The Effect of the Real: W. G. Sebald
Over the years I had puzzled out a good deal in my own mind, but in
spite of that, far from becoming clearer, things now appeared to me
more incomprehensible than ever. The more images I gathered from the
past, I said, the more unlikely it seemed to me that the past had actually
happened in this or that way, for nothing about it could be called
normal: most of it was absurd, and if not absurd, then appalling.
After the publication, in 2001, of Austerlitz, the novel that solidified his international reputation as one of the most important of all contemporary writers, W. G. Sebald turned to what would become his final completed project. Together with the artist Jan Peter Tripp, his close friend since childhood, he created a book called Unerzählt (Unrecounted), consisting of thirty-three lithographs by Tripp accompanied by the same number of Sebald’s “micropoems.” Never more than twenty or so words long, these poems, like haiku or the imagism of Ezra Pound, flash with the lightest lyricism. “Seven years / in a foreign place / and the cock has ceased / to crow.” “Blue / grass / seen / through a thin / layer / of frozen / water.” “Please send me / the brown overcoat / from the Rhine valley / in which at one time / I used to ramble by night.” “Like a dog I Cézanne says / that’s how a painter / must see, the eye / fixed & almost / averted.” (Around the time of his sudden death, in a car accident in December 2001, Sebald was working on the translation of this book.)