Josipovici on Sebald

Terry pretty much says it all when he introduces this review of The Emigrants with:

It is customary now to quote Susan Sontag when praising W.G. Sebald, but perhaps the earliest and most prescient notice of Sebald’s promise came from Gabriel Josipovici, the British novelist, playwright, and critic.

And we can feel fortunate that critics of Josipovici’s caliber were around to take note of this author before he was a common commodity.

Interesting, too that Sontag is commonly blurbed in conjunction with Sebald since she’s also often blurbed in conjunction with Walser. Though in the latter case she has a little more claim in the matter–Susan Bernofsky once informed me that Sontag had caught wind of Walser in the ’80s, long before much of his stuff was in English, and certainly long before English-reading critics began to celebrate him.

And here’s a great a moment from the annals of book reviewing:

I have spent so long describing what is only a twenty-page story because it is not every day one is sent a masterpiece to review (I suppose one is lucky if it happens more than once or twice a lifetime). And this story is what it is because, like all good art, the form and the style bring into being what would otherwise have remained in darkness and silence for ever, so that a mere account of what the story was ‘about’ would not have begun to do it justice.

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Sebald was also a big champion of Walser. New Directions’ edition of “The Tanners” includes a great intro by Sebald.

The story goes back further than that – Guy Davenport was writing both fiction and criticism about Walser in English (as well as drawing portraits of him) by at least 1977:

Davenport was friends with Christopher Middleton, whose translation Jakob von Gunten came out in English in 1969, and he may have been publishing short stories well before then. And Mark Harman’s collection Robert Walser Rediscovered came out in 1985 – the Walser rediscovery in English has been going on for a long time.

Hey Dan: Thanks for the expansion on my remarks. I’m aware of Middleton’s early translations, as well as the Harman (both pointed out to me by Bernofsky). Davenport’s drawings are new to me.

It’s true that Walser has been appreciated by a select few for a while now, though hes never had the kind of exposure in English he’s now getting.

[…] be Writing and the Body, adapted from four lectures on literature given by Gabriel Josipovici (no mean admirer of Sebald). To give you an idea, the first lecture starts with a story by Borges and moves on to an […]

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