This Thursday, I’ll be speaking in the University of Manchester German seminar series, on a topic related to their Public Intellectual theme. My PhD. thesis was a comparative study of Strauß, Handke and Sebald, but I’ve developed the sections on Sebald into my new book (Sebald’s Bachelors: Queer Resistance and the Unconforming Life), and haven’t given Strauß and Handke much thought since my viva back in 2008. At the time, I researched the public controversies that the three writers engaged in in the 1990s – Strauß’s ‘Anschwellender Bocksgesang’ essay, Handke’s interventions on Milosevic and Serbia, and Sebald’s Luftkrieg und Literatur lectures. I tried to see whether theories of generational guilt and of a very German version of poetic autonomy could explain these three seemingly neo-conservative interventions in the public sphere.
It’s really exciting to be able to return to that material and to reconsider it in the lights of my new research interest in literary canon, and of the Manchester seminar series and its overarching theme of the public intellectual. So far, my notes for the talk include the scrawled questions ‘Do public discourse and the ideal of communicability conflict with poetic concept of language grounded in the image’? and ‘Where do left-wing and right-wing attempts to redeem the past coincide’? I think this will be quite a speculative talk, but I’m really glad to have the opportunity to discuss my ideas in the brilliant company of the Manchester Germanists. For a long time, I’ve thought I should write up this section of my PhD as a standalone article, so I’m really grateful to the University of Manchester for giving me the impetus to do so!
Sabbatical has its own rhythm, very distinct to that of term, I’m discovering; weeks of quiet reading and writing and sudden frenetic bursts of public activity and engagement. This is one of the frenetic weeks, with lots of exciting announcements which I’ll be posting here soon. But in the meantime, I’ll have to keep trying to integrate my PhD. research and new theoretical questions into a stimulating talk by Thursday. Wish me luck!
It’s been two weeks since the ‘H. G. Adler / W. G. Sebald: Witnessing, Memory, Poetics’ symposium in London, and I’m still glowing. The day was generally felt by all participants to have been remarkably productive, intensive and rich. All the contributors brought their own intellectual agenda to the links between the writers, and, as one commented, we could feel the frontiers of knowledge moving forwards. What more could one hope to achieve at a symposium?
So Lynn Wolff and I are tired but happy, as you can possibly see in the photograph of the conference participants below! Currently, we’re working on plans for a conference publication, and I hope we’ll be able to share more details in due course.
(Lynn, Dora Osborne and I all met while Ph.D. students at a conference organised by Jo Catling at the University of East Anglia, ‘W. G. Sebald and the European Tradition’, in June 2007. It was wonderful to all be together again five years later collaborating on Sebald once more – so thank you, Jo, for bringing us all together!)
One of the joys of sabbatical is that you get the chance to share the fruits of your research with the academic community at large. I’ve been lucky enough to receive invitations to speak in a number of institutions recently; here’s a list.
14 February 2013: ‘Nationalisms and Sexualities’, Tendencies at Twenty, University of York
29 January 2013: ‘Sebald’s Bachelors: Queer Resistance and the Unconforming Life’, University of Warwick German Seminar Series.
13 December 2012: ‘German Intellectuals from Student Revolution to Reaction: Botho Strauß, Peter Handke, W. G. Sebald’, University of Manchester CIDRAL Public Intellectuals Seminar Series.
11-12 November 2012: ”Prague circles: the vicissitudes of H. G. Adler’s modernist poetics’, H. G. Adler: Life, Literature, Legacy, hosted by the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Center for Jewish Studies and the Department of English at York University in Toronto.