[Unrecounted, W.G.Sebald & Jan Peter Tripp (New Directions, 2004) ]
I lent a copy of this book to a cohort member a couple years ago, and I realized how darkly perfect a text it is for the current landscape. There’s no theory I wish to apply or a great philosopher to attach onto this text or reading; it appeared to me again as a certain and all-too familiar phenomenon. Unrecounted, a collaboration of W.G. Sebald’s “micropoems'' and Jan Peter Tripp’s lithographs, perfectly encapsulates living within a pandemic moment: a pair of eyes coupled with a sudden clarity. The translator’s note by Michael Hamburger is similar to most introductory pieces, in that it is made mostly of anecdotes, names, dates, and the tribulations of publishing a collaborative text. It does however, include those lovelier details that experimental writers find so exquisite; inner turmoil hinted in the exchange of letters and journal corners, the budding of a once-thought dead fruit tree, the author’s practice of carrying around a book of haikus in his travels. The archival footage can rarely be outdone in the writing world.
Certainly, this small ritualistic book is a comfort, in these days of searching for familiar faces in a sea of scarves and masks and plastic shielding. There are the eyes of the two authors, of other prominent historical figures, of someone’s dog. I know of people who, just to make tense workplace interactions feel more human, have started intentionally raising their eyebrows or squinting to make themselves seem more emotive. Maintaining our daily patterns is the heaviest anchor to bear.
So I think of writers-turned-photographers and vice versa, who are not “just” documenting but need to look like they are “just” taking a picture of Woolf’s bed, of the band at the regular venue before a couple’s cross country drive. Because it is never “just” any of those things. Projection and detachment have never been more significant. And of course; as I flip through the book for a passage, I land on the painted stare of a countess by Ingres (43), which naturally reminds me of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, (the film I mentioned in my promotional video for my workshop, it being the last movie I saw in a theater) doesn’t it just.
her eyelids still
she says she has dreamed
of a carpet
all in shreds, in tatters”
Though finding connections across mediums and realities is where I most often find solace, these days I’m usually left laughing in disbelief. Discovery when I am cramped, cold, and marooned in the northeast is about as great a gift as I can muster. If you don’t already, I sincerely hope you start carrying one small book around with you or leave underneath your pillow. You might find a line like this, to leave on a park bench or receipt, like I even might.
about the author:
Drew Dean (MFA) is an experimental poet and cinephile who suspends his disbelief as often as he can, or in Barabara Dilley’s words: “Let a soft gaze roam around in the space without naming.” In both his work and instruction, he seeks out the obscure, the double-takes, and the dialogues within. He wears a specific sweater for cloud-gazing.
Shawnie Hamer / founder of collective.aporia
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