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Posts from the ‘Jan Peter Tripp’ Category

Sebald Issue of boundary 2 Journal


Readers of W.G. Sebald are in something special. boundary 2: An International Journal of Literature and Culture has devoted the entire contents of Volume 47 Issue 3 to Sebald and it’s all available online for free.  Edited by Sina Rahmani , the title of the issue is “W. G. Sebald and the Global Valences of the Critical.” Here is what you can find in the issue.

Sina Rahmani, “Words, Not Bombs: W. G. Sebald and the Global Valences of the Critical.”

Sebald’s meteoric rise shines a light on the hegemonic role the anglophone literary market plays in the processes that authors and their texts undergo when they migrate from a national literary market to a planetary readership. Indeed, migration offers a key to Sebald’s oddball career and its place in literary history. Like many of the literati holy orders into whose ranks he has been admitted, Sebald’s biography is marked by a permanent departure from the land of his birth.

Uwe Schütte, “Troubling Signs: Sebald, Ambivalence, and the Function of the Critic.”

His unconventional authorial identity cannot be fully comprehended without an appreciation of the critical writings and, in turn, his transformation from scholar to writer. The most prominent feature of his work in the critical sphere is the stubbornly contrarian stance Sebald assumed toward his peers in German studies specifically and the Germanic literary establishment more generally. . . .Only when both sides of Sebald’s coin [his critical writings and his imaginative writings] are considered in concert can one begin to grasp the power and significance of his career.

Stuart Burrows, “The Roar of the Minotaur: W. G. Sebald’s Echospaces.”

I will describe the contours of this different dimension, in the belief that Sebald’s distinctive contribution to the global novel lies in his reordering of the space of representation. This reordering is both literal and metaphorical. It is literal, in the sense that Sebald’s work explores actual spaces: the pages upon which his novels are written, which become inextricable from the world being described, and the landscape being traversed, such as the Suffolk coastline in The Rings of Saturn (1998); it is metaphorical, in the sense that Sebald’s work explores a set of imaginary spaces nested within each other, those spaces occupied by his characters, who inhabit several worlds simultaneously, and those allocated to the narrative voice, which speaks to us out of a clearly demarcated yet ultimately unlocatable place.

Yahya Elsaghe, “Penelope’s Crossword: On W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz.”

The crossword as a form has the upper hand over the rhizome as a metaphor for textuality—something it shares with other allegories of memory like a ‘wonderblock’ and ‘palimpsest’ as well as ‘signs and characters from the type case of forgotten things’.

Sina Rahmani, “The Stateless Novel: Refugees, Literary Form, and the Rise of Containerization.”

This ‘prose book of an undetermined kind,’ Sebald’s coy descriptor for Austerlitz, offers an instructive lesson about the novel of the global era, which has become a formal container providing refuge to any and all narrative and literary forms. In the same way that the shipping container is completely unconcerned with its own contents, Austerlitz furnishes us with incontrovertible evidence that in a stateless era, the foundational distinctions between written and visual, fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose, analytic and creative, and, as Stuart Burrows points out in his contribution to this issue, verbal and written have been eradicated.

Isa Murdock- Hinrichs, “Adaptation, Appropriation, Translation: Sebald on the Silver Screen.” Murdock-Hinrichs examines two films based upon books by Sebald: Grant Gee’s Patience (After Sebald) (2012) and Stan Neumann’s Austerlitz (2015).

Gee’s deliberate transformation of the visuals in the film into a maze of images whose uniform intelligibility is obscured represents a translation of Sebald’s disjunction between text and visual.

. . .

Neumann highlights the various qualities of visuals as he weaves static images, alternative film stock, and printed materials into the film. The camera is the translator of the narrative of the literary text by further portraying the instability of systems of meaning.

Global Critical Forum

“This special issue of boundary 2 has sought out translations of articles and reviews of different Sebald texts. The Global Critical Forum highlights the array of responses and mixed feelings Sebald solicits in different national contexts.”

Nissim Calderon, “Sebald or Gevalt?” [Originally published in Yedioth Ahronoth (Tel Aviv, Israel) in 2009.]

Sebald’s Rings of Saturn is a particularly bad text; bad precisely because it features his idiosyncratic and excellent style but lacks the content to justify it. It is an empty style, like the painter Salvador Dalí, who in his youth paved the way for art’s new surrealist path but in his later years became a serial producer of the “Dalí style.”

Rodrigo Fresán, “The Sebald Case.” [This is a slightly revised translation of an article published in Letras Libres, a Spanish- language monthly literary magazine published in Mexico and Spain, in July 2003.]

In the here and now, the departed Sebald is very, very interesting for those who have survived him, for the many that quietly concede in hushed tones, perhaps out of fear of falling victim to a Pharaoh’s curse, his some-what exaggerated prestige, and for the many more that swear by his divine name they continuously invoke in vain—to remain in good standing and to have a ready response to the question, What are you reading at the moment? Sebald serves, functions, protects, and refreshes best, and is so fashionable, so useful for the nouveaux riche of the intelligentsia. Sebald is practical and legible; he grants a certain prestige to his user and his consumer. Sebald is not only learned but also produces the agreeable effect, or impression, of cultivating and producing evangelical astuteness.

Maria Malikova, “Witnessing the Past in the Work of W. G. Sebald.” [This article was published in 2008 in Отечественные записки (Notes from the Home-land: A Journal for Slow Reading).]

Artist and photographer Jan Peter Tripp was a key figure in the career of German writer and critic W. G. Sebald. . . .[in Sebald’s 1998 essay on Tripp] he provides a graphic display of the evolution of the role of the visual in [his] poetics from photographs of objects, faces, landscapes, architecture, and paintings, to depictions of the very organ of sight, the mechanism of vision: eyes, fixed directly on the reader- viewer, demanding a reciprocal gaze, an ethical reaction.

He Ning, “The Bricolage of Words and Images: W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz.” [This article is translated from a Mandarin article 文字与照片的拼接—评W. G.赛巴尔德的《奥斯特里茨》, which appeared in Trends of Foreign Literature (《外国文学动态研究》) in 2012.]

Austerlitz’s method of piecing together memories through recategorizing the photos he has into a spatial rather than temporal order reifies what I call a retroactive act of bricolage, an innovative way to reconstruct the protagonist’s own narrative. Inspired by the art of photography, he seems to find a psychological equilibrium between his defense mechanism (i.e., selective amnesia) and his desire to recover and rediscover his own identity.

The issue concludes with an article not about Sebald but one closely aligned with his lectures on “Air War and Literature,” included in On the Natural History of Destruction. Sina Rahmani conducts an interview with Emran Feroz entitled “Death from Above: An Afghan Perspective on the US Drone War.”

boundary 2 has an unusual editorial statement:

The editors of boundary 2 announce that they no longer intend to publish in the standard professional areas, but only materials that identify and analyze the tyrannies of thought and action spreading around the world and that suggest alternatives to these emerging configurations of power.

Jan Peter Tripp’s Portraits of Sebald

In Heike Polster’s book The Aesthetics of Passage: The Imag(in)ed Experience of Time in Thomas Lehr, W.G. Sebald, and Peter Handke, which I wrote about recently, Polster reproduces a painting that I had never seen before by Sebald’s close friend Jan Peter Tripp, which he created in 2003 as a memorial portrait of Sebald. Titled “L’Oeil oder die weisse Zeit” (“The Eye or the White Time”) the acrylic on canvas painting is divided into five sections, four of which represent Sebald seen from different angles. Looked at sequentially, the four portraits depict Sebald gradually disappearing and a bright light coming into view over his head, while the bottom section represents a mysterious still life comprised of pencil stubs and other objects, some of which appear to be small, polished stones. According to Polster, the painting was made on the second anniversary of Sebald’s death and is currently owned by Sebald’s widow, Ute Sebald.

The reproduction below is more or less how the painting appears in Polster’s book.


Ealier this summer, in an article written for the online celebration of Sebald held at Kosmopolis, Jorge Carrión published high quality reproductions of the four sections of this painting devoted to Sebald’s portrait. One is shown below (all four can be seen at Kosmopolis). The entire painting can be seen in color at an online page of works by Tripp published in Quart Heft für Kultur Tirol (scroll down slightly). In these color reproductions, we can see that the top two images which show side views of Sebald’s face and the still life at the bottom are painted in full color, while the two frontal views of Sebald are monochromatic.


Now, if you scroll further down on the same page at Quart Heft für Kultur Tirol there is another painting I have never seen before. It is two-sided painting on wood from 2010 called “Remember Max” that is a trompe-l’œil image of a black board into which a bent portrait of Sebald has been tucked. Three pencil stubs are held tightly to the blackboard with a rubber band. As Polster noted in closely examining “L’Oeil oder die weisse Zeit,” the sharpened pencil stubs in “Remember Max” appear to have teeth marks on them. One has to guess that Tripps identifies the sharpened but well-used pencil stubs with Sebald, who famously hated modern technology and did not write on a computer.Max RememberedThe view of Sebald’s face in the top left section of “L’Oeil oder die weisse Zeit” and the portrait of Sebald shown in “Remember Max” are both very similar to Tripp’s portrait of Sebald that appears in Unerzählt (published in English as Unrecounted), except the image is reversed.

Sebald Unerzahlt

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

An Illustrated “Restitution”


Verlag Ulrich Keicher in Warmbronn, Germany has recently issued a wonderful edition of W.G. Sebald’s Zerstreute Reminiszenzen, the speech he gave on November 17, 2001 at the opening of the Stuttgarter literaturhauses.  This was published as An Attempt at Restitution in The New Yorker (December 20-27, 2004) and was anthologized in Campo Santo. What makes this publication is fun are the illustrations and the loose inserts.


The illustrations include many of the things mentioned by Sebald, from the Quelle mail-order catalog that his father showed him for Christmas 1949 to newspaper clippings (above) and photographs from the Sebald archive in Marbach.  A few sections of Sebald’s own typescript of the speech are reproduced.


To add to the fun, two facsimiles are tucked into a small pocket on the final page.  The first is a postcard of from Sebald’s collection referred to when Sebald recounts his memories of the “angular brutalist architecture” of Stuttgart Central Station (designed by Paul Bonatz).  Sebald mentions a postcard he owns

written by an English schoolgirl of about fifteen (judging from the clumsy handwriting) on holiday in Stuttgart to a Mrs. J. Winn in Saltburn in the county of Yorkshire on the back of a picture postcard, which came into my hands at the end of the 1960s in a Salvation Army junk shop in Manchester, and which shows three other tall buildings and Bonatz’s railway station…

The second inserted facsimile is Sebald’s very first entry in the literary world – a 1961 student literary magazine called Der Wecker, co-edited by Sebald and his friend Jan-Peter Tripp.  (Cover photograph below by Tripp.)  All sixteen pages are reproduced including articles on Algeria and Albert Camus and ads for beer and Coca Cola.


This small pamphlet was issued in September in an edition of 800.

Proust’s Eyes

Jan Peter Tripp, Marcel Proust (etching), from Unrecounted

When W.G. Sebald’s book of poems Unrecounted was published posthumously in 2003, I was frankly puzzled and a tiny bit disappointed. I rather liked Sebald’s brief poems, just as I liked Jan Peter Tripp’s etchings; but I didn’t much like them together. To match every poem with an image of a set of eyes seemed overly deterministic. It’s one thing to feel that the eyes have a special quality as Sebald does in Austerlitz, where he speaks of “the fixed, inquiring gaze found in certain painters and philosophers who seek to penetrate the darkness which surrounds us purely by means of looking and thinking”. But it’s another thing entirely to suggest that there is some value or insight that the reader can obtain by looking at many pairs of eyes. That struck me as just a little too mystical for Sebald. (For more on Unrecounted see my earlier post.)

On the whole, Sebald didn’t pay much attention to the physical traits of the people that appear in his books of prose fiction and he certainly didn’t give extraordinary powers to the eyes – though he might say that someone’s eyes “shone with sheer wonderful life” (The Emigrants) or something equally vague. This really came home to me as I started to read Swann’s Way (in Lydia Davis’ relatively recent translation) for the first time in, um, decades. Proust uses the eyes to transmit an astonishing amount of information about character and intention in a flash. Here is what the narrator says when he first sees and becomes enamored with Swann’s daughter, Gilberte :

I looked at her, at first with the sort of gaze that is not merely the messenger of the eyes, but a window at which all the senses lean out, anxious and petrified, a gaze that would like to touch the body it is looking at, capture it, take it away and the soul along with it…

And here he is on the receiving end of a momentary, almost non-existent glance from one of his father’s friends:

Near the church we met Legrandin, who was coming in the opposite direction escorting the same lady to her carriage. He passed close to us, did not break off his conversation with his neighbor, and from the corner of his blue eye gave us a little sign that was in some way interior to his eyelid and which, not involving the muscles of his face, could go perfectly unnoticed by the lady he was talking to; but seeking to compensate by intensity of feeling for the somewhat narrow field in which he had circumscribed his expression, in the azure corner assigned to us he set sparkling all the liveliness of a grace that exceeded playfulness, bordered on mischievousness; he overrefined the subtleties of amiability into winks of connivance, insinuations, innuendos, the mysteries of complicity; and finally exalted his assurances of friendship into protestations of affection, into a declaration of love, illuminating for us alone, at that moment, with a secret languor invisible to the lady, a love-smitten eye in a face of ice.

Or here, two pages later:

But at the name of Guermantes, I saw a little brown notch appear in the center of each of our friend’s blue eyes as if they had been stabbed by invisible pinpoints, while the rest of the pupil reacted by secreting floods of azure.

Using the eyes as a window on the soul or as a mouthpiece for true character is a great literary device with a long tradition, one especially suited to Proust, who always wants to leave us uncertain about the objectivity of his narrator’s perceptions.

W.G. Sebald on YouTube

Given the way in which W.G. Sebald combined text and images in his books, it was inevitable that he would somehow make his way onto YouTube. Recently, a short video about him has been posted. It is a “visual/verbal poem in memory of W.G. Sebald” by South African writer/artist Michael Cope called On Fire. For 9 minutes 59 seconds, the lines of Cope’s poem scroll upward across black and white still images and video clips. Cope’s somewhat haunting visual and verbal meditation on the Holocaust, terrorism, atomic bombs, and other destructive fires is interspersed with images and references to what appear to be his family. Both Cope’s poem and video struck me as simplistic for the opening moments, but as the minutes rolled by I realized that they were far more complex and effective than I could absorb in one viewing.

Untranslated Works by W.G. Sebald

Several of W.G. Sebald’s earliest monographs deal with German-language literature and authors and are extremely difficult to find in first editions. His MA thesis Carl Sternheim: Kritiker und Opfer der Wilhelminischen Ära (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1969) (crudely translated as “Carl Sternheim: Critic and Victim of the Kaiser Wilhelm II Era”) and his Ph.D. dissertation Der Mythus der Zerstörung im Werk Döblins (Stuttgart: Klett, 1980) (loosely translated as The Mythos of Destruction in the Work of Döblins) were monographs on single authors. Sternheim (1878-1942) was a German novelist and dramatist, while Döblin (1878-1957) made his name as a German expressionist writer and is most remembered for his sprawling novel Berlin Alexanderplatz.

In 1985, the Austrian publisher Residenz Verlag published Sebald’s Die Beschreibung des Unglücks: Zur österreichischen Literature von Stifter bis Handke, an anthology of previously published essays from 1972 through 1985. The title might loosely be translated as Describing Disaster: On Austrian Literature from Stifter to Handke (even though one author discussed – Kafka – can hardly be considered Austrian). It included essays on Adalbert Stifter, Arthur Schnitzler, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Franz Kafka, Elias Canetti, Thomas Bernhard, Peter Handke, Ernst Herbeck, and Gerhard Roth. Only the essay on Hofmannsthal had not been published earlier.

Sebald Beschreibung

Unheimliche Heimat: Essays zur österreichischen Literatur (a loose translation might be Uneasy Home: Essays on Austrian Literature) was published in 1991, also by Residenz Verlag. It, too, is an anthology of previously published essays from 1976 through 1989 on Charles Sealsfield, Karl Emil Franzos, Peter Altenberg, Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth, Leopold Kompert, Hermann Broch, Jean Améry, Gerhard Roth, and Peter Handke. Only the essay on Handke had not been not published earlier. The first edition is less elegant than the earlier volume by Residenz Verlag, being bound in bright orange boards with a somewhat bolder typeface used on the black-stamped spine. The simple dust jacket is orange and brown.

Since none of these titles have yet been translated into English, the only way a non-German reader can sample these early critical writings is to seek out the two essays on Kafka, both of which are on The Castle and have been published in English-language sources. The essay from Die Beschreibung des Unglücks,The Undiscover’d Country: The Death Motif in Kafka’s The Castle, appeared in the Journal of European Studies (2), 1972, while the essay from Unheimliche Heimat,The Law of Ignominy: Authority, Messianism and Exile in The Castle, can be found in the anthology On Kafka – Semi-Centenary Perspectives, edited by Franz Kuna (London: Paul Elek, 1976). Kuna was Sebald’s colleague on the Department of European Studies at the University of East Anglia.

Logis in Einem Landhaus
The final work by Sebald that remains untranslated is Logis in einem Landhaus (Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1998). The volume includes essays on Robert Walser, Gottfried Keller, Johann Peter Hebel, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Eduard Mörike, and Jan Peter Tripp. Undoubtedly influenced by his earlier forays into fiction – Die Ausgewanderten (1992) and Die Ringe des Saturn (1995) – Sebald inserts images of all types into each of the essays in Logis in Einem Landhaus. Images include 18th century calendar pages, photographs of books, reproductions of historic etchings and drawings, a dozen portraits of the author Robert Walser at various stages of his life along with samples of his handwriting, examples of Jan Peter Tripp’s extraordinary contemporary etchings, and, in a typically Sebaldian move, an enigmatic, grainy photograph of a hot air balloon hovering over treetops. Furthermore, each of the six essays receives a large foldout image in full color. The only essay from Logis in Einem Landhaus to have appeared so far in English is the one on artist Jan Peter Tripp, which is included in the British and American editions of Unrecounted, the book on which Sebald and Tripp collaborated. The essay, originally titled Wie Tag und Nacht: über die Bilder Jan Peter Tripps, appears as Day and Night, Chalk and Cheese: On the Pictures of Jan Peter Tripp. It deals with trompe l’oeil, memory, and other Sebaldian subjects.This is the first book put out by Sebald’s new German publisher Carl Hanser Verlag and it is a beautiful production. It is bound in a dark, almost wasabi green cloth with a maroon and gold-stamped title on the spine.

Collecting W.G. Sebald’s Unrecounted

In 2003, Sebald’s German publishing house Hanser posthumously released a volume reminiscent of his 2001 book of short poems For Years Now. The new book of poems, Unerzählt: 33 Texte und 33 Radierungen was also a collaboration between Sebald – again writing as a poet – and a visual artist. But here, instead of being paired with the colorful geometric abstractions of Tess Jaray, the poems are paired with photo-realist images by his long-time friend Jan Peter Tripp. Tripp’s images each depict the narrow midsection of a face – a pair of eyes and nothing more. The subjects of his images, the owners of these visionary eyes, are all identified in the book and range from authors (William Burroughs, Truman Capote, Marcel Proust, Samuel Beckett) to artists (Jasper Johns, Francis Bacon, Tripp) to friends of the two collaborators, and even Sebald himself, his daughter Anna, and his dog Moritz.

The British reviewer Tim Adams provided a small glimpse into the collaboration between Sebald and Tripp. “Michael Krüger, the German publisher of Sebald, remembers the pair of them coming into his office to propose the idea for their book, two schoolfriends, excitedly explaining a project. ‘Max [Sebald] talked a lot about looking, about the little pieces he would write about looking. Some of the pieces would be old, some new, but they would all be about the way we viewed the world.’ While Sebald was talking, Tripp stood up and started taking photographs of Krüger. ‘We will, of course, have to include your eyes in the book, too,’ he explained. Tripp’s subsequent etching of the publisher’s eyes carries with it a typical fragment of Sebald’s verse, what he called a ‘micropoem’: ‘They say / that Napoleon / was colourblind / & blood for him / as green as / grass’.” (Tim Adams, “The Eyes Have It,” The Observer September 19, 2004)

The Hanser volume is an elegant tall quarto bound in gray cloth with a reproduction of Tripp’s portrait of Sebald pasted onto the front cover. A clear plastic dust jacket is imprinted with authors’ names, book title, and publisher. But once the volume is opened, all of the pages, including the title page, are printed horizontally to give more room to Tripp’s extended horizontal images. In addition to Sebald’s poems and Tripp’s images, the volume contains a poem by Sebald’s frequent German editor Hans Magnus Enzensberger “Ein Abschied von Max Sebald” (A Farewell to Max Sebald) and an essay by Andrea Köhler. Appropriately, the endpapers are black.

In addition to the first trade edition, Hanser released two limited edition versions of Unerzählt: an edition of 333 copies each containing a loose etching by Tripp called “Max” that is titled, signed and numbered in pencil, and an even more limited edition of thirty-three copies each containing all thirty-three of Tripp’s original prints.

Sebald Unerzahlt
In 2004, Hamish Hamilton brought out the British edition, now called Unrecounted: 33 Texts and 33 Etchings by W.G. Sebald and Jan Peter Tripp (although the inside front flap of the dust jacket refers to Tripps works as “lithographs”). Several items are new to the English-language edition: a “Translator’s Note” by Michael Hamburger; a second poem by Hans Magnus Enzensburger called “Tripp’s Cabinet of Prodigies”; and an essay by Sebald “As Day and Night, Chalk and Cheese: On the Pictures of Jan Peter Tripp,” which deals with trompe l’oeil, memory, and other Sebaldian subjects, originally published in Logis in einem Landhaus. Hamish Hamilton continued the practice of using horizontally-printed pages within a vertical book format, but reduced the book’s size considerably from Hanser’s 11 1/2 by 7 inches to a handier size of 8 3/4 by 5 1/2 inches, ending up with a book that is less generous to Tripp’s images and – well – more ordinary. It is bound in textbook blue boards with gold-stamped spine and has a dustjacket that reproduces Tripp’s portrait of Sebald.

Sebald Unrecounted British

Perhaps the most striking aspect for the reader of Unrecounted is Michael Hamburger’s “Translator’s Note”, an almost confessional, slightly stunned piece that is full of insights and mysterious revelations about the poems and about Sebald. After Sebald’s death, Hamburger discovered that he didn’t know his friend as well as he had thought. Among other things, Hamburger reveals that Sebald had completely kept him – his current translator – unaware of either of his two book collaborations involving these “micropoems.” And when, posthumously, he began to translate Unerzählt Hamburger discovered that some of the poems for Unrecounted were what he calls “overlapping” but “different” texts that Sebald had used previously in For Years Now. Hamburger speculates that Sebald himself must have made the translations for the earlier book and he discusses his decision to retranslate them anew whenever he encountered a previously published piece.

For example, the first version below is the poem “Blue” from For Years Now (presumably Sebald’s own translation), followed by Hamburger’s translation from Unrecounted:


a wafer
thin layer
of frozen


through a thin
of frozen

A few months later in 2004, New Directions released an American edition: Unrecounted: 33 Poems by W.G. Sebald, 33 Lithographs by Jan Peter Tripp, further confusing the question of whether Tripp’s artwork was created through etching or lithography. (The use of “radierungen” in the original German title clearly indicates that they are etchings, and since Hanser had published a limited edition containing Tripp’s original prints one would assume they knew what kind of printing technique he used.) New Directions included everything from the British edition, but also generously threw in the original German texts for Sebald’s 33 poems. They also returned some of the spatiousness to the book, which is 10 1/4 by 6 1/2 inches in size. It is bound in gray cloth and displays a nice hint of red threads at the top and bottom of the book block. The spine is silver-stamped and New Directions returns to the use of memorial black endpapers. But not all of New Directions production choices seem to be improvements on the Hamish Hamilton version. Both the German and British editions had used slightly yellow matte-surfaced papers and had printed Tripp’s images in a warm brown or sepia ink. New Directions use of glossy paper and a cold black ink sucks the warmth out of Tripp’s images and works against the deliberately antiquarian feel of these images.