An Acclaimed Afterlife

Robert McCrum pens a tribute to W.G. Sebald, whose practice of mixing various genres of writing with images outlived him:

[H]ere’s the strange, and heartening, thing – and also the riposte to the cultural pessimists (vide supra). Sebald lives on. Uniquely, among so many recently deceased writers, he and his oeuvre have had a rich and productive afterlife. Now only did he, between 1992 (the German publication of Vertigo) and his untimely death (2001), move from total obscurity to international renown, he then posthumously proceeded to influence a whole generation of writers, in the best possible way, as a spirit and an example. Today, the influence of his work crops up all over the place, in the most surprising quarters. Most prominently, in the UK, he has inspired Will Self, Robert Macfarlane, and Iain Sinclair.

More than a decade after his death (he was just 57), hindsight suggests that his extraordinary, genre-bending “method”, that’s so bewitching and hypnotic, is fully in tune with the spirit of an age that likes to mash up words and music, video clips and archival documents.

Ángel Gurría-Quintana reviews a recently translated collection of works:

It is the piece on German-Swiss novelist Robert Walser (1878-1956) that most perfectly distils Sebald’s approach to his subjects. Remarking on the physical similarity between Walser and Sebald’s grandfather, and the fact that they died the same year, he wonders: “What is the significance of these similarities, overlaps and coincidences? Are they rebuses of the memory, delusions of the self and of the senses, or rather the schemes and symptoms of an order underlying the chaos of human relationships, and applying equally to the living and the dead, which lies beyond our comprehension?”