W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz Sequence, Paris, December 1998.
Courtesy of the W.G. Sebald Estate
Today, May 18, 2019, is the 75th anniversary of the birth of writer W.G. Sebald. Two interrelated exhibitions are celebrating and examining his legacy at two neighboring institutions that are only 7 kilometers apart in Norwich: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery and the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts. I’ve already dealt with Norwich Castle’s exhibition “Lines of Sight” in a recent post. The other exhibition explores Sebald’s use of photography. From the Sainsbury Centre’s website, here is their description of the exhibition “Far Away – But From Where?”:
To mark what would have been the 75th birthday of W.G. Sebald (1944–2001), this innovative, interdisciplinary exhibition combines rare and unseen archive material with work by leading contemporary artists. For the first time, the wealth of UEA’s archive collections and the Sebald Estate, will be used to explore Sebald’s use of photography. The exhibition will also showcase works by Tacita Dean, Tess Jaray and Julie Mehretu that relate or respond to his writing.
“Far away – but from where?” presents previously unseen photographs taken by Sebald during his journeys to research the novel Austerlitz. Sebald selected a group images for the novel which appeared as uncaptioned plates. The exhibition will also present images that Sebald sourced from books and newspapers for Vertigo, and how these were re-photographed for publication, a process that took place in the darkroom at the Sainsbury Centre. The exhibition will explore how Sebald blurred fact and fiction in his processes.
The exhibition runs until August 18. See their website above for hours, admissions fees, and a special note for disabled visitors.
All next week, University College London is holding its annual Festival of Culture. The list of programs looks great, especially this Sebald-related event:
A Refugee Child in WW2 London
Friday 8 June, 12.30-1.30pm
Institute of Archaeology G6 Lecture Theatre
This event marks the 80th anniversary of the first of the Kindertransports in 1938, in which thousands of refugee children came to Britain from Nazi-occupied Europe, many of them passing through London via Liverpool Street station. We’ll explore one of our century’s greatest novels, W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz (2001), about a Jewish child who comes to London on a Kindertransport from Prague and recounts his search in later life for his, and Europe’s, lost past.
This is a panel event including talks, film screening and discussion with the audience. Speakers Dr Zoltán Biedermann, Prof. Stephanie Bird, Dr Mererid Puw Davies and Prof. Mairéad Hanrahan are from UCL’s School of European Languages, Culture and Society (SELCS).
All are welcome. Tickets are free and can be booked here:
I’m not sure how four speakers, a film screening, and a discussion will fit into a single hour…
The “Being Human” festival in London is hosting a program this Wednesday, November 22 from 6-8 PM, called “A refugee child in London: on W G Sebald’s novel Austerlitz.” To quote from the program’s website (where you can also register to attend):
Today images and stories of child refugees, lost and found across Europe and beyond, challenge and haunt us. Come along for a free evening of talks, discussions and a film screening about one such story. The event focuses on one of our century’s greatest novels, W G Sebald’s Austerlitz (2001), about a child who comes to London in 1939 on a Kindertransport from Nazi-occupied Prague, and what happens to him afterwards. This book, entrancing, shocking and enigmatic by turns, recounts a search for Europe’s past and present, as well as a lost personal history. Academics and students from University College London will present their perspectives on the novel.
The program is being organized by the School of European Languages, Culture and Society of University College London. The event is being held at the Grant Museum of Zoology. According to organizers, the program will include talks and a discussion involving Zoltán Biedermann, Stephanie Bird, Mererid Puw Davies and Mairéad Hanrahan, and a film exploring different angles of Sebald’s book. “Amongst other things we will be talking about what drew us to link Austerlitz with the amazing specimens on view at the Museum.”
A new nine-CD audio set of W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz has just been issued. The entire book is read by Michael Krüger, Sebald’s long-time friend and publisher. Plus, there is a section of Austerlitz read by Sebald in 2001 at the Unterberg Poetry Center of New York’s 92 Street Y, which can be seen on YouTube. Krüger gives an excellent reading of Sebald’s final novel, speaking in a gentle, slow intonation that sounds much like Sebald himself. There is also a related six-minute podcast reviewing the new CD set that can be heard (and downloaded) at the website of WDR3. From 1968 to 2013, Krüger worked at Carl Hanser Verlag, which was Sebald’s German publisher from 1998 until 2008.
In Europe, the CD set is available from multiple sources that have links on the Random House website. In the US, the set can be purchased from multiple sources through Amazon. The list price is surprising affordable at €29,99 in Europe, with prices starting at $35 in the US.
[This post was edited and updated after I received my copy of the CD set.]
On September 9 of this year, a symposium on “The Poetry of W.G. Sebald” was held at Stockholm University under the organization of Axel Englund. The participants were:
Axel Englund: “W.G. Sebald as poet: an introduction”
Iain Galbraith: “’A cover / of marbled faux / leather’: the uses of surface in the poetry of W.G. Sebald”
Adrian Nathan West: “Coincidences without antecedents, histories without verification”
Uwe Schütte (with Melissa Etzler): “On W.G. Sebald’s unpublished poetry”
Sven Meyer: “Our brothers the ducks: Sebald’s birds”
Thankfully, translator and writer Adrian Nathan West has posted on his blog (which I highly-recommend) a transcript of his presentation.
Ukrainian film director Sergei Loznitsa’s newest release is a 94-minute film called Austerlitz, which premiered in Venice earlier this year. According to a review in the New York Times, “Mr. Loznitsa varied between calling his work an adaptation and a ‘variation'” of Sebald’s novel of the same name. Austerlitz recently had its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Andréa Picard has written a short piece about the film:
What happens when the memorial and the museological meet — when places of death and destruction are transformed into tourist destinations? Sergei Loznitsa’s new film Austerlitz (which takes its title from, and enters into cryptic and compelling dialogue with, the final masterpiece by the great novelist W.G. Sebald) is a stark yet rich and complex portrait of people visiting the grounds of former Nazi extermination camps, and a sometimes sardonic study of the relationship (or the clash) between contemporary culture and the sanctity of the site…
Here’s the link to a short trailer for the film.
There is a fascinating and revealing article on the New Yorker‘s literature-oriented blog, Page-Turner, that sheds new light on Sebald’s research for his final work of prose fiction Austerlitz. In his essay “W. G. Sebald and the Emigrants: How a friendship with two elderly Jewish refugees inspired the German novelist,” writer André Aciman describes how casual conversations with another father, Martin Ostwald, whose son attended the same kindergarten as Aciman’s, led to the remarkable discovery that Ostwald’s parents had met Sebald and had corresponded with him numerous times. Aciman’s tale is wonderfully told and illustrated with great photographs provided by Ostwald.
If you haven’t read Aciman’s Out of Egypt: A Memoir (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1994), you really should.
Thanks to all the Vertigo readers who alerted me to this article.
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 the second section of the new book Witnessing, Memory, Poetics: H.G. Adler & W.G. Sebald, edited by Helen Finch and Lynn L. Wolff, we find essays by Katrin Kohl, Kirstin Gwyer, and Lynn L. Wolff grouped under the rubric “Witnessing Trauma and the Poetics of Witnessing.” The first essay is Katrin Kohl’s “Bearing Witness: The Poetics of H.G. Adler and W.G. Sebald.” Using as a touchstone Theodore Adorno’s now-infamous statement that “to write poetry after Aushwitz is barbaric,” Kohl examines how Adler and Sebald cope with the ethical issues of “bearing witness” through their poetry and fiction, focusing mostly on Adler’s novel Eine Reise (The Journey) and exclusively on Sebald’s Austerlitz. The principal contrast, of course, is that Adler was a survivor of the concentration camps while Sebald’s life was essentially untouched by the war or the concentration camps. Read more
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. Read more
British readers may be interested to know that Susi Bechöfer, whose life provided the major model for Sebald’s character Jacques Austerlitz, is making a public appearance at Aston University on Thursday February 13, 2014. Read more