

Once more

You can

Travel past

The

Crenellated

Mock

Castles; the

Tiny

Inlets

Peppering

The edges

Of the

Irish Sea; as the

Cambrian Coast

Railway

Snakes and

Meanders

Its way;

Twists and

Turns;

Disappears,

Briefly,

Beneath an

Avalanche

Shelter;and

Eventually

Arrives at the

(No longer)

Stranded

Town of

Pwllheli;

Of which

Someone once

Said:

There,

The

Transition

From life to

Death

Is made

Easier

 

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,500 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 42 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

SEBALD’S ATTEMPT AT RESTITUTION; AND LIVING IN THE “UNDERGROUND ZONE”. COMMENTS ON AN OBSCURE SEBALD ESSAY AND MORE ON SANTNER:”ON CREATURELY LIFE”(2006).BY STEVEN BENSON

In 2001, the year of his death, Sebald gave a speech(on the occasion of the opening of the Stuttgart “House of Literature”); co-incidentally (or not-this is Sebald!) I read this concurrently with my ongoing perusal of Santner:”On Creaturely Life”. Santner really gets it about such an important swathe of Sebald’s writing/ concerns.

In the speech by Sebald himself, “An Attempt at Restitution:A Memory of a German City”(published as an essay, in the “New Yorker”, 20/12/04, in their archive, on the net), he says a few things which further elucidate my previous post, and mine and Santner’s main thesishttp://decayetude.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/thanks-to-eric-l-santneron-the-sebaldian-narators-repressed-homoeroticism-homosexual-panic-and-natural-catastrophecatastrophization/;

the thesis that Sebald, his narrators and characters’ worldview is an OUTER mirror of INNER psychic disturbance, repression and trauma, including suppression or the inability to fully express repressed homosexuality or bisexuality.

How much Sebald himself(because Santner argues, in Lacanian fashion,the process is sometimes largely or partly subconscious)is aware of this process is moot. But it is THERE,consciously, semi-consciously and/or subconsciously , in this startling speech.

Firstly, we have a reference to “a dark fatherland”(literally the land of his National Socialist father in Sebald’s case), in reference to an, at first, seemingly innocuous childhood card-game showing pictures of German cities(in 1947).

Sebald, then,in a typically enriched, rhizomatic and contrapuntal paragraph,refers to a postcard from a young girl from Stuttgart to a woman in Saltburn-by-the-Sea (Co. Durham){eerily again, my latest post, before this, on this very blog,a place I visited some 2/3 months sincehttp://decayetude.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/saltburn-2013an-adventure-in-inter-textuality-by-steven-benson/}. In her letter the girl refers to seeing(in 1939)”a festival of the Hitler Youth”. Concomitantly, the primary memory Sebald, aged 56,retains from his childhood card of Stuttgart is the Central station(a station again!), a building of angular brutalist{sic} architecture”(op. cit).

He then mentions, significantly,that, finally visiting Stuttgart, at the age of 21,there was “something not quite right about it”; even in 2001, he does not spare his “compatriots”(a word Sebald used with eerie, laden overtones, in an interview). They are not to be saved from awareness of the dark past of Germany and its willingness/psychological need to forget and “move on” after the Hitler regime atrocities.

……………………………………………..

Santner spends some of his last chapter writing about Freud’s case-study of Daniel Paul Schreber, the judge,who became paranoid after suppressing his homo-erotic desires.Sebald himself, in the speech, says(talking re a visit to Tripp, the artist, who Sebald subsequently wrote an essay about; see my analysis herehttp://towardsutopia.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/a-snatch-of-half-vanished-melody-the-closest-glimpse-we-have-into-sebalds-soul-and-his-pre-occupations-ruminations-on-a-place-in-the-countrytrans-caitling-2013-part-1tripp-and-introd/), in what is an EXTREMELY SIGNIFCANT passage in his oevre,:”…Tripp gave me a present of one of his engravings, showing the mentally ill judge…Schreber…with a spider in his skull…..-what can there be more terrible than the ideas always scurrying round our minds?{sic}-and much of what I have written{so Sebald’s actual writing structure and process, as Santner has again pointed out, is included}since derives from this engraving,even {sic} in my method of procedure: in adhering to an exact historical perspective, in patiently engraving and linking together apparently disparate things in the manner of a still life”(speech, ibid). Santner has devoted a whole book to Schreber’s diaries,”My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul Screber’s History of Modernity”,( new edition 1998); but he hones in on the Schreber and Sebald connexion in “On Creaturely Life”(pp.174ff) by pointing out two things:

1.Sebald and his characters/narrators’ catastrophic world view is very close to Schreber’s paranoiac and similar view of the world, caused primarily, by homosexual panic and suppressed homoeroticism. Thus, Santner writes:”Against this background it is tempting to bring Freud’s claims{re Schreber}to bear on the “case” of Sebald; or, rather, on that of his narrators. So, does not this combination, in Sebald’s work, of visions of world destruction and ruin(by war, by erosion, by entropy, by natural destruction), a certain pre-occupation with homoerotic desire{Casement, Ambros and Cosmo, Henry Selwyn and Naegeli, Grunewald} and with episodes of paranoia{“Dr. K” and the sebaldian narrator in “The Emmigrants”}fit rather neatly into the matrix of Freud’s account{of Schreber}?”(Santner, ibid, p.178)

2.Add to this what Sebald himself experienced: his father was a Werhmacht(First World War ) Officer and fought for the National Socialist army in World War 2; the death of his beloved grandfather, Josef Egelhofer; his own exile from his corrupted homeland. That could well adumbrate and lead to an endpoint such as Santner(elaborating on Freud’s account of Schreber) and , for example, Zizek(in “Living in the end Times”, 2010), in his chapter(“depression”) on the post traumatic self(a kind of psychological death)elucidate.

Sebald weaves in, amongst his narratives of destroyed or damaged selves, atrocity after atrocity, disaster after disaster: the Belgian Congo, Theriesenstadt,homosexual and Jewish oppression and elimination and marginalisation:Cosmo, Ambros and Selwyn die, psychologically, before our eyes, amongst worldwide disasters (wars) and become shells of themselves, in much the same way as Sebald himself forever looks back at some pre-Beidermeier era, lost, communitarian, neighbourly past, contrasted with the perils and destructiveness of the capitalist market economy(“Place in the Country ” essays)at the same time presenting us with a beautiful, frail written (and photographic) picture of his love for his grandfather(the essay on Hebel in “A Place in the Country”).So,the micro and macro cosmic inner/external catastrophe symbiosis works at all levels, including stylistically,in the interweaving of these deracinated narratives and sub-narratives and their similarly displaced author.

Returning to the speech,Sebald expounds yet more on the “invisible connections that determine our lives and how the threads run”(ibid); and “why can I not get such episodes out of my mind?”More disturbingly still, Sebald(here speaking directly in his OWN voice)describes himself as still hallucinating(in 2001) that “the fires are still blazing above us and that since the terrors of the last war years, even though we have rebuilt our surroundings so wonderfully{one cannot but see irony in that adverb}well, we have been living in a kind of underground zone”. Refugees are then mentioned, and the “zones of destruction”, Sebald listing Afghanistan,Sudan, Eritrea and Kosovo. Then he charts the “epoch of violence” which grew following the first Napoleonic Revolution and shaped itself gradually into the National Socialist era and Hitler(a trajectory I have written about in my essays on “A Place in the Country”,a collection where it is outlined in much more historical detail).

A lost love, talking of Holderlin, (the latter could not sustain a relationship because of class differences), is talked about.

The speech nears its close as Sebald has a rare, DIRECT mention of people being “deported to forced labour camps and extermination camps{sic}…where many were worked to death in the stone quarries”. So, the atrocities of man; and the internal uprooted, undead, malaise-ridden self. Then, and not far from Adorno on poetry after the Holocaust,Sebald addresses the “House of literature”, yet again does not spare them; and in a pithy attempt at answering the question of what is literature good for(after the Holocaust and the other atrocities of modernity), he says:”There are many forms of writing; only in literature, however, can there be an attempt{sic} at restitution over and above the mere recital of {historical] facts and over and above scholarship{hence one reason for Sebald’s belleslettristik, essayistic, rhizomatic, contrapuntal style}”. So, he sees writing as an attempt- and attempt it can only be-at writing back into history the forsaken, the exterminated, the marginalised and the invisibilised; reparative, to a degree, if you like.This is the most(tentatively) optimistic statement I have seen in Sebald that writing is not (just) a disease, or a compulsion caused by the realisation that there is no true neighbourliness, in Santner’s sense, in the world he and his narrators and characters inhabit.

…………………………………………….

So, Max:in one short speech, be it consciously, semi-consciously or Subconsciously, you have set forth your vision of nature and , especially, mankind’s progress towards apocalyptic, Zizekian catastrophe…and your OWN, and your array of narrators and characters’, INNER dereliction.Could we but learn from it….

 

SALTBURN 2013:AN ADVENTURE IN INTER-TEXTUALITY. BY STEVEN BENSON

IMG_3996

What is it

About Slightly

Decayed

Seaside

Resorts?……

Why-To Sebald-

Was the past

Real, yet the

Present but a

Shell?

IMG_4003

I visited Saltburn-on-the-sea, on the North Yorkshire/County Durham border, on a dull day-late afternoon-in October. It wasn’t quite as ruinous as Eastbourne(or, even more so, Hastings with its burnt-out pier)http://decayetude.wordpress.com/2012/10/20/a-gap-in-timeeastbourne-and-brightonswest-piersa-sebaldian-hommage-by-steven-benson/; but it was semi-shuttered.The only real choice was a bling, imitation marble-tabled, gided mirror, too faux to be pretentious restaurant, where, after perusing the menu for something with which my ravaged oesaphagus could cope,I chose a monumental tuna sandwich on a giant wooden platter, which, thinking now of Sebald’s entombed fish in the Bed and Breakfast in Lowestoft, seemed to sink under its own weight. I looked out of the window: the pier and the cliff railway had survived; well, mainly survived,because the pier had lost its head in a storm and now had the appearance more of a tapering long jetty.Yet, notwithstanding its being off-season, the place had an aura of semi-dereliction.

I went back to the holiday home and googled: Saltburn was virtually built by one man, Pease, in the Victorian era. Amongst its attractions,perched on the edge of the cliff, like a vast, redundant sea-monster, was the Zetland Hotel, which, once having had its own railway platform and port-cochere, had submitted to closure(as a hotel)in the 1980s, being converted into flats.(I couldn’t help thinking of the Deauville Grand hotel in “The Emmigrants”, Ambros Adelwarth section). I searched , in vain, for pictures of its last years, as a decaying hotel: it may have been one of the British Transport Hotels that slowly disappeared into the Thatcherite sinking sand of the early/mid 80s. Saltburn station still has a half-life, though the tracks are divorced from the original buildingIMG_4011;

but , startlingly,it retained two platforms still; there was even a dmu, its rattling ceased for a short time,in one of the platforms, ready for its journey to Darlington or Bishop Auckland; but it is now really nothing more than a sundered, tenuous unstaffed halt( like many of the smaller stations, including termini,of the post-Beeching era, though they do have the charm of a defunct air and minimalist feel)

………………………………………………………………………

Saltburn

Deauville;

Sinking in

Time’s

(Shifting)

SandsIMG_4008

THE BEAST AND THE SEBALDIAN NARRATOR.BY STEVEN BENSON

A Beast

Stalks

Within the

Sebaldian

Narrator;

It is

Still Semi-

Tethered

In his

(Academic)

After Life;

But it is

RATTLING

Against the

Bars.

http://decayetude.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/thanks-to-eric-l-santneron-the-sebaldian-narators-repressed-homoeroticism-homosexual-panic-and-natural-catastrophecatastrophization/

and

http://decayetude.wordpress.com/2012/12/08/what-happened-to-sebald-in-marienbad-conjecture-and-poemby-steven-benson/

 

 

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