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Sebald Reads his Essay on Gottfried Keller

Another audio recording of W.G. Sebald has surfaced on the Internet. Over at, there is a recording of Sebald reading nearly all of his essay “Her kommt der Tod die Zeit geht hin: Anmerkungen zu Gottfried Keller” from Logis in einem Landhaus (translated as “Death Draws Nigh, Time Marches On: Some Remarks on Gottfried Keller” in the English edition). Sebald was participating in one of Literarisches Colloquium Berlin’s Studio LCB project, along with several other specialists in German-language literature, but Sebald’s is the only recording from the November 25, 1997 session currently available. (Apparently the others have yet to give permission.)

A Place in [this] Country


We had to wait fifteen years for an English translation of W.G. Sebald’s terribly important 1998 book Logis in einem Landhaus, but last year British publisher Hamish Hamilton gave us Jo Catling’s excellent translation under the title of A Place in the Country. We American readers have had to wait another nine months for an edition of our own from Random House, which is, like Hamish Hamilton, a division of the enormous Penguin Group. The content of the American edition hasn’t changed significantly; the footnotes are tracked differently, a typo has been corrected, and Random House, having some spare pages at the end, added very brief sections called “About the Author,” “About the Translator,” and “About the Type.” So it would hardly seem like it was worth the wait, except that Random House has actually made a more handsome book on several counts.


“Sepia photograph of the Kleist house on the island in the river Aare.”

[From the chapter on Robert Walser in the Random House edition.]

When the British edition came out last July, I wrote extensive individual posts on each of Sebald’s six essays, so I am not going to say anything further about them here. Instead, I refer you to my individual posts on Johann Peter HebelJean Jacques Rousseau, Eduard MörikeRobert Walser, Gottfried Keller and Jan Peter Tripp. But in discussing the British edition I was disappointed in the handling of the color plates:

The only time that A Place in the Country comes up short is the way the publisher has dealt with the color illustrations that Sebald included with each essay, a decision undoubtedly based on economics.  In Logis in einem Landhaus, the color plates are all on fold-out pages, permitting the reader to view the entire image with only the ghost of a crease in the middle.  In A Place in the Country, the images are done as double-page spreads, forcing the center portion of each image into the binding.  Hamilton’s choice of glossy paper probably results in more accurate reproductions, but I think this also causes the images to shout out their presence rather than be one with Sebald’s text, as is the case with the German version by Hanser. 

So it’s a real pleasure to report that Random House has gone the extra mile and made its six color plates as true fold-outs. They have also used a matte paper that works much better with the images, all of which have a rather antique feel to them. I also have to say that I greatly prefer the tactile green cloth covers and the binding of the American edition. Random House made the book slightly more squat in size and the binding is sewn, rather than glued. These physical changes are, on the whole, minor but appreciated. On examining the copyright page, we can see that Hamish Hamilton had their edition typeset and printed locally in England, while Random House had the American edition done in China, where lower costs still permit small luxuries. So perhaps Hamish Hamilton ought to be congratulated for producing a greener book by not requiring that every copy be shipped halfway round the world. At a cost of £20.00, the Hamish Hamilton version costs the equivalent of $33 (at current rates), so the better-produced American edition is a real bargain at $26.

For me, it was also a great pleasure to reread Catling’s intelligent, clarifying introduction. Her insights reflect her multifaceted relationship to Sebald – as colleague at the University of East Anglia, as a Sebald and German literature scholar, and now as one of his translators. As Catling says, “It is first and foremost as a fellow writer, rather than as a scholar and critic, that the author of these essays addresses their subjects.

It is in this awareness of the “inherent contradiction between this nostalgic utopia and the inexorable  march of progress toward s the brink of the abyss,”of the storm clouds always gathering on the historical and mental horizon, which renders so poignant and so precarious  the perverse perseverance, the “awful tenacity” as Sebald says in the Foreword, of those who devote their lives to literature, “the hapless writers trapped in their web of words,” who, in spite of everything nevertheless “sometimes succeed in opening up vistas of such beauty and intensity as life itself is scarcely able to provide.”



Sebald’s Tripp

Sebald Place in the Country  Tripp

A Place in the Country feels more intimately autobiographical than any other book by Sebald.  As I have suggested in my previous posts on Sebald’s essays on Johann Peter Hebel, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Eduard Mörike, Gottfried Keller, and Robert Walser, Sebald disclosed much about himself in the process of writing about others.  He lets us see the nature of his own curiosities and passions and prejudices.  We see him developing a theory of the history of Europe for the two centuries following the French Revolution and the empire of Napoleon.  And in disclosing his own pursuits as a consumer and producer of literature, Sebald constructs an ethic of writing that will likely be a very important part of his legacy.

The final essay, “Day and Night: On the Paintings of Jan Peter Tripp,” breaks the mold of the first five, in that Tripp is a visual artist, not a writer.  Tripp is also the only essay subject of the six that Sebald knew personally (they were good friends for many years) and he wrote this essay specifically for a 1993 exhibition catalog of Tripp’s work.  Sebald spends a portion of the piece explaining why he believes Tripp has been overlooked by critics and art historians who, he argues, are trained to dismiss contemporary art that appears overly illusionistic.  Sebald, on the other hand, finds much to recommend in his friend’s paintings and lithographs.  Tripp’s style, Sebald notes approvingly, changed after he spent some time teaching at a psychiatric hospital.  (Two of Sebald’s favorite writers – Robert Walser and Ernst Herbeck – spent a good portion of their lives in such hospitals.)  The experience brought a more “radical objectivity” to Tripp’s work, especially the portraits, which Sebald describes as “pathography.”  Tripp’s portrait often show us “the human individual as an aberrant creature, forcibly removed from its natural and social environment.”  Sebald also found common cause with Tripp in their love for objects and how objects speak to us.  “The aura of memory which surrounds [objects] lends them the quality of mementos: objects in which melancholy is crystallized.”

If comparing translations happens to be your thing, I’ll point out that this essay has been previously published in 2004 in a competing translation by Michael Hamburger in Unrecounted, the book of poems by Sebald with accompanying etchings by Tripp.  Hamburger’s version “Day and Night, Chalk and Cheese: On the Pictures of Jan Peter Tripp” (with Hamburger’s odd addition to Sebald’s title) is, to my eyes, more stiff and formal than Jo Catling’s smoothly flowing rendition.   Here’s a link to all my my posts relating to Tripp.

A Place in the Country (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2013) is Jo Catling’s new translation of W.G. Sebald’s Logis in einem Landhaus.  Coming to America (via Random House) in 2014.

Sebald Place in the Country Back Cover

Sebald’s Keller

Sebald Place in the Country Keller Portraits

“In no other literary work of the nineteenth century can the developments which have determined our lives even down to the present day be traced as clearly as in that of Gottfried Keller.”

So begins the fourth essay in W.G. Sebald’s A Place in the Country entitled “Death draws nigh, time marches on: Some Remarks on Gottfried Keller.”  Keller embodied the kind of writer Sebald deeply admired and, one would imagine, the way Sebald might have seen himself as a writer.  To begin with, he loves Keller’s prose, often quoting it at great length.  But just as importantly, Sebald sees in Keller an astute and prescient observer of the social mores and political issues of his time.  “Among the outstanding German writers of the nineteenth century, Keller – along with the younger Büchner – is perhaps the only one who had an grasp of political ideals and political pragmatism.”  Keller also held a skeptical view toward organized religion, detesting “bigots” and their “self-righteous authority.”  In its place, Keller found his own secular peace within himself and within Nature.

Keller achieves this reconciliation with death in a purely earthly realm: in the satisfaction of work well done, in the snowy gleam of the fir wood, the peaceful boat journey across the lake with the pane of glass, and in the perception, through the gradually lifting veil of mourning, of the beautiful clarity, undimmed by any hint of transcendence, of the air, the light, and the pure shining water.

In this essay Sebald also touches on the issue of gender relationships, noting that Keller often reversed the “prevailing gender roles as prescribed by society.”  Writing about one of Keller’s short stories, Sebald says: “The scenes where the lovers are united, which he pictures in such loving detail, are not only among the most touching in literature; they are unique, too, inasmuch as in them desire is not immediately betrayed by the fixed masculine gaze.” Examining some pencil sketches of the young Keller, Sebald even muses on the writer’s possible androgyny.

Sebald ascribes Keller’s empathy to a need “to overcome the feelings of social and physical inferiority from which he suffered.”  Among other difficulties, Keller (1819-1890) came from a background of great poverty, which allows Sebald to advance his theory of the history of capitalism a bit further.

Keller’s critique of the economic system of laissez-faire was kindled by the fact  that he was obliged to experience at first hand how what has been painstakingly saved up by means of self-denial is carried over to the next generation as debt, but goes far beyond any personal sense of resentment, and is, rather, directed at the dangers – growing ever greater in proportion to the rapid increase in money in circulation – of a universal state of corruption.

As Sebald puts it, Keller’s work “presents a counter-image of an earlier age, in which the relationships between human beings were not yet regulated by money.”

Click here to see all of my posts on A Place in the Country, newly translated by Jo Catling.  (And yes, somehow I managed to post my comments on the fourth and fifth essays out of sequence.  Don’t ask.)

Sebald’s Walser

The fifth essay in A Place in the Country, Jo Catling’s new translation of W.G. Sebald’s Logis in einem Landhaus, is devoted to a “singular, enigmatic figure,” German-speaking Swiss writer Robert Walser (1878-1956).  Not long into the essay, Sebald declares “one cannot really speak of a story or of a biography at all, but rather, or so it seems to me, of a legend.”  “Le Promeneur Solitaire: A Remembrance of Robert Walser” is quintessential Sebald – and it’s also the best essay in the book, in my opinion.

Compared to the previous essays on Hebel, Rousseau, Mörike, and Keller, Sebald delves deeper into both Walser the man and Walser the writer and addresses the complex relationship between the two.  At the same time, Sebald makes clear the profound impact that both Walser and Walser’s writings had on him.

It is telling that Sebald subtitled this essay a “remembrance” (“erinnerung,” in German).  Even though he never met Walser, Sebald felt what was nearly a blood kinship with the Swiss writer, who he saw as the embodiment of his own beloved grandfather in manner and appearance.  Sebald even shows photographs of his grandfather (with small Sebald holding his hand) to demonstrate the closeness in appearance.  After he summarizes at some length the similarities between the two men, Sebald proceeds to ask a series of questions that lie at the heart of all of his own work as a writer.

What is the significance of these similarities, overlaps and coincidences?  Are they rebuses of memory, delusions of the self and the senses, or rather the schemes and symptoms of an order underlying the chaos of human relationships, and applying equally to the living and the dead, which lies beyond our comprehension?

Sebald acknowledges that in his own writings he often tried “to mark my respect for those writers with whom I felt an affinity.”  But his relationship with Walser was of a different order.  “It is one thing to set a marker in memory of a departed colleague, and quite another when one has the persistent feeling of being beckoned to from the other side.”

Among my early encounters with Walser I count the discovery I made, in an antiquarian bookshop in Manchester in the second half of the 1960s – inserted in a copy of Bächtold’s three-volume biography of Gottfried Keller which had almost certainly belonged to a German-Jewish refugee – of an attractive sepia photograph depicting the house on the island in the Aare, completely surrounded by shrubs and trees, in which Kleist worked on his drama of madness, Die Familie Ghonorez, before he, himself sick, was obliged to commit himself to the care of Dr Wyttenbach in Berne.  Since then I have slowly learned to grasp how everything is connected across space and time, the life of the Prussian writer Kleist with that of a Swiss author who claims to have worked in a brewery in Thun [Kleist lived in Thun for several important years], the echo of a pistol shot across the Wannsee [a reference to Kleist’s suicide] with the view from a window of the Herisau asylum [where Walser lived for more than twenty years], Walser’s long walks with my own travels, dates of birth with dates of death, happiness with misfortune, natural history with the history of our industries, that of Heimat with that of exile.  On all these paths Walser has been my constant companion.  I need only look up for a moment in my daily work to see him standing somewhere a little apart, the unmistakable figure of the solitary walker just pausing to take in the surroundings.  [My parenthetical comments – TP]

Catling’s translation of this essay first appeared in 2009 as the Introduction to Susan Bernofsky’s translation of Walser’s 1907 novel  The Tanners.  All of my posts on A Place in the Country (Logis in einem Landhaus) can be found here.

Sebald Place in the Country Walser Color Spread

Sebald’s Mörike


Reading the third essay in W.G. Sebald’s A Place in the Country, “Why I grieve I do not know: A memento of Mörike,” one gets the distinct sense that Sebald is struggling to say something kind about Eduard Mörike (1804-1875), a Lutheran minister and writer who scarcely traveled and whose writing often dissolved into “melodrama” and “something precariously close to a better class of sensationalist romance.”

Sebald saw Mörike as part of a generation “preparing to enter upon the becalmed waters of the Biedermeier age, in which bourgeois domesticity takes precedence over public life.”  By the time that Mörike was a student, the French Revolution had “receded into a legendary and distant past” and the Napoleonic era was merely “part of the dawning consciousness” of Mörike’s own time.  Eventually, however, Sebald decides that Mörike is not unlike the composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828).  For Sebald, “the most masterful strikes of genius are most readily to be found in the hidden shifts of [Schubert’s] chamber music” just as he finds the best of Mörike in some of his poems, not in his more ambitious works.  “Mörike and Schubert, Keller and Walser, have bequeathed to us some few of the most beautiful lines ever written.”

If Sebald’s lukewarm essay on Mörike seems slightly out of tune with the other essays in A Place in the Country, there is a reason.  The piece was written for the occasion on which Sebald received the Mörike-Preis der Stadt Fellbach at a ceremony on April 22, 1997, in Baden-Württemburg.  Delivering a speech that somehow touches upon Mörike seems to be part of the expectation of the winner of this triennial prize and Sebald obliging did so.

Incidentally, in 2000, the Mörike-Preis published a handsome volume reproducing all of the speeches, papers, and readings that occurred at the prize ceremonies for the years 1991, 1994, 1997, and 2000.


All of my posts on A Place in the Country (Logis in einem Landhaus) can be found here.

Sebald’s Rousseau


Like other places of personal importance for him, W.G. Sebald first saw the Île Saint-Pierre from above, during a hike in 1965.  But it wasn’t until 1996 that he finally visited the small island in the middle of Lac de Bienne, where Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) found refuge for several weeks in 1765.  Later, Rousseau would claim that the weeks he lived in two simple rooms on a sparsely inhabited island were the happiest days of his life.  “J’aurois voulu que ce lac eût été l’Océan…”, the second chapter in A Place in the Country, newly translated by Jo Catling, is Sebald’s homage to Rousseau.

Why, it seems fair to ask at the outset, is the Swiss, French-speaking Rousseau included in a collection of essays otherwise devoted to German-speaking Swiss and Germans?  I think there are at least three ways in which Sebald connected with Rousseau, and the first is place.  “J’aurois voulu” is just as much about “Rousseau’s island” as it is about Rousseau.  This is the only essay in A Place in the Country in which Sebald makes a pilgrimage to a site associated with the subject of the essay.

Sebald, like Rousseau,found Île Saint-Pierre an idyllic, restorative place.  Living in the shadow of Rousseau, Sebald shared many of his subject’s reactions to the isolation and the closeness of nature.  There, he found “a stillness such as is scarcely now to be found anywhere in the orbit of our civilized world.”  (One senses a distinct irony in the word “civilized.”)  In fact,the Île becomes a kind of Eden, “a paradise in miniature” and while he is there Sebald finds himself “transported back to an earlier age.”  Just as, in the previous chapter,  where Sebald found “a world in perfect equilibrium” in Hebel’s writing on the cultivation of fruit trees, so Sebald revels in Rousseau’s obsessive and patently impossible attempt to “botanize” and catalog every plant on Île Saint-Pierre during his brief stay.

Sebald also seems to empathize with some of Rousseau’s troubles as a writer.  He suggests that it was Rousseau the writer who perhaps needed the respite even more than the Rousseau who was fleeing political persecution.  Sebald notes that Rousseau would reach a “state of nervous exhaustion resulting from this manic activity” of extended writing.  And what Sebald so ardently admires about Rousseau’s attempt to “botanize” the island was not so much the science or the learning involved, but the way in which this “demanding rationalistic project involving the compilation of lists, indices and catalogues” became a safety valve for a writer “plagued by the chronic need to think and work.”  Just as Sebald had once “set off the walk the county of Suffolk” at the start of The Rings of Saturn to dispel the emptiness after “a long stint of work,”so Rousseau comes to the Île Saint-Pierre in “utter physical and mental exhaustion.”

Nevertheless, Sebald seems to have some reservations about Rousseau, whom he describes as “philosopher, novelist, autobiographer and inventor of the bourgeois cult of romantic sensibility.”  It is this last role that speaks to Rousseau’s impractical side, which made him unable “to resolve the inherent contradiction between this nostalgic utopia and the inexorable march of progress towards the brink of the abyss.”  The book by Rousseau on which Sebald spends the most space (four pages) is a political tract from 1765, the Projet de Constitution pour la Corse, in which Rousseau outlined how Corsica could become the place where the “evils of society” might be avoided if it would only keep to its agrarian ways and curtail urban development.  Here, Sebald makes a very subtle connection with a theory of European history that he mentions in the first essay in A Place in the Country, devoted to Hebel, where he referred to a “deliberately politically incorrect essai” of 1996, in which Jean Dutourd suggested that it was, in fact, the French Revolution and the Pan-European destruction of the traditional ruling houses that opened the door to “an ever-accelerating maelstrom of destruction.”  In “J’aurois voulu”, Sebald returns to this theme obliquely by reminding us that Rousseau lived in pre-Revolution, pre-Napoleonic days and by seeing, in Rousseau’s work on Corsica (Napoleon’s birthplace) a  “terrifying,” if unconscious, prophecy of the events that will befall Europe.  Finally, at the end of the essay, Sebald also reminds us that Rousseau’s philosophy helped drive the French Revolution and, as his casket was being transported from its former burial site to the Pantheon it “was covered by a wooden framework painted with the symbols of the Revolution,” a parade that was led (perhaps auspiciously) by a captain of the United States Navy.  Thus, it is possible to see Sebald making some kind of connection – almost of cause and effect – between Rousseau’s Utopian vision and the tragic events that unfolded in the twentieth century.

Is it any surprise that Sebald should find a kindred spirit with someone who wrote Meditations of a Solitary Walker and who began the final volume of his Confessions with the the words “Here commences the work of darkness…”?


To see all of my posts on A Place in the Country and it’s German original Logis in einem Landhaus, just click here.  Plus, head on over to Towards Utopia where Steve Benson is also writing about A Place in the Country across several posts.

W.G. Sebald.  A Place in the Country.  London: Hamish Hamilton, 2013.  Originally published in 1998 as Logis in einemn Landhaus and translated into English by Jo Catling.

Sebald’s Hebel

SONY DSCWe have had to wait fifteen years for a publisher to decide to do an English translation of W.G. Sebald’s important book Logis in einem Landhaus, but A Place in the Country (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2013), translated by Jo Catling is finally out – in England, at least (the American edition is a year away).  Catling, who teaches at the University of East Anglia (where she was a colleague of Sebald), is an important scholar of Sebald and modern German literature, and is now becoming a key translator of his essays.  A Place in the Country contains Sebald’s Foreword and the six essays that originally consisted Logis.  In addition, Catling prefaces the book with her own helpful Introduction and unobtrusively adds some Translator’s Notes and a Bibliography at the back.  Her Translator’s Notes make up for the lack of footnotes in Sebald’s original text, allowing the book to be more useful to general readers.  Sebald clearly wanted to make a statement about the purpose of these essays by omitting “scholarly accoutrements,” as Catling calls them, and her decision to judiciously annotate the origins of phrases and other literary references in Sebald’s essays provides the anxious reader with the ability to satisfy one’s curiosity and perhaps do further reading.  The Bibliography lists all of the works mentioned in the essays, along with their English translations, if any.

The only time that A Place in the Country comes up short is the way the publisher has dealt with the color illustrations that Sebald included with each essay, a decision undoubtedly based on economics.  In Logis, the color plates are all on fold-out pages, permitting the reader to view the entire image with only the ghost of a crease in the middle.  In A Place, the images are done as double-page spreads, forcing the center portion of each image into the binding.  Hamilton’s choice of glossy paper probably results in more accurate reproductions, but I think this also causes the images to shout out their presence rather than be one with Sebald’s text, as is the case with the German version by Hanser.  On the plus side, however, A Place in the Country restores a missing color plate to the very first essay on Hebel, a plate that Hanser mysteriously omitted in their hardcover edition of the book, although it appears in subsequent paperback editions.

Logis in einem Landhaus appeared in 1998, after the first three of Sebald’s four works of prose fiction – Schwindel. Gefühle (1990), Die Ausgewanderten (1992), and Die Ringe des Saturn: Eine Englische Wallfahrt (1995).  In fact, Logis/A Place is closely related to Schwindel. Gefühle (Vertigo), which had chapters on Stendhal, Casanova, Kafka, and, tellingly, Sebald himself.  Combined, these two books  show us a Sebald deliberately creating the architecture for his own heritage as a writer.  In another sense, A Place in the Country is a kind of shadow autobiography, with Sebald weaving his on personal and family history into the fabric of these six essays.

In his essay on Hebel (1760-1826) called “A Comet in the Heavens: A Piece for an Almanac, in honor of Johann Peter Hebel,” Sebald immediately establishes a personal, extra-literary connection with Hebel.  Here’s Sebald explaining the attraction of Hebel’s Kalendergeschichten (Calender or Almanac Stories):

What always draws me back to Hebel is the completely coincidental fact that my grandfather…would every year buy a Kempter Calender, in which he would note, in his indelible pencil, the name days of his relatives and friends, the first frost, the first snowfall, the onset of the Föhn, thunderstorms, hailstorms and suchlike. 

In fact, fourteen pages go by before Sebald manages to insert a single biographical fact about Hebel.  Hebel, who was born before the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon, becomes a touchstone for a more Edenic era of European history.   “Even today,” Sebald writes, Hebel’s Almanac writing “constitutes for me a system in which…I would like still to imagine that everything is arranged for the best.”  And: “Nowhere do I find the idea of a world in perfect equilibrium more vividly expressed than in what Hebel writes about the cultivation of fruit trees…”  What Sebald admires in Hebel is “his unerring moral compass” at a time when the world, as Sebald sees it, was being radically transformed – and not for the better.

For a while, Hebel admired Napoleon and, like many others, felt that his wars had the “higher reason” of promoting equality and tolerance” across a new Europe.  But he eventually came to see the unprecedented scale of waste and carnage that Napoleon’s armies wrought.  Sebald refers at some length to Jean Dutourd’s “deliberately politically incorrect essai” of 1996*, in which he suggested that it was, in fact, the French Revolution and the Pan-European destruction of the traditional ruling houses that opened the door to “an ever-accelerating maelstrom of destruction.”  Even while acknowledging that this was “written from the viewpoint of an unreformed monarchist,” Sebald is clearly drawn to a version of history that helps explain how “the new and terrifying Deutschland” arose from its own “smouldering ruins.”

…it is precisely the emancipation of the bourgeosie…which established the economic and philosophical prerequisites for the catastrophe capable of turning whole continents upside down…[and] also the doom-laden glimmering of a new age which, even as it dreams of humanity’s greatest possible happiness, begins to set in train its greatest possible misfortune.

Thus, Hebel’s Almanac writings become for Sebald a foreshadowing of Germany’s future and the Holocaust.

Possibly Hebel already had a sense, in 1812/13, that the fall of Napoleon and the rise of the German peoples signalled the beginning of a downward path which, once embarked upon, would not be easy to halt, and that history, from that point on, would amount to nothing other than the martyrology of mankind.

As we know from the opening section of Vertigo, the year 1813 played a crucial role in Sebald’s symbolic and almost superstitious use of the years 1813, 1913, and 2013.  So it certainly seems fitting that A Place in the Country should be published in 2013.

* NOTE: A typographical error in A Place in the Country ascribes Dutourd’s essai (which is entitled Le feld-maréchal von Bonaparte : Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Français et de leur décadence) to 1966, when it was actually published by Flammarion in 1996.

Vertiginous Links for April 2013

Place in the Country British

Sebald was always asking us to reflect on how we access the past, how we rescue the dead, and how the writer performs that real, but necessarily fictional, reclamation. – James Wood

The Guardian has published an except from the much awaited publication of A Place in the Country, Jo Catling’s English translation of W.G. Sebald’s Logis in einem Landhaus (1998), an important collection of essays on Robert Walser, Gottfried Keller, Johann Peter Hebel, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Eduard Mörike, and Jan Peter Tripp. (The Guardian‘s excerpt is drawn from the section on Rousseau.)  Here’s an excerpt from their excerpt.

The room I took at the hotel looked out on the south side of the building, directly adjacent to the two rooms which Jean-Jacques Rousseau occupied when, in September 1765, exactly 200 years before my first sight of the island from the top of the Schattenrain, he found refuge here, at least until the Berne Petit Conseil drove him out from even this last outpost of his native land…At any rate, in the few days I spent on the island – during which time I passed not a few hours sitting by the window in the Rousseau room – among the tourists who come over to the island on a day trip for a stroll or a bite to eat, only two strayed into this room with its sparse furnishings – a settee, a bed, a table and a chair – and even those two, evidently disappointed at how little there was to see, soon left again. Not one of them bent down to look at the glass display case to try to decipher Rousseau’s handwriting, nor noticed the way that the bleached deal floorboards, almost two feet wide, are so worn down in the middle of the room as to form a shallow depression, nor that in places the knots in the wood protrude by almost an inch. No one ran a hand over the stone basin worn smooth by age in the antechamber, or noticed the smell of soot which still lingers in the fireplace, nor paused to look out of the window with its view across the orchard and a meadow to the island’s southern shore.

In conjunction with this excerpt, the Guardian also ran an article in which James Wood, Iain Sinclair, Robert Macfarlane and Will Self “reflect on what his work means to them.” The comments posted by Guardian readers make for very interesting reading, as well. A Place in the Country, is scheduled for release May 2 of this year and is available for pre-order from various book sites in England.   It will also be available for Kindle then.

Vertiginous Links for the New Year

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.

Place in the Country

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 the New Books in German website, which shows something entirely different for the UK edition.

Happy 2013!