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Posts from the ‘Austerlitz’ Category

Sebald Miscellany October 2016


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Uwe Schütte (with Melissa Etzler): “On W.G. Sebald’s unpublished poetry”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.


New Revelations about Sebald’s Austerlitz

Sebald Austerlitz-British

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.

Austerlitz – The Film

austerlitz film

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?)

“The Poetics of Witnessing” – Witnessing, Memory, Poetics, Pt. 2


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’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. Read more

Susi Bechhöfer Talk in Birmingham


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

Photography and Literature Film Series

Source Photography Literature Cover

In conjunction with their forthcoming issue # 75 on  “Photography and Literature,” Source Photographic Review is putting up seven related films on their website – one every Friday from August 9 through September 20.  More details on the issue and the films can be seen here.

Friday August 9
Bruges-la-Mort (16 minutes)
A Symbolist book about a man obsessed with his dead wife, and fascinated by a dancer who resembles her. Thought to be the first photographically illustrated novel (1892). Film includes interviews with Clive Scott, French professor and Will Stone, a poet / translator who illustrated the most recent translation of the book with his own photographs.

Friday August 16
Austerlitz (30 minutes)
WG Sebald’s last novel, like its predecessors, is illustrated with mysterious photographs. Sebald scholar Jonathan Long visits locations featured in the book and explores how the photographs correspond to (or conceal) reality. Clive Scott, Sebald’s former colleague, recalls conversations with the author about the book. Michael Brandon-Jones, the technician who prepared Sebald’s manuscripts for publication, talks about how the books were arranged and the different sources of the visual material they contain. Read more

Sebald Reading Austerlitz (Video)

Sebald at 92nd Street Y

Yesterday, New York’s 92nd Street Y posted on YouTube a video of W.G. Sebald’s public appearance there on October 15, 2001.  It’s a really remarkable must-see document and, I believe, the only video of Sebald currently online.  The video is 49:23 long.  Sebald introduces his just-published book Austerlitz Read more

Traces of Trauma – part 2

Osborne Trauma

In my second post on Dora Osborne’s new book Traces of Trauma in W.G. Sebald and Christoph Ransmayr, I will look at her chapter called “Blind Spots: Austerlitz.”  As I noted in my first post, Osborne chooses to use theories of trauma from Freud, Walter Benjamin, and others as the lens to look at Sebald and Ransmayr.  In Austerlitz, she is concerned in the “questions that Sebald poses in his engagement with the fundamental concerns of postwar, post-Holocaust literature, with what it means to write of the trauma of another or others.”

This chapter examines the blind spots in Austerlitz, showing how they are symptomatic of trauma and of moments when the difficulties inherent in trying to represent traumatic experience.  They indicate moments where the protagonists insight into his past is screened by the realization that his own fate and the fate of his family are bound to the fate of millions.  This is replicated on the level of narrative where the confrontation with Austerlitz’s traumatic past is also a confrontation with genocide and the rupture of civilization which this signals.  Moreover, the blind spots in narrative are indicative of Sebald’s struggle to see from his belated, non-Jewish perspective how individual experience can be remembered without being overwhelmed by history writ large. Read more

Waiting for the Trapdoor of Memory: Iain Sinclair on Sebald


“This material,” the back page explains, “in an earlier form, was part of the first draft of American Smoke: Journeys to the End of the Light, a book due to be published in November 2013.  It was decided, as the text moved through later stages in the editing process, that a London detour might be confusing.  Now it stands alone.”  That excerpt, Iain Sinclair’s Austerlitz & After: Tracking Sebald, has just been released as a chapbook that packs a real punch for its mere 28-pages.

This being Iain Sinclair, the reader should not be surprised to find that the Sebald pages are framed by a narrative of murder and dismemberment.  During a morning walk in Hackney, Sinclair happened upon the crime scene where parts of the body of soap opera actress Gemma McCluskie had surfaced in the brown sludge of Regent’s Canal.  The crime scene becomes a site of tribute and remembrance, “making murder into a soap-opera tragedy.”

Wreaths, flowers, bears, cards appear, overnight, woven into the fence, above the lock where the torso was found.  Yellows and purples.  Deep reds and pinks.  Carnations, tulips, lilies.  In funnels of cellophane and twists of green paper.

This tawdry story (she was murdered by her brother) helps displace Sebald from the East Anglian landscape where he lived and with which he has become inextricably identified, for Sinclair’s elegiac, almost tender, narrative is largely a tale of Sebald in urban London.  It also serves as a contrast for the way in which Sinclair wants to memorialize Sebald.  As Sinclair tracks Sebald through the neighborhoods of London, sometimes accompanied by the poet Stephen Watts, he writes about places that Sebald researched and wrote about in Austerlitz.  Sinclair and Watts visit places like Liverpool Station and the Jewish burial ground in Brady Street that Sebald would have seen as his Norwich train approached Liverpool Street.  Watts recalls stories of Sebald’s rucksack (which became Austerlitz’s rucksack) and of Sebald trawling through shoeboxes of old postcards in Spitalfields Market.  Sinclair wants to unravel the “quiet cult of managed melancholy” that has been building up around Sebald’s legend, and so he gives us a Sebald who is flawed, worried, curious, determined, ill.

I wondered if Sebald ever wrote about driving.  The published books present a man most comfortable with a scenario of waiting: station hotels, Swiss lakes, distant views of snow-capped mountains, flights into northern cities, walks through marches on sandy paths.  Waiting for that single justifying encounter: the trapdoor of memory, the skewed quotation.  the echo of a translated text.

Perhaps it takes someone as eclectic as Sinclair (whose website describes him as “a british writer, documentarist, film maker, poet, flaneur, metropolitan prophet and urban shaman, keeper of lost cultures and futurologist”) to give us a glimpse of a Sebald who seems, momentarily, at least, whole.

[Note added April 20, 2013: In a most curious coincidence, the day after I originally posted this, The Guardian published an essay by James Woods in which Sinclair says: “I only set eyes on Max Sebald one time. We shared a descending lift in Broadcasting House, pressed back into our safe corners, silent. He impersonated what I took him to be – writer, walker, culturally burdened European – so beautifully that I wondered if this was an actor, a hireling.”  This is not the impression Sinclair leaves in Austerlitz & After, where he is more coy about his actual relationship with Sebald.  Sinclair rather seamlessly blends Watts recollections into his own narrative, leaving it less than clear who actually spent time with Sebald.]

Austerlitz & After is a publication of Test Centre in London.  It was beautifully produced in a limited edition of 300 copies.  Twenty-six copies (all now sold) were specially bound in buckram covers.  Here is a view of the “extra holographic material” added to the copy which I managed to purchase.