On Sebald’s Room in Terezin

Rick Poynor has an interesting blog post about what’s probably one of the most infamous photos in all of Sebald’s books: the one of the room of shelves that he included with Austerlitz.

It seems that on Daniel Blaufuks became so enraptured by Sebald’s photo that he went on toe make an entire book about Terezin, including his own rephotograph of the photo:

In 2007, Blaufuks’ obsession also takes him to Terezín — to the Small Fortress, where he quickly finds the room. But it isn’t possible to enter the building through the doorway that says Geschäftszimmer (office) and he peers through the window from the courtyard, from the same angle that he decides Sebald must also have seen the room, “as this was the exact point of view of the photograph in his book” — this is to assume, of course, that Sebald took the picture. Then, turning the page, one finds Blaufuk’s color photograph of the room, looking just as much like a stage set waiting for someone to enter as the empty room in Sebald’s novel, except that the furniture has changed, there are fewer files more precisely organized in their cubbyholes, and Blaufuk has omitted the clock with its hands set exactly at six o’clock. Oddly, for someone who has studied the room so closely, he cannot remember whether the clock was still there at the time of his visit. If he took this picture from the courtyard through the bars and the windowpane, as he implies he did, the results are spectacularly good.

Here’s an image of the Austerlitz spread in which Sebald’s image occurs. For me, one of the most upsetting pleasures of reading Austerlitz was the moment when I did open to this spread, unanticipated and breathtaking for the way in which the shelves first overwhelm the image, and then the image itself overwhelms the page. It’s moments like this that showed Sebald as a master of his medium, and I do not think that the experience of turning a page onto something like this can be reproduced in an electronic book.

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