After Nature

After Nature

4.5 2
by W. G. Sebald
     
 

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After Nature, W. G. Sebald’s first literary work, now translated into English by Michael Hamburger, explores the lives of three men connected by their restless questioning of humankind’s place in the natural world. From the efforts of each, “an order arises, in places beautiful and comforting, though more cruel, too, than the previous state

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Overview

After Nature, W. G. Sebald’s first literary work, now translated into English by Michael Hamburger, explores the lives of three men connected by their restless questioning of humankind’s place in the natural world. From the efforts of each, “an order arises, in places beautiful and comforting, though more cruel, too, than the previous state of ignorance.” The first figure is the great German Re-naissance painter Matthias Grünewald. The second is the Enlightenment botanist-explorer Georg Steller, who accompanied Bering to the Arctic. The third is the author himself, who describes his wanderings among landscapes scarred by the wrecked certainties of previous ages.

After Nature introduces many of the themes that W. G. Sebald explored in his subsequent books. A haunting vision of the waxing and waning tides of birth and devastation that lie behind and before us, it confirms the author’s position as one of the most profound and original writers of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A writer of almost unclassifiable originality, but whose voice we recognize as indispensable and central to our time.” —The New York Times Book Review

“The language of After Nature, as conveyed in Michael Hamburger’s flawlessly clear translation, is classically lucid. . . . It is [Sebald’s] ability to enter diverse inner landscapes, and evoke, with an impartial empathy, entire geographies of experience, that gives [his] writing . . . its gravitas and its somber beauty.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Accessible and moving . . . a wonderful introduction to this compelling and impressive writer, even for those who insist they do not like or understand poetry.” —USA Today

“Here, we find the contours or outlines of his singular vision, the interconnecting, often uninterpreted threads of association that constitute a life, and meditations on his great themes of exile, memory, and loss.” —The Washington Post

“The verse retains the Sebaldian virtues of rhetorical elegance and clarity, and sits well in English, as indeed does virtually every word he wrote. . . . [After Nature] is a work of great power and seriousness, fully worthy to stand beside the prose works of Sebald’s last decade.” —The New York Review of Books

KLIATT
After Nature, a prelude to the novels for which Sebald is most commonly recognized, is an example of the somber tone, clear description and graceful prosody that distinguish his style. Here Sebald presents two distinct sections, the first regarding Matthias Grunewald, a 16th-century painter, the second concerned with Georg Steller, a 19th-century botanist, before presenting a concluding autobiographical third poem. While the first two poems are thoroughly researched and provide interesting information, the creation of their individual characters through interpretive speculation provides intriguing elements of venue and motivation to somewhat obscure historic figures and situations. It is, however, a sense of the sophisticated intersections between the three individuals that unites the work. The use of motifs such as water, green vegetation and snow suggests that relationship in style. But there is a more subtle thread linking the sections in tone. "Tell me, child, / is your heart as heavy as / mine is, year after year / a pebble bank raised / by the waves of the sea / all the way to the North, / every stone a dead soul / and this sky so grey?" Sebald's vision, the most refined connection between the three components, is stated at the outset of the third section. "But if I see before me / the nervature of past life / in one image, I always think / that this has something to do / with truth." While somewhat demanding in content, the echoing undercurrents that tie these eras and individuals together make this a rewarding read, and the clarity of the prose poem as translated by Michael Hamburger makes it more accessible than one might imagine. KLIATT Codes: A-Recommended for advancedstudents and adults. 2002, Random House, Modern Library, 116p., Ages 17 to adult.
— James Beschta
Library Journal
Alas, Sebald didn't live to see the National Book Critics Circle give him its 2001 fiction award for Austerlitz. At least readers have the consolation of this three-part prose poem, which limns the life journeys of Renaissance painter Matthias Grunewald, explorer/botanist Georg Stellar, and Sebald himself. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780375756580
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/01/2003
Series:
Modern Library Paperbacks Series
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
128
Sales rank:
461,458
Product dimensions:
5.22(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.29(d)

Read an Excerpt

...I...

Whoever closes the wings

of the altar in the Lindenhardt

parish church and locks up

the carved figures in their casing

on the lefthand panel

will be met by St. George.

Foremost at the picture's edge he stands

above the world by a hand's breadth

and is about to step over the frame's

threshold. Georgius Miles,

man with the iron torso, rounded chest

of ore, red-golden hair and silver

feminine features. The face of the unknown

Grünewald emerges again and again

in his work as a witness

to the snow miracle, a hermit

in the desert, a commiserator

in the Munich Mocking of Christ.

Last of all, in the afternoon light

in the Erlangen library, it shines forth

from a self-portrait, sketched out

in heightened white crayon, later destroyed

by an alien hand's pen and wash,

as that of a painter aged forty

to fifty. Always the same

gentleness, the same burden of grief,

the same irregularity of the eyes, veiled

and sliding sideways down into loneliness.

Grünewald's face reappears, too,

in a Basel painting by Holbein

the Younger of a crowned female saint.

These were strangely disguised

instances of resemblance, wrote Fraenger

whose books were burned by the fascists.

Indeed it seemed as though in such works of art

men had revered each other like brothers, and

often made monuments in each other's

image where their paths had crossed.

Hence too, at the centre of

the Lindenhardt altar's right wing,

that troubled gaze upon the youth

on the other side of the older man

whom, years ago now, on a grey

January morning I myself once

encountered in the railway station

in Bamberg. It is St. Dionysius,

his cut-off head under one arm.

To him, his chosen guardian

who in the midst of life carries

his death with him, Grünewald gives

the appearance of Riemenschneider, whom

twenty years later the Würzburg bishop

condemned to the breaking of his hands

in the torture cell. Long before that time

pain had entered into the pictures.

That is the command, knows the painter

who on the altar aligns himself

with the scant company of the

fourteen auxiliary saints. Each of these,

the blessed Blasius, Achaz and Eustace;

Panthaleon, Aegidius, Cyriax, Christopher and

Erasmus and the truly beautiful

St. Vitus with the cockerel,

each look in different

directions without knowing

why. The three female saints

Barbara, Catherine and Margaret on

the other hand hide at the edge

of the left panel behind the back of

St. George putting together their

uniform oriental heads for

a conspiracy against the men.

The misfortune of saints

is their sex, is the terrible

separation of the sexes which Grünewald

suffered in his own person. The exorcised

devil that Cyriax, not only because

of the narrow confines, holds raised

high as an emblem in

the air is a female being

and, as a grisaille of Grünewald's

in the Frankfurt Städel shows in

the most drastic of fashions, derives from

Diocletian's epileptic daughter,

the misshapen princess Artemia whom

Cyriax, as beside him she kneels on

the ground, holds tightly leashed

with a maniple of his vestments

like a dog. Spreading out

above them is the branch work

of a fig tree with fruit, one of which

is entirely hollowed out by insects.

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