W.G. Sebald: Journeys into the Past
Cardiff Metropolitan University
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This dissertation, W.G. Sebald: Journeys into the Past, discusses the challenges that W.G. Sebald’s four prose works, Vertigo (Sebald, 2002b), The Emigrants (Sebald, 2002a), Rings of Saturn (Sebald, 2002c), and Austerlitz (2011), pose to historiography, and the way in which they problematize representing the past. It demonstrates how Sebald’s literature augments historical accounts, with the aim of preserving and passing on the memory of those who have suffered in some of the most traumatic episodes of Twentieth Century history. It highlights how Sebald’s work can be read as suggesting that the most effective historical accounts must be, by their nature, unsettling and that any claim to have written a definitive, settled account of the past is at best suspicious and at worst dangerous. Additionally, it argues that Sebald should be viewed as a postmodernist writer of historical narratives, and puts his unique style in context by comparing him to early psychogeographers, and clearly distinguishes his multi-dimensional character-narrators named ‘W.G. Sebald’ from Sebald the writer. This dissertation also attempts to trace the importance of trauma in the writing of many of his characters and places, and gives special consideration to the importance of the many character biographies, or ‘microhistories’, that populate his work. It suggests that Sebald enables his readers to better understand how layered and complex the concept of time is, and finally, discusses his asking the question as to whether mankind is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.