Thursday, June 14, 2007

Open Archives

It looks as if Sebald's papers are open now (they probably have been for a while, but I'm unsure of how to inform myself about these things). I found a book the other day while poking around at Dussmann that was meant to be published for Sebald's (would have been) 60th birthday. It's a collection of primary sources, commentary on the primary stuff, and readings of his texts, some critical, some personal.

The editors claim that the book is committed to both the author (and his texts) and to critical treatment of the texts. This is, I suppose, the sort of work that I would ideally do. I'm always worried about critical readings sucking the enjoyment out of reading the texts I would deal with. This is especially worrisome in the case of Sebald, whose books I love so so much.

All I've read so far is Sebald's (short) correspondence with Adorno (1967-68) and the beginning of the commentary on it (I'm woefully slow at reading academic German). It's pretty remarkable, actually. He wrote to Adorno with a question about Carl Sternheim when he (Sebald) was working on his Masters thesis (at some ridiculously young age, for a German student). Adorno responded and Sebald eventually wrote him again asking for a recommendation. It should be noted that they never met.

Anyway, I'm in awe of the ballsy young Sebald asking Adorno for help getting into a Ph.D. program.

The commentary on the letters, though, is a little troubling. I know pitifully little about Sebald, actually (to-do: read a good biography and much much more secondary work on him), but I find the rather biographical approach of the editors a little disconcerting. They cross reference the (very little) biographical information included in Sebald's letters to Adorno with the (very little) biographical information included about the title character in "Max Aurach" (Die Ausgewanderten, 1992), as if trying to prove from those few details that Max Aurach is an autobiographical character. While I don't wholly believe that the author is dead, I don't think that it is always the most significant facet to focus on in interpreting a text. Furthermore, I definitely don't think that you can use the biographical details included in a fictional work to expand our knowledge of the author's biography, which may be a slightly radical description of what the editors were trying to do, but it is the unsettling impression I got.

Anyway, it is interesting to have a bit more insight into Sebald and these primary sources are quite thought-provoking.

Also to-do: I want to learn a bit about Carl Sternheim, as a means of understanding a bit more what they're talking about in these letters and commentary.

I'm feeling yet again the difficulty of having a fairly shallow/narrow grasp on German literature. Yes, I know all about the Holocaust in contemporary German lit, but I don't know about Carl Sternheim, so that part of Sebald is still off limits to me, even if I do have a little insight into Austerlitz.

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