A film adaptation of W.G. Sebald’s novel Austerlitz premiered on the opening night at the Centre Pompidou’s Cinéma du Reél festival earlier this week. Directed by the Czech-born French director Stan Neumann and starring Denis Lavant as Jacques Austerlitz, the 90-minute film is described as “not so much a filmed book as it is a film about a book, breaking down the walls that divide documentary and fiction, just as Sebald blurred the lines between the two in his writing.” A 2:44 excerpt from the film can be viewed at the website of the Fondation de la Mémoire de la Shoah. (Be prepared to endure an annoying 30-second advertisement. Why would a foundation website link to advertising anyway?)
In Tess Jaray’s new book The Blue Cupboard (Royal Academy of Arts, 2014), there is a tantalizing illustration that reproduces the first page of an undated letter written by W.G. Sebald to Jaray, with whom he had collaborated on the 2001 book For Years Now, which paired his brief poems with her artwork. The letter, written on a curiously narrow and long piece of paper, makes me wish for Sebald’s letters to be collected and published one day. Here is my transcription of the visible part of the letter:
Your letter did not come too soon by any means. I was much amused by your likening the company of the formidable Musil to the sensation of having a large rok in your room. When I first read The Man Without Qualities, in the winter of 1966/67, that was pretty much how I felt about it. There is this anecdote about Musil & Joseph Roth (a great favourite of mine): the two had always studiously avoided each other until one day in a Vienna coffeehouse, a mutual friend brought them together. Well, what do you think, the friend said to Roth afterwards. Well, said Roth, he speaks like an Austrian but he thinks like a German. [Perhaps that explains his intransigence.]
I am nothing. Nothing but a pale shape, silhouetted that evening against the café terrace, waiting for the rain to stop…
Published in French as Rue des Boutiques Obscures in 1978, Missing Person is a relatively early novel by Patrick Modiano, whose first book dates to 1968. Its narrator is a detective working for the Hutte Agency and we quickly learn that he himself is, in fact, the “missing person” of the title. “Hutte, as usual, sat at his massive desk, but with his coat on, so that there was really an air of departure about it. I sat opposite him, in the leather armchair we kept for clients.” Read more
The Centre de Cultura Contemporànea de Barcelona is devoting Kosmopolis15 to W.G. Sebald. Kosmopolis is an annual “amplified literature festival” with live and online components. From its website:
The CCCB presents The Sebald Variations, in which the German writer of some of the fundamental texts of our turn of the century such as The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz forms the leading thread in an examination of the history of the 20th century and its projections into our present. How useful are Sebald’s books to understanding 21st-century culture? How can we escape from the “pedagogical prison of memory” that anchors us in the horrors of the 20th century without blazing the trails of a social construction of the future? At K15, we embark on a series of conversations with writers, essayists and artists set on exploring the core themes of the exhibition, creating synergies by joining the spirit of the festival with the author’s unorthodox approach. The Kosmopolis website also offers the Sebaldiana blog, an online space to explore Sebald’s world.
The online contents are being added over the course of the next month. I am happy to say that my contribution “Writing after Sebald” is already posted. I look at a handful of writers who I feel are the most “Sebaldian” in one way or another: Alexander Kluge, Iain Sinclair, Christoph Ransmayr, Sergio Chejfec, Teju Cole, S.D. Chrostowska, Micheline Aharonian Marcom, and Frederick Reuss. Read more
If you are in New York City this Wednesday February 11, you might want to try to get to Symphony Space at 7:30 PM for a book club discussion covering W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn led by the amazing line-up of Rick Moody (The Ice Storm), Dinaw Mengestu (All Our Names), and Hari Kunzru (Gods Without Men). Denis O’Hare (American Horror Story) will read an excerpt from Sebald’s book. There is an admission charge. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets in advance. Symphony Space is at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, New York, NY 10025-6990.
Alexander Kluge’s writings clearly exerted a great influence on W.G. Sebald, especially Kluge’s important 1977 book Neue Geschichten: Hefte 1–18: “Unheimlichkeit der Zeit” (which roughly translates as “New Histories: Notebooks 1–18: ‘The Uncanniness of Time’“) . Neue Geschicten is written in a flat, non-literary prose that becomes a montage of voices, photographs, drawings, and charts. Last year, Seagull Books released Kluge’s book Air Raid, which includes what I believe to be the first English translation of a section from Neue Geschichten. The bulk of Air Raid, which is translated by Martin Chalmers, consists the the text titled “The Air Raid on Halberstadt on 8 April 1945,” which appears in Neue Geschicten as the second of the eighteen notebooks ,”Der Luftangriff auf Halberstadt am 8. April 1945.”About a third of Air Raid consists of related pieces by Kluge drawn from several of his other books. Air Raid then concludes with Sebald’s “essay” on Kluge called “Between History and Natural History. On the Literary Description of Total Destruction. Remarks on Kluge.” Read more
Full Circle Editions is a small publisher based in East Anglia that has produced sixteen books since it began operations in 2008. I’ve written about two of their books before: Audio Obscura by poet Lavinia Greenlaw and photographer Julian Abrams and After Sebald: Essays and Illuminations. I’ve recently finished two more of Full Circle’s handsome, well-designed books: Body of Work: 40 Years of Creative Writing at UEA (2009) edited by Giles Foden and The Burning of the Books (2014), a poem sequence by George Szirtes with photocollages by Ronald King. Read more