Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘W.G. Sebald’

The Paris Review Interview with W.G. Sebald

Paris Review Issue151

When I arrived in Norwich that morning on the train from London, Max had been waiting at the gate. I recognized him from the photograph on the back of The Emigrants. He was shy at first as we drove through the streets of Norwich in his rattletrap Peugeot, but he soon grew talkative, pointing out the eleventh-century Norman cathedral that towers immensely over the town and going on about his dealings with publishers, agents, advances—a writer’s shoptalk.

The Paris Review has removed the paywall for the interview that James Atlas did with W.G. Sebald in 1999—but only until Sunday, July 12! So hurry over and read this excellent piece. After a visit at his house, Sebald took Atlas for a drive through Norwich and then later they visited the poets Michael Hamburger and Anne Beresford in their ancient cottage. Atlas (1949-2019) was a publisher and writer, most notably as the biographer of Delmore Schwartz and Saul Bellow. He would have been a great Sebald biographer, I think.

So That the Soul Would not Be Distracted

external-content.duckduckgo.com

A very astute reader of Sebald’s work sent me an email recently noting that the final sentence of The Rings of Saturn (1995) bears a striking resemblance to the final sentence of the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert’s book Still Life with Bridle: Essays and Apocryphas (London: Jonathan Cape, 1993).  What’s up with this, we both wondered?

Here’s Sebald:

And Sir Thomas Browne, who was the son of a silk merchant and may well have had an eye for these things, remarks in a passage of the Pseudodoxia Epidemica that I can no longer find that in Holland of his time it was customary, in a home where there had been a death, to drape black mourning ribbons over all the mirrors and all canvasses depicting landscapes or people or the fruits of the fields, so that the soul, as if left the body, would not be distracted on its final journey, either by a reflection of itself or by a last glimpse of the land now being lost for ever.

Here’s Herbert. describing how a family prepares for the departure of the soul of a recently deceased Dutch merchant in the seventeenth century:

Then they would cover all the mirrors in the house, and turn all the pictures to the walls so the image of a girl writing a letter, of ships in open sea, of peasants dancing under a tall oak, would not stop the one who wanders toward unimaginable worlds from going on his way.

Read more

Take a Train Journey with Sebaldsound

Ear Edgeland Sebald 2

Here’s another audio piece about W.G. Sebald to help you through whatever level of confinement you are subjecting yourself to these days. Nick Warr and Guy Moreton recently taped a fascinating conversation about Sebald while taking a train journey and the recording they made is now up on Soundcloud. Warr and Moreton meander through many topics, including Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn, his use of photographs, and the significance of the trains that keep appearing in his work. Here’s their description of the thirty-three minute program.

The third episode in the [‘Ear of the Edgeland’] series finds us back on the rural railways, from Norwich to Lowestoft.

Commissioned by Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, ‘Sebaldsound’ acts as a complimentary audio piece to the 2019 exhibition ‘Lines of Sight’ about the artist W G Sebald.

In this episode ‘Lines of Sight’ curator Nick Warr talks to artist and academic Guy Moreton about the landscape, Sebald’s life and work, whilst travelling on part of the journey featured in Sebald’s much revered book The Rings of Saturn.

Sebaldsound includes field recordings by Oliver Payne with ‘Increasingly Absorbed In His Own World’ and ‘When the Dog Days Were Drawing To An End’ composed by The Caretaker for his album ‘Patience (After Sebald)’.

Guy Moreton is a photographer and teaches at Solent University, Southampton. Dr. Nick Warr is Curator of Photographic Collections, University of East Anglia and co-author of the forthcoming book W.G. Sebald: Shadows of Reality.

“Lines of  Sight: When a Literary Landscape Comes to Life”

Cantu Sebald

“Lines of  Sight: When a Literary Landscape Comes to Life,” an essay by Francisco Cantú is currently available online in the Virginia Quarterly Review Spring 2020 issue. In his essay, Cantú meditates on landscape, violence, and borders, inspired by a walking trip he took along the Suffolk Coast described in W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. Cantú’s 2018 book The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border explored the harsh realities of the U.S./Mexican border and it made several top ten book lists that year. To better understand the issues facing those who were trying to smuggle themselves north into the U.S. he enlisted as a Border Patrol agent for a while.

In “Lines of Sight,” Cantú writes of the universality of Sebald’s message.

I first began to read Sebald during the years I worked in the deserts of Arizona, as an agent for the US Border Patrol. I was in my early twenties, living alone in a two-bedroom home built for mine workers in the former copper town of Ajo. I read his books one after another in that hot, silent, sparsely furnished house, encountering detailed descriptions of his European wanderings and long digressions into obscure chapters of world history, immersing myself in places and stories that were distant and foreign, yet still somehow familiar. The way Sebald interrogated his surroundings—the reminders of horror he found in abandoned buildings, pieces of detritus, swaths of cleared land—reminded me, perhaps, of the glimmers of violence I encountered day after day in the borderlands. Despite writing from another continent and another decade, Sebald somehow seemed to be speaking about the precise moment I was living in, about the very nature of my own work as an agent of oppression, about the violence being imprinted into me each day as I rose to police the border. More broadly, his work gave language to how violence has been normalized throughout history and written into our landscapes, cities, cultures, and bodies. Sebald’s books taught me, in effect, to look for what had been hidden in plain sight all around me.

Read the piece now. Cantú warns on his Twitter feed that the piece will eventually go behind a paywall.

“Walking with Sebald” Programs Online

Kindertransport Memorial

At the Kindertransport Memorial, London

My previous post alerted readers to a radio program called “Walking with Sebald,” aired online by London radio station 104.4 Resonance FM on two nights in February. This fascinating program is now available to listen to anytime through the links below.

Novo Cemetery

Novo Cemetery, London

Patrick Bernard follows in the footsteps of W. G. Sebald and his eponymous character Austerlitz as he explores the East End of London with poet Stephen Watts (a friend of ‘Max’ Sebald who accompanied him on many of his walks). They are joined by Nadia Valman and David Anderson from Queen Mary University of London as they visit many of the locations in the novel to uncover the layers of history hidden beneath the surface of the city and Sebald’s text. In the first episode Patrick and his guests walk from Exchange Square behind Liverpool Street Station – where Austerlitz first arrives to London on the Kindertransport – to Brick Lane where Stephen reads a poem dedicated to Altab Ali and Bill Fishman.

There are more photographs of the walk here.

W.G. Sebald Literature Prize & Conference Announced in the Allgäu, Where He Grew Up

die-stelen-zeigen-textauszuege-aus-dem-buch-schwindel-gefuehle
The stele with the relevant text from Vertigo as seen on the Sebaldweg, near Wertach, Germany, birthplace of W.G. Sebald.

The Allgäu, the Bavarian region southwest of Munich where W.G. Sebald was born and raised, is extending its effort to claim its native son who fled to England. Sebald was born in Wertach im Allgäu and later lived in Sonthofen, two towns which, along with nearby Kempten in Allgäu, have launched the Deutsche Sebald-Gesellschaft, or German Sebald Society. A few years after his death, the Allgäu region established the Sebaldweg, or Sebald Walk, a 12-kilometer hiking trail that somewhat follows the route that Sebald describes in the “Ritorno in Patria” section of Vertigo, in which the Sebald character returns to the town of his birth. (Do yourself a favor and take a delightful stroll along the Sebaldweg with Saim Demircan over at Frieze.)

Now, the German Sebald Society has announced an annual Sebald Literature Prize of 10,000 EUR for a longer prose text in German on the subject of “Gedächtnis und Erinnerung” (shall we say “memory and recollection”?). German-speaking authors from around the world may submit to the competition by April 30, 2020. The prize is endowed, which implies that it will be awarded annually into the future.

In addition, during November 20-22 of this year, there will be a conference in Sonthofen on the topic of “Nebelflecken und das Unbeobachtete” (“nebulae and the unobserved”), at which time the Sebald Literature Prize will be awarded. The papers of the conference will apparently be published. Further instructions for applying to both the competition and the conference can be found here.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Theater in Kempten is going to stage “Die Ausgewanderten – vier lange Erzählungen” or “The Emigrants – Four Long Stories,” a dramatization of Sebald’s 1992 book, with eight performances between March 5-27.

What would Sebald have thought of all of this?

Die-Ausgewanderten-c-Birgitta-Weizenegger-4_presse-e1578478905144
The actors from the Theater in Kempten production: Julia Jaschke, Annette Wunsch, Christian Kaiser, Hans Piesbergen. Photo © Birgitta Weizenegger.

 

Dreamlife of Debris

2632 X

In an interview with London Jazz News, musician Kit Downes talks about how his two recent albums Obsidian and Dreamlife of Debris (both for ECM Records, 2018 and 2019, respectively) were inspired by W.G. Sebald and by Grant Gee’s film Patience (After Sebald):

LJN: And continuing the “place” theme in a more abstract way, can you tell us about W.G. Sebald (both albums contain references to his work) and his influence on the music?

KD: The title, Dreamlife of Debris, itself comes from a supposed quote by Nabakov, mentioned in a documentary film about W.G. Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn. The quote itself alludes to the way we can project emotion and character onto inanimate objects, to the point where they feel like they have their own life, dreamt by us – like a musician and their instrument in a way, especially the organ (being the enormous chaotic collection of pipes, whistles and reeds that it is).

These objects could be mundane and everyday, or galaxy clusters and gas giants – whatever the scale. This quote (in reference to the book) is alluding to the way Sebald finds meaning in these isolated landmarks and events on his walking tour through Suffolk by using them as springboards for enormous mental leaps of association and story telling – to places across the world and from other times.

This resonated with me – these unlikely combinations of instruments, alluding to different styles and periods, with no established pretext, meeting together in a space with no singular character. I enjoyed the risk of diving into that challenge, and enjoyed the strange dream-like space that we often found ourselves in musically.

There are several wonderful videos on Downe’s website, including one about Dreamlife and one for his piece “Rings of Saturn” from the Obsidian album. (Also, make sure to watch the video with Aidan O’Rouke.) If you are a Spotify subscriber, ECM recently released its entire music catalog on Spotify after years of refusing to. So go enjoy Kit Downe’s music there or find the CDs or LPs. Or go to Downe’s website where there are several older pieces you can listen to. This is terrific music, the instruments like sonic universes slowly passing by each other.

On the album, Downes plays piano and organ, Tom Challenger plays tenor saxophone, Stian Westerhus plays guitar, Lucy Railton plays cello, and Sebastian Rochford, drums.

UPCOMING CONCERT NOTE: Kit Downes will be appearing at the Royal Academy of Music, Sainsbury Theatre, London on January 31, 2020. According to its website, the “event opens with the presentation of honorary membership of the Royal Academy of Music to eminent jazz pianist and alumnus Kit Downes, who then leads his trio, ENEMY, and students from the Jazz and Strings departments in a side-by-side performance.”

2632-downes-groupThe musicians of Dreamlife of Debris:
Sebastian Rochford, Kit Downes, Tom Challenger and Lucy Railton. Photo courtesy ECM.
(Minus Stian Westerhus, Guitar)

Jane Benson’s “Song for Sebald”

Jane-Benson_detail

Detail of a “Song for Sebald” print, © Jane Benson

New York artist Jane Benson has been exhibiting a series of hand-cut archival inkjet-prints called “Song for Sebald.” In the exhibition, the prints are accompanied by music Benson has commissioned from Matthew Schickele. Here’s the full description from her website:

In “Song for Sebald,” Jane Benson explores the themes of separation and belonging through a radical encounter with the writer W.G. Sebald’s novel, The Rings of Saturn.  Benson begins with the physical text of the novel and a knife.  By carefully excising every part of the text except the syllables of the musical scale – do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti – she uncovers what we might call the “potential music” of Sebald’s prose:  a set of notes with a full tonal range hovering both inside and outside of the novel, untethered from the original text and radically disjointed within itself.  

From that point of radical excision and destruction, Benson moves to the process of re-creation. Benson actualizes the novel’s potential music through a process that links together author, artist, composer, and performer.  Each of the novel’s ten chapters produces a separate movement created collaboratively by composer Matthew Schickele; in each, the pace of the music is guided by the spaces between the excavated syllables (the spaces Benson has cut) and its emotive lyric determined by a set of improvisations guided by elements of Sebald’s prose.  Each chapter/movement has its own mood, dynamics, and process of creation, depending on the characters and themes of the original novel, and on interactive processes determined by Benson and Schickele.  The collaged recordings of each movement are encountered by viewers in sound pods equipped with headphones that are presented alongside each chapter of incised text, with the entire score played in the gallery daily at noon. 

Sebald’s experimental fiction and essays demonstrate a preoccupation with displacement, foreignness, and extraterritoriality, reflecting his own experience of self-imposed exile from his native Germany.  Both thematically and formally, Sebald’s prose reflects its author’s experience of radical dislocation; his narrators often seem to stand apart from their physical and textual surroundings, the stories they tell – at once personal and impersonal – reflect the creative potential of estrangement and disorientation. 

Benson’s work explores and expands this same creative potential; her elaborate and multi-stage process creates gaps and absences in order to stitch them together over time and across media, in a process of collaboration that links together nationalities, disciplines, genders, and fields of creative work.  In this, Song for Sebald not only gestures toward the work of a single author, but also speaks with urgency to our present international moment, in which the plight – and the promise – of displaced persons has become more important than ever before.

At Benson’s website, you can see all of the images and hear an eleven minute sample of Schickele’s haunting and spare music. (And yes, Matthew Schickele is the son of Peter Schickele, the sometimes comedic composer.)

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. There is a nice interview with Schütte about his book over at the website of the Liverpool University Press. And 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.

Tickets cost £4 and are available online.

Sebald Symposium in London November 29, 2018

Leonardo da Vinci, Whirlpools of Water. Windsor, Royal Library.

The Institute of Advance Studies at University College London has announced a one-day symposium on W.G. Sebald. There is a call for papers “on any aspect of turbulence, in the widest sense.” Proposals are due November 8. See below for details, or visit the website. For more on the topic of turbulence, look here.

Call for Papers

Turbulence: The Work of W.G. Sebald

An Interdisciplinary Symposium

Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS), UCL, London, 29 November 2018

This symposium explores the theme of turbulence in the literary work of W.G. Sebald (1944-2001), from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Sebald’s work is celebrated for its rich and complex accounts of journeys, including by air, a mode of travel which we commonly associate with the distinctive feeling of turbulence. In addition however, our enquiry considers the idea of turbulence in wider senses. We link it for instance to the vertiginous sensations of travel in general in this writing, and recognise that turbulence may not end on arrival, for a destination, once reached, can itself seem disorienting and to shift in uncanny ways. We are interested too in turbulent experiences of travels into the past, memory and intertextuality; and those produced for the reader by Sebald’s complex poetics and narrative techniques. Crucially too, we will investigate the multi-disciplinary, multilingual travels which Sebald’s writing undertakes into new languages, media, forms and contexts as other artists engage with it in their own work, and we look forward to conversations with distinguished practitioners in a variety of fields. 

Speakers include poet Stephen Watts; novelist, academic and critic Angharad Price (Prifysgol Bangor) and visual artist Simon Faithfull (Slade School of Fine Art).

Our symposium will be followed on the morning of Friday 30 November by an exploration of parts of the East London featured in Sebald’s novel Austerlitz, on a guided walk with Stephen Watts and David Anderson (UCL).

 Call for Papers

We invite twenty-minute papers on any aspect of turbulence, in the widest sense, and attendant phenomena in the work of W.G. Sebald and others. We are especially interested in submissions which address interdisciplinary and comparative aspects of our themes.

Please submit an abstract (200 words) and a short biography (100 words) to Mererid Puw Davies, Department of German / SELCS, UCL (mererid.davies@ucl.ac.uk), by 8 November 2018. Speakers will be notified by 12 November 2018. 

Registration and Further Details

Both the symposium and the walk are free to attend. All are welcome and online registration will open soon. In the meantime, please send any questions or register your attendance with an email to mererid.davies@ucl.ac.uk.