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Posts from the ‘Sebald Radio Plays’ Category

Links, Sebald & Other – For October 2020

Barbara Kruger, Matchbooks, 1984

The world’s most comprehensive collection of concrete and visual poetry has been acquired by The University of Iowa, which has announced that its University Libraries have been chosen as the new home of the Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry. This website includes a number of entertaining short videos about the collection and a full-length documentary about the Sackners called Concrete. The collection contains over 75,000 items including books, periodicals, typewritings, drawings, letters, print portfolios, ephemera, rare and out-of-print artists’ books, and manuscripts that represents 20th-century art movements such as Italian Futurism, Russian and Eastern European Avant-gardes, Dada, Surrealism, the Bauhaus, De Stijl, Ultra, Dada, Lettrisme, and Ultra-Lettrisme.

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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

Somewhat curiously, the website for justradio (the production company for the program) adds a bit more information and lists the broadcast time as 21:30.

This programme follows [Mitchell] 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”.

I believe the broadcast should be available on BBC’s iPlayer website  for about a week after the original airing, but there is currently no information to be found there.

As a run-up to the broadcast the producer, Isabel Sutton, has written an interesting article over at New Statesman called “Sebald’s apocalyptic vision: The world will end in 2013.”  Here’s the blurb: “Radio producer and journalist Isabel Sutton travelled to Germany to talk about W G Sebald with his old friend and colleague Professor Rüdiger Görner. She meets him in the same hotel bar where he and Sebald had lunched together many years before.”  Sutton also writes about Mitchell’s 2012 play.  (Fair warning! This article also claims the program will be broadcast on BBC at 21:30.)

So, while we’re on the subject of Mitchell’s play Die Ringe des Saturn, here are some links for further exploration.  At the Festival d’Avignon website, there is a slide show with twelve photographs of the production, a 2:28 video clip of the production (click on the “Rings of Saturn” tab next to the “Slide Show” tab), along with commentary on Mitchell’s approach to transforming Sebald’s circuitous narrative into theater, part of which is excepted here:

It’s not a question of using sophisticated technological resources to illustrate this first-person journey but rather of wandering around inside the narrator’s mind; showing us the thoughts provoked in Sebald by the landscape, the images it inspires and the memories it evokes. Alongside him, we’re forced to plunge into history, to visit eighteenth century China, return to Germany in 1945, watch Anglo-Dutch naval battles and, above all, to listen to the sound of footsteps and the sometimes laboured breathing of someone following his path, crossing epochs and continents, no matter what. The path of a civilised being who worries for the future of a world in a state of galloping erosion.

The Schauspiel has posted a short video trailer for its Cologne production on YouTube.  As can be seen in the stills and the video clips, portions of Grant Gee’s film Patience were projected in Mitchell’s play.  Bringing all of this full circle, then, there are yet more photographs from the production at the Bēhance website of Finn Ross who took  the rushes from Gee’s film which he “then reconstructed into a tryptic that moves in and out of the live camera world” of the theater production.

And, finally, Zigs1 has posted her thoughts upon attending the May 11, 2012 performance in Cologne.

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!

Dramatizing Austerlitz


When the BBC recently announced that it was going to air a radio “dramatisation” of W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, I am afraid I shuddered.  Dramatizations (I’m stubbornly sticking with the American spelling) almost always go badly and if any author’s works seemed wrong for dramatization, those of Sebald seem seemed extremely wrong.  In his prose fictions, Sebald filtered everything and every person through the singular voice of his narrator.  Austerlitz, which actually has a plot of sorts and a handful of characters, is nevertheless told exclusively through one voice.

The BBC dramatization, which is credited to Michael Butt and was directed by John Taylor, has a cast of twelve that includes three different voices playing Austerlitz at different ages.  There is background music to set the mood and there are plenty of sound effects to underscore the text.  Sebald’s book has been taken apart, abbreviated,  and remolded into a 90-minute radio play that at times is indistinguishable from a soap opera.  The narrator is positioned as writer looking for a new project before his eyesight gives out and when he meets Austerlitz he realizes he’s found his ideal subject.  And Austerlitz…well, there’s the rub.  Much of the commentary that have been made by those that have listened to the play have focused on poor radio-Austerlitz who, I dare say, Sebald would not recognize.  Here, Austerlitz is played as an extremely tentative, over-anxious, insecure worrier.

I happen to be a big fan of well-narrated audio books.  Listening to a narrator who reads well and who does not try to act can often be just as good as reading the book silently to one’s self.  (John le Carré, for example, is one reader I enjoy.)  Sebald himself recorded the “Max Ferber” section of The Emigrants in a German-language audio CD in 2000, using a voice that scarcely moves beyond a clearly-enunciated monotone.  It’s almost hypnotic to listen to him.  Dramatizations, on the other had, almost always seem to be for lazy readers who need to hear cell doors slamming to know we’re now in a prison or who need to hear sobbing when someone dies.  I’m sure there are some who might make the argument that a dramatization is a way of making fiction more accessible and thus opening it up to new audiences.  Perhaps many people will have heard about Sebald and Austerlitz for the first time through this BBC radio broadcast.  My problem with the BBC dramatization of Austerlitz is that it could have been done in a way that remained true to the intent of Sebald’s complex exploration of memory and identity.  This is a dramatization that belies Sebald’s original from start to finish by drowning out the text in a miasma of ambiance, never permitting Sebald to try to win over readers on his own terms.  The radio play conceived by Butt and Taylor is mainstream, unimaginative theater that doesn’t attempt to capture Sebald’s idiosyncratic form of narrative.  They would have been much better off to let the narrator (well-played by Stephen Greif) to carry the entire production single-handedly.  Instead, Sebald’s text was sacrificed so that the BBC’s audience wouldn’t have to.

New Austerlitz Radio Dramatization

Fiction Factory Austerlitz

On Sunday December 16, 2012, BBC Radio 3 will broadcast a new radio dramatization (or dramatisation, for those in the UK) of W.G. Sebald’s novel Austerlitz.  The 90-minute broadcast will begin at 20:30 GMT.  Here are the details, according to the BBC website:

Duration:1 hour, 30 minutes. First broadcast:Sunday 16 December 2012
W G Sebald’s masterpiece novel about remembering the Holocaust, in a new dramatisation for radio by Michael Butt. The narrator meets a quiet stranger in the Antwerp station cafe and he begins to confide an unsettling story of vanished identity – which travels through 1930s Czechosolovakia, the Kindertransport of Jewish children to Britain and adoption in Wales.

Sebald came to prominence in the 1990s as an acclaimed German writer, living in Britain, whose novels tackled many aspects of Germany’s confrontation with its traumatic wartime past. He died in 2001 at the height of his critical appreciation.

Austerlitz ….. James Fleet
Narrator ….. Stephen Greif
Elias ….. David Sibley
Margaret ….. Poppy Miller
Evan ….. Michael Elwyn
Agata ….. Morven Christie
Maximilian ….. Timothy Watson
Marie ….. Amanda Drew
Vera ….. Deborah Findlay
Young Vera ….. Emma Powell
Young Austerlitz ….. Dyfan Dwyvor
Child Austerlitz ….. Kalum Guest

Directed by John Taylor
A Fiction Factory Production.

Radio Play Ambros Adelwarth

By chance, I stumbled on a couple of links to a BBC radio play based on the third chapter of W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants. The adaptation was done by Edward Kemp, whose website describes him as “a UK-based writer, theatre director, translator and dramaturg.” Here is the brief description of the play found there:

The Emigrants – Ambros Adelwarth. First broadcast BBC Radio 3 2001. Dramatisation of the story by WG Sebald. Adapted and directed by Edward Kemp, Produced by Jeremy Mortimer with Technical Presentation by Peter Ringrose. Music by Gary Yershon. Cast: John Wood, Henry Goodman, Eleanor Bron, Ed Bishop, Margaret Robertson, Andrew Sachs, John Schwab, Jasmine Hyde, Thomas Arnold, Maximillian Gräber. Violin – Anne Wood. “… richly enjoyable and haunting radio play” – Gillian Reynolds, Daily Telegraph.

A website devoted to British radio listings (no longer extant, unfortunately) once provided slightly different information about The Emigrants – Ambros Adelwarth:

Adapted by Edward Kemp from W G Sebald’s acclaimed novel about the experiences of Jewish emigrants. Inspired by an old photograph album to investigate the life of a lost relative, a man finds himself on a journey that traverses the 20th century, leading him from an American asylum to the shores of the Dead Sea. With John Wood (W), Henry Goodman (Ambros Adelwarth), Eleanor Bron (Aunt Fini), Ed Bishop (Uncle Kasimir), Margaret Robertson (Aunt Lina), Andrew Sachs (Dr Abramsky), Cosmo Solomon (John Schwab), Thomas Arnold, Jamsine Hyde and Maximilian Graber. Music by Gary Yershon. Directed by Edward Kemp.

That’s all I can find out about this tantalizing play.