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Sebald’s Apocalyptic Vision

Katie Mitchell

Two years ago I wrote about British theater director Katie Mitchell’s plans to stage Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn in Cologne’s Schauspiel Haus in 2012.  I never gave that production a second thought until this week when several readers alerted me to an upcoming radio broadcast on BBC 3 called “Sebald’s Apocalyptic Vision,” Saturday June 8 from 9.00-9.30 PM (21:00).  Here’s the basic information from the BBC website:

Between The Ears offers an insight into one of the strangest and most original writers of the 20th Century: WG Sebald. Polymathic and profound, the intricacies of Sebald’s writing cannot be summarised or explained; but this programme explores a few of the themes that most preoccupied Sebald in his life and writing – in particular, exile and the memory of war. A voluntary emigrant from Germany to England, Sebald settled in East Anglia in 1970. The Rings Of Saturn, a book first published in German in 1995, recounts a long walk down the coast, from Somerleyton to Orford. This programme introduces The Rings Of Saturn through readings, interspersed with music and sound, archive and interviews; but it also shows Sebald’s contemporary importance in a world in which the significance of history, time and place can so easily be pushed aside and replaced by a virtual sense of time and space on screen.

Directed by Katie Mitchell.
Producer/ Isabel Sutton for the BBC

Somewhat curiously, the website for justradio (the production company for the program) adds a bit more information and lists the broadcast time as 21:30.

This programme follows [Mitchell] as she takes her German actors to East Anglia to experience at first-hand the landscape in which Sebald was writing and walking. They explore a coastline which – as Sebald was acutely aware – looks out towards Germany, across what used to be known until the late 19th century as “the German Ocean”.

I believe the broadcast should be available on BBC’s iPlayer website  for about a week after the original airing, but there is currently no information to be found there.

As a run-up to the broadcast the producer, Isabel Sutton, has written an interesting article over at New Statesman called “Sebald’s apocalyptic vision: The world will end in 2013.”  Here’s the blurb: “Radio producer and journalist Isabel Sutton travelled to Germany to talk about W G Sebald with his old friend and colleague Professor Rüdiger Görner. She meets him in the same hotel bar where he and Sebald had lunched together many years before.”  Sutton also writes about Mitchell’s 2012 play.  (Fair warning! This article also claims the program will be broadcast on BBC at 21:30.)

So, while we’re on the subject of Mitchell’s play Die Ringe des Saturn, here are some links for further exploration.  At the Festival d’Avignon website, there is a slide show with twelve photographs of the production, a 2:28 video clip of the production (click on the “Rings of Saturn” tab next to the “Slide Show” tab), along with commentary on Mitchell’s approach to transforming Sebald’s circuitous narrative into theater, part of which is excepted here:

It’s not a question of using sophisticated technological resources to illustrate this first-person journey but rather of wandering around inside the narrator’s mind; showing us the thoughts provoked in Sebald by the landscape, the images it inspires and the memories it evokes. Alongside him, we’re forced to plunge into history, to visit eighteenth century China, return to Germany in 1945, watch Anglo-Dutch naval battles and, above all, to listen to the sound of footsteps and the sometimes laboured breathing of someone following his path, crossing epochs and continents, no matter what. The path of a civilised being who worries for the future of a world in a state of galloping erosion.

The Schauspiel has posted a short video trailer for its Cologne production on YouTube.  As can be seen in the stills and the video clips, portions of Grant Gee’s film Patience were projected in Mitchell’s play.  Bringing all of this full circle, then, there are yet more photographs from the production at the Bēhance website of Finn Ross who took  the rushes from Gee’s film which he “then reconstructed into a tryptic that moves in and out of the live camera world” of the theater production.

And, finally, Zigs1 has posted her thoughts upon attending the May 11, 2012 performance in Cologne.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Isabel #

    I can confirm that 21.00 is the broadcast time. Many apologies for the confusion.

    June 8, 2013
  2. Zigs #

    Thank you so much for drawing your readers’ attention to my photographs and text here! But please note: Zigs has posted her thoughts, not his…

    June 9, 2013
  3. Zigs, My apologies! I was thoughtlessly on automatic pilot when I wrote “his”. The gender in my post has been corrected.

    June 9, 2013
  4. thanks for all the links, Terry:) Ienjoyed the Apocalyptic Vision R3 programme, in its own terms; especially interesting being the German actors’ comments on the massive ramifications, morally and historically, of the eerie Orford Ness site, much along the lines of the “Natural History of Destruction” lectures. By the way, what u think of Teju Cole “Open City”?Whilst the ideas about diaspora, immigration etc were striking, I thought it downright plagiarism; a sort of thematic and stylistic watering down of WGS, even including techniques of de-personalization, miniaturisation(the toy subway station); rather, sadly, than a hommage(because Cole has acknowledged being influenced by Sebald). take care, Steve

    June 10, 2013
    • Steve, I enjoyed Open City and didn’t worry too much about whatever he might have done that was similar to Sebald. I thought Cole’s goal and his real subject were very different than Sebald’s – more political, more about contemporary borders. I think history plays a different role for Sebald and Cole. All the best, Terry


      June 10, 2013

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