This lecture by Peter Filkins will open the international conference ‘H. G. Adler/W. G. Sebald: Witnessing, Memory, Poetics’ at the IGRS, University of London. This symposium aims to draw out these commonalities between these two modernist scholar-poets and two great writers of the Holocaust and memory, and suggest productive avenues of comparison between them.
Together, the lives of H.G Adler (1910 – 1978) and W.G. Sebald (1944 – 2001) span the European cataclysm of the 20th century, as well as its postwar aftermath. Each also sought through fiction, nonfiction, and poetry to render the effects of the Holocaust and war upon contemporary consciousness, as well as to reinvent and reevaluate literary approaches used to convey such effects. However, despite the shared nexus of their concerns, Adler and Sebald approach their material from opposite directions – Adler as a survivor of Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and two other camps, Sebald as someone without direct experience of such suffering, but nonetheless haunted by it. In some ways two more different writers could not exist, and yet in addition to the role Adler’s work plays in Sebald’s Austerlitz, there are many ways in which their interests and thinking criss-cross and echo one another. Considering these two writers in tandem offers a unique opportunity to examine the complex relationship between the problems of living on as a direct witness and the need to reconstitute the memory of the events witnessed, whether directly or indirectly, and how this affects how we read and interpret such work today. This talk will frame the challenges that a shared consideration of Adler and Sebald pose for 21st century readers and critics alike, as well as to consider the implications for what literature can and cannot do when confronted by such suffering and the moral dilemmas inherent to doing justice to it.
Peter Filkins is the translator of H.G. Adler’s Holocaust trilogy, Panorama, The Journey, and The Wall, as well as Ingeborg Bachmann’s collected poems, Darkness Spoken. A professor of literature at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, he is also a published poet, his most recent volume, The View We’re Granted, having appeared this year. His translations have been awarded an Outstanding Translation Award from the American Literary Translators Association, a Distinguished Translation Award from the Austrian government, and a Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin. He has published numerous reviews, essays, poems, translations, and articles in a wide array of venues, including The N.Y. Times Book Review, The L.A. Times Book Review, The Chronicle Review, Partisan Review, The Paris Review, The New Republic, and The New Criterion. He is also currently at work on a biography of H.G. Adler, as well as editing two volumes of Adler’s essays that will be published by the University of Konstanz Press in 2013.
To attend this lecture please register with Dr Helen Finch: H.C.Finch@leeds.ac.uk