W. G. Sebald, Letters to a translator

Enthusiasts of the great W. G. Sebald have long enjoyed the beguiling uncertainty he invites regarding what in his works is “true” in the literal or documentary sense and what made up, and why. In a little cache of newly discovered letters we observe, second-hand, that this uncertainty presented more vexing problems for the translator. And then there was the secondary issue of Sebald’s wavering commitment to the “truth“ of translation itself…

A few choice bits:

Over the troublesome business of the quotations (Browne, Conrad, etc.) you must have cursed me more than once because of the “unreliable” way in which I deploy them …

Don’t be alarmed when you see the many insertions. It’s mostly minor things. And, as last time, I took the liberty of adjusting the German text a little here & there …

[When questioned about a geographical inconsistency, after a bit of attempted semi-documentation] I think I shall just leave it as an enigma.

About the degree of of fictionality in Die Ausgewanderten [The Emigrants]: I quite understand your concern & can assure you that all four stories are, almost entirely, grounded in fact, except …

Read more in Little Star #5 (2014) and Little Star Weekly this week!

And read still more in Sebald’s forthcoming A Place in the Country, which we hope to have a bit of in the Weekly in January. In A Place in the Country we find Sebald in the somewhat more familiar posture of belle-lettrist, this time ostensibly describing the literature of Switzerland, and yet, as in his sogenannt fiction these reflective essays veer into unexpected realms of sympathetic imagination—the small and nearly forgotten, as always, stirring that place in Sebald’s heart where he built his art.

If somehow you have not read Sebald’s era-altering books, beginning with The Emigrants, please do.  You can find them in our bookshop.

These letters are directed to Michael Hulse, translator of The Emigrants, Rings of Saturn, and Vertigo, and reside in the Michael Hulse collection at the Houghton Library at Harvard University (call number: bMS Eng 1632).



This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

Comments are closed.