A.O. Scott of the New York Times promotes Teju Cole
In an otherwise useful review of the new documentary on would-be Nobel laureate W.G. Sebald, A.O. Scott writes,
So “Patience (After Sebald)” may not, in the end, offer much in the way of explanation. It does not solve the puzzle of an oeuvre that, as it made its way from German to English, established its creator as a major and unique force in world literature. Once you read him, you may discern traces of his influence everywhere (in a book like Teju Cole’s “Open City,” for example) and may find yourself collecting thoughts and perceptions that qualify as Sebaldian. Whatever that might mean.*
Those last two sentences are jarring aren’t they? Initially, A.O. Scott dithers saying,
The only problem — or, rather, the characteristic paradox — is that “Sebaldian” would have to mean something like “systematically resistant to classification.”
However, the whole point of his review is that there is something describable and identifiable as quintessentially, and meaningfully, Sebaldian, a puzzle which remains partially unsolved, he says.
What then is the point of mentioning that Teju Cole’s methods and effects are Sebaldian? No sooner has he done so than he abdicates responsibility for any meaningful answer - that he does not give but only suggests - he may have to the question “What qualifies as Sebaldian?”.
“Whatever that might mean,” he says, so that we don’t hold him responsible for his words. Is anything Sebaldian? Or is everything? Or just Teju Cole’s Open City?
I’m inclined to believe that Mr. Scott doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. I’m further inclined to believe he merely read James Wood’s review of Open City in The New Yorker where Wood points out that,
[“Open City”] does move in the shadow of W. G. Sebald’s work. While “Open City” has nominally separate chapters, it has the form and atmosphere of a text written in a single, unbroken paragraph: though people speak and occasionally converse, this speech is not marked by quotation marks, dashes, or paragraph breaks and is formally indistinguishable from the narrator’s own language. As in Sebald, what moves the prose forward is not event or contrivance but a steady, accidental inquiry, a firm pressurelessness (which is to say, what moves the prose forward is the prose—the desire to write, to defeat solitude by writing). The first few pages of “Open City” are intensely Sebaldian, with something of his sly faux antiquarianism. *
James Wood takes a stand on the matter of defining what is Sebald. He shows some conviction, which only makes the last lines of A.O. Scott’s review more distasteful and almost entirely promotional without the compensation of any real insights: “you may discern traces of his influence everywhere,” A.O. Scott says, yet he only gives a single, solitary example which he then immediately disavows.