Skip to content

Posts from the ‘W.G. Sebald’ Category

Beyond Sebald: New Trajectories in Sebald Studies

A call for papers is making the rounds:

Call for Papers 

Beyond Sebald: New Trajectories in Sebald Studies 

A One-Day Postgraduate Workshop

University of Leeds, Tuesday 2nd May 2017, 12:30–16:30

We invite you to join us for a one-day postgraduate workshop at the University of Leeds to discuss the opportunities and challenges of studying W. G. Sebald today. We are particularly interested in two interrelated questions: first, what are the new directions for Sebald scholarship? And second, how do contemporary writers, artists, and filmmakers respond to or challenge the “Sebaldian”?

Sebald’s work is known for its bricolage of styles, genres, modalities, and interests. Combining fiction with photography, travel-writing with memoir, and essay with historiography, Sebald’s influence stretches far and wide. While the foremost studies of Sebald’s work – including Hutchinson, McCulloh, Fuchs, Denham, Wolff, and Long, among many others – emphasise issues pertaining to the overlap of Holocaust memory, trauma, and textual hybridity, our workshop is especially interested in exploring new avenues that go “beyond” Sebald. For example, how might we read Sebald alongside theorisations of the anthropocene? What happens to Sebald’s work when it is refracted through the novels of contemporary authors such as Teju Cole, Ben Lerner, Sergio Chejfec, or Micheline Aharonian Marcom? What does Sebald’s Austerlitz offer for thinking through current the refugee crisis?

Our event will begin with a keynote presentation by Dr. Helen Finch, who will discuss her current research on Sebald in the context of German Holocaust Literature, focusing especially on canonicity, witnessing, and remediation. Dr. Finch will join us for the full afternoon and PGRs will greatly benefit from her participation in the conversation. Workshop participants are also invited to attend to Prof. Astrid Erll’s (Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main) evening lecture on Transcultural Memory as part of the Sadler Seminar series Confronting Traumatic Pasts: Between the Local and the Global.

We welcome abstracts for short position papers, lasting between ten and fifteen minutes, that reflect on – but are by no means limited to – the following topics:

  • (Re)assessing Sebald’s form and style, both in and beyond his texts
  • Affect studies
  • Climate change, the anthropocene, planetarity
  • Technology, photography, film, the digital
  • Feminism and critical masculinities
  • The posthuman, the animal
  • Borders, migration, and refugees

Please send a short abstract (200 words) and biography (max. 100 words) to by Monday 10th April, 2017. 

The Arca Project: An Exhibition Inspired by the Work of W.G.Sebald

steven-scott-resized[print for the Arca Project by Steven Scott]

More than fifteen years after his death, the writings of W.G. Sebald continue to inspire artists and exhibitions. The latest example is an announcement by the PayneShurvell gallery, whose next exhibition will be “The Arca Project: An Exhibition Inspired by the Work of W.G.Sebald.” According to their website, “The Arca Project is an exhibition consisting of 16 visual and 16 textual responses to one single image. Each response has been realised as a limited edition print, developed and made by Invisible Print Studio.” The exhibition is scheduled to open April 1 at a location about a half hour north of Ipswich in Suffolk, England (details at their website).

In the same way that The Rings of Saturn takes a single idea, a walking tour, to open up a wide range of ideas and conversations, The Arca Project sent 16 international artists and 16 writers exactly the same image and asked them to interpret the image as they wished (the only limitation was the uniform paper orientation and size). The recurrence of this image offers many interpretations. All are fictitious. It is a game of false interpretations. The idea is to have artists and writers in a Sebaldian mix of fact and fiction, documentary and reality.

This exhibition, which will take place in a new space outside of Debenham, brings Sebald’s wanderer back full-circle to the county that inspired him. Additional events, including films and talks, will take place during the run of the exhibition. The Arca Project draws its title from an essay by Graeme Gilloch, “The ‘Arca Project’: W.G.Sebald’s Corsica.”

For the opening on April 1 we will be showing the film, Patience (After Sebald) on a loop. We will also have two curator led tours of the show at 4pm and 6pm.

Artists and writers involved include Andrew Bick, Craig Burnett, Andrew Curtis, Karen Engle, Adam Fish, Emma Fraser, Lindsey Freeman, Graeme Gilloch, Steph Goodger, Oona Grimes, Tony Grisoni, Catherine Haines, Michael Hall, Molly Jarboe, Jaeho Kang, Naiza Khan, Jane Kilby, Abigail Lane, Richard Makin, Bob Matthews, Bruce McLean, Ana Milenkovic, Simon Patterson, Tony Plant, Daniel Rapley, Fabio La Rocca, Julian Rowe, Martina Schmid, Steven Scott, Allen Shelton, Erik Steinskog and Jo Stockham.

The Arca Project is curated by Michael Hall and Graeme Gilloch and will be presented by PayneShurvell.

One of the curators, Michael Hall, has written about the inspiration for the exhibition over at Artlyst. “When I conceived The Arca Project my intention was to devise a way of incorporating the essence of W.G. Sebald within a project. I never wanted to merely pay homage to him but to develop new work through his influence.” According to Hall, “The image used in this exhibition has nothing to do with Sebald though…. I guess you must make of it what you will.”

There were a few rules though:

1.     Textual responses write about the image.

2.     Visual responses work directly over the top of the image.

3.     Size and orientation would be standardised.

4.     They are exhibited as diptychs – 1 textual response and 1 visual response.

5.     There are as many responses as years since W.G. Sebald’s death.

6.     They are moved around daily.

New Sebald Handbook


Springer Verlag and J.B Metzler have just announced a significant handbook on W.G. Sebald. W.G. Sebald-Handbuch: Leben – Werk – Wirkung, edited by Claudia Öhlschläger and Michael Niehaus. I don’t have any further information about the volume’s contents, beyond what can be found on the publisher’s website. The hardcover version is scheduled for release on March 22, 2017. An ebook is also forthcoming.

The volume contains contributions from a number of Sebald researchers, who deal with his entire body of work as a writer. Essays cover Sebald’s themes (trauma and memory, the natural history of destruction, the Holocaust, home, etc.) as well as the characteristics of his writing (intertextuality, the connection of text and image, etc.), his guiding motifs (melancholy, travel), and the presence of other media (photography, painting, architecture) in his texts. From the publisher’s website:

Trotz seines schmalen Œuvres wurde kein deutschsprachiger Autor der Gegenwartsliteratur international so intensiv und kontrovers diskutiert wie W.G. Sebald, der fünfzehn Jahre nach seinem Tod bereits zum kanonischen Autor geworden ist. Die Beiträge namhafter Sebald-Forscher erschließen in diesem Handbuch die verschiedenen Facetten und Ebenen des gesamten literarischen und essayistischen Werks. Sebalds Themen (Trauma und Erinnerung, die Naturgeschichte der Zerstörung, Holocaust, Heimat) werden ebenso beleuchtet wie die Merkmale seines Schreibens (Intertextualität, Bastelei, Verbindung von Text und Bild, Stil), seine Leitmotive (Melancholie, Reisen) sowie die Präsenz anderer Medien und Künste (Photographie, Malerei, Architektur) in seinen Texten. Eigene Teile sind den für Sebald wichtigsten Referenzautoren und der nationalen und internationalen Rezeption gewidmet.

Sebald Links – January 2017

constantino_performance-with-spyglassfrom Valerie Constantino’s “Performance with Spyglass”

A new exhibition based on W.G. Sebald’s After Nature has just opened up in Sacramento, California. Here’s the information from the website of Sacramento State University:

Valerie Constantino presents “Crossing Sublime (After After Nature),” an exhibit of recent works that kicks off Sacramento State’s art shows for the spring semester. The show runs Jan. 23 to Feb. 22 at the Robert Else Gallery with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27, and an artist talk from 4 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7. Regular gallery hours are noon to 4:30 p.m.

A lecturer at Sacramento State and American River College, Constantino has created new works inspired by W.G. Sebald’s narrative poem After Nature. The pieces consider the fluid crossings of time, matter, and being, and include photo-montages, collages, mixed media on paper, sculptural elements, writing, and an audio component. Sebald’s publisher describes his work as a “haunting vision of the waxing and waning tides of birth and devastation that lie behind and before us.” For Constantino, Sebald’s ruminations of the interrelatedness of materiality and transcendence substantiated analogous themes in her work.

“Sebald composed his text from a presumed kind of intimacy with two historically notable figures in tandem with a third voice, a variant of his own,” Constantino says. “My presentation alleges firsthand knowledge of its own selected subjects: artist Anne Ryan and cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova.”

Constantino’s process of making art is one of personal expression and investigative research. “Such explorations are themselves worthwhile and may not necessarily convey an overarching message,” she says. “Because the work in this exhibition is diverse and based on interpretations of the lives and works of others, an appreciation for each individual work, as well as its conceptual relationships to the whole, would be ideal.”


I recently finished reading Dušan Šarotar’s book Panorama (Peter Owen World Series, 2016), which I plan to write about soon. It’s a book that was openly done in admiration of Sebald. Now, Šarotar has written the introduction to the first Slovenian translation of Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, and his English-language publisher has posted a translation of Šarotar’s piece. Take a look.

On Peter Mendelsund & Jerry Bauer


The inventive and distinguished designer Peter Mendelsund is responsible for the new book covers on New Directions’ recent reissue of W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants, Vertigo, and The Rings of Saturn. The most recent post on Mendelsund’s blog Thoughts is called “After Sebald.” In this wonderful piece, Mendelsund writes about how the intersection of his family memories and his reading and re-reading of Sebald contributed to the evolution of the new designs. Additionally, Mendelsund expounds his theory about The Emigrants. “I was, then, on my third reading of Sebald’s The Emigrants, and it began to occur to me in this re-reading, first as a hunch, and then as a gathering certitude, that this book was a kind of refracted, prismatic biography…comprising the actual life of Ludwig Wittgenstein.”

(Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Ulf!)


While we’re on the subject of New Directions, they have recently posted the contact sheet of the photo shoot that resulted in the portrait of Sebald by Jerry Bauer for the back flap of the dust jacket of their original hardcover edition of Vertigo. Bauer (1934-2010), often called “the author’s photographer,” made portraits of an endless list of writers including Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, Jack Kerouac, Gore Vidal, Patricia Highsmith, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Joyce Carol Oates. Reputedly a very private person, no portrait, no obituary, no biography of Bauer seems to exist.


15th Anniversary of Sebald’s Death


WDR radio has produced a 15-minute program in memory of the 15th anniversary of W.G. Sebald’s death on December 14, 2001. You can listen here.

New Book: “Über W.G. Sebald”

schutte-uberDe Gruyter has just issued a new book edited by Uwe Schütte titled Über W.G. Sebald: Beiträge zu einem anderen Bild des Autors. According to an announcement  by the German Department at Aston University where Schütte teaches:

The aim of the book is to provide a counterweight to the dominant strands in Sebald criticism by excluding over-researched topics like the novel Austerlitz and themes such as melancholia, Holocaust and memory.

Instead, the volume explores unpublished texts (such as Sebald’s early novel and his film script on the life and death of Immanuel Kant), revisits the critical discussions initiated by his polemical writings on Alfred Döblin and Alfred Andersch, and explores the Luftkrieg und Literatur debate. Another focus of the volume is philological groundwork, as it were, to establish the biographical and factual background to Sebald’s writings on his native region, the Allgäu, and to his prose volume Schwindel. Gefühle.

In addition to addressing often overlooked or ignored aspects of his writings, the specific approach of the volume was to include contributions from post-docs, Auslandsgermanisten and private scholars in an attempt to break free from the often tautological critical debates taking place within German academia.

The book’s authors include Sven Meyer, Melissa Etzler, Michael Hutchins, Uwe Schütte, Scott Bartsch, Peter Schmucker, Kay Wolfinger, Christoph Steker, Christian Hein, Ulrike Dronske, Markus Joch, Jakob Hayner, Axel Englund, Adrian Nathan West, Florian Radvan, and Ralf Jeutter. Further information on the book can be found at the De Gruyter website.

“What is literature good for?”: Lynn L. Wolff on Sebald’s Hybrid Poetics

Wolff Hybrid Poetics

The complex constellation of historical event, individual experience, and the poietic presentation of both events and experiences is at the heart of Sebald’s work and reveals why his texts elude established genre traditions.

If I were to pick one book for the passionate Sebald reader who might want to dip a toe into serious Sebald scholarship or for the non-Sebald scholar wishing to get a clear sense of Sebald’s contribution to literature and history, I would direct you to Lynn L. Wolff’s fine book W.G. Sebald’s Hybrid Poetics: Literature as Historiography (De Gruyter). First published in 2014 as a hardcover with a price aimed at specialists and libraries, DeGruyter has now reissued the book in paperback at a price aimed for the rest of us – 19.95 (in both euros and dollars). The book is widely available from the publisher, Book Depository, and Amazon.

In her introduction, “Why W.G. Sebald,” Wolff gives a compact biography of his adult life and then discusses the “Sebald phenomenon” – the rise in films, exhibitions, artworks, blogs, and other forms of public and creative response to Sebald’s books. She provides a succinct, but wide-ranging overview of the critical secondary literature that has sprung up around Sebald in a variety of academic disciplines, as well as the seemingly endless academic frameworks through which scholars have tried to view Sebald’s work – postmemory, Freudianism, intertextuality, etc. Yet despite the onslaught of literature about Sebald’s works, Wolff senses that “there are significant gaps” in the way that scholars have examined “the specificity of his poetics” and it is her intention to focus on the mechanics of his writing and their implications. In doing so, she examines all of Sebald’s texts – critical writings, prose fiction, and poetry – with an “open perspective” and in “a methodologically non-dogmatic way.”

Central questions of my investigation are: What is particular about Sebald’s writing? How is he “translating” history into literature? How and where does he emphasize this process? Where are his sources apparent? Where does he cover them up?…These questions prove productive in initiating the reader’s engagement with not only the text but also the broader questions of memory, history, and authenticity.

The definitions of “history” and “literature” were once seen as as fixed and oppositional. History was truth and literature was fiction. We now understand this very differently. History is an interpretation, an argument – a story about the past, if you will. And literature – well literature is now equally unstable. It can embrace biography, autobiography, documentary materials, photographs, and much more. What Sebald did, Wolff argues, was to create a hybrid form that envelopes historiography and literature in a very specific and creative way that “is not a mere fictionalization of history but rather a reconstruction of history that attempts to represent the past while simultaneously channeling the potentiality of literature.” It’s a hybrid form “that reveals literature’s privileged position for exploring, perceiving, and understanding the past.”

From the very beginning of his career, Sebald “walked on a tightrope between the two sides of scholarly and literary writing” and “he bristled against the constraints of form and methodology in place at that time.” And so it was “liberating” when he began to create a hybrid form that could blend the two disciplines, which he did in Logis in einem Landhaus (1998), where his portraits of Robert Walser, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jan Peter Tripp, and others blended scholarly research, personal narrative, and images into essays that revealed much about Sebald’s own trajectory as a writer grappling with topics such as history, ethics, and representation.

Wolff discusses at some length the controversial and “morally-charged” lectures that Sebald delivered in Zurich in 1997 and published two years later as Luftkrieg und Literatur (and issued in English with additional chapters as On the Natural History of Destruction in 2003). She suggests that “these lectures present a willful (mis)reading of the past in order to get at a larger issue: [which was to] emphasize the broader concern of transferring traumatic events and experiences into a linguistic form.” In other words, Sebald was zeroing in on “the translation process from experience into language,” because simply knowing facts or relating eye-witness accounts will not truly let us understand the past or have access to someone else’s experiences. Facts and experiences have to be translated into “a historiography that is consciously and purposefully literary. ” This is a critical argument in Wolff’s book because it leads us directly to Sebald’s decision about how to write. Here, Wolff quotes (and translates) a statement by Sebald:

Historical monographs cannot produce a metaphor or allegory for the collective course of history. It is only in this process of metaphorization that history becomes empathetically accessible. […] This of course does not mean that I am making a case for the novel. I find all cheap forms of fictionalization horrific. My medium is prose, not the novel.

The decisions that Sebald would make about how to write radically affect the way in which we read what he wrote about. Wolff argues persuasively that there is an “essential tension” in his writing between “the relationship between history and literature, documentation and imagination, rational explanations and defiantly non-rational insights,” and, as one example, she points to the tensions between his use of text and image as one of the ways in which Sebald “activates his readers.”

The chapter on images – “What is (in) an image? Mimesis, Representability, and Visual History” – is the longest in Wolff’s book. By way of background, she explores how photography’s relationship to reality has been modeled since the public announcement of photography’s invention in 1839, specifically examining the responses of Charles Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Roland Barthes, and Susan Sontag. At issue is “photography’s deceptively authentic mirroring of reality.” What Sebald wants to do, she argues, is “demand that we move the discussion away from images as documents of the past” and toward the concept of images as “testimony.” Wolff also touches on the complex relationships that exist between photographs and memory. Photographs can evoke memories. Photographs can create memories (thus “falsifying” memory). But photographs can also fail us. As Wolff notes in her discussion of Austerlitz, “Sebald’s characters are frustrated again and again in their search for historical truth or personal memory  as they view photograph after photograph or read and study various sorts of historical documentation.” Sometimes, only personal memory or individual narrative can point to places where history has otherwise been erased.

As Wolff carefully untangles Sebald’s “photo-textual aesthetic” she gets to the core values and intentions embedded within Sebald’s writing. Just as Sebald blends fact and fiction in his writing, so he blends actual and invented images, images for which he provides neither captions nor sources. “The question of what is fact and what is fiction in Sebald’s texts…[becomes a] productive tension” that forces the reader to engage in questions such as: What is real? What is truth? What is authentic?

I have aimed to show how literature has the ability to respond to these challenges of representation and how the texts we label, if not dismiss, as “literary” make a contribution o the historical record that cannot be made in any other way… the true achievement of literary discourse is neither the direct representation of reality nor the transmission of knowledge, rather it is the way literary texts engage us to formulate new questions, to consider both what is presented and how it is formulated. Out of this dynamic process of engagement with literature – an imaginative as well as aesthetic engagement – it becomes possible to develop an ethical as well as emotional connection to the past.

At the end of her book, Wolff provides an extensive and invaluable bibliography of the primary and secondary literature on Sebald.

My brief review cannot possibly cover every aspect of Wolff’s cogently argued and thoroughly researched assessment of Sebald’s writing. But to my mind,  W.G. Sebald’s Hybrid Poetics is the finest critical overview of Sebald that exists in English. Because of my personal interests I have chosen to focus on her commentary on his use of photographs, so I thought it might be useful to present a scan of her table of contents.


A Literature of Restitution


This summer, Manchester University Press released an affordable paperback edition of A Literature of Restitution: Critical Essays on W.G. Sebald, edited by Jeannette Baxter, Valerie Henitiuk, and Ben Hutchinson. The paperback version is priced at $29.95, compared to the 2013 hardcover edition, which runs around $99. For the most part, the various authors managed to at least partially focus on the theme alluded to in the book’s title, lending the volume a sense of unified purpose. Here are my brief summaries of the thirteen essays included in A Literature of Restitution. Keep in mind that I am in no way attempting to convey the rich complexity of each author’s argument. My goal has been to hint at the direction that each essay heads and to mention or quote ideas that stood out for me. It’s true (so far) that I have never met an anthology of essays about Sebald that I didn’t like, but this one holds a number of essays that provoked me to rethink some key things about his writing.

Part 1: Translation and Style

1. Quite fluent in English, Sebald worked closely with each of the translators who labored to bring his original German-language texts into English. Arthur Williams’ essay “W.G. Sebald’s Three-Letter Word: On the Parallel Worlds of the English Translations” closely examines the differences between the German and English versions and he concludes by saying that:

the translations reveal more about Sebald than his masterly use of language. We discover a writer polishing his expertise with his literary medium and understanding his oeuvre increasingly as one long story, with many varied parts and individual messages, but with a constant underlying ethos…We can chart how he used the opportunity afforded by the translations to refine structures, to create clarity, to moderate early moments which he, perhaps, later regretted (as in, for instance, the quite brutal caricatures of his fellow West Germans in Schwindel. Gefühle.)

2. In “Encounter and Cry: W.G. Sebald as Poet,” George Szirtes tries to determine how we should distinguish the poetic from the prose elements in Sebald’s writings, primarily through a close encounter with the early book-length poem After Nature. (Szirtes discusses only the English version because he doesn’t read German.)

3. Shane Weller’s “Unquiet Prose: W.G. Sebald and the Writing of the Negative” looks at the fact that Sebald is “haunted” by the works of a wide range of other modern European writers – “especially in terms of its writing the negative, that is, a writing which seeks to resist the dark forces of modernity, as identified by Horkheimer and Adorno in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947).” Weller discusses a number of “particular words, phrases and syntactical forms” that are part of Sebald’s strategy of negativity, notably what he refers to as Sebald’s German “unwords,” such as unheimlich, ungeheuer, unruhig, unsicher, etc.

Part 2. Texts and Contexts

4. In her essay “Surrealist Vertigo in Schwindel. Gefühle.,” Jeannette Baxter makes the case for reading Sebald’s book “as an exercise in late twentieth century historiography that is identifiably Surrealist in impulse.” “What aligns Sebald’s literature of restitution with the dissident Surrealist writings of [Georges] Bataille, [Roger] Caillois and [André] Masson, I suggest, is its very willingness to recognize and give itself (and its reader) up to the dizzying energies of recover and loss, memory and forgetting, light and darkness, life and death.”

5. Using Derrida’s Memoirs of the Blind: The Self-Portrait and Other Ruins as a framework, Dora Osborn looks at both “the similarities and the differences between the textual and visual modes of representation” in her essay “Memoirs of the Blind: W.G. Sebald’s Die Ausgewanderten.” She argues that “the blindness marking Sebald’s work – that residue of belatedness and failed witness – at once obscures his narrative figures and reveals in them a potentially visionary power.” Each of the four portraits in the book are “obscured” in both an inability to see and an inability to remember, she suggests.

The blindness affecting the emigrants can be understood in two ways, and as such reflects the complexity of the trope as it figures in Die Ausgewanderten: on the one hand, it is the symptom of the traumatic encounters of their past and the failure to make sense of the circumstances which led to their emigration and which prohibit their return; and on the other, it can be understood as the symptom of the narrator’s (and, by extension, the author’s) inability to make sense of the experiences he came to late to know himself.

6. In her essay “‘Like refugees who have come through dreadful ordeals’: The Theme of the Anglo-Irish in Die Ringe des Saturn. Eine englische Wallfahrt,” Helen Finch notes that several of the key characters in The Rings of Saturn – Roger Casement, Edward Fitzgerald, and the Ashbury family (with whom Sebald’s narrator spends a night) – all “exist in varying relationships to the post-colonial narrative of conquest and loss” that is Irish history. “The common thread binding the three sets of figures, however, is their exile status.”

7.  In “‘The Arca Project:’ W.G. Sebald’s Corsica,” Graeme Gilloch makes the case that Sebald’s unfinished project on Corsica (some of which was published posthumously in Campo Santo), has echoes of Walter Benjamin’s similarly unfinished (and perhaps unfinishable) Arcades project. “Preoccupied with death, destruction, ghosts and haunting, imbued with melancholy, Sebald’s Corsican studies constitute fragments of what might be termed “The Arca Project,” in which the edifices of death and mourning littering the island…constitute sites of intense scrutiny and brooding speculation.”

8. Peter Filkins’ essay “Twisted Threads: The Entwined Narratives of W.G. Sebald and H.G. Adler” gives a preview of what would appear in book form in 2014 in Witnessing, Memory, Poetics: H.G. Adler & W.G. Sebald, edited by Helen Finch and Lynn L. Woolf, with a key contribution by Filkins. As Filkins demonstrates, Sebald’s Austerlitz – especially the parts on Theresienstadt – owes a great deal to his reading of Adler’s writings.

9. In his essay “Stations, Dark Rooms and False Worlds in W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz,” David Darby writes that the four great railway stations in Austerlitz serve as symbolic photographic darkrooms and he discusses at length the ways in which Sebald makes analogies between photography and memory. “Sebald’s stations are characteristically dark spaces, in which seeing is described in terms of photographic processes … [where] the narrator fixes and save images…”

Part 3. “Prose” and Photography

10. Reflecting on Sebald’s long-standing interest in theater, Simon Murray’s “Fields of Association: W.G. Sebald and Contemporary Performance Practice” reminds us that Sebald preferred the kind of theater that worked “against preconceived notions of what a play ought to look like.” In this essay Murray explores the relationship between Sebald’s writing and his views on performance “in terms of approach to narrative structure” in these ways:

the construction of reader-spectators as witnesses inevitably complicit in events that unfold on page or stage; a playful disregard for the immutability of boundaries between fact and fiction / the real and the imaginary; a quality of attention tethered loosely in lightness and circling; and the necessity of speaking through multiple voices, not as some ironic postmodern gamed, but as an ethical and ideological imperative for restitution which might begin to address the fractures of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

11. In “Still Life, Portrait, Photograph, Narrative in the Work of W.G. Sebald,” Clive Scott tells us that he believes that Sebald subscribed to the concept that the photograph is “a material object which has broken free from the context of its taking and has become an indexicality without a referent, an indexicality looking for a new referent, not the referent of its taking, but the referent of its being seen by a spectator… ”  In other words, Scott argues, photographs are always being recontextualized by their viewers.

12. “Anxieties about the Holocaust often assume the form of anxieties about lost mothers in Sebald’s fiction,” says Graley Herren in the essay that was, for me, one of the highlights of this anthology. Herren does an excellent job of articulating the complex relationships that exist between Sebald (the man and his own life story) and the narrators that closely resemble him. Understanding the nature of this separation is essential for Herren’s analysis.

Like Oedipus, Sebald’s narrator wanders through a waste land, corrupted by some vast but shadowy crime from the past. Whoever is responsible for this crime must be rooted out and punished with exile, even if the investigation leads to the investigator’s own hearth. For Sebald as for Kafka and Beckett, the protagonist’s exile is an established fact from the outset, so he is really working backwards from the punishment in an effort to discover the unnameable original crime. The narrator traverses Europe in search of clues, compiling evidence, searching for justice, atonement, and reparation. However, the more evidence he accumulates, the more the trail leads him back to where he started – his corrupt family home, the primal scene of the crime. His father’s complicity was already understood, and indeed he paid some penance for his crimes with a stint in a prisoner of war camp. Yet the narrator’s investigations increasingly point to another unindicted co-conspirator at home. He resists this knowledge, he deflects it – he tries to keep her true identity sub rosa.

Sebald’s narrator, like Sebald himself, Herren tells us, knew that his own mother was “complicit” in supporting some of the values of German Fascism. But Sebald’s narrator “half-sees and then looks away,” while Sebald himself “provides his readers with sufficient evidence to see beyond the narrator’s averted gaze…”

13. In the volume’s final essay, Russell J.A. Kilbourn carefully works through “The Question of Genre in W.G. Sebald’s ‘Prose’ (Toward a Post-Memorial Literature of Restitution).” From the appearance of his first work of prose, Die Augewanderten (The Emigrants), readers and critics have claimed that Sebald had either created an entirely new genre or was hybridizing existing genres.  Kilbourn rummages through every conceivable genre that has been applied to Sebald’s four “prose” books and, in essence, assesses the appropriateness of each. In the end, as the title of his essay predicts, Kilbourn suggests that Sebald’s work is, indeed, a literature of restitution, as Sebald himself referred to in his final public speech: “So what is literature good for?…There are many forms of writing; only in literature, however, can there be an attempt at restitution.”

New Revelations about Sebald’s Austerlitz

Sebald Austerlitz-British

There is a fascinating and revealing article on the New Yorker‘s literature-oriented blog, Page-Turner, that sheds new light on Sebald’s research for his final work of prose fiction Austerlitz. In his essay “W. G. Sebald and the Emigrants: How a friendship with two elderly Jewish refugees inspired the German novelist,” writer André Aciman describes how casual conversations with another father, Martin Ostwald, whose son attended the same kindergarten as Aciman’s, led to the remarkable discovery that Ostwald’s parents had met Sebald and had corresponded with him numerous times. Aciman’s tale is wonderfully told and illustrated with great photographs provided by Ostwald.

If you haven’t read Aciman’s Out of Egypt: A Memoir (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1994), you really should.

Thanks to all the Vertigo readers who alerted me to this article.