W. G. Sebald

For a long time I’ve been wanting to read W. G. Sebald, thoroughly, like I’m currently reading the work of Virginia Woolf. Actually I planned Sebald to be my next project – in a year or so – .

BUT … it seems I’m no longer the captain of this ship – Sebald won’t wait! So here I go, diving into Sebald in my year with Woolf, who knows what will happen next???

Stuffing his pillow

with sand he wishes

the deluge would begin

Until now I have just read bits and pieces of Sebald. What has been fascinating me the most is his use of the visual in his writing; of photos, art etc. But I really don’t know Sebald at all. I just have this intense & strong feeling that I have to read him.

I have had to let go of my master-plan, he can’t wait. Here is a short account of my reading on Sebald’s work an early friday morning in May 2012:

Winfried Georg Sebald was born in 1944 in Wertach, a village in the Allgäu region of southern Germany. He studied in Germany, Switzerland and England, and in 1966 took up a post as lecturer at the University of Manchester. In 1970 he settled permanently in Britain, and was professor of European literature at the University of East Anglia until his death. His fiction began to appear in English in the 80s, including The Emigrants – probably the book that readers new to Sebald should begin with – The Rings of Saturn and Vertigo. Austerlitz brought him wide and belated recognition from influential critics such as Susan Sontag. He died in a car crash shortly before Christmas in 2001.

According to John Banville:

Sebald’s importance – and for once the word is justified – lay in the fact that, uniquely among contemporary fiction writers, he had found a way through what Lionel Trilling called the “bloody crossroads” where literature and politics meet. The four novels and one volume of prose-poetry that he published all engage, however indirectly and subtly, with the catastrophic history of his time, specifically the second world war and the Shoah, and their aftermath. They do so in the most delicate, anti-dramatic and moving fashion. Where others shout, Sebald murmurs. Has there ever been a more devastating and yet wholly undemonstrative account of the mid-20th century European horrors as Austerlitz, Sebald’s final novel; his masterpiece, and one of the supreme works of art of our time? In the past few decades we have become suspicious, rightly, of claims for literary greatness, but in Sebald’s case the claim was triumphantly justified. He was, he is, the real thing.

Geoff Dyer, in an essay on Sebald and Thomas Bernhard, comments:

The first thing to be said about W. G. Sebald’s books is that they always had a posthumous quality to them. He wrote—as was often remarked—like a ghost. He was one of the most innovative writers of the late twentieth century, and yet part of this originality derived from the way his prose felt exhumed from the nineteenth.

The psychoanalyst Adam Phillips’s claim that “Sebald is more like a new kind of historian than a new kind of novelist”

8 Comments Add yours

  1. I love that description: “He wrote…like a ghost.”

    1. Sigrun says:

      Me too! Its a beautiful picture.

  2. One of my absolute favourites.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Have you read everything? Do you have any favorites? Do you like his poetry?

      1. Emigrants, Vertigo, followed by The Rings of Saturn. The polemics on the Allied carpet bombing of Germany was very influential. Have yet to read his poetry. I didn’t know this until recently, but he apparently only wrote in German, which was closely followed by the English translation. I always assumed he wrote directly to English. Either way, the man was a l’écriture unto himself.

  3. Caroline says:

    I’m still reading Austerlitz. Very fascinating. I must admit that I didn’t think the translation was that good. His writing in German is different. (I compred the first pages on amazon)
    I found his essay On The Natural History of Destruction amazing. I reviewed it last year.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Thank you!
      I should really work on my German!!!

  4. Anthony says:

    If I was allowed only a single book, ‘Rings of Saturn’ might be the one I kept.

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