Untitled: Najeeb Mubarki

Guest post by NAJEEB MUBARKI

I could have met Sebald.
I went to Britain in September 2001,
And he died in December.
East Anglia wasn’t all that far way
From London, nothing, really,
Is all that far away in Britain.
I could have met him, if I had known him
Then.
What I would have wanted to say, I think
Is that I love him.
Because he eased my suffering, which is
What love is all about, if it is
Love at all.
So, of a fashion, I would have said,
I love him, and that’s also because he
Taught me how to try
And describe somethings.
Such as when, on that strange day
If I remember, we were wearing pherans
So it must have been cold, perhaps grey,
The street was empty, and my memory begins
With that empty street, almost as if it is cinema
And that is the first take.
From an acute angle from the window
We saw the truck
No one told us, father, mother and i
That there was a truck there,
It was as if we were, as I said,
In the first scene.
What I remember, I would have told Sebald,
That the truck seemed to be waiting, for
Collectors to accept a delivery
From the window, first father and then I saw the truck
Standing near the edge of Ikhrajpora
And the careless muddle of arms and legs
I do not remember, I would have said,
If there was any blood.
But father said ya rasoolalah
And turned and went down the stairs
Mother, I think, as I followed him, was pleading
For us not to go out.
My memory is forgetful, I would have told Sebald,
Perhaps with a weak smile,
And I don’t remember what happened next.
Did I watch as the people streamed
Were they screaming or were there slogans
Or were they saying anything at all
As they took down the bodies, made dead
At Gawkadal.
What I do remember, however,
Is the funeral of kachur, and that is all that I knew
Of him, a name and sight, in Ikhrajpora.
There seemed, I would have said, to be a noise
Or was it a roar
I remember being quiet, I would have said
Aware that father was weeping, in his light-brown pheran
Standing next to me
As we watched kachur’s father, and it must have been
His father
Patiently, very carefully, put back
The dislodged piece of his skull
Into place.
What I do remember, clearly,
Was my feet
In the slush, wearing my rubber sandals
Turning stone cold.
And why I came here, to East Anglia, to meet him, I would have
Told Sebald
Is that he made me understand
That it is all right
To remember imprecisely.

7 thoughts on “Untitled: Najeeb Mubarki”

  1. Ah but Sebald does not himself remember imprecisely…he remembers with intense precision, in many different ways, from different vantage points…globally, locally and in-between…he remembers conceptually…which in turn aids his immaculate dexterity to apprehend humanity like no other writer in recent times. It is not a lack of precision, it is instead a finely tuned and acutely applied one instead.

  2. Gautam, you have missed the point in your insistence of precision. If one looks at Sebald’s Austerlitz for example, one finds a complex weaving of fact and fiction, a very digressive style of writing, further transgressed by use of photographs to accentuate an already cracked nature of the text. This shows like nothing else how difficult it was to capture the fractured experience of horror.

    Najeeb’s poem is very precisely evoking that spirit of impreciseness. And if you read the poem, it is very vividly precise and yet it conveys to the reader how memory can sometimes fumble at the edges of precision and be haunted by what exceeds it.

  3. Manash – you seem to have misunderstood my comment as an objection to the poetry. It’s not actually. It’s a fine poem in some ways (particularly in evoking the ‘theatre of war’ – a decidedly Sebaldian theme) and the writer is free to extrapolate whatever he wishes and use it whichever way he chooses to. No issue there. But, of the many things that I personally got from Sebald’s writing, imprecision was certainly not one of them. Sontag, in On WG Sebald, says “What seemed foreign as well as most persuasive was the preternatural authority of Sebald’s voice: its gravity, its sinuosity, its precision, its freedom from all undermining or undignified self-consciousness or irony”. Banville writes “one can do no better than to say of Sebald’s work” that it is “notable for precision and responsibility”. Rings Of Saturn is finely detailed, and immensely precise in so many ways – his meeting with Michael Hamburger, visit to the tomb of St Sebolt – and the numerous other descriptions in other works, including his writing on the hyper-real work of Jan Peter Tripp, are rich with intricacy, emotive depth, melancholia, and if I may labour the point, precision – historical, artistic and literary. McCulloh echoes this in Understanding WG Sebald, and points also to Kafka. Most descriptions and reviews of Sebald’s work do so as well. So while Sebald’s narrative techniques include being digressive, discursive, and enigmatically meandering/tangential at times, I’m quite certain that he is at no time, imprecise.

  4. Gautam,

    I was merely trying to draw attention to the “limits” of precision in Sebald’s writing, not by saying he was imprecise, but that the pressures of (im)precise memory creates a fractured text. That is all I wanted to argue. I did think you objected to the poem; rather you raised an important doubt. But Najeeb’s reading of Sebald is perhaps based on a philosophical point really – that despite all the accuracies of a text (historical, artistic, literary), the work of memory is always haunted by what opposes it: its blurring. And mind you, a writer can even describe those moments of blurring, with equal precision. It is this tension, I would insist, which enriches memory.

  5. Please use this (sorry):

    Gautam,

    I was merely trying to draw attention to the “limits” of precision in Sebald’s writing, not by saying he was imprecise, but that the pressures of (im)precise memory creates a fractured text. That is all I wanted to argue. I did not think you objected to the poem; rather you raised an important doubt. But Najeeb’s reading of Sebald is perhaps based on a philosophical point really – that despite all the accuracies of a text (historical, artistic, literary), the work of memory is always haunted by what opposes it: its blurring. And mind you, a writer can even describe those moments of blurring, with equal precision. It is this tension, I would insist, which enriches memory.

  6. hello!! well, i could, but i dont think it proper, to comment on comments above. (but if it sparks a debate anywhere on sebaldian precise impreciseness, i shall be quite happy!) here to explain two things, as a few people asked me. this wasn’t written for kafila, it was just a FB post for friends. and kachur isn’t a proper name, it’s a nickname and means ‘blond’. not uncommon to find blond haired people in kashmir, and often they are called by that non-pejorative nickname. this was one such boy.

  7. Manash – point well taken and I happen to agree with you that the blurring of memory, and an artistic enterprise linked to the blurring, to the many layers and textures that intervene, is potentially very rich and engaging. Many writers do it, and very successfully at that – from Proust, Nabakov to Pamuk, amongst so very many others. In Sebald’s case I feel, his intense & highly inventive (one could argue fastidious) engagement with historical, environmental, artistic and literary detail, in fetishistic ways at times, makes it so much more ‘real’, or hyper-real. This enterprise then presents itself as a conceptualist one, wherein, the intellectual/artistic/literary premise takes a front seat. It is in this sense that I feel that Sebald remembers ‘conceptually’ and not ‘imprecisely’ for it is in amplification of certain kinds of such detail, in patterned and desultory forms alike, that critically inform the underlying melancholic, humanistic prose. I do see your point of course, and perhaps we are at slightly different vantage points ourselves?

    Najeeb – your well within your rights to jump in! Interesting to know what kachur means, thanks for that and for your thoughtful poem. Sebald’s literary enterprise is pretty incredible – think perhaps we all agree on that!

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