The black dog (WG Sebald)

June 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

We made our way back on foot. For both of us the walk proved too long. Downcast we strode on in the autumn sunshine, side by side. The houses of Kritzendorf seemed to go on forever. Of the people who lived there not a sign was to be seen. They were all having lunch, clattering the cutlery and plates. A dog leapt at a green-painted iron gate, quite beside itself, as if it had taken leave of its senses. It was a large black Newfoundland, its natural gentleness broken by ill-treatment, long confinement or even the crystal clarity of the autumn day. In the villa behind the iron fence nothing stirred. Nobody came to the window, not even a curtain moved. Again and again the animal ran up and hurled itself at the gate, only occasionally pausing to eye us where we stood as if transfixed. As we walked on I could feel the chill of terror in my limbs. Ernst turned to look back once more at the black dog, which had now stopped barking and was standing motionless in the midday sun. Perhaps we should have let it out. It would probably have ambled along beside us, like a good beast, while its evil spirit might have stalked among the people of Kritzendorf in search of another host, and indeed might have entered them all simultaneously, so not one of them would have been able to lift a spoon or fork again.
(WG Sebald, 1990, Vertigo)

The large black Newfoundland. One of the many dogs in WG Sebald’s work.Here the dog is menacing. But not as the dog that rushes the fence (although that seems to be a deeply ingrained fear for many), but as the black dog that figures depression. The narrator in Vertigo visits his friend Ernst, who has lived most of his life in a mental institution. Both are dealing with mental illness and in this episode they literally walk into the terror of it.

In Vertigo, as in Sebald’s other work, the dog mostly is a melancholy omen of actual or potential illness. As someone living with dogs, I find this aspect of Sebald’s work difficult to reconcile with that so much of his work is inspired by dogs. In an often quoted interview Sebald talks about how he has always had dogs and how the dog running in the field, following his nose, has taught him about writing and about walking and finding things.

For me, my dogs bring so much happiness and fun and laughter into my life; I cannot think easily of dogs as harbingers of bad things. But there is, of course, a long tradition in folklore of the dog as bad omen. And particularly the black dog.

There is also a dog in the cover photograph of my Penguin Books 2005 edition of Campo Santo, a collection of Sebald’s writings published after his death. It is a Kertesz photo of the church in Piana, Corsica, 1932. Men clad in black and in hats are lined up sitting outside the church, in the shade. It is probably a Sunday. A yellow, or white, dog shares the shadow of the church with them.

The photo is so Sebaldian in its style that I wonder whether it might have been one of the remembered images at the core of Sebald’s writing process: “[…] and on a walk there a remembered image came into my mind”, he writes somewhere in one of the pieces in Campo Santo. I can’t remember where, but it might have been the title essay, based on Sebald walking in Corsica. André Kertesz, of course, was a poet among photographers, observing the everyday, the easily missed moments. So here a dog as part of everyday life. No matter whether white, or black.


Statue in Edinburgh Botanical Gardens


And more

Interview by Joe Cuomo with Sebald talking about dogs and writing

W.G. Sebald and the Writing of History (ed. by Anne Fuchs and J. Jonathan James Long 2007)


Weekly photo challenge: Fleeting

June 9, 2013 § 8 Comments

Fleeting. In Wellington that’s wind. Just again and again. So why not celebrate it, like with these Chinese wind wheels.

Listening to the wind at Under the Sails, Queen's Wharf, Wellington.

Listening to the wind at Under the Sails, Queen’s Wharf, Wellington.

Visiting the green parrot’s perching place – QE II Paekakariki

June 2, 2013 § 3 Comments

Walking the Dog? … in Perth

February 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

Just a few pictures from when I was walking around in Perth recently and keeping an eye out on where one would walk the dog.
Yeah for happy iPhone snaps.

Weekly photo challenge: silhouette

October 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

Finally, a cat. I love cats, too, not just dogs. This is Greg, the wharf cat. Greg lives at Wellington’s Queen’s Wharf and ‘belongs’ to everybody there: the boaties, the restaurant owners and employees, … . Everybody feeds him a little and cuddles a little. One of the skippers of the East By West ferries told me about Greg, on my way to Matiu/Somes Island. Thing is, Greg is a girl.

Anyway, here is my contribution to this week’s photo challenge: silhouette.

Greg, the wharf cat. Queens Wharf, Wellington, NZ. 

Weekly photo challenge: near and far

September 9, 2012 § 5 Comments

This week’s WordPress photo challenge is about perspective & about photos looking three-dimensional rather than flat, set by an Irish photographer who likes landscape photography. Mine is more of a streetscape, really, of the seagulls at Owhiro Bay, Wellington.

The locals call them the shift workers: in the morning they are in the nearby rubbish dump of Happy Valley Rd, in the afternoon they all shift to the beach.

Red-billed seagulls. Owhiro Bay, Wellington south coast.

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