“I think in pictures. Poems help me with this. They are like buoys in the sea. I swim to them, from one to the other. In between, without them, I am lost. They are the handholds where something masses together in the infinite expanse.”—Anselm Kiefer
The only visual artist to have won the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, Anselm Kiefer is a profoundly literary painter. In the ten conversations with the writer and theologian Klaus Dermutz collected here, Kiefer returns to the essential elements of his art, his aesthetics, and his creative processes.
Kiefer describes how the central materials of his art—lead, sand, water, fire, ashes, plants, clothing, oil paint, watercolor, and ink—influence the act of creation. No less decisive are his intellectual and artistic touchstones: the sixteenth-century Jewish mystic Isaac Luria, the German Romantic poet Novalis, Ingeborg Bachmann, Paul Celan, Martin Heidegger, Marcel Proust, Adalbert Stifter, the operas of Richard Wagner, the Catholic liturgy, and the innovative theater director and artist Tadeusz Kantor. Kiefer and Dermutz discuss all of these influential thinkers, as well as Kiefer’s own status as a controversial figure. His relentless examination of German history, the themes of guilt, suffering, communal memory, and the seductions of destruction have earned him equal amounts of criticism and praise. The conversations in this book offer a rare insight into the mind of a gifted creator, appealing to artists, critics, art historians, cultural journalists, and anyone interested in the visual arts and the literature and history of the twentieth century.
Israeli academic Ethan Rosen is a brilliant, opinionated thinker—as is his colleague and rival, Rudi Klausinger, against whom he is pitted in a no-holds-barred competition for the sought-after professorship of cultural studies. So when Rosen condemns an article that he himself wrote, those around them wonder: Is he so confused that he can’t even recognize his own words?
A complex and moving novel about modern Jewish identity, Elsewhere takes aim at a number of sensitive issues, including nationalism, Zionism, collective guilt, the Holocaust, and Israel itself. As heartfelt and surprising as it is hilarious, it pokes fun at the things we care about in order to get at what really matters.
Alois Hotschnig Seagull Books, 2020 Library of Congress PT2668.O84L8413 2014
When Kurt Weber inherits his great-uncle’s lakeside house, he finds traces of the dark secrets of his family’s past. The early inhabitants of the house haunt his dreams nightly. And one day a ghostlike woman appears before him, hiding herself in a room that had been kept locked throughout his childhood. Inside, Kurt finds a hidden stash of photographs, letters, and documents. As he deciphers them, he gradually understands the degree of complicity in wartime horrors by his family and among his neighbors.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the entire village adheres to an old and widely understood agreement not to expose the many members in the community who had been involved with a nearby prison camp during World War II. This knowledge wraps the entire community—those involved, and those who know of the involvement—in inescapable guilt for generations. Translated from the original German by Tess Lewis, Ludwig’s Room is a story of love, betrayal, honor, and cowardice, as well as the burden of history and the moral demands of the present.
My Mother’s Tears
Michel Layaz Seagull Books, 2019 Library of Congress PQ2672.A966L3713 2019 | Dewey Decimal 843.92
With subtle, bemused humor and an unerring eye for human frailty, Michel Layaz writes about the hidden tensions within families, the awkwardness of adolescence, and the drama of intimacy between friends and lovers. His fifth novel, My Mother’s Tears, is his most poignant yet.
The adult narrator of My Mother’s Tears has returned to clean out his childhood home after his mother’s death. In thirty short chapters, each focused on a talismanic object or resonant episode from his childhood, the narrator tries to solve the mystery behind the flood of tears with which his strikingly beautiful, intelligent, and inscrutable mother greeted his birth. Like insects preserved in amber, these objects—an artificial orchid, a statue, a pair of green pumps, a steak knife, a fishing rod and reel, among others—are surrounded by an aura that permeates the narrator’s life. Interspersed with these chapters are fragments from the narrator’s conversation with his present lover, a woman who demands that he verbally confront his past. This difficult conversation charts his gradual liberation from the psychological wounds he suffered growing up.
Not only an account of a son’s attempt to understand his enigmatic mother, My Mother’s Tears is also a moving novel about language and memory that explores the ambivalent power of words to hurt and to heal, to revive the past and to put childhood demons to rest.
“For a long time, it was not clear if I would become a writer or an artist,” says Anselm Kiefer, whose paintings and sculptures have made him one of the most significant and influential artists of our time. Since he was awarded the Peace Prize by the German Book Trade in 2008, his essays, speeches, and lectures have gradually received more attention, but until now his diary accounts have been almost completely unknown. The power in Kiefer’s images, however, is rivaled by his writings on nature and history, literature and antiquity, and mysticism and mythology.
The first volume of Notebooks spans the years 1998-1999 and traces the origins and creative process of Kiefer’s visual works during this period. In this volume, Kiefer returns constantly to his touchstones: sixteenth-century alchemist Robert Fludd, German romantic poet Novalis, Martin Heidegger, Ingeborg Bachmann, Robert Musil, and many other writers and thinkers. The entries reveal the process by which his artworks are informed by his reading—and vice versa—and track the development of the works he created in the late 1990s. Translated into English for the first time by Tess Lewis, the diaries reveal Kiefer’s strong affinity for language and let readers witness the process of thoughts, experiences, and adventures slowly transcending the limits of art, achieving meaning in and beyond their medium.
Praise for Kiefer
“His works recall, in this sense, the grand tradition of history painting, with its notion about the elevated role of art in society, except that they do not presume moral certainty. What makes Kiefer’s work so convincing . . . is precisely its ambiguity and self-doubt, its rejection of easy solutions, historical amnesia, and transcendence.”—New York Times
“Wordiness for Kiefer is painterliness. The library and the gallery, the book and the frame inseparable, even interchangeable, in his monumental archive of human memory. Not since Picasso’s Guernica have pictures demanded so urgently that we studiously reflect and recollect in their presence.”—Simon Schama
Philippe Jaccottet Seagull Books, 2015 Library of Congress PQ2670.A225O35 2015
After several years abroad, a young man returns to his hometown to seek the man he calls master. This master, a brilliant philosopher, had made the young man into a disciple before sending him out into the world to put his teachings into practice. Returning three years later, the disciple finds his master has abandoned his wife and child and moved into a squalid one-room flat, cutting himself off completely from his former life. Disillusioned and reeling from the discovery, the young man spends an entire night listening to his master’s bitter denunciation of the ideals they once shared.
Obscurity, by noted thinker Philippe Jaccottet, is the story of this intense encounter between two men who were once very close and now must grapple with the fractured ideals that separate them. Written in 1960 during Jaccottet’s period of poetic paralysis, the novel seeks to harmonize the best and worst of human nature—reconciling despair, falsehood, and lethargy of spirit with the need to remain open to beauty, truth, and the essential goodness of humankind. Translated by Tess Lewis, Obscurity is Jaccottet’s only work of fiction, one that will introduce new readers to the multifaceted skills of this major poet.
Praise for the French edition
“In its haggard sobriety, the account of this tormented soul’s monologue is staggering . . . a beautiful narrative, written in a resounding, solemn style.”—La Table Ronde
Hans Magnus Enzensberger Seagull Books, 2018 Library of Congress PT2609.N9E5913 2018
Hans Magnus Enzensberger takes the title for this collection of daring short essays on topical themes—politics, economics, religion, society—not from Jeremy Bentham’s famous prison but from a mid-1930s Cabinet of Curiosities opened in Germany by Karl Valentin. “There,” writes Enzensberger, “viewers could admire, along with implements of torture, all manner of abnormalities and sensational inventions.” And that’s what he offers here: a wide-ranging, surprising look at all manner of strange aspects of our contemporary world.
As masterly with the essay as he is with fiction and poetry, Enzensberger here presents complicated thoughts with a light touch, tying new iterations of old ideas to their antecedents, quoting liberally from his forebears, and presenting himself unapologetically as not an expert but a seeker. Enzensberger the essayist works in the mode of Montaigne, unafraid to take his reader in unexpected directions, knowing that the process of exploration is often in itself sufficient reward for following a line of thought.
In an era that regularly laments the death of the public intellectual, Enzensberger is the real deal: a towering figure in German literature who refuses to let his mind or work be bound by the narrow world of the poetry or fiction section. Panopticon will thrill readers daring enough to accompany him.
Jean-Luc Benoziglio Seagull Books, 2020 Library of Congress MLCS 2015/01129 (P)
The narrator in Jean-Luc Benoziglio’s Privy Portrait has fallen on hard times. His wife and young daughter have abandoned him, he has no work or prospects, he’s blind in one eye, and he must move into a horribly tiny apartment with his only possession: a twenty-five-volume encyclopedia. His neighbors, the Shritzkys, are vulgar, narrow-minded, and racist. And because he has no space for his encyclopedia in his cramped room, he stores it in the communal bathroom, and this becomes a major point of contention with his neighbors. The bathroom is also the only place he can find refuge from the Shritzkys’ blaring television, and he barricades himself in it to read his encyclopedia, much to the chagrin of the rest of the residents of the building.
Darkly amusing, Privy Portrait is the monologue of a man, disoriented by the gaping void of not knowing his own nationality, recounting the final remnants of his own sanity and his life. In this buffoonish, even grotesque, yet deeply pitiful man, Benoziglio explores, with a light yet profound touch, weighty themes such as the roles of family, history, one’s moral responsibility towards others, and the fragility of personal identity.
Since his first collection of poetry appeared in 1953, Philippe Jaccottet has sought to express the ineffable that lies at the heart of our material world in his essential, elemental poetry. As one of Switzerland’s most prominent and prolific men of letters, Jaccottet has published more than a dozen books of poetry and criticism.
One of Europe’s finest contemporary poets, Jaccottet is a writer of exacting attention. Through keen observations of the natural world, of art, literature, music, and reflections on the human condition, Jaccottet opens his readers’ eyes to the transcendent in everyday life. The Second Seedtime is a collection of “things seen, things read, and things dreamed.” The volume continues the project Jaccottet began three decades earlier in his first volume of notebooks, Seedtime. Here, again, he gathers flashes of beauty dispersed around him like seeds that may blossom into poems or moments of inspiration. He returns, insistently, to such literary touchstones as Dante, Montaigne, Góngora, Goethe, Kierkegaard, Hölderlin, Michaux, Hopkins, Brontë, and Dickinson, as well as musical greats including Bach, Monteverdi, Purcell, and Schubert. The Second Seedtime is the vivid chronicle of one man’s passionate engagement with the life of the mind, the spirit, and the natural world.
Writers’ notebooks sometimes prove more revelatory than diaries or intimate journals. At first they might appear to be rag-and-bone shops of ideas, insights, hesitations, doubts, and records of things seen, heard, read, dreamt. But eventually they coalesce into a labyrinthine map of the creative process. Swiss poet Philippe Jaccottet has faithfully kept notebooks for many decades, and the selections that make up the Seedtime volumes have retained a vividness of insight and discovery despite the passage of time. After all, as the poet himself says, his notebooks are “a collection of delicate seeds with which I try to replant my ‘spiritual forest.’”
Seedtime III, which brings this series to a close, records numerous fleeting thoughts, ephemeral experiences, and philosophical observations from a renowned poet well into his seventies, charting the single steps—sometimes forwards, sometimes back—taken in a lifelong attempt to transcend the limits of art. The inconclusive nature of the notebook entries, their tentativeness and lack of resolution, renders them as intriguing and evocative as some of Jaccottet’s best works. In them readers will find a life full of the kind of contemplation that attracts yet eludes most of us in our daily existence.
Klaus Merz is one of the most prominent, prolific, and versatile Swiss writers working today. Celebrated as a master of concise, condensed sentences, Merz brings depth and resonance to spare narratives with lyrical prose and striking images. Stigmata of Bliss brings together three of Merz’s critically acclaimed novellas, offering English readers the perfect introduction to his work.
Jacob Asleep introduces a family marked by illness, eccentricity, and a child’s death. In A Man’s Fate, a moment of inattention on a mountainous hike upends a teacher’s life and his understanding of mortality. And finally, The Argentine traces the fluctuations of memory and desire in a man’s journey around the world. In each novella, Merz takes readers on a profound and intimate journey. Read as a whole, the works complement, enrich, and echo each other.