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Sebald’s Screenplay on Kant Heads to Radio

Kant Stamp

In her book Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory of W.G. Sebald, Philippa Comber wrote intriguingly of a screenplay that Sebald had written on Immanuel Kant, but which was never produced. Now, as a result of the efforts of Uwe Schütte, the script will be produced for radio by the German station WDR3 for airing on July 11. Jetzund kömpt die Nacht herbey: Ansichten aus dem Leben und Sterben des Immanuel Kant is the only extensive screenplay Sebald ever wrote and drafts of it remain in his archive in Marbach. The title of the screenplay, by the way, comes from the first line of a poem by Martin Opitz (1597-1639), which was set to music as a lovely song by Johann Nauwach around the same time.

Here’s the text of the press release from WDR3:

Jetzund kömpt die Nacht herbey: Ansichten aus dem Leben und Sterben des Immanuel Kant

Es ist das einzige Drehbuch, das W.G. Sebald geschrieben hat. Aber dieser Film wurde nie gedreht, das Skript bisher nicht veröffentlicht. Jetzund kömpt die Nacht herbey ist die Übersetzung eines imaginären Films in ein Hörspiel.

Sebald, Meister der dokumentarischen Fiktion, wirft Schlaglichter auf das Leben des Philosophen Immanuel Kant. Es ist ein Blick hinter die Kulissen – die Kulissen des großen Werks, der großen Gedanken und ihrer Zeitlosigkeit. Denn Kant, Inbegriff des kritischen Denkens und der reinen Vernunft, kämpft in Sebalds Drehbuch zeit seines Lebens gegen die eigene Vergänglichkeit. „Was ist der Mensch?“ fragte Kant. “Jetzund kömpt die Nacht herbey” erzählt von dem Menschen, an dem seine eigene Natur ihren Prozess macht: Ansichten aus dem Leben und Sterben des Immanuel Kant. Dabei wird unter Sebalds Blick die Schwäche und die Angst vor dem körperlichen Verfall gerade zur treibenden Kraft des Denkens.

Von: W.G. Sebald Regie: Claudia Johanna Leist Produktion: WDR 2015/53’ Redaktion: Isabel Platthaus

SA / 11. Juli / 15:05 – 16:00

SA / 11. Juli / 23:05 – 24.00

WDR 3 Hörspiel

If you want to read more about Sebald’s film script,  which was probably written around 1979-1981, try to find Michael D. Hutchins’ 2011 dissertation Tikkun: W.G. Sebald’s Melancholy Messianism, (it used to be online, but no longer seems to be). Hutchins discusses the topic at length on pages 144-160. He suggests that Sebald was less interested in Kant’s philosophy than in his death and that “a look at five central scenes reveals that what Sebald is up to here is nothing less than deconstructing the modern belief in progress and a view of nature that resulted in the exploitation of the natural world.” This topic sounds very relevant today as we contemplate the disastrous effects of  climate change. Hutchins writes: “Because human history has so far meant competition with and the destruction of nature, Sebald does not hold out much hope for our continued survival. We destroy, he seems to think, those very structures that gave rise to our species and that make our continued existence possible.” Hutchins sees this piece as being  “conceived in the tradition of 1960s documentary theater… Sebald may have been thinking of the work of Rolf Hochhuth, Martin Walser, Heinar Kipphardt or Peter Weiss, whose major works of documentary theater appeared during Sebald‘s university studies, and whom he singles out for praise in the introduction to A Radical Stage,” an anthology that Sebald edited in 1988.

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