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I am the decider

Hal Foster: Agamben, Derrida and Santner, 17 March 2011

The Beast and the Sovereign. Vol. I 
by Jacques Derrida, translated by Geoffrey Bennington.
Chicago, 349 pp., £24, November 2009, 978 0 226 14428 3
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... law’ – is close to bare life. But he adds two important touchstones of his own, Kafka and W.G. Sebald, some of whose characters, caught between human and nonhuman states, or stranded in the vertiginous space of exile, allow Santner to imagine bare life from the position of homo sacer, on ‘the threshold where life takes on its specific biopolitical ...

Ventriloquism

Marina Warner: Dear Old Khayyám, 9 April 2009

Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 
by Edward Fitzgerald, edited by Daniel Karlin.
Oxford, 167 pp., £9.99, January 2009, 978 0 19 954297 0
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... Augustus John supplied the images for a translation into Romany Welsh. More recently, W.G. Sebald searched out FitzGerald’s grave in the churchyard in the village of Boulge in Suffolk, and, in the same way that FitzGerald chose to speak through Omar Khayyám, Sebald seems in The Rings of Saturn to speak through ...

Deadly Embrace

Jacqueline Rose: Suicide bombers, 4 November 2004

My Life Is a Weapon: A Modern History of Suicide Bombing 
by Christoph Reuter, translated by Helena Ragg-Kirkby.
Princeton, 246 pp., £15.95, May 2004, 0 691 11759 4
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Army of Roses: Inside the World of Palestinian Women Suicide Bombers 
by Barbara Victor.
Robinson, 321 pp., £8.99, April 2004, 1 84119 937 0
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... end of the war in the Allied attack on Tokyo, and in On the Natural History of Destruction, W.G. Sebald describes the ten thousand tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs dropped on the densely populated residential areas of Hamburg in the summer of 1943. The horror would appear to be associated with the fact that the attacker also dies. Dropping cluster ...

A Positive Future

David Simpson: Ernst Cassirer, 26 March 2009

Ernst Cassirer: The Last Philosopher of Culture 
by Edward Skidelsky.
Princeton, 288 pp., £24.95, January 2009, 978 0 691 13134 4
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The Symbolic Construction of Reality: The Legacy of Ernst Cassirer 
edited by Jeffrey Andrew Barash.
Chicago, 223 pp., £26.50, January 2009, 978 0 226 03686 1
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... 1947 as Lingua Tertii Imperii, a study of language under the Third Reich, and in Austerlitz W.G. Sebald discusses the bureaucratese of genocide. In emphasising the formative powers of language and the irrational lure of supercharged meanings, Cassirer aligns himself with a familiar principle of cultural critique. But these late thoughts never developed into ...

Jamming up the Flax Machine

Matthew Reynolds: Ciaran Carson’s Dante, 8 May 2003

The ‘Inferno’ of Dante Alighieri 
a new translation by Ciaran Carson.
Granta, 296 pp., £14.99, October 2002, 1 86207 525 5
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... presence of the translator: we like to think that the book in front of us is Vertigo by W.G. Sebald (say), whereas really it is Vertigo, a version of Sebald’s Schwindel. Gefühle. by Michael Hulse. In the Belfast poems, the movement of words from one place or voice to another is a focus of attention. Carson ...

Navigational Aids

Liam McIlvanney: Jonathan Raban and the ‘novel-sized city’, 6 November 2003

Waxwings 
by Jonathan Raban.
Picador, 311 pp., £15.99, August 2003, 0 330 41320 1
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... between travel books and novels. As Raban argues, his travel narratives – like those of W.G. Sebald – are fictions. They are not transcriptions, rattled out as the journey progresses, but artful reconstructions, patterned and plotted like novels. It does not follow, however, that the travel writer’s tricks can be transplanted to a novel. There ...

Bowling along

Kitty Hauser: The motorist who first saw England, 17 March 2005

In Search of H.V. Morton 
by Michael Bartholomew.
Methuen, 248 pp., £18.99, April 2004, 0 413 77138 5
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... of the past in the present: he had the habit – like a rather more anodyne (and cheerful) W.G. Sebald – of seeing a landscape historically, from the Peddar’s Way in East Anglia to the Isle of Portland, where he looks at the quarries from which the geologically ancient stones of St Paul’s Cathedral, Regent Street and the Cenotaph were ...

The Mourning Paper

David Simpson: On war and showing pictures of the dead, 20 May 2004

... of the Ottomans before the gates of Vienna in 1683. In On the Natural History of Destruction W.G. Sebald asked himself whether among the reasons for the silence surrounding the bombing of German cities was a sense among postwar Germans that criminals and victims could not be properly differentiated: that they felt they deserved what happened. Hence the ...

In a Cold Country

Michael Wood: Coetzee’s Grumpy Voice, 4 October 2007

Diary of a Bad Year 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Harvill, 231 pp., £16.99, September 2007, 978 1 84655 120 8
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Inner Workings: Essays 2000-2005 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Harvill, 304 pp., £17.99, March 2007, 978 1 84655 045 4
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... perfectly that his own apparent decency and the brutal methods of the colonel who has come to wage war on the local barbarians are instruments of the same regime. ‘I was the lie that Empire tells itself when times are easy, he the truth that Empire tells when harsh winds blow.’Still, the wish to live outside history is not itself shameful, only ...

Winklepickers, Tinned Salmon, Hair Cream

Bee Wilson: Jonathan Meades, 14 July 2016

An Encyclopedia of Myself 
by Jonathan Meades.
Fourth Estate, 341 pp., £9.99, February 2015, 978 1 85702 905 5
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... one another. In a series of episodic chapters, some accompanied by photos in the manner of W.G. Sebald, he juxtaposes the banal sites and events of his own Salisbury childhood – the barrel-vaulted cellar where he ate his first pizza, the shop where he bought his first windcheater – with the lives and deaths of others. He briefly mentions someone called ...

Not No Longer but Not Yet

Jenny Turner: Mark Fisher’s Ghosts, 9 May 2019

k-punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher 
edited by Darren Ambrose.
Repeater, 817 pp., £25, November 2018, 978 1 912248 28 5
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... write much about walks or landscapes, but he did once mention how much he distrusted the way W.G. Sebald, in his much admired Rings of Saturn (1995), ‘morosely trudged through the Suffolk spaces without really looking at them’. This was ‘mittelbrow miserablism’, Fisher continued, ‘an anachronistic, antiqued model of “good literature”’; he ...

On Philip Terry

Colin Burrow, 13 July 2017

... third section, ‘Waterlog’, retraces the journey around the Suffolk coast narrated in W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. Here Terry turns the quennet into a thin ribbon of 12 noun-plus-adjective phrases, with an off-centre burst of seven short lines which may contain verbs, followed by a string of four more noun-plus-adjective phrases. The central ...

He had fun

Anthony Grafton: Athanasius Kircher, 7 November 2013

Egyptian Oedipus: Athanasius Kircher and the Secrets of Antiquity 
by Daniel Stolzenberg.
Chicago, 307 pp., £35, April 2013, 978 0 226 92414 4
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Exploring the Kingdom of Saturn: Kircher’s Latium and Its Legacy 
by Harry Evans.
Michigan, 236 pp., £63.50, July 2012, 978 0 472 11815 1
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... his practices to himself? Antiquaries, as Peter Miller has pointed out, often resemble W.G. Sebald in their melancholy obsession with time past. Kircher certainly did. Again and again, he meditated on the inevitable damage done by time, the distance between what he could see and what had once been there: ‘Time and decay that eat away everything so ...

It isn’t your home

Toril Moi: Sarraute gets her due, 10 September 2020

Nathalie Sarraute: A Life Between 
by Ann Jefferson.
Princeton, 425 pp., £34, August 2020, 978 0 691 19787 6
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... Woolf, but knew nothing about the writers who were to bewitch me in the future: writers like W.G. Sebald, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Elena Ferrante and Rachel Cusk, and many others. These writers respond to a new craving for reality in literature, a new demand for emotional identification and for an immersion in the world proposed by a novel. Had I forgotten – or ...

The Coat in Question

Iain Sinclair: Margate, 20 March 2003

All the Devils Are Here 
by David Seabrook.
Granta, 192 pp., £7.99, March 2003, 9781862075597
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... the influences reviewers have detected as informing All the Devils Are Here. They offered W.G. Sebald, Seabrook snorts. He’s no melancholy walker. There is nothing ambiguous about the photographs he hammers into his texts. They are pure archive, filched from tabloid libraries: Freddie Mills posing in his trunks (low angle, hard shadows), the murdered ...

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