Britain's first book blogger (November 2000)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Remembered if outlived

When I read reports that Will Oldham a.k.a Bonnie Prince Billy has a new LP soon called Then the Letting Go I thought: he's so good with titles! It's always a good sign. But it turns out the title also makes up the final words of Emily Dickinson's poem that begins After great pain.

Whatever, it's in keeping with a theme I noticed so many years ago when I wrote something to welcome I See a Darkness into the world: he writes songs of the human animal. The LP covers, at least until Joya, tended to feature an animal on the way to becoming human. But then there was last year's slightly disappointing Superwolf collaboration too.

This is something to be investigated further. The relation between the formal feeling of being human and the great pain of being animal might be said to be the dynamic behind so much art (that is, art has to outlive the animal yet also seeks to return). Eric Santner certainly seems to think so. His new book On Creaturely Life looks at Rilke, Walter Benjamin and, perhaps most intriguingly, WG Sebald. Santner argues:
Sebald’s entire oeuvre can be seen as an archive of creaturely life. For Sebald, the work on such an archive was inseparable from his understanding of what it means to engage ethically with another person’s history and pain, an engagement that transforms us from indifferent individuals into neighbors.
This last point is one I tried to make in my own essay on Sebald - one that I felt was missing from the reviews of his Airwar book, mainly because many of the reviewers used it for special pleading on behalf of bombing our neighbours in Iraq.

2 comments:

  1. Re: Oldham and animals - I was amazed, when I finally saw him live this year, to see how much like an unusual, possessed, almost scared creature he was. He knelt, balanced on one leg, pushed out his jaw - it was like watching Martin Sheen at the beginning of Apocalypse, No(w! - sorry, couldn't resist that reference) fronting a band. The fact that Oldham didn't miss a note for the entire night, despite this creature fighting for life within him, was all the more extraordinary.

    It's a shame you didn't like Superwolf, however - it thought it was superb. Such a biting, wiry guitar sound on that record.

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  2. Mmm, interesting. When I've seen him live, he's been quite restrained. That was some years ago now though.

    As for Superwolf: there are two or three lovely songs but the whole thing feels diluted.

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