Unrecountedby W. G. Sebald, Michael Hamburger (Translator), Jan Peter Tripp (Illustrator), Andrea Kohler (Other), Hans Magnus Enzensberger (Contribution by)
A gorgeous illustrated poetry collection by W. G. Sebald: "An extraordinarily handsome edition of poems by the late great writer" (Confrontation).Unrecounted combines thirty-three of what W. G. Sebald called his "micropoems"miniatures as unclassifiable as all of his workswith thirty-three exquisitely exact lithographs by one of his oldest friends,
A gorgeous illustrated poetry collection by W. G. Sebald: "An extraordinarily handsome edition of poems by the late great writer" (Confrontation).Unrecounted combines thirty-three of what W. G. Sebald called his "micropoems"miniatures as unclassifiable as all of his workswith thirty-three exquisitely exact lithographs by one of his oldest friends, the acclaimed artist Jan Peter Tripp.
The lithographs portray, with stunning precision, pairs of eyesthe eyes of Beckett, Borges, Proust Jasper Johns, Francis Bacon, Tripp, Sebald, Sebald's dog Maurice. Brief as haiku, the poems are epiphanic and anti-narrative. What the author calls "time lost, the pain of remembering, and the figure of death" here find a small home. The art and poems do not explain one another, but rather engage in a kind of dialogue. "The longer I look at the pictures of Jan Peter Tripp," Sebald comments in his essay, "the better I understand that behind the illusions of the surface, a dread-inspiring depth is concealed. It is the metaphysical lining of reality, so to speak."
- New Directions Publishing Corporation
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By W.G. Sebald
A NEW DIRECTIONS BOOKCopyright © 2004 The Estate of W. G. Sebald and Jan Peter Tripp
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Parting from Max Sebald
He who was close to us from far off seemed to have come into our uncanny homeland. Only a searching for traces with a divining rod of words that quivered in his hand. Across conflagration sites and burying places he followed it, though to raving madness on Suffolk heaths. Is this the promised land?
Earlier the dark had encroached, but he moved on, through all those nightmares undaunted made his way. That dust became light for him we know from three lines alone: So soundless I glided scarcely stirring a wing high up above the earth ... Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Tripp's Cabinet of Prodigies
Do you see the paint brush, the glove, the veined stone? No, not the pincers over there on the table, not the brush in the painter's hand but this glove here, this very seam, these pincers, here, this shadow! You got it wrong. It is not a glove, it is art. Not that art over there, but this one here.
You rub your eyes and ask what they are there for, this stone with all its veins, these pincers here, this brush, not that one over there on the table.
What for? So that at last you will see what you did not see. Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Pliny says that elephants are intelligent & righteousrevere the stars & worship the sun & the moon
The red spots on the planet Jupiter are three-hundred-year-old hurricanes
When lightning flashes drove down one could see the deeply folded mountains & torrential rain splashed down on the valley
Please send me the brown overcoat from the Rhine valley in which at one time I used to ramble by night
Do you remember how curiously grey was the light when in March we were on the river island called Peacock Isle
Feelings my friend wrote Schumann are stars that guide us only in brightest daylight
In the darkness above the mouth of the Somme the Pleiades shining as nowhere else
On 8 May 1927 the pilots Nungesser & Coli took off from Le Bourget and after that were never seen again This flight out of the alcove these matt lead panes sudden flash of a lance hardly audible the scream of terror
The fruit basket which the woman carries in the velvet crook of her arm the lovely fruit leafage the apples & above them all black black black
At eleven o'clock the swastika men assembled on the Theresienwiese & under the command of an officer began to exercise
In deepest sleep a Polish mechanic came and for a thousand silver dollars made me a new perfectly functioning head Awakening her eyelids still half closed she says she has dreamed of a carpet all in shreds, in tatters It is as though I lay under a low sky and breathed through a needle's eye
Terrible is the thought of our worn-out clothes
The dor-Mouse's shadow is death
In the Vienna Josephinum Collection a sightless Ethiopian eye overclouded by a gauze of grey silk
Venetian reproduction in wax of the fibre system in the musculature of the musculature of the heart
My eye begins to be obscured Joshua Reynolds remarked on the eve of the storming of the Bastille
Like a dog Cézanne says that's how a painter must see, the eye fixed & almost averted
From the foreship of the brain those images shot on the wing as it were into the cellula memorialis reach the cooling chamber memory
They say that Napoleon was colour-blind & blood for him as green as grass
Blue grass seen through a thin layer of frozen water
It was a year so cold that the farmers had to cut the corn wearing fur coats
In the dining-car of the Arlberg Express sits a man with a mourning lapel and calmly, carefully consumes his Milanese cutlet
What I see is human beings for I see creatures like trees save that they walk about
The house in the night through the windows the flickering light of flames
Seven years in a foreign place and the cock has ceased to crow
This writing paper smells like wood shavings inside the coffin
But the time in which darkness prevails that time one does not see
He will cover you with his plumage & under his wing then you will rest
Unrecounted always it will remain the story of the averted faces
At the end only so many will remain as can sit round a drum
As Day and Night, Chalk and Cheese: On the Pictures of Jan Peter Tripp
THE CATALOGUE of Jan Peter Tripp's work now covers at least a quarter of a century. It includes works on the most various of scales, executed in pencil, charcoal and drypoint, in water-colour, as gouache or grisaille, in acrylic and in oil, all pushed to the limits of the possible or - so it seems to the viewer - beyond them. The pictures of the first three or four years still show the clear influence of Surrealism, of the Vienna fantastic realists and of photorealism, bound up with the polemical stratagems of the year 1968; but very soon, during several months spent in the Weissenau psychiatric regional hospital near Ravensburg (1975), this polemical trend disappears, replaced by a much more deeply searching objectivity, which by pure representation seeks to sound the phenomena of life, laying bare their formation and evolution. In the process the art of portraiture becomes a pathographic enterprise that admits no dividing lines between what are usually called the characteristic features and the deformations wrought in the subject by pressure of work and inner stress. If the pictures of the Weissenau inmates are to be understood as studies of the resounding emptiness inside the heads of those subjects, no less so are the later portraits and self-portraits in their almost worldless isolationism. Even the representational likenesses of accredited possessors of economic or political power, produced in recent years, have something embarrassed and dislocated about them and correspond implicitly (without any denunciatory intention) with the definition worked out at Weissenau of the human individual as an abnormal creature forcibly removed from connection with nature and society. The reverse side of this depiction of a species becoming more and more monstrous in the course of a civilization's progress is the study of abandoned landscapes and especially the still lifes in which - far beyond the events - only the motionless objects now bear witness to the former presence of a peculiarly rationalistic species. What matters in Tripp's still lifes is not that the painter applies his skill and mastery to a more or less fortuitous assemblage of objects but the autonomous existence of things to which, like blindly furious working animals, we stand in a subordinate and dependent relationship. Because (in principle) things outlast us, they know more about us than we know about them: they carry the experiences they have had with us inside them and are - in fact - the book of our history opened before us. In the father's so-called Russian valise lie his son's shoes; the dozen slates and a few faded scrawls evoke a totally vanished school class - images of the past, of what is most enigmatic about a human life. The nature morte, for Tripp, much more conspicuously than ever before, is the paradigm of the estate we leave behind. In it we encounter what Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in his L'Oeil et l'esprit, called the regard pré-humain, for in such paintings the roles of the observer and the observed objects are reversed. Looking, the painter relinquishes our too facile knowingness; unrelatedly, things look across to us. "Action et passion si peu discernables," Merleau-Ponty writes, "qu'on ne sait plus qui voit et qui est vu, qui peint et qui est peint" ("Action and passion so little separable that one no longer knows who is looking and who is being looked at, who is painting and who is being painted.")
Reflecting on the work of Jan Peter Tripp, in which faithfulness to reality is taken to an almost unimaginable extreme, one cannot avoid the tiresome question of realism. For one thing, because everyone looking at a picture of Tripp's is immediately struck by the seemingly unfailing accuracy of the representation, for another, because, paradoxically, it is just the stupendous skill that prevents us from seeing his true achievement. The perfected surface offers so little in the way of a clue that even professional art criticism can find very little to add to the layman's expressions of wonderment. There it is significant that such responses are often offered with a shaking of the head, as it were, since unquestioning admiration - just of those schooled in the traditions of the modern and, as far as skill is concerned, generally ignorant practitioners of criticism - is probably accompanied by a disturbing sense of having been taken in by some illusionist working with tricks not to be seen through. In fact Tripp manages not only to interpolate the third dimension into his surfaces, so that, looking, one sometimes thinks one can cross the pictorial threshold; but the material represented, the Cyprus-black cloth of the young Marcel's jacket, his taffeta cravat, the forty-one pebbles and the white snow on the field are so truly present, in the picture, that instinctively one puts out one's hand to touch it. Ernst Gombrich, in his large scale studies in art and illusion, reminds us of the story handed on by Pliny of the two Greek painters Parrhasios and Zeuxis. Zeuxis, they said, had painted grapes with such deceptive verisimilitude that birds tried to peck at them. Thereupon Parrhasios invited Zeuxis into his workshop to show him his own work. When Zeuxis made to raise the curtain from the picture panel in front of which Parrhasios had led him, he noticed that this curtain was not real, only painted. Gombrich then explains how in trompe-l'oeil painting the picture's power of suggestion and the attitude of expectation aroused in the viewer reciprocally reinforce each other, and he concludes the section with the remark that the most convincing trompe-l'oeil he had ever come across had simulated a cracked pane of glass in front of the painted surface. Well, in Tripp we find both the grapes of Zeuxis and the cracked glass. And yet one would be wrong to see him primarily as a virtuoso of trompe-l'oeil painting.
Excerpted from Unrecounted by W.G. Sebald Copyright © 2004 by The Estate of W. G. Sebald and Jan Peter Tripp . Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
W. G. Sebald was born in Germany in 1944 and died in 2001. He is the author of The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, Vertigo, Austerlitz,
After Nature, On the Natural History of Destruction, Unrecounted and Campo Santo.
Jan Peter Tripp was born in 1945 and lives and works in Alsace.
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UNRECOUNTED is a collaborative work by the deceased and sorely missed WG Sebald and his life long artist friend Jan Peter Tripp. Together they blocked 33 poems and 33 lithographs on apposing pages that were meant to create a sense of communication. In Sebald's words 'The longer I look at the pictures of Jan Peter Tripp, the better I understand that behind the illusions of the surface, a dread-inspiring depth is concealed. It is the metaphysical lining of reality, so to speak.' As a devoted reader of all of Sebald's output I was eagerly looking forward to yet another posthumous document from this astonishingly fine writer. What is in this handsome volume is not really 'poetry' but rather brief haiku-like musings. Not that they aren't lovely, it is just that they are not up to the challenging standards of his novels. Still one is left with a satisfied feeling having read this (sideways printed) book of thoughts. The art of Tripp is stunning - eyes of famous writers and thinkers. In the end, in Sebald's own critical self examination, these works are 'time lost, the pain of remembering, and the figure of death'. As such, they gain more meaning. Grady Harp