A place where a truth is created


Brilliant conversation between Aleksandar Hemon and a Teju Cole in BOMB.

I made a sideways move from art history into writing, and I think this, in part, is why I also find the stern distinction between fiction and nonfiction odd. It’s not at all a natural way of splitting up narrated experience, just as we don’t go around the museum looking for fictional or nonfictional paintings.

Prague: Capital of the Twentieth Century


By Esther Galfalvi

Derek Sayer’s meandering dérive through the hall of mirrors of 20th century European history may prove taxing to the scholar who expects a clearly signposted route, but exhilarating to the intellectual flâneur. The subtitle, A Surrealist History, gives the first enigmatic, elliptical tickle: Is this a book on Surrealism? Is it a book on the Surrealists? Or is it a work of Surrealism in itself? It eludes and elides easy categorisation – by design, for the point of Sayer’s psychohistorical walk is precisely to subver ‘grand narratives.’ With Prague, it seems that Sayer is not only putting a damper on a coherent interpretation of history, but setting fire to the notion of traditional, formal scholarship. Seekers of a chronological or thematic history of Prague should look elsewhere, but anyone wishing to experience an intuitive grasp of Modernism – artistic, literary, political – should buy a ticket and take a seat.

Meandering presences


Slate on Sebald’s A Place in the Country.

Whenever I read the work of the late German writer W.G. Sebald, I get distracted here and there by a preoccupation with the fact that he worked for most of his life as an academic. Probably this is because I’ve spent many of my years in a similar environment, and I often wonder about the formative pressures this has exerted, over time, on my own writing and thinking. His relationship with the academy was not that of the standard contemporary writer, who is typically housed within the disciplinary annex of “creative writing” and who does not concern himself with the business of academia per se. Sebald, although he did also teach creative writing, was a full-blown scholar, a company man of long standing who lectured in the department of German literature at the University of East Anglia from 1970 until his death in 2001. In ways that are both subtle and pronounced, this shows through in his writing — in his essays and novels (which he preferred to call his “prose narratives”).