Welcome to the Schlögel Archive
Ways to explore:
Please enter through any picture that intrigues you. As you advance through the manuscript of my novel, The Search for Heinrich Schlögel, at times a voice (one of many) will read aloud to you, next you may stumble upon a silence. How differently a novel inhabits each of its readers will become, I hope, audio-palpable, as you move from postcard to postcard.
If a particular reader appeals to you, you may search the archive by recipient’s name. This will allow you to experience an auditory “core sample” of the novel, a layered reading in one voice of passages taken from many separate points in the narrative, a delicate drilling through the story.
A few bold postcard recipients have supplied us with additional inspirations and photos of their postcards in-situ.
Why and how is this here?
In the novel the year is 1974 and a teenaged German, named Heinrich, longs to escape the claustrophobia of his hops-growing hometown of Tettnang. In 1980 he will arrive in Canada. It is still the era of letters and postcards. From Pangnirtung, on Baffin Island, he’ll hike alone up the Weasel River to the Turner glacier and back. This should take him two weeks. But for reasons unknown to him, he’ll be yanked from the 20th century and deposited in the 21st. When he returns to Pangnirtung, thirty years will have vanished though he is no older. A computer-nimble, Inuit teenager will befriend him, while he struggles with his predicament, uncertain how to proceed.
In January 2012, upon completing a sixth or ninth draft of the novel, sensing that an element was still missing but unable to discern what it might be, I began transcribing the manuscript onto hundreds of postcards and mailing these to friends across Canada and Europe.
My goals were numerous. Numérique. Digital. I wanted to explore how authors and readers relate to each other in our time. The prospect of creating a hand-written-illustrated-audio-e-book that nobody would ever bother to explore in its entirety delighted me.
The picture on the front of each postcard would alter how the portion of novel inscribed on the back was experienced – that was my hope. Not just any postcard would do. Oblique or overt, a connection had to nestle within each pairing of image and prose.
From the AGO I bought crisp new postcards, and in a used books store where the vintage postcards, arranged by theme, filled several shoe boxes on a shelf, I spent more money than I’d intended.
I put out a call for donations and soon was inundated: souvenir images from the Freud Museum in London, Star Trek, Ikea, Disney Land, A New Brunswick amateur taxidermist, who stuffs squirrels and dresses them in costumes. The possibilities multiplied. Could such random cards successfully illuminate my novel?
I went On-line, searched for specific images: photos, old or recent, of Pangnirtung or Tettnang. Vacationers had indeed posted holiday snapshots of both. I contacted several to ask permission to reproduce their shots of Tettnang’s town square, of the hops fields and orchards surrounding the town. A few of my own quick shots, taken on a two-week hike in Auyuittuq Park, on Baffin Island, became postcards. I e-mailed the National Archive of Canada, who granted me permission to reproduce, for use in an art project, a selection of photos taken on Baffin Island in the nineteen twenties and fifties; most of these are portraits of unidentified, de-named people.
In a large cookie tin containing photos and letters that once belonged to my father, I came across postcards of the Rhine, purchased by him at the age of twenty-two. A young Canadian cycling through Germany in 1937, his adventure had been the reverse of Heinrich’s. I scanned his Rhine postcards and transcribed passages describing Heinrich’s hike along a Baffin Island river, the Weasel. My father when he bought the cards did not know that in two years’ time he’d be abandoning graduate school to fight in a war against Germany. How many stories can one archive tell? How many can it hide? While Canadians fought oversees against fascist Germany, back in Canada First Nations children were being forcibly taken from their parents and placed in residential schools.
The number of Schlögel postcard receivers has now grown to over seventy. They range in age from five years old to ninety-five, and live in Canada, the US, and Europe. Already, certain passages “belong” to particular readers, whose recorded voices inhabit the archive. Though the words are mine, I can no longer separate them from the voice of the person who received them in the mail, and took the time to read them aloud.
Possibly the novel needn’t ever be published as a book, and I’ll be spared the trauma of completion, the anguish of discovering how well or poorly the work comes together as a unified whole – this is what I’ve told myself, on and off, as I’ve mailed out postcards. I have only a hundred or so postcards left to transcribe.
In 2013, the remarkable Canadian composer, Nic Gotham, who lived from September 1959 to July 2013, was commissioned to write a ten minute work for clarinet, piano, cello, and percussion, in response to the manuscript of The Search for Heinrich Schlögel.
The Schlögel Archive, including Gotham’s exquisite music, performed and recorded by Array Music, will be “installed” in the Koffler Gallery, Toronto, in Spring 2015.
This archive exists thanks to the extraordinary generosity of my dear friend and collaborator, Greg Sharp, the archive’s source of tech-skill and labour; huge thanks to all who have received postcards and recorded themselves reading; I thank everyone who has donated postcards for me to write on. I thank the Ontario Arts Council for their support.
Martha Baillie, April 2, 2014
At present we are focused on capturing the cards and audio but more ways to navigate through the site will soon be put in place.
Your comments are welcome.
The Schlögel Archive