Jerusalem, Palestine, Sebald, New Directions

Following on the theme of my last post on W.G. Sebald, I thought I’d drag out this old find to see if any of this blog’s readers can help my understanding of an unusual change that occurred to a photograph in Sebald’s Die Ausgewanderten: Vier lange Erzählungen (1992) when it was translated by Michael Hulse and published in English by Harvill as The Emigrants (1996).

Part three of The Emigrants is a kind of family history, or intimate biography, of the narrator’s great-uncle Ambros Adelwarth that ostensibly draws on and incorporates postcards, photographs, and a diary/travelogue  directly into the text. In 1913, on the eve of WW I, Adelwarth and another man travel from France to Istanbul and to the Holy Land. “On the 27th of November Ambros notes that he has been to Raad’s Photographic Studio in the Jaffa Road and has had his picture taken, at Cosmo’s wish, in his new striped robe” (p. 140-41).

Adelwarth - New Directions

Oddly enough, the German-language text of the book (at least the one I consulted – Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1997) reveals a different image, one which encloses the portrait-sitter within a photostudio border.

Ambros Adelwarth in Sebald's The Emigrants

Why the change? Supposing that there is a reason and that it wasn’t just due to some pressing difficulty in the layout process, – ? – I can only surmise that the publishers at New Directions acted deliberately in cropping out the frame. If so, they effectively scratched out the adjacent words Jerusalem and Palestine. Maybe it wasn’t deliberate, or Sebald ordered the crop. But if the move came from the publisher, I wonder if it wasn’t motivated by the judgment that it would be preferable to omit two words sure to remind readers of a conflict and an annexation that continue today and never fail to inspire strong sentiment. The irony is that the manipulation of historical, photographic evidence to political ends, which Sebald’s books often underline and portray, might have occurred in the process of reaching his English-speaking audience.

I might very well be reading too much into this, or not. In any case if you’ve anything to add, I’d appreciate your thoughts on this unusual find.

The first paragraph has been slightly revised since this article’s first posting.

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  • In checking through my editions of The Emigrants, only the original German version has the uncropped version. By 1996, the “uncorrected bookproof” of Harvill’s English translation of The Emigrants already has the new cropped version of this image. Sebald was rather deeply involved in the Michael Hulse translation and I seem to recall reading somewhere that Sebald was also involved in the placement of images in the English edition. It must have been an important step for him to finally have one of his books coming out in England, where he had lived and worked for several decades. You probably already know this, but another image from the first German edition of Die Ausgewanderten was removed from all subsequent editions; a painting by Frank Auerbach. This corresponded with the change of the name of the fouth story in The Emigrants from Max Aurach to Max Ferber. Apparently, Frank Aurbach (a partial model for the Aurach/Ferber character) objected to being associated with that character. I can’t speculate as to why, but I would strongly believe that Sebald himself made the decision to crop this image.


  • Thanks Terry. The image alterations are an interesting aspect of reading Sebald. I find this particular photocrop to have a strange effect, as the studio frame helps to make the image less foreign and somewhat more visually comprehensible to the reader. With respect to Ambros’s cross-dressing, I can’t help but think of Pierre Loti (the Istanbul connection – i.e. his (exoticist) novel Aziyadé (1879).

    (Digression/anectdote: Strangely enough, I remember browsing through the wares of the antique bouquineries along the Seine and finding an amazing book full of images of Loti costumed in various exotic poses and outfits. This you would love; I have however never tried to track down the text’s title, nor did I notice it that day… One or two images are easy-to-find with Google, I recall, but this book had scores of portraits of Loti.)

    Your writing at Vertigo has often interested me, you write so well – thanks for your thoughtful reply.


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