W.G. Sebald

I called in today on the W.G. Sebald exhibition in the basement rooms of King’s College, London, which includes a small selection of the extensive archive of his photographs kept in the archive of the Museum of Modern Literature in Marbach where his work is shown in vitrines designed by David Chipperfield. I was interested by the way in which Sebald was influenced by a book published by Solly Zuckerman in 1978 called From Apes to Warlords in which he referred to an article Zuckerman had planned to write for Horizon magazine ‘On the Natural History of Destruction’. There is the mimeograph of an impeccably polite letter which Sebald wrote to Zuckerman, who lived in north Norfolk outside Burnham Market, asking if he could come and consult him about the unexpected silence of post-war German writers about the experience of British wartime bombing (I was reminded of a time when we stood illegally above Dresden in 1987 next to a rock which was inscribed DESTROYED BY THE ENEMY BARBARIANS OF THE WEST). Besides work influenced by Sebald, including chalk slates by Tacita Dean specially commissioned for the exhibition and work by Tess Jaray, who knew Sebald and produced screenprints inspired by quotations from his work (she is herself of German origin), there is an unexpectedly moving screening of Sebald reading from Austerlitz at the Y in New York not long before his death, as one would expect, beautifully impassive, answering questions from the audience with studied politesse, particularly one in which he describes how he stored up photographs and used them experimentally to slow down and break up the reader’s response to his fiction.

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One thought on “W.G. Sebald

  1. Fascinating. I had no inkling of the relationships between Sebald and Tess Jaray, or Zuckerman. Have you talked to his son, Paul, about this?

    Nor was I aware of your interest in, and knowledge of, Japanese architects and museums. I can see ANOTHER Thames and Hudson book looming !

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