December 31, 2012
Five Dials #26 is focused on German writing, with a number of new short stories by young German writers, plus three essays on W.G. Sebald: Uwe Schutte’s “Teaching by Example,” Amanda Hopkinson’s “A History of Memory or a Memory of History?,” and Anthea Bell’s “A Translator’s View.” These essays are three of the five originally commissioned and aired by BBC radio one year ago. (The two essays not reprinted here are those of Christopher Bigsby and Georges Szirtes.)
Helen Finch has added her thoughts to the discussion about the recent BBC radio dramatization of Austerlitz in a blog post wonderfully called “Sebald was more interesting than the husband: Austerlitz and l’effet du réel.” Finch makes the case that we should be judging the radio drama on whether or not it contains “the emotional truth” of the original book.
If Michael Butt tried to present the emotional truth of Austerlitz, as he felt it, in his radio drama, who is to say that his classic BBC drama version, complete with slamming doors and tearjerking music, does not represent that important affective aspect of Sebald’s work which might otherwise be lost behind his complex irony and academic erudition? Or is it the case that if we allow ourselves to be bewitched by Sebald’s artistry into thinking that his work is just a reproduction of the real, nothing more and nothing less, we have consigned ourselves to the realm of kitsch that is the death of art?
Over at The White Review is a nice piece by Will Stone called “Oradour-sur-Glane: Reflections on the Culture of Memorial in Europe” that speaks to some of Sebald’s preoccupations in Austerlitz with Holocaust sites, architecture, and memorials.
Entering Oradour and obeying bold signs to the memorial ruins, I was surprised to find myself in a vast car park, a limitless expanse of tarmac, more suited one would think to a sports complex or shopping mall. There on the sleek asphalt of the car park I observed luxury coaches with their tinted glass and climate controlled interiors spill their chattering cargoes, just as they will now in the newly constructed ‘reception area’ at Auschwitz I in Poland. Cars of suntanned visitors parked obediently between the freshly painted lines, disembarked and moved off all in the same direction, as if drawn by some unspecified magnetic source towards the giant modern bunker of a building that sat in a kind of man-made hollow. I realised as I followed them down the smart new concrete steps to the lower level that this was a relatively new visitors centre, inaugurated in 1999 by President Chirac, a largely superfluous building, the new scourge of every memorial site in Europe, whether merely ruins or formal cemetery. For today it is considered not quite enough to have solely the memorial itself before which to contemplate man’s destructive capability, the intricacies of murderous folly and the resulting nerve straining conclusion. Again and again some shadowy authority slips in between the individual and their private purpose and imposes an artificial construction in their path, which they have to wade through, straddle or circumnavigate before they can get back to the path they thought they were on.
Did Teju Cole deliberately write twelve essays in twenty twelve? I wouldn’t put it past him. Here are links to each and every one.
I’m sure of nothing, and writing essays is one of the ways I sort through my doubts.
And finally, among the books we can look forward to in 2013 is Jo Catling’s translation of Sebald’s important book A Place in the Country (originally Logis in einem Landhaus, by WG Sebald. According to The Guardian, the book is due to be released in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton/Penguin May 2, but Amazon doesn’t have the US edition coming out from Random House until January 2014. It looks as if Random House is going to use the same cover as the German edition, which is a beautiful watercolor by the Swiss writer Gottfried Keller, who is the subject of one of the biographic essays in this. The only place I can currently find an image of a possible Hamish Hamilton cover is over at New Books in German, which shows something entirely different for the UK edition.
September 2, 2011
The other night I continued to make my non-sequential way through Saturn’s Moons: W.G. Sebald – A Handbook by reading short accounts written by two of Sebald’s English-language translators: “Englishing Max” by Michael Hulse and “Translating W.G. Sebald – With and Without the Author” by Anthea Bell. A fair amount has already been written about turning Sebald’s German into English, a process that always involved the considerable participation of Sebald, who, of course, was extremely articulate in English. The two essays in Saturn’s Moons add to the well-established image of Sebald and translator collaborating almost as equals. As the illustration above shows, Sebald was perfectly capable of rephrasing – or even completely rewriting – the work of his own translator, which might well have been unnerving for those who took on the task of “Englishing” his German.
But Hulse provides a rare glimpse into the break-up of their professional (and personal) relationship that seems to expose a rarely seen side of Sebald. Having already translated Die Ausgewanderten into The Emigrants in 1996 and Die Ringe des Saturn into The Rings of Saturn in 1998, Hulse “agreed against my better judgment to translate Schwindel. Gefühle,” which, in 1999, became Vertigo. Hulse says he had already heard reports of Sebald complaining in public that he had had to “correct” Hulse’s translations. Hulse, who was juggling multiple literary projects at once, also sensed that Sebald thought he slowed the translation process down too much. Eventually, Hulse says, he informed Sebald’s publisher (Harvill) that he would not translate Sebald’s next book. In January 2000, Sebald wrote Hulse to say that “Perhaps you would agree that, from your point of view also, our partnership has now reached its limits.” After that they never communicated again.
This admission by Hulse immediately reminded me of Michael Hamburger’s oddly confessional “Translator’s Note” at the beginning of Unrecounted, the book of poems that he posthumously translated from Sebald’s German in 2005.
Although Max Sebald had given me copies of all his books published since our first acquaintance, he never so much as mentioned the writings of these miniatures to me and gave me no copy of For Years Now [the 2001 book in which some of the same poems had been previously published in English, apparently translated by Sebald himself].
Hamburger described the final period of Sebald’s life “as a time of crisis…full of enigmas, conflicts and contradictions he chose not to clarify.” As a longstanding friend, Hamburger expressed some pique that Sebald was “readily accessible for interviews that probed matters he would not divulge to his closest friends.”
In an intriguing aside, Hamburger mentioned that his wife had received an autographed copy of the English edition of Austerlitz that, surprisingly, “contained emendations in his hand.” Was Sebald unhappy with aspects of Anthea Bell’s translation, as well? Bell, who has both written and spoken in interviews about her experiences with Sebald, has never hinted at any issues.