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BBC’s “A German Genius in Britain”


BBC producer Jessica Treen kindly let me listen to a preview of the upcoming BBC Radio 4 broadcast of “A German Genius in Britain.” It will be broadcast on May 29 at 11:30 (London time). After that, it will be available for one week on the BBC iPlayer. It should then be available for a full year on the BBC 4 website. The piece is thoroughly entertaining and manages to pack quite a lot about Sebald’s books and themes into a short 30-minute program. Sebald himself is heard, reading German and talking in English with KCRW’s Michael Silverblatt.

Iain Sinclair, who could make a claim to being the David Attenborough of the literary scene, plays host, taking on the role of “psychic detective” and traveling to several Sebald-laden locations. He begins in Manchester, where he meets up with writer and novelist Nicholas Royle to briefly discuss Sebald’s experience there and how he used the city in The Emigrants. Then Sinclair is off to Norwich to meet Sebald’s colleague Jo Catling, who talks, among other things, about Sebald’s transition from academic to writer and the book On the Natural History of Destruction. The two visit Sebald’s grave near his home in Poringland. This is followed by a discussion with Marina Warner, mostly about Austerlitz, which becomes the primary topic for the entire second half of the broadcast. Sinclair returns to London to join poet Stephen Watts for visits to Tower Hamlets Cemetery and the Ashkenazi section of the Alderney Road Cemetery, both of which play a key role in Austerlitz. The broadcast ends with Watts reading the final two stanzas of his poem “For My Friend Max Sebald,” which may be read in its entirety here.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. John Tyrrell #

    “Sebald-laden locations” – I like that! Interesting title chosen by the BBC too: Germany seems to be in this year, perhaps an offshoot of the 1914 centenary, and an attempt to give a more rounded picture of a nation about which the Brits know little, despite having a German Royal Family! The British Museum is mounting an exhibition in October, “Germany: Memories of a Nation”, and the BBC is doing a series of 30 radio programmes from late September.

    May 28, 2014
  2. Tomasz #

    From where I am (Poland) only the first 3 min 25 sec of the 30-minutes’ program plays. I am unable to notify BBC of that.

    May 29, 2014
    • Tomasz, You’re right. There seems to be a problem. I’ve emailed the producer about this.

      May 29, 2014
      • The BBC website has fixed the problem and the Sebald program now runs its full 30 minutes.

        May 30, 2014
  3. anette #

    Thank you Terry for backup !

    May 30, 2014
  4. Thank you Terry. I loved Sebald’s interview with Bookworm’s Silverblatt and look forward to listening to the broadcast when I am back in the States. Interesting that you would use the picture of the gravestones in the little cemetery behind Austerlitz’s flat, one he had not visited until the German narrator was with him.

    In my final chapter of my thesis, the one I call the ” Excursion to Heshel’s Kingdom,” I contend that the bent graveyard caretaker with her Belgian sheepdog is a shade of Breendonk, that “monster” that Sebald writes about earlier in Austerlitz.

    One of the quotations I wrestle with (still) is that line about the beauty and freshness of the lime tree and the “fairy tale.” Surely all that the cemetery represents, along with Austerlitz’s avoidance of it and the German narrator’s newly felt horror at what he has seen and heard from his confidant Austerlitz, is anything but a fairytale.

    June 1, 2014
  5. I think the idea of a fairy tale in Sebald has to be understood in the context of this passage from The Emigrants: ‘one of those evil German fairy tales in which, once you are under the spell, you have to carry on to the finish, until your heart breaks’. Think Grimm rather than Disney…

    June 1, 2014

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