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Posts from the ‘Uwe Schütte’ Category

Berlin Book Launch for Uwe Schütte’s New Sebald Book

Uwe Annaherungen

On Thursday September 26 at 8:00 PM, there will be a book launch for Uwe Schütte’s new book Annäherungen – Sieben Essays zu W.G. Sebald. at the Literarische Buchhandlung Der Zauberberg, Bundesallee 133, 12161 Berlin.

Anmeldungen zu allen Veranstaltungen in der Buchhandlung unter 56 73 90 91 oder per E-Mail  Eintritt: 5 Euro



Uwe Annaherungen

Portrait of Sebald by Marc Volk, 1992.

Uwe Schütte has written a new book about W.G. Sebald called Annäherungen (“Approximations”) to mark what would have been Sebald’s 75th birthday on May 18, 2019. This highly personal book by Schütte, a former PhD student of Sebald’s, comprises seven non-academic essays which aim to reflect a portrait of the author’s nonconformist personality and idiosyncratic texts. Avoiding the standard Sebaldian topics such as memory, exile, the Holocaust, trauma and so on, Schütte’s essays in Annäherungen deal with subjects like Sebald’s love of trees and his fascination with fire. He examines Sebald’s deep attachment to animals, explores the huge significance of his grandfather on his writings, and tries to characterize his extraordinary role as an academic. Annäherungen casts seven very different spotlights on Sebald. The essays–each beginning with a pertinent, often rare photographic image–illuminate previously unknown aspects of Sebald’s writings and open up new connections.

The book has been published by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Verlage.

A New General Introduction to W.G. Sebald Is Published

Schutte Sebald Book Cover

Let me just say right from the start that Uwe Schütte’s new short, general introductory book W.G. Sebald is excellent. Published in Liverpool University Press’s “Writers and their Work” series, Schütte’s book is now the place to start with one’s study of Sebald. I am really surprised that something like this had not been done in the seventeen years since Sebald’s death. It seems so simple, doesn’t it—summarize an author’s life, books, and impact in 130 pages? Schütte makes this look easy, which is a credit to the clarity of his writing and critical thinking. But in truth this is not an easy genre to master. And undoubtedly, some passage of time is required so that a solid body of critical writing can amass and, in turn, be evaluated.

From 1992 to 1997, Schütte was Sebald’s sole post-graduate student at the University of East Anglia, and thus, he notes, “I could witness his meteoric rise to international literary fame from a close distance.” Schütte’s book contains seven chapters, five of which are dedicated to specific books by Sebald: After Nature, Vertigo, The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, and Austerlitz. “From After Nature to Austerlitz, [Sebald’s] goal is always to create a poetic truth, to make visible the invisible, to allow the metaphysical to enter the profane.” Schütte is good at outlining the sources for these five books—how much originated originated from Sebald’s own life and personal experience, how much from his German upbringing, and what came out of his extensive research. The Rings of Saturn, for example, was not intended to be a book but was simply a plan to make ten walks in East Anglia and write ten articles for a German newspaper.

Sebald rewards “disobedient and adventurous readers: readers who call into question the credibility of the narrator and who use the texts as a starting point for their own investigations into the dubious claims being made in the books.” In Schütte’s opinion, The Rings of Saturn is the book which most fully met the goals that Sebald set for his writing.

His efforts were directed at coming up with a new type of writing that would address the horrors of the German past but also place them in an overarching matrix, in order to enable a more insightful understanding of how our own existence is inextricably linked with that of other creatures and the natural world around us.

Austerlitz, on the other hand, is Sebald’s most “problematic” book. Here, “Sebald veered dangerously close to the conventions of the novel.” As Schütte notes, “for the first time Sebald directly engaged the Nazi genocide,” a move that “backfired” when it helped catergorize him as a Holocaust author, something Sebald tried to avoid his entire career. Sebald even went so far as to privately express his own concerns about Austerlitz to the book’s translator Anthea Bell. (Schütte gives a shout out to the recently deceased Bell for her “Herculean feat” of translating the incredible sentence late in Austerlitz that runs to ten pages describing life in the concentration camp/ghetto Terezín.) Nevertheless, in the end, Schütte believes that Austerlitz, despite it’s flaws, is a “landmark moment in contemporary literature” for the number of significant themes that Sebald manages to subtly blend into a single book.

The opening chapter, “W.G. Sebald: Emigrant and Academic,” briefly and discreetly covers the essential stages of Sebald’s biography and delves into Sebald’s academic literary criticism, which Schütte generally portrays in a less than positive light. “Sebald always employed highly problematic critical tactics  to argue his contentious opinions.” For example, Der Mythus  der Zerstörung im Werk Döblins (The Myth of Destruction in Döblin’s Work), published in 1980 and based on his 1973 thesis, was “polemical” and “harsh” and “essentially disappeared without a trace.” Except for occasional poems, very little in Sebald’s early academic and writing life foreshadowed the literary star he would eventually become. But in another sense, it was his failure and discomfort at this type of writing that led him to explore a more unconstrained form of prose narrative.

In the closing chapter, “The Cult of Sebald,” Schütte gives a brief overview of Sebald’s posthumous reputation and critical reception and tries to undo some of the myths that have grown up around him since his death. Schütte is not alone in ruing the multitude of books that have appeared which “imitate his style and themes”—usually with poor results—and “the recent craze for books intertwining text and images.” Schütte makes a case that Sebald himself was partially destroyed by his own success. “Viewing academia as a dead end, he managed to extricate himself by writing literature only to discover that he had ended up in a new trap,” namely “the exhausting and arduous labour that went into both the writing and the promotion of Austerlitz.

For an academic title, the paperback edition of W.G. Sebald is pretty affordable at £16.99 and $29.95. Next January, Schütte will participate in a program at Waterstones in Birmingham:

Tuesday 29th January 18:30 at Birmingham
24-26 High Street, Birmingham, B4 7SL

Waterstones Birmingham would like to invite you to a very special evening discussing WG Sebald. WG Sebald is a special writer, widely admired in the English-speaking world yet often controversial in his native Germany. Indeed, he was a writer between two cultures, two languages and two forms of writing: academic and imaginative. This new general introduction written by his former PhD student Uwe Schütte aims not just to provide a knowledgeable overview of his oeuvre, but also to alert readers of English to the hidden “German” side of his writing.

Uwe Schütte is Reader in German at Aston University. He is joined by Derek Littlewood, poet and Senior Lecturer in Literature at Birmingham City University, and Richard Hibbitt, Director of Comparative Literature at the University of Leeds and the co-editor with Jo Catling of Saturn’s Moons: A W. G. Sebald Handbook.

Sebald’s Screenplay on Kant Heads to Radio

Kant Stamp

In her book Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory of W.G. Sebald, Philippa Comber wrote intriguingly of a screenplay that Sebald had written on Immanuel Kant, but which was never produced. Now, as a result of the efforts of Uwe Schütte, the script will be produced for radio by the German station WDR3 for airing on July 11. Jetzund kömpt die Nacht herbey: Ansichten aus dem Leben und Sterben des Immanuel Kant is the only extensive screenplay Sebald ever wrote and drafts of it remain in his archive in Marbach. The title of the screenplay, by the way, comes from the first line of a poem by Martin Opitz (1597-1639), which was set to music as a lovely song by Johann Nauwach around the same time.

Here’s the text of the press release from WDR3:

Jetzund kömpt die Nacht herbey: Ansichten aus dem Leben und Sterben des Immanuel Kant

Es ist das einzige Drehbuch, das W.G. Sebald geschrieben hat. Aber dieser Film wurde nie gedreht, das Skript bisher nicht veröffentlicht. Jetzund kömpt die Nacht herbey ist die Übersetzung eines imaginären Films in ein Hörspiel.

Sebald, Meister der dokumentarischen Fiktion, wirft Schlaglichter auf das Leben des Philosophen Immanuel Kant. Es ist ein Blick hinter die Kulissen – die Kulissen des großen Werks, der großen Gedanken und ihrer Zeitlosigkeit. Denn Kant, Inbegriff des kritischen Denkens und der reinen Vernunft, kämpft in Sebalds Drehbuch zeit seines Lebens gegen die eigene Vergänglichkeit. „Was ist der Mensch?“ fragte Kant. “Jetzund kömpt die Nacht herbey” erzählt von dem Menschen, an dem seine eigene Natur ihren Prozess macht: Ansichten aus dem Leben und Sterben des Immanuel Kant. Dabei wird unter Sebalds Blick die Schwäche und die Angst vor dem körperlichen Verfall gerade zur treibenden Kraft des Denkens.

Von: W.G. Sebald Regie: Claudia Johanna Leist Produktion: WDR 2015/53’ Redaktion: Isabel Platthaus

SA / 11. Juli / 15:05 – 16:00

SA / 11. Juli / 23:05 – 24.00

WDR 3 Hörspiel

If you want to read more about Sebald’s film script,  which was probably written around 1979-1981, try to find Michael D. Hutchins’ 2011 dissertation Tikkun: W.G. Sebald’s Melancholy Messianism, (it used to be online, but no longer seems to be). Hutchins discusses the topic at length on pages 144-160. He suggests that Sebald was less interested in Kant’s philosophy than in his death and that “a look at five central scenes reveals that what Sebald is up to here is nothing less than deconstructing the modern belief in progress and a view of nature that resulted in the exploitation of the natural world.” This topic sounds very relevant today as we contemplate the disastrous effects of  climate change. Hutchins writes: “Because human history has so far meant competition with and the destruction of nature, Sebald does not hold out much hope for our continued survival. We destroy, he seems to think, those very structures that gave rise to our species and that make our continued existence possible.” Hutchins sees this piece as being  “conceived in the tradition of 1960s documentary theater… Sebald may have been thinking of the work of Rolf Hochhuth, Martin Walser, Heinar Kipphardt or Peter Weiss, whose major works of documentary theater appeared during Sebald‘s university studies, and whom he singles out for praise in the introduction to A Radical Stage,” an anthology that Sebald edited in 1988.

Interventionen: Criticism as Dissent

Sebald Cover Interventionen

Interventionen. Literaturkritik als Widerspruch bei W. G. Sebald (English translation: Interventions. Criticism as Dissent in the Works of W.G. Sebald), a new book by Uwe Schütte, has just been published by Edition Text+Kritik. This massive study, running to some 650 pages, promises to undertake the first comprehensive analysis of Sebald’s critical works. For more than thirty years, Sebald produced a wide-range of critical writings, including several monographs, collected volumes of essays, academic articles, literary essays, journalism, book reviews in English and German, and even obituaries. Until recently the bulk of this large body of critical writings has been generally ignored by Sebald scholars, even though it is increasingly clear that it is an essential component of his total literary output.

Schütte, who studied under Sebald, will explore both the evident and hidden connections between his critical and imaginative writings. Schütte’s book will trace the development of Sebald’s critical writings from the script of a classroom presentation he gave as a student in Fribourg to the scandal caused by his contentious Zurich lectures on air war and literature (as collected in On The Natural History of Destruction). The monograph will discuss Sebald’s idiosyncratic concept of literary criticism, which opposed the norms of Germanistik in a variety of ways. Denouncing mainstream German Studies, Sebald attempted to escape the rigidity of academic discourse in Germany through his non-conformist, highly subjective style of criticism that did not shy away from invectives against colleagues and scathing polemics against established literary authors. Sebald’s striking aggressiveness in his critical attacks on other writers is balanced by a series of essays that demonstrate a very personal attachment to and identification with a small number of writers he saw as more congenial, ranging from Sebald’s contemporaries such as the schizophrenic poet Ernst Herbeck (who features in Vertigo) and the outsider autodidact Herbert Achternbusch to those writers from the nineteenth century that are celebrated in Logis in einem Landhaus, recently translated by Jo Catling as A Place in the Country.

Based on his research in the literary estate of Sebald held at the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, Schütte will discuss for the first time Sebald’s plan in the early 1980s for a book project that aimed to condemn German post-war literature for its failure to engage truthfully with the heritage of Nazi history. Only a few individual essays originally intended for that book – provisionally entitled The Reconstruction of Memory – have appeared in print. Instead, rather than attacking German literature through critical discourse, Sebald decided to take up literary writing himself in order to demonstrate how – in his view – literature could adequately deal with Germany’s past.

Schütte’s book promises to be something of an intellectual biography of Sebald and should go a long way toward helping us have a new understanding of the interplay between Sebald’s critical and literary modes of writing.

Uwe Schütte, Interventionen: Literaturkritik als Widerspruch bei W. G. Sebald. Munich: Edition Text+Kritik, 2014. His previous books include W.G. Sebald : Einführung in Leben und Werk in 2011 and Figurationen: Zum lyrischen Werk von W.G. Sebald in 2013. [I love the great portrait of Sebald on the cover by Cologne photographer Anita Schiffer-Fuchs.]

Literaturhaus Stuttgart to Celebrate Sebald’s 70th

Sebald at Literaturhaus Stuttgart

Sebald at Literaturhaus Stuttgart © Heiner Wittmann

The 70th anniversary of the birth of W.G. Sebald is coming up on May 18, 2014. To mark this date, the Literaturhaus in Stuttgart has planned an event for Tuesday May 20, featuring Sebald scholar Uwe Schütte. Schütte is scheduled to give a talk called “Das Land das man nur barfuß betreten darf: W.G. Sebalds Lyrik” (“the land one may only enter barefoot”), based on his recent study Figurationen. He will talk about the development of Sebald’s poetry from his first attempts at writing literary texts to the final micro-poems that were evolved just before his premature death. Florian Höllerer, who was the director of the Literaturhaus from its inception until the end of 2013, will serve as moderator for the evening.

Sebald and the Literaturhaus had a very special connection. He was invited to speak at its opening ceremonies on November 17, 2001. This important speech – “Ein Versuch der Restitution” – turned out to be Sebald’s last public appearance before his death on December 14, 2001. “An Attempt at Restitution,” the English version, first appeared in The New Yorker (December 20-27, 2004) and then was reprinted in the posthumous anthology Campo Santo. In 2008, Verlag Ulrich Keicher in Warmbronn, Germany issued a booklet containing Sebald’s speech called Zerstreute Reminiszenzen in a small edition of 800 copies. This publication included illustrations of many of the things mentioned in the speech, from the Quelle mail-order catalog that his father showed him for Christmas 1949 to newspaper clippings and photographs drawn from the Sebald archive in Marbach.  A few sections of Sebald’s own typescript of the speech are also reproduced.


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.

She will be talking about her experiences as part of the Kindertransport and she will discuss how she was effected  by Sebald’s use of her biography. She will be introduced by Martin Modlinger, who has written and lectured on Sebald and Austerlitz. The event is organised by Sebald’s former PhD student and German scholar Uwe Schütte. The event will take place from 2-4 PM in room North Wing 109 of Aston University, Aston Triangle, Birmingham B4 7ET.

Rosas Child

Conversation with Uwe Schütte


Uwe Schütte is a Reader in German at Aston University, where he has taught since 1999. He has a PhD. from the University of East Anglia, where he studied under W.G. Sebald. His new book about the poetry of W.G. Sebald has just been published by Edition Isele in Eggingen, Germany, at the very affordable price of 16 Euros.

Vertigo: Your new book Figurationen is a study of Sebald’s poetical writings. Why did you decide to write about this aspect of Sebald’s work?

Schütte: The book actually came about by chance. For a long while I meant to write an essay on Über das Land und das Wasser (2008), the collection of Sebald’s poetry edited by Sven Meyer, but I never really got round to doing it. Then the opportunity arose to present a paper on Sebald’s poetry at a conference in Cardiff, Wales. I actually couldn’t attend due to illness but nevertheless wrote the essay for inclusion in the conference proceedings volume.

Taking a closer look at the poems, which I had so far only considered to be appendixes to the prose texts, I discovered that they have considerable merits independent of the prose books. In connection with my research, I came across some articles by the Swedish scholar Axel Englund which contained incisive close readings of several poems that stimulated my interest further. Another factor were the often eye-opening explanatory notes provided by Iain Galbraith, the translator and editor of Across the Water and The Land (2011), the English version of the poetry collection.

That in turn led me to also look more closely at the micro poetry written around the time of Austerlitz, which appeared in the collections For Years Now (2001) and Unerzählt (2003), which was published in English as Unrecounted in 2004. I had previously disregarded these small texts as I felt that they seemed too casual in their brevity and also made an odd postscript to Sebald’s œuvre. However, a closer examination of the poems – again – revealed them to be far more meaningful and relevant than initially had assumed.

Having completed the two pieces, I realized that I only needed to add a chapter on Nach der Natur (1988), published in English as After Nature in 2002, to create a book that would cover all aspects of Sebald’s poetical œuvre. Edition Isele was very receptive to the idea of a study on the poetry, so a deal was quickly struck and the book appeared a mere six months after I had started work on the first article.

Vertigo: It’s my impression that Nach der Natur has received more critical attention than Sebald’s other books of poetry – especially the micro poems – in part because it is such an autobiographical book. So let’s talk more about the micro poems and the other late poetry. How do you see the micro poems fitting into Sebald’s oeuvre?  Are they autobiographical in any way?

Schütte: They are autobiographical only in the sense that they display Sebald’s pronounced idiosyncrasy. The micro poems in that sense fit very much into his work for the very reason that they counteract common expectations and public demands. Sebald never really wanted to comply with these. My personal guess is that after Austerlitz he sought to do something completely different. And he did. You have to bear in mind that the very last book published during his lifetime is not the big novel but the “below-the-radar” collaboration with Tess Jaray.

Vertigo: It’s curious that both of these books of micro poems are collaborations with artists. Unerzählt  was done with Sebald’s long-time friend Jan Peter Tripp and For Years Now was done with a British artist, Tess Jaray. Why do you think Sebald wanted to do these books as collaborations?

Schütte: The plan for the collaboration with Tripp actually harked back many years, the pair just never really got round getting it done. At least not during Sebald’s lifetime. Given the importance he placed on the combination of pictures and text it was only a logical step to enter into a collaborative (side) project of this sort. As it turned out then, both books were essentially the product of the respective artists with Sebald only supplying texts – although they are now of course perceived as original Sebald books featuring illustrations by someone else.

Vertigo: Did you interview Tripp or Jaray? If so, what was that like?

Schütte: Tripp (like Sebald) is a digitalophobe. He was terribly difficult to get hold of; I sent postcards that were returned with “addressee unknown” and rang him numerous times, leaving messages, but all to no avail. I got hold of him though after several weeks of trying and we talked on the phone for an hour or so. Jaray was easier. She is on email and responded quickly. I just had to catch the train from Birmingham to London one sunny Saturday in June 2013 to visit her in her new studio in Camden. She was terribly helpful, providing me with lots of highly relevant information on the book. She shared her correspondence with Sebald, too, and I quote from that frequently in the book. Also, she let me have a scan of the autograph of Sebald’s favorite poem that I wanted to have reproduced on the cover of the book. Unfortunately, my publisher decided against that, opting for a rather bland design.

Vertigo: Which poem is that?

Schütte: It’s the one about his beloved grandfather, who died when Sebald was a boy aged 11. This traumatic event, I argue, was the key factor for his melancholic disposition and his obsession with reaching out into the realm of the dead, being far more important than the guilt he felt for the crimes committed by the Nazis. In the German original, the poem just says the smell of the poet’s writing paper reminds him of the smell of woodchips in a coffin. In the English version, Sebald makes the crucial and revealing addition that the coffin he talks about is his granddad’s. To me, it appears as if he needed to write in the foreign language to be able to openly talk about the very origin of his life-long sadness.

The Smell

of my writing paper
puts me in mind
of the woodshavings
in my grandfather’s

[from For Years Now: Poems by W.G. Sebald/Images by Tess Jaray, Short Books, 2001]

Vertigo: What did you discover when you studied the Sebald Archive in Marbach?

Schütte: A truly vast number of unpublished poems, particularly from the nineties! Many of them were – uncharacteristically for Sebald – in a handwriting that was difficult to read. Fortunately, I met a young Sebald scholar from the US called Melissa Etzler who had already researched the vast majority of the poems and showed me her transcriptions, which was very helpful. These days, it is difficult for me to travel to the archive as it is located in a pretty remote and provincial part of South-West Germany – an irony that Sebald would, of course, have liked a lot. So when I finally managed to get to Marbach, the book was nearly completed. Realizing how much unpublished stuff there is, both in English and German, I contemplated abandoning my original book for a while and thought of starting a new one just on the late and unpublished poetry.

Vertigo: In 2011, you published W.G. Sebald : Einführung in Leben und Werk (W.G. Sebald: Introduction to his Life & Works) (Stuttgart: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht). What is the relationship between these two books on Sebald?

Schütte: This general introduction was very much the preparatory exercise for the important project that should finally see the light this year, I hope – a major study of Sebald’s critical writings called Interventionen. Literaturkritik als Widerspruch bei W.G. Sebald (Interventions. Criticism as Contradiction in the Works of W.G. Sebald). It will run to some 700 pages and comprehensively cover the entirety of his non-literary texts. When I wrote the introduction in 2010, I primarily saw it as a way to re-read all prose books and to acquaint myself with the (often pretty dismal) criticism on Sebald; also, I assumed that there would be some sort of commemoration going on around the tenth anniversary of his death in the German papers. Surprisingly, or not, that wasn’t the case. Sebald is truly adored by his readership but still little liked by cultural establishment in Germany. Quite the reverse of the all-encompassing adoration in the Anglophone world. Many important critics as well as highly-regarded writers (such Günter Grass) and a whole bunch of academics have not forgiven him for breaking the cozy consensus by his vitriolic attacks on celebrated figureheads of German post-war literature such as Alfred Andersch, Jurek Becker and others.

I am exploring these and other issues in Interventionen and, to return to your question, I perceive Figurationen very much as a companion volume to the big monograph on the critical writings – both books aim to shed light on neglected areas of Sebald’s œuvre. Don’t forget that he published his first poems in 1964 and his first academic monograph in 1969. Poetry and critical texts, which he then continued to write over the course of nearly four decades, are the background from which his prose texts developed during the comparatively short period he produced his celebrated prose books.

Vertigo: Can we expect more publications by you on Sebald once Interventionen has appeared?

Schütte: I am afraid so. Just as Sebald predicted when I first mentioned that I would like to do a PhD. with him in order to pursue an academic career, the situation of German studies in the UK has much deteriorated, constantly eating away at academic freedom and imposing misguided bureaucratic mechanisms to demonstrate the relevance and so-called “impact” of one’s research. I am under pressure to increasingly publish in English and have already started to work on a contribution to the “Writers and Their Work” series by Northcote Publishers, due to appear later this year or in early 2015. It is not a translation of my German general introduction but rather written from scratch with an English-speaking audience in mind. It will be my fourth book on Sebald in as many years – and I guess I should then declare a moratorium on Sebald research for the time being…