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Posts from the ‘Rings of Saturn (Ringe der Saturn)’ Category

Sebald Events for February 2015

If you are in New York City this Wednesday February 11, you might want to try to get to Symphony Space at 7:30 PM for a book club discussion covering W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn led by the amazing line-up of Rick Moody (The Ice Storm), Dinaw Mengestu (All Our Names), and Hari Kunzru (Gods Without Men). Denis O’Hare (American Horror Story) will read an excerpt from Sebald’s book. There is an admission charge. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets in advance. Symphony Space is at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, New York, NY 10025-6990.

 

Flaubert’s Grain of Sand

 Álvaro Sánchez-Montañés[photograph by Álvaro Sánchez-Montañés]

Here is a summer-themed post for all of those Vertigo readers who might find themselves on a beach in the coming months, trying to eject a few grains of sand from in between the toes.

On the opening page of The Rings of Saturn, W.G. Sebald’s narrator reflects briefly upon the walk through the county of Suffolk which he is about to relate to us in the remainder of the book.

In retrospect I became preoccupied not only with the unaccustomed sense of freedom but also with the paralysing horror that had overcome me at times with the traces of destruction, reaching far back into the past, that were evident even in that remote place.

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Sebald & The Rings of Saturn – Links March 2014

Sebald Rings of Saturn British Edition

W.G. Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn gets some attention from non-literary disciplines in two recent posts elsewhere. Over at Celluloid Wicker Man, Adam Scovell has written about Grant Gee’s film Patience (After Sebald). He gives a thoughtful examination to the relationship between Sebald’s book and Gee’s film, especially the way in which the film and the book attempt to capture perception.

There are a number of reception possibilities attainable when watching Grant Gee’s 2011 essay film, Patience (After Sebald). Any film based on a book or around an author is always going to separate its viewers into two groups; those who have read the original source material and those who have not. While the latter will be seeking to latch onto the their initial experience of film as it happens, the former will be no doubt be cast in the inescapable lure of the original book and its contexts.

And:

For a writer who is at once both extremely modern in his style but shot through with the prism of a classical antiquarian, the 16mm film perhaps is the most aesthetically pleasing and apt model left to us when exploring the writing of W.G. Sebald. Like his writing, it is just as littered with scratches, grooves and imperfections that make it both a leaping jump towards recreating perception and something deeply humanistic to experience.

Meanwhile, as part of his ongoing project Writing With Images (which I wrote about recently), art historian James Elkins has added a lengthy analysis of the images in The Rings of Saturn. Elkins writes about three specific photographs and ponders the “epistemological veracity of his images in this book, which are often manipulated and difficult to read.”

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Listen to “Sebald’s Apocalyptic Vision”

As I recently wrote, on June 8 BBC broadcast a short program on Katie Mitchell’s theater production of Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn called “Sebald’s Apocalyptic Vision.”  Until June 15 (9:32 to be precise), you can listen to the program in the BBC iPlayer.  The segment available on iPlayer is 46 minutes long, but the Sebald portion ends about 31 minutes into the recording.  Here is a excerpt from the program information:

Last year, the acclaimed theatre director Katie Mitchell put The Rings of Saturn or Die Ringe des Saturn on stage – not in England but in Cologne, Germany.This programme follows her as she takes her German actors to East Anglia to experience at first-hand the landscape in which Sebald was writing and walking. They explore a coastline, which – as Sebald was acutely aware – looks out towards Germany, across what used to be known until the late 19th century as “the German Ocean”.

The trip along the coast precipitates the actors’ personal reflections and memories of their grandparents’ generation during the Second World War and the way the history of that time has been handed down to them.

The programme introduces The Rings of Saturn through beautiful readings by the actor Stephen Dillane, interspersed with music by composer Paul Clark, and sounds recorded on the Suffolk coastline; but it also shows Sebald’s contemporary importance in a world in which the significance of history, time and place can so easily be dismissed.

The program is well-done.  Sebald devotees won’t learn much, but there are a few points of interest.  Stephen Dillane (from Game of Thrones) turns out to be a very nice reader of Sebald’s prose.  The radio piece also includes the unannounced appearance of Sebald’s friend Rüdiger Gorner, editor of The Anatomist of Melancholy: Essays in Memory of W.G. Sebald (which I wrote about previously).

Sebald’s Apocalyptic Vision

Katie Mitchell

Two years ago I wrote about British theater director Katie Mitchell’s plans to stage Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn in Cologne’s Schauspiel Haus in 2012.  I never gave that production a second thought until this week when several readers alerted me to an upcoming radio broadcast on BBC 3 called “Sebald’s Apocalyptic Vision,” Saturday June 8 from 9.00-9.30 PM (21:00).  Here’s the basic information from the BBC website:

Between The Ears offers an insight into one of the strangest and most original writers of the 20th Century: WG Sebald. Polymathic and profound, the intricacies of Sebald’s writing cannot be summarised or explained; but this programme explores a few of the themes that most preoccupied Sebald in his life and writing – in particular, exile and the memory of war. A voluntary emigrant from Germany to England, Sebald settled in East Anglia in 1970. The Rings Of Saturn, a book first published in German in 1995, recounts a long walk down the coast, from Somerleyton to Orford. This programme introduces The Rings Of Saturn through readings, interspersed with music and sound, archive and interviews; but it also shows Sebald’s contemporary importance in a world in which the significance of history, time and place can so easily be pushed aside and replaced by a virtual sense of time and space on screen.

Directed by Katie Mitchell.
Producer/ Isabel Sutton for the BBC Read more

Vertiginous Links for May 2013

Schutte

The German Bookshop in London is having an event with Uwe Schütte on May 22 at 19.00.

We are delighted to have the author of W.G. Sebald. Einführung in Leben & Werk, Uwe Schütte, with us to introduce you to many little known aspects of the life and work of W.G. Sebald.  His book was published in autumn 2011 to coincide with the tenth anniversary of his premature death. It provides new biographical material and examines all major literary works. In addition, a chapter on Sebald’s critical writings sheds an interesting light on a neglected yet crucial part of his oeuvre.  Schütte came to the University of East Anglia in 1992 to do both his MA and PhD with Sebald as his supervisor. He is a Reader in German at Aston University, Birmingham and the author of ten books on German literature, as well as numerous articles and reviews in national papers in Germany and Austria. 

The event is free but requires an email reservation.  For details, follow this link and scroll down a bit.

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Europe Mai 2013

The literary review Europe has announced that its May issue will focus on Sebald and Tomas Tranströmer (great pair!).  Go here to purchase a copyHere are the contents for the Sebald section:

Lucie CAMPOS et Raphaëlle GUIDÉE : W.G. Sebald, la marge et le centre.
W.G. SEBALD : « Mais l’écrit n’est pas un vrai document… »
François HARTOG : Le simultané du non-simultané.
Romain BONNAUD : Une expérience de l’histoire.
Sergio CHEJFEC : L’histoire comme représentation et comme peine.
Ruth KLÜGER : Cheminant entre la vraie vie et la vie fausse.
Raphaëlle GUIDÉE : Politique de la catastrophe.
Ben HUTCHINSON : « L’ombre de la résistance ». W.G. Sebald et l’École de Francfort.
Lucie CAMPOS : L’excès du savoir et du sentiment.
Patrick CHARBONNEAU : Max et le bélier hydraulique.
Karine WINKELVOSS : Pathos et théâtralité dans la prose de Sebald.
Muriel PIC : Élégies documentaires.
Emmanuel BOUJU : Mind the gap ! Humour et exil de la mélancolie.
Liliane LOUVEL : Un événement de lecture.
Mandana COVINDASSAMY : Le dépaysement en pratique.
Ruth VOGEL-KLEIN : Dans l’atelier de W.G. Sebald.
Martin RASS : Le bruit du passage du train.
Jean-Christophe BAILLY : Le troc silencieux de W.G. Sebald.
Fabrice GABRIEL : « Enjoy ».
Lucie TAÏEB : Sans histoire, pas d’histoire ?

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Finally, over at The Public Domain Review, Adam Green has done all Sebald readers a great service with his elegantly conceived project “Texts in Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn.”  Here is his description of the undertaking:

Collected together in this post are the major (public domain) texts of which, and through which, Sebald speaks – accompanied by extracts in which the texts are mentioned. The list begins and ends with the great polymath Thomas Browne, an appropriate framing as the work of this 17th century Norfolk native has a presence which permeates the whole book. Indeed, in the way he effortlessly moves through different histories and voices, it is perhaps in Browne’s concept of the ‘Eternal Present’ which Sebald can be seen to operate, in this mysterious community of the living and the dead.

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Wild Places

Robert Macfarlane’s self-imposed task sounded simple: “Would it be possible to make a series of journeys in search of some of the wild places that remained in Britain and Ireland?”  The end result became The Wild Places (2007), an accounting of fifteen such journeys, several made with writer Roger Deakin, who died in 2006.  But as the journeys unfold, so do the questions that Macfarlane comes to ask himself.

Like the best of those who choose to write largely about the natural world, Macfarlane expands the genre beyond pure science, embracing history, literature, the visual arts, philosophy.  The Wild Places is a blend of personal quest, reportage from the front lines, and deep reflection on the elusive definition and meaning of “nature” and “wild.”  For Macfarlane, there is no doubt that nature can provide many redemptive moments and unequaled insights to the receptive spirit.  At the very least, he thinks, people routinely draw happiness from their daily encounters with landscape.  At a much deeper level, Macfarlane suspects that we need nature to give us perspective, to remind us of our role – exceedingly minor and transitory – in the larger story of the universe.

We are, as a species, finding it increasingly hard to imagine that we are part of something which is larger than our own capacity.  We have come to accept a heresy of aloofness, a humanist belief in human difference, and we suppress wherever possible the checks and balances on us – the reminders that the world is greater than us or that we are contained within it.  On almost every front, we have begun a turning away from a felt relationship with the natural world.

Traveling through the Lake District, Macfarlane reads Coleridge, who, in 1802-3,  escaped depression by walking there relentlessly, experiencing the wildness of that countryside.  “Wildness, in Coleridge’s account, is an energy which blows through one’s being, causing the self to shift into new patterns, opening up alternative perceptions of life.”

But Macfarlane is under no illusion about the real nature of Nature.  Most of the places to which he journeys present him with forbidding conditions and relentless danger and it doesn’t take much to realize that nature is utterly disinterested in human existence.

The sea, the stone, the night and the weather all pursued their processes and kept their habits, as they had done for millennia, and would do for millennia to follow.  The fall of moonlight on to water, the lateral motion of blown snow through air, these were of the place’s making only.  This was a terrain that had been thrown up by fire and survived ice.  There was nothing, save the wall of rocks I had made and the summit cairn, to suggest history.  Nothing human….

There could have been nowhere that conformed more purely to the vision of wildness with which I had begun my journeys.  I had been drawn here by a spatial logic, a desire to reach this coincident point of high altitude and high latitude.  But now I could not wait to leave it…

All travellers to wild places will have felt some version of this, a brief blazing perception of the world’s disinterest.  In small measures it exhilarates.  But in full form it annihilates.

The question that keeps popping up during Macfarlane’s short journeys is this: What do we mean by wild?  Do we mean remote and unforgiving or can the wild exist near at hand?

Lying there on the drifted sand, under the white stars, I thought about how the vision of wildness with which I had begun my journeys – inhuman, northern, remote – was starting to crumble from contact with the ground itself.  No such chaste land exists in Britain or Ireland….The human and the wild cannot be partitioned.

Visiting the Burren, a desolate, rocky place in the north of County Clare, Ireland, Macfarlane and Deakin spent a day walking slowly over the area’s limestone, where they discover a small gryke, a minute crack in the limestone.  As they lay on their stomachs and peer into it, they spy hundreds of different types of plants opportunistically growing in the sheltered, well-watered spot.  So, maybe wildness comes in miniature sizes as well as on a national park scale.  But the Burren also has a long human history and Macfarlane realizes that “five millennia of human activity in the Burren also means that buried in it are 5,000 years’ worth of the dead.”  As W.G. Sebald wrote, “And so they are ever returning to us, the dead,”

I had passed through lands that were saturated with invisible people, with lives lived and lost, deaths happy and unhappy, and the spectral business of these wild places had become less and less ignorable.  My idea of wildness as something inhuman, outside history, had come to seem nonsensical, even irresponsible.

Eventually, he realizes that Roger Deakins had it right.

“There is wildness everywhere,” Roger had written once, “if we only stop in our tracks and look around us.”  To him, the present-day and the close-at-hand were as astonishing as the long-gone and the far-afield.  He was an explorer of the undiscovered country of the nearby.

…I had started to refocus.  I was becoming increasingly interested in this understanding of wildness not as something which was hived off from human life, but which existed unexpectedly around and within it: in cities, backyards, roadsides, hedges, field boundaries or spinnies….And it was there in the margins, interzones and rough cusps of the country: quarry rim, derelict factory and motorway verge.

By the end of The Wild Places, I was not surprised at the equanimity with which Macfarlane anticipates the eventual end of the world as we know it, as he contemplates the way in which the natural world quickly reclaims the places we have built, spoiled and abandoned – including poisoned places like Chernobyl.

I had spoken once to a climate-change scientist about the subject of abandonment.  The study of her science had changed her perception of time, she said, and of the relevance of human beings within history.  Though we are now among the dominant species, she said, our age will pass and our material legacy – unthinkable though it is now to imagine it vanished – will be absorbed by the land, becoming all but imperceptible.

Although Macfarlane never mentions Sebald (except to note The Rings of Saturn in his reading list), The Wild Places occasionally crosses over into Sebald territory, both literally and philosophically.  Macfarlane visits Orford Ness (which plays a role in The Rings of Saturn) at which point he muses on Sir Thomas Browne’s concept of the quincunx, a curious natural pattern that Sebald also discusses.  But in the end, Macfarlane and Sebald go their separate ways.  The final page of The Rings of Saturn is marked by death, mourning, and the onset of blackness, while Macfarlane ends his book by climbing up into a tree and surveying the landscape that surrounds him.

Wildness was here, too, a short mile south of the town in which I lived.  It was set about by roads and buildings, much of its was menaced, and some of it was dying.  But at that moment the land seemed to ring with a wild light.

Macfarlane has written about Sebald on several occasions – in the exhibition catalog Waterlog and a review of Campo Santo for the Times Online.

Patience

A few seconds after the title of Grant Gee’s film fades, a subtitle appears that tells us what the next 84 minutes are going to be about: “A Walk Through The Rings of Saturn.”  Patience (After Sebald) is a tour through a book rather than a visit to a place or the story of a life.  Gee does, at times, show us locations referred to by the words of the book, but, as several interviewees say, it’s foolish, really, to follow in Sebald’s footsteps.  So, like a good reader, Gee follows Sebald’s words.

Patience is a layered, often leisurely film, content to linger on images or, in one instance, plunge the screen into blackness for a few moments.  The film begins and ends with the opening and closing words of The Rings of Saturn, wonderfully read by the actor Jonathan Pryce, whose uninflected, almost monotonous voice has  the requisite underlying hints of sadness and melancholy.  Packed into the center of Patience are superbly edited interviews, scenes of East Anglia, clips from vintage documentary films (the British fishing industry, World War II, the  hatching of silkworms).  In a film equivalent of Sebald’s multi-layered text, Gee often has two, if not three distinct films superimposed : his own contemporary documentary, a vintage film, and the slow scanning of the words from Sebald’s book.  The visual tracks and the audio track act like tectonic plates, shifting underneath each other and causing momentary, almost random disruptions that jar the viewer into seeing new relationships.  The film is predominately black and white, although there are brief incursions into color film, as well as sequences when small color films are inset within the dominant black and white image.

Michael Hamburger

By visually and aurally keeping Sebald’s words first and foremost in the viewer’s attention, Gee emulates the act of attentive reading.  As the film moves through the book (always reminding us that we are focused on a book, Gee frequently notes exactly what page the film is referencing), Gee digresses to a geographic site, or permits a talking head to propose an interpretation or or explanation of Sebald’s text or insert a bit of Sebald’s biography, or, as Sebald often did in his books, simply leaves us staring at an inane, odd, but somehow fitting image.   It’s precisely how an engaged reader would move through Sebald’s meandering text, pausing briefly to wonder about an odd reference (what does the Emperor of China have to do with the bridge over the river Blythe?) or reflect on a particularly beautiful or unexpected turn of phrase.  Is there another film like this, a film that simulates “reading” a book?  I can’t think of one.

The talking heads (who, for the most part, remain offscreen talking voices) are a well-chosen lot that includes: Robert Macfarlane (writer), Christopher MacLehose (publisher), Adams Phillips (writer and psychoanalyst), Barbara Hui (creator of LitMaps), William Firebrace (architect), Rick Moody (writer), Bill Swainson (editor), Kate Mitchell (theater director), Iain Sinclair (writer), Lise Patt (editor, Searching for Sebald), Christopher Woodward (writer), Tacita Dean (artist), Jeremy Millar (artist), Michael Silverblatt (KCRW radio interviewer), Dan Gretton (writer), Marina Warner (writer), Sir Andrew Motion (poet), Arthur Lubow (journalist), and Chris Petit (writer & filmmaker).  Poet and Sebald translator Michael Hamburger appears via clips from an earlier film.  And Sebald himself is heard, talking about Virginia Woolf, Bleak House, and other topics), via Silverblatts’ great radio interview, made only eight days before Sebald’s death.  Gee elicits many great quotes, but one of my favorites comes from Macfarlane, who calls Sebald a “biographer who walks his subjects back into life or maybe he walks forward after them into death.”

“A Balanced and Unobtrusive Beauty” – Sebald’s Travel Guide to East Anglia

The December 2011 issue (volume 41 numbers 3-4) of the Journal of European Studies is a special issue devoted to W.G. Sebald, edited by Dr. Richard Sheppard.  My reviewer’s copy has been here for weeks, competing for my attention with a stack of books and a few too many other projects that I’m trying to balance.  But I’ve finally made it halfway through the issue and so far I’m delighted with the contents.  My intention is to divide my responses over a couple of posts that may take a few weeks to get written.

The good news is that the Sebald issue of JES continues a recent trend of making available previously unpublished or hard-to-find works by Sebald.  Last year,  Saturn’s Moons included a number of ‘rediscovered” pieces by Sebald.  Now, the  JES issue contains his 1966 dissertation for the University of Fribourg on Carl Sternheim (reprinted in German) and “The Carved Wooden Angels of East Anglia,” Sheppard’s English translation of a piece first published in 1974 in Die Zeit as “Die hölzernen Engel von East Anglia” (reprinted in Saturn’s Moons).   In this four-page travelogue intended for German visitors to East Anglia, Sebald offered up an idiosyncratic itinerary to the adopted territory that he had come to love and which he would write about more extensively two decades later in The Rings of Saturn.  It doesn’t take more than a few excerpts to glimpse Sebald’s very dry humor and to grasp that he valued an exceptional degree of authenticity and an utter absence of pretension in the sites that he recommended.

In Sutton Hoo, where 13 centuries ago, a magnificent burial in a long ship was celebrated, you can study the emptiness of transience before you drive through Rendlesham Forest to the little village of Butley.

Either way, you are back in Southwold comfortably by nightfall and here you can spend two days without qualms if you feel like treating yourself to the luxury of the best hotel in town.  You can recognize it most easily by its bar, which offers more than 50 brands of whiskey, and by its waiter, who goes around summoning guests to their tables by means of a little xylophone.

Where Ickworth is more of a monumental curiosity, Melford Hall and its surrounding parkland possess a balanced and unobtrusive beauty and are not to be missed at any price.

In the Middle Ages, Norwich was one of the most important English cities, but later it became something of a backwater and so has suffered relatively little from the depredations of the last 150 years.

Sebald concludes by advising his readers to browse the region’s high-quality antique stores.  Or, in the event of rain,

buy a local newspaper and look among the adverts for details of the next furniture auction.  And if your courage doesn’t fail you when it comes to raising your hand at the right moment, it would not surprise me if you did not take home a piece of furniture on the roof of your car that will ensure that you have positive memories of East Anglia for a long time to come.

Sebald, Sheppard comments, “developed an extremely good eye for elegant stripped pine furniture.”  Sheppard’s footnotes, which extend to nearly twice as long as Sebald’s original piece, are highly informative and spiced with his own brand of understated humor.

 

Sebald’s Translator Troubles?

W.G. Sebald’s annotations to Michael Hulse’s draft translation of the ‘Conrad chapter’ (Part V) of Die Ringe des Saturn.
(From Saturn’s Moons)

The other night I continued to make my non-sequential way through Saturn’s Moons: W.G. Sebald – A Handbook by reading short accounts written by two of Sebald’s English-language translators: “Englishing Max” by Michael Hulse and “Translating W.G. Sebald – With and Without the Author” by Anthea Bell.  A fair amount has already been written about turning Sebald’s German into English, a process that always involved the considerable participation of Sebald, who, of course, was extremely articulate in English.  The two essays in Saturn’s Moons add to the well-established image of Sebald and translator collaborating almost as equals.  As the illustration above shows, Sebald was perfectly capable of rephrasing – or even completely rewriting – the work of his own translator, which might well have been unnerving for those who took on the task of “Englishing” his German.

But Hulse provides a rare glimpse into the break-up of their professional (and personal) relationship that seems to expose a rarely seen side of Sebald.  Having already translated Die Ausgewanderten into The Emigrants in 1996 and Die Ringe des Saturn into The Rings of Saturn in 1998, Hulse “agreed against my better judgment to translate Schwindel. Gefühle,” which, in 1999, became Vertigo.  Hulse says he had already heard reports of Sebald complaining in public that he had had to “correct” Hulse’s translations.  Hulse, who was juggling multiple literary projects at once, also sensed that Sebald thought he slowed the translation process down too much.  Eventually, Hulse says, he informed Sebald’s publisher (Harvill) that he would not translate Sebald’s next book.  In January 2000, Sebald wrote Hulse to say that “Perhaps you would agree that, from your point of view also, our partnership has now reached its limits.”  After that they never communicated again.

This admission by Hulse immediately reminded me of Michael Hamburger’s oddly confessional “Translator’s Note” at the beginning of Unrecounted, the book of poems that he posthumously translated from Sebald’s German in 2005.

Although Max Sebald had given me copies of all his books published since our first acquaintance, he never so much as mentioned the writings of these miniatures to me and gave me no copy of For Years Now [the 2001 book in which some of the same poems had been previously published in English, apparently translated by Sebald himself].

Hamburger described the final period of Sebald’s life “as a time of crisis…full of enigmas, conflicts and contradictions he chose not to clarify.”  As a longstanding friend, Hamburger expressed some pique that Sebald was “readily accessible for interviews that probed matters he would not divulge to his closest friends.”

In an intriguing aside, Hamburger mentioned that his wife had received an autographed copy of the English edition of Austerlitz that, surprisingly, “contained emendations in his hand.”  Was Sebald unhappy with aspects of Anthea Bell’s translation, as well?  Bell, who has both written and spoken in interviews about her experiences with Sebald, has never hinted at any issues.