I sat at a sidewalk table of one of the cafés facing the Charléty stadium. I constructed all the hypotheses concerning Philippe de Pacheco, whose face I didn’t even know. I took notes. Without fully realizing it, I began writing my first book. It was neither a vocation nor a particular gift that pushed me to write, but quite simply the enigma posed by a man I had no chance of finding again, and by all those questions that would never have an answer.
So writes the narrator of Flowers of Ruin (Fleurs de Ruine), the third and final novella in Patrick Modiano’s book Suspended Sentences. After all of the hoopla over his winning the Nobel Prize for literature, I was impatient to check him out for myself. So I headed over to the great Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City to see what was in stock. At the moment, Suspended Sentences was my only option, but it turned out to be a good introduction to Patrick Modiano. I read the book compulsively for the next few hours, sucked in by Modiano’s voice and pacing.
I can’t seem to stop writing about the Cahier Series, published by Sylph Editions in collaboration with the Center for Writers & Translators at The American University of Paris. I have previously written about five earlier numbers in this series and now I’m blown away by the latest two, both written by eminent translators.
As I neared the end of Witnessing, Memory, Poetics: H.G. Adler & W.G. Sebald I began to feel a bit claustrophobic as a succession of scholars resolutely examined the relationships between these two writers. But the final section, “Literary Legacies and Networks,” introduced a new set of faces to the volume – Franz Kafka, Theodor Adorno, Hermann Broch, and Heinrich Böll. In the first of three essays in this section, Martin Modlinger examines “The Kafkaesque in H.G. Adler’s and W.G. Sebald’s Literary Historiographies.” Adler made numerous references to Kafka in his books and short stories and, significantly, warned against viewing Kafka primarily as a prophet of the Holocaust. Adler believed that “totalitarianism makes up just one chapter of many equal, disturbing developments in modern history that Kafka’s work addresses.” Although Sebald’s use of Kafka has been written about frequently, Modlinger brings some new insights of his own, comparing Jacques Austlitz’s inability to gain access a real understanding of Theresienstadt (where his mother perished) with the surveyor’s inability to penetrate the castle in Kafka’s novel The Castle.
As a place of suffering and death, [Theresienstadt] cannot – and should not – be fully accessible to the living. Where literature approaches history, especially the history of the Holocaust, it needs to keep its proper distance. For Sebald, literary historiography can never claim to be able to present the factual or emotional truth of suffering; it can only describe the path of necessary failure toward such an understanding.
Even before I opened up the book, I wondered about the front cover of Full Circle Edition’s new title After Sebald. The list of the nine contributors (excluding Jon Cook, the volume’s editor) – three visual artists, four writers, and two academics – suggested a welcome new approach to Sebald, a possibly refreshing change from the steady appearance of theory-infused academic volumes that have been appearing regularly for years. Read more
The latest issue of the Journal of European Studies (vol. 44, no 4, December 2014), contains a section called “Three Encounters with W.G. Sebald (February 1992 – July 2013),” edited by Richard Sheppard. Sheppard also provides some introductory remarks. (The complete Table of Contents for the issue can be found here.)
The first encounter is a reprint of Toby Green’s 1992 revealing interview with Sebald called “The Questionable Business of Writing,” accompanied by a new introduction by Green. This first appeared on the Amazon.UK website, where, somewhat surprisingly, it can still be found. Read more
This is the third of four posts on the recently published anthology Witnessing, Memory, Poetics: H.G. Adler & W.G. Sebald, edited by Helen Finch and Lynn L. Wolff. The third section of the volume is “Memory, Memorialization, and the Re-presentation of History”and contains two essays, the first being Dora Osbourne’s “Memory, Witness, and the (Holocaust) Museum in H.G. Adler and W.G. Sebald.” With their occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939, the Nazis converted Prague’s Central Jewish Museum into a storehouse for material goods confiscated from the city’s Jewish population. It also served as a private museum for Nazi officials, offering “a grotesque parody [of] the traditions of the Jewish people” that portrayed them as an inferior race. After the war, however, H.G. Adler worked at the Museum for almost two years, participating in the restoration of its original function and collecting new objects for the purpose of building “an archive of persecution and of Theresienstadt,” the nearby concentration camp/ghetto. Osbourne examines the way in which the Museum functions in two of Adler’s novels – indirectly in The Journey and directly in The Wall. Read more
Dr Helen Finch (University of Leeds) will be giving a talk entitled “W. G. Sebald’s Literary Capital: The Sebald Effect in Holocaust Literature?”
Thursday November 20, 2014, 5:30PM – 8:00PM
Location: Fischer Hall, University of Notre Dame, 1-4 Suffolk Street, London SW1Y 4HG Read more
This edition of “Recently Read” features two books – both blue! – that are as delightful to read as they are to hold. Some books – particularly small books, I think – just feel right in the hand when the publisher has put extra care into the design and production. And today’s books come from publishers who do things right: the Christine Burgin imprint at New Directions and the new Fitzcarraldo Editions. Both are physically handsome, modestly sized, modestly priced, and short (80 and 68 pages respectively). Howe’s book comes hardbound with blue cloth covers and a reproduction of a cyanotype photograph pasted down on the cover. Critchley’s book has stiff French wraps that open up to reveal indigo blue endpapers. Read more
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. Read more