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.
July 21, 2010
Michael Hamburger’s desk, as shown in The Rings of Saturn.
A little while ago (well, March, to be exact), the poet Will Stone put up on his website an essay he had written in 2007 upon the death of his friend and fellow poet Michael Hamburger. Unpicked Apples – Memories of Michael Hamburger is a moving and admiring remembrance of Hamburger and a tribute to one of the last survivors of that “‘civilised’ generation of, for want of a better expression we might call ‘men of letters’.” Hamburger was the translator of two of W.G. Sebald’s books of poetry – After Nature and Unrecounted – and he appears as a character early on in Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn.
Embedded within Stone’s memories of Hamburger are his recollections of Sebald’s sudden death in 2001 and some moments Stone and Hamburger shared as they tried to come to terms with that tragic accident.
I also remember an exchange following his attendance at Max [Sebald]’s funeral in Norfolk in which Michael sought to express the severity of the sudden loss of Max, to articulate the onerous sense of vacancy left by his passing, which was that much more than the premature loss of a well-loved creative man in late middle age. I always had the feeling from his often guarded reverence for Max that Michael realised astutely the true reach and sacrifice of Sebald’s vision, not only the writings that had made him an icon in the Anglophone world, but the painstaking assemblage of an entire work through long gestation, the vital consequence of his uncompromising labour of literary absorption…
April 4, 2009
Almost a year ago I wrote about Will Stone’ book of poetry Glaciation, which includes a poem entitled SS Fort Breendonk, dedicated “In memory of WG Sebald.” (Glaciation, by the way, recently won the 2008 Glen Dimplex Prize for poetry from the Irish Writers’ Centre.) There is now an excerpt from SS Fort Breendonk at the publisher’s website.
As every dedicated Vertigo reader knows, Stone has also published a translation of Georges Rodenbach’s seminal photographically-illustrated novel Bruges-la-Morte, in which he updated the late 19th century photographs of Bruges with his own contemporary versions.
In a few days the British film magazine Vertigo will publish Stone’s new essay At Risk of Interment – WG Sebald in Terezin and Breendonk, which deals with the holocaust-related aspects of Sebald’s book Austerlitz. Stone’s essay will includes his own photos of Breendonk. Stone’s essay will be in the print version of Vertigo (which I am assuming means volume 4 number 2) and not in the separate “monthly online edition”. April 23 is the scheduled release date, so there’s still time to subscribe, get to a bookseller’s, or figure out how to order a single copy at the magazine’s website.
May 5, 2008
I’ve been on the road recently and spent a bit too much of the past week staring at embroidered words that seemed to read: FAST! EAT BELT WHILE SEATED. That may be why I decided to read a new book of poems when I returned home.
Will Stone’s Glaciation came out in 2007 from Salt Publishing in Cambridge, England. According to the book jacket, he is a poet, photographer, and translator, with a degree in Literary Translation from the University of East Anglia. In an earlier post on Georges Rodenbach, I wrote about Stone’s translation of Rodenbach’s seminal photographically-illustrated novel Bruges-la-Morte, in which Stone updated the late 19th century photographs of Bruges with his own contemporary versions.
Stone’s poems dwell on the brute power of nature, the unending tragedy that is history, and the probable futility of throwing out fragile life lines in the form of art. Over and over, birds articulate the bitter truth like a Greek chorus.
Birds cry out sadly as they wheel again
back and forth over the sucking abyss,
over the monstrous plaster limb of ice.
- from Glaciation
Toward the end of Glaciation, Stone includes a poem entitled SS Fort Breendonk, which is dedicated “In memory of WG Sebald.” Only a few pages into Sebald’s book Austerlitz, the title character Jacques Austerlitz gives what amounts to a brief history of the architecture of fortifications. The following day the book’s narrator takes a train from Antwerp (where the fortress conversation had taken place) to visit nearby Fort Breendonk, which had been a German prisoner of war camp run by the SS during WWII. “A monolithic, monstrous incarnation of ugliness and blind violence”; so begins the narrator’s desciption of his visit, which runs for some ten pages or so.
The narrator of Stone’s poem also explores “the surgical tunnels” of the fort where “men like us but not like us howled.”
They propped the condemned at the stake,
and afterwards got the Jews in
to collect the clogs, hose down the posts.
And the birds sang after the execution,
as was the custom.
And, like Sebald, Stone questions official attempts to memorialize places of horror and to educate present generations about the nearly unimaginable past.
‘The complexities of human nature are displayed here,’
states the tourist literature.
‘We welcome schoolchildren.’ And
‘It must never happen again.”
That sort of thing…
“Poems”, Stone writes, “are trapped passengers”
unable to decide how to tackle
from Explanation to an Academic