Treating W.G. Sebald to some Phenomenology

W.G. Sebald

It was in July of last year that I posted about how it felt to have an article accepted by an academic journal. It wasn’t until this week – two major re-writes and a long wait later – that the article actually saw the light of day. I didn’t hear from the Journal itself but rather by email from Dr. Uwe Schütte of Aston University, whom I have to thank very sincerely for his advice all the way through this process. He sent me this link to the abstract.

The title of my article is “A walker’s approach [. . .] is a phenomenological one”: W.G. Sebald and the Instant, in which I use the phenomenology of Gaston Bachelard and others as a tool for appreciating Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, The Emigrants, and Austerlitz. In the article I have actually coined some new terms to use in phenomenology. This wasn’t actually planned, but I ended up needing them once I set off down a particular track.

I used my university’s library search facility to find the full article. It didn’t seem to be searchable by my own name, but the journal Monatshefte was, and once I had got that far, locating the new issue and then my article was easy. I noticed some typographical errors and glitches with hyperlinks, which rather took the shine off. Nothing major, though, and now I’m looking forward to receiving hard copy – the proofs I’ve already read through were error-free, as far as I could see.

Who knows whether I will manage to have another article published while I’m studying for my PhD. I’m not ruling it out, but on the other hand getting the thesis done is the main task. Just over a year has gone by since I started at St Andrews, probably the most unlikely PhD candidate ever, or at least that’s how it feels. I now have an article and two conference papers under my belt.

Meanwhile the world is suddenly a very different place. As Ian Malcolm says in Jurassic World, “Change is like death. You don’t know what it looks like until you’re standing at the gates.”

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The life of a shoe

Look; the water has swirled around the relic stones, shells; left sand as its mark inside the subtle shape, speaking of a tide beyond my calculation…

There can be no doubt – can there? – that I experience life as a series of phenomena, each one with its resonances and repercussions, each one sparking ripples and bubbles of memory and imagination, some of which fade or pop, others of which sweep and float onward, as phenomena in their own right. 

So when I come across the remnant of an old shoe at low-tide mark on the West Sands, what grips me is my own seeing, my own understanding, my own curiosity about who might have worn it, why it was discarded, where the other one might be. Already I have cursed it with a name – “shoe” – and have defined it by a purpose it no longer has, fitted it to an unknown foot that walked away long since. I have made it less real than its former wearer, and than that wearer’s naked footprints that the tide has washed away.

And yet, I am told by a friend when I bother to listen to him, things do not cease to exist when we discard them. What ceases to exist is only our narrow definition of them, and that only ceases because we plant ourselves at the centre of everything. 

This shoe that I found may no longer fit a foot, but it has ineffable context in its own right. It shapes the whole landscape of this Scottish strand, because it exists in relation to it, and thus to all things touched by the strand – seawater and dunes – and onward to the whole of what is. It is important, it is vital, it is defining. In being less than the purposeful object which was fashioned and named, it is now somehow so much more. 

If my definition is now worthless – and it was only ever a metaphor in the first place – then we are no longer looking at a meaningful world, but at the possibility of infinite meaningful worlds…

Solitude, Consent, Brilliance

Today I dressed in my rain gear and set out from the student residence where I stay. I decided to go a back way from there to town, my goal being the West Sands. So I wandered along paved footpaths I had never set foot on before, past university buildings old and new that I had never seen before, in a general direction I was guessing at, navigating by a kind of urban dead reckoning. My route brought me out onto a street where the occasional urgent motor car buzzed past. “Where does this lead, I wonder?” I thought. When I had gone along this street for about one hundred and fifty metres, I suddenly realised I was actually on a street I walk along almost daily. Coming to it from an unexpected angle, on a journey of discovery, had made it so magically unfamiliar, that recognition was a similarly magical transformation. 

It was a moment of intense joy – I can’t say why. But it struck me that moments like this are to be prized, treasured, stored in the memory to be brought out again in the future and brightened by imagination filing in the gaps. My advice to my readers is to look for things like this in your life. No matter what age you are, these brilliant moments are of such value. We live in tough times, and we need these occurrences of beauty. I hope they never cease to happen to me.

The tide was out on the West Sands, so it was a long walk to where the waves broke on the shore. The few figures on the beach – no, I did not ask for their consent to be photographed (see my last post) – only seemed to enhance the loneliness. I walked all the way to Out Head along the line of breaking waves, scattering flocks of oystercatchers as I went, and back along high tide mark.

I was lonely, I got soaked to the skin, and I didn’t care about either of those facts. It was a peaceful, natural kind of loneliness, so later when I bumped into two lovely friends in town, the natural loneliness and the serendipitous company enhanced each other.

A grey day like today seemed to cry out for black & white photography…

… taken on my old Nokia mobile phone.

It’s a matter of consent

There’s a meme going round social media – sorry, I have been unable to find a copy, so you’ll have to go by my description – it’s basically a cartoon of an art class, in which a group of students are sitting at their easels around a naked young woman. We are looking over the shoulder of one of the art students, and we can see that he is not drawing the model, but one of his fellow artists, a young woman, as she is engaged in her drawing. The message we are supposed to receive from this is that the naked model has given consent to be drawn, and the other young woman hasn’t.

The issue of consent is a serious one, and should be taken seriously. But is this a good analogy, this example of the art class?

I’m not going to write at length, I’m merely going to pose a question. Artists have, for a long time now, caught people unawares, unposed. It has allowed portraiture to escape the blank stare of the sitting subject, has allowed art to capture a kind of verité, a lack of self-consciousness in the subject.

I suppose that the artist over whose shoulder we are looking in the meme could have approached his colleague beforehand and asked, “Do you mind if I sketch you while you draw?” His colleague could have said “No!” or (worse?) could have sat self-consciously while he drew her.

There are areas of life and interaction with others where consent is not simply preferable, it is vital. I believe that is what the meme is trying to tell us. But the url of this blog contains the words “what the hell is art.” So I ask again, is the meme really a good analogy, if it seeks to set a boundary around art, saying art must not do such-and-such? Is it right to forbid art to capture the spontaneous?

I pose this as a question, and invite you to debate.

Degas: Absinthe Drinkers

Doisneau: Cafe de Flore

The Lynton Wright Brent Case Continues…

Lynton Wright Brent, looking a bit miffed about my research.

As a postscript to my recent post on movie actor and paperback author Lynton Wright Bent, my attention has been drawn to something that puts elements of the bibliography in some doubt.

There’s no copyright on names – I share one with the former drummer of Roxy Music, for example, and there’s an academic web site that keeps telling me I’ve been quoted in innumerable articles – and I’m well aware that The Hectic Headspace of Abigail Squall (2018) was not written by the same Scott O’Neill. So I wasn’t surprised when someone came up with information to suggest that at least one of the titles in the bibliography may not be by Lynton Wright Brent at all.

Martian Sexpot (Jade, 1963), according to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, was authored by Peggy O’Neill Scott Fields. She and her husband Lynwood Paul Fields wrote together, as Barton Werper, and produced a notorious series of Tarzan novels, which were taken out of circulation when the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs sued the publisher.

If Martian Sexpot is now in doubt, then Profile of a Pervert (Jade, 1963) must be also. What does that say about the Gold Star titles? Well, difficult to say at this point, but I’m keeping the case file open…

On the Silent Sex Trail of Sir Gay: The Pulp Career of Lynton Wright Brent

In 1936 a quirky little book was published, entitled Gittin’ in the Movies. It was written in a kind of American “country” eye-dialect, and was a tongue-in-cheek volume on how to inveigle your way into appearing in films. Its author was Lynton Wright Brent, who was then six years into a twenty-year career in which he appeared in at least two-hundred-and-forty movies. Never a star as such, he was often to be seen in a check shirt and a Stetson in the role of a henchman, or as one of the irate townsfolk about to lynch the wrong man, or as a gang member, or as a fall guy for the Three Stooges.

Brent was born in Chicago in 1897, and died aged eighty-three in Los Angeles in 1981. He was the son of William Lynton Brent, who founded and developed the Los Angeles suburb of Brentwood. As well as being a movie actor he was a painter – more as a leisure activity than as a serious artist – and an aspiring author. The next book of his I could find, after Gittin’ in the Movies, is a novel called The Bird Cage, published in 1945 by Dorrance & Co. It is about the Bird Cage Theatre in Tombstone Arizona in the 1880s. I have a press clipping from a Tucson newspaper I can’t identify (possibly the Tucson Daily Citizen) which refers to The Bird Cage as Brent’s “first novel,” and refers to another of his “historical novels of Arizona” being scheduled for publication in 1946. The clipping states that this second novel was about life in the town of Bisbee in the same era, but if it was ever published I can find no reference to it anywhere. The clipping also states that Brent was heading back to Hollywood to sell the movie rights to The Bird Cage, but again that is another cold trail. Perhaps the release of John Ford’s landmark My Darling Clementine in 1946 put the cap on movies set in Tombstone for some time.

You may be wondering how I found out about Lynton Wright Brent, and what started me on his trail.

“Hello. I don’t know what this is, but I want to read it,” was the pm I got on social media from a friend a few days ago. Along with the message came a picture of the cover from the mass-market paperback Sir Gay.

After a couple of clicks of the mouse, I found what I was looking for, and messaged back “It’ll cost you at least £145!”

As we conversed about this piece of mass-market ephemera, I busied myself looking for more. The author’s name rang a bell, and I recalled that Brent had written a couple of novels that fell within my sphere of research – Lesbian Gang (1964) and Lavender Love Rumble (1965). Of my two standard reference books about paperbacks, one didn’t mention the publisher “Brentwood” at all, and the other had one entry for them, and that was a fourth title. As I searched the internet, more titles were beginning to emerge; I boasted that, given half an hour, I could come up with a complete bibliography for Brent, at which my friend showed some sceptical amusement.

So, how did I get on? Well I discovered that a good decade on from the end of Brent’s movie career, and almost twenty years since The Bird Cage, he became a latecomer in the world of cheap paperback sleaze, publishing a slew of novels at what seemed a single go. Many of them were on a western theme, with added pornography, and I have a feeling that they might have started their life as a portfolio of straight westerns that failed to find a publisher. Several of these seem to have been published by “Brentwood” – I assume that Brent couldn’t find a publishing house, so he founded one! Others, purporting to be non-fiction exposés, were published under the pen-name Scott O’Neill. The promised bibliography follows. I hope you enjoy it. Information on “pulp” authors is often quite meagre, so I am prepared to bet that there may be unknown Brent oeuvres out there, maybe under other pen-names. If you know of any, let me know!

Lynton Wright Brent – bibliography
Including titles by Scott O’Neill*

Novels etc.:

Apache Killers – Powell, 1969
Apache Massacre – Powell, 1969
Apache Tomahawk – Powell, 1969
The Bird Cage – Dorrance & Co, 1945
Blood in the Street – Powell, 1968 (with Richard Fusilier)
Campus Call Girl – Gold Star, 1964*
Daughter of Bonnie & Clyde – Producer Books, 1971 [apparently the novelisation of a Norman Hudis screenplay, but no such film seems to exist.]
Death of a Detective – Powell, 1969
The Desert is a Woman – Brentwood, 1965
Detective on the Prowl – Powell [possibly as Scott O’Neill]
Flaming Lust – Brentwood, 1964
Gittin’ in the Movies – Moderncraft, 1936
Hollywood Crime and Scandal – Powell, 1969
Lavender Love Rumble – Brentwood, 1964
Lesbian Gang – Carousel, 1964
Lust Gallops into the Desert – Brentwood, 1965
Martian Sexpot – Jade, 1963*
A New Look at the Lesbian – Nite-Time, 1963*
One Man’s Crime – Powell, 1969
Outlaw Village – Powell, 1968
The Passion Tree – Brentwood, 1965
Passionate Peril at Fort Tomahawk – Brentwood, 1965
Profile of a Pervert – Jade, 1963*
Sex and the Alcoholic – Gold Star, 1965*
Sex and the Divorcee – Gold Star, 1965*
Sex and the Hospital – Hemisphere, 1965*
Sex and the Jet Set – Gold Star, 1964 *
Sex and the Starlets – Gold Star, 1964*
The Sex Demon of Jangal – Brentwood
Sex in the Service – Gold Star, 1965*
Silent Sex Trail – Brentwood, 1965
Sir Gay – Brentwood, 1965 [$180]
Squaw Trail – Brentwood, 1965 [Anchor]
The Sundown Kid – Powell, 1969
Violent Love Stalks The Plains – Brentwood, 1965
Warpaint in the Desert – Powell, 1969

Stories:

“From Mexico I Came” – Script, August 1940
“The Marshal Wears a Mask” – Western Aces, June 1943
“The Texas Kid” – credited as the story behind a Jess Bowers screenplay.
“The Sheriff Lends a Hand” – Masked Rider Western, March 1943
“Der Sex-Trail” – Lady Derringer No.6, 1994 [65-page periodical by various authors, published in German by Martin Kelter. The story may be a posthumous reworking of Brent’s novel Silent Sex Trail]
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I acknowledge the web site b-westerns.com for much of the above information.