Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Rings of Saturn

After a summer of fiction that I found mostly only ok, it’s been such a pleasure to immerse myself in W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn (trans. Michael Hulse). Is this representative Sebald? If so, what book should I go to next? My pleasure in the book is a special surprise—for whatever reason I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did.

The novel is the record of a trip through Southeast England by Sebald the narrator (to what extent similar to the author I do not know). Right here at “travel narrative” is probably one of the reasons I was dreading the book, but it is far more a journey through the mind and through history than anything else. Most of the book comprises reflections spurred by the countryside and one another about history and its figures, with special attention to the history and decay of the British Empire. The style is pensive and Sebald takes his time to let his sentences unfold in a cascading series of thoughts and images. Here he is thinking about fire:

A few years ago, on a Greek island that was wooded as recently as 1900, I observed the speed with which a blaze runs through dry vegetation. A short distance from the harbor town where I was staying, I stood by the roadside with a group of agitated men, the blackness behind us and before us, far below at the bottom of a gorge, the fire, whipped up by the wind, racing, leaping, and already climbing he steep slopes. And I shall never forget the junipers, dark against the glow, going up in flames one after the other as if they were tinder the moment the first tongues of fire licked at them, with a dull thudding sound like an explosion, and then promptly collapsing in a silent shower of sparks.

Here, the discussion of fire bears on the passage that immediately precedes it, where Sebald reflects on humanity’s capacity to burn itself out. He moves between topics metonymically like this thoughout—the page after this one not coincidentally shows a picture of a garden maze shaped like a brain. There are pages and pages of this prose full of sharp imagery and history facts come alive, and the passages make me so enamored of their subjects that I am tempted to run out and read biographies of all of the historical people he discusses—he even makes me want to give Swinburne’s poetry another chance, which is quite a feat.

Probably I would have enjoyed the book even more had I been able to devote the time to reading more of it sooner—I stretched out the reading over a longer period than preferable. My schedule this semester is getting out of control fairly fast it seems. But in those times I could carve out to read a chapter, The Rings of Saturn brought a calm reflection and beauty.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Matt Kish’s Moby Dick Art (On My Wall!)

Way back in May I bought several of the simply fantastic art pieces that Matt Kish created for his blog project-turned-book, Moby Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page. If you haven’t heard of and seen this project yet, I encourage you to go straight to his website and give yourself a treat to those images and his other projects. Then go buy the book that is coming out in October.

I am so excited to have gotten some really wonderful pieces of art. However, the summer got fairly busy and expensive, so I wound up not getting them framed until August. Then it was a matter of figuring out where to put everything--wall space in my house is at a premium right now--but after a lot of fretting and shifting other things around, I’m happy to say they are all up. Without further ado, here are the pictures (click for larger versions).

1&2: Queequeg and Queequeg, keeping himself company

On the left is the image for page 20: “Lord save me, thinks I, that must be the harpooneer, the infernal head-peddler.” On the right is the image for page 23: "Speak-e! tell-ee me who-ee be, or dam- me, I kill-e!’ again growled the cannibal...”

Here they are closer up:

For more detail, you can also see Matt's scans of the images for page 20 and page 23.

3: Next comes Stubb, from page 292: “But Stubb, he eats the whale by its own light, does he?” He’s enjoying his meal above another great work of the imagination.

This passage has always been a favorite of mine, and Matt captured it brilliantly with vibrant color. Here it is closer up (slightly askew due to my unsteady hand).

For more detail, see Matt's scan of page 292.

4&5: The Angel of Doom, and Squeeze! Squeeze! Squeeze!

Above is the image for page 8: “…and beyond, a black Angel of Doom was beating a book in a pulpit.” Below that is the image for page 403: “Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers' hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally...”

Here they are again, closer up (at an angle due to light problems):

For more detail, see Matt's scans of page 8 and page 403.

Page 403 was a special surprise for me. When I originally contacted Matt about wanting to buy a few of his drawings, this page had already been claimed. The passage is probably my favorite from the novel, and Matt’s imagining of it is so beautifully true to the frantic goodwill and eroticism that I couldn’t help but kick myself for putting in my request too late.

Lucky me! It turns out the person who had beat me to the punch was my partner, who had ordered it as a gift for me. I couldn’t have been more excited.

Pages 8 and 403 make an odd pairing, I suppose—the feeling of the passages couldn’t be farther apart—but it seemed like the best solution to the wall space issue.

Again, I encourage you to go browse around Matt's website. The blog for the Moby Dick project is here, and a blog that he currently updates with other projects can be found here. If you enjoy his work as much as I do, you can also see the Etsy site where he sells his work here. He is gradually putting up more Moby Dick drawings with varying prices, as well as other projects.