The Pick - After Sebald: Place and Re-Enchantment

January 27, 2011

Credit: Patience (After Sebald)/Grant Gee

After Sebald: Place and Re-Enchantment

Aldeburgh, Suffolk

They sound like an unlikely coupling.

W.G. Sebald (1944-2001), for many years professor of European literature at the University of East Anglia, was also one of the strangest and most compelling novelists of recent times. Although he moved to England in 1966, he continued to write in German and devoted books such as The Emigrants (1996) and Austerlitz (2001) to the ways that wartime refugees remained deeply marked by the upheavals of the Nazi period.

His long essay On the Natural Theory of Destruction (2003) explored how his compatriots had always maintained a traumatised silence about the bombing raids on their cities at the end of the Second World War, while The Rings of Saturn (1998) describes a solitary walking tour around East Anglia he had undertaken in the aftermath of a breakdown.

If Sebald was introverted, melancholic and deeply grounded in high literary culture, Patti Smith is, of course, a rock legend who has performed with the likes of Bob Dylan and R.E.M. and been described as "the godmother of punk". What could they possibly have in common? It turns out that she is a huge fan of his work and has put together an evening of readings and songs, Max: A Tribute, in response to his long poem After Nature (2002). It will be performed at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall on 29 January.

This is one of the main venues for the annual Aldeburgh Festival, founded by Benjamin Britten and others in 1948. It will also form the base for this weekend's After Sebald season, which starts on 28 January with a showing of Grant Gee's feature-length film Patience (After Sebald) in the Britten Studio.

Gee has already made films about the bands Gorillaz, Joy Division and Radiohead. Patience retraces the journey Sebald took in The Rings of Saturn. It also brings together contributions from the artist Tacita Dean, the theatre director Katie Mitchell, the US novelist Rick Moody, the former poet laureate Andrew Motion and the "psychogeographer" Iain Sinclair. Academic admirers offering their views will include Robert Macfarlane, Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and Marina Warner, professor of literature, film and theatre studies at the University of Essex.

Those attending the season will get a chance to experience for themselves some of the haunting scenery Sebald describes in a series of two-hour Orford Ness walks (30 January). There will also be an all-day writers' symposium, Towards Re-Enchantment, on 29 January, in collaboration with the University of East Anglia, at which Macfarlane, Alexandra Harris, lecturer in English at the University of Liverpool, Richard Mabey and Rachel Lichtenstein will use Sebald's work as a focus for a wide-ranging discussion of Suffolk, landscape and the meaning of place.

• Full details of the After Sebald series at

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