W.G. Sebald: Image, Archive, Modernity

W.G. Sebald: Image, Archive, Modernity

W.G. Sebald: Image, Archive, Modernity

W.G. Sebald: Image, Archive, Modernity

Synopsis

W. G. Sebald is widely acknowledged as one of the most significant writers to have emerged onto the global literary scene in recent decades, and is frequently mentioned in the same breath as Nabokov, Kafka, Borges, Calvino, Proust, and Primo Levi. W. G. Sebald - Image, Archive, Modernity offers a unique and original reading of Sebald's dazzling oeuvre, arguing that his work is concerned first and foremost with the problem of modernity. It focuses in particular on the numerous archival institutions and processes that lie at the very heart of modernity and are repeatedly thematised throughout Sebald's work. Adopting a broad definition of the archive to encompass a wide range of material practices, the book analyses the function of photography, museums, libraries, and other systems of knowledge to which Sebald's texts obsessively return. Following Foucault, such systems are seen as central to the exercise of power and the constitution of subjectivity in modernity. By undertaking a differentiated analysis that is attuned to the formal complexities of Sebald's texts, this book shows that Sebald's engagement with structures of power-knowledge is characterised by a melancholy struggle to assert autonomous selfhood in the face of the institutional and discursive determinants of subjectivity. Features
• Original interdisciplinary approach
• Written by an acknowledged Sebald specialist
• Focus on modernity which expands the parameters of our understanding of Sebald
• Fully up-to-date, taking account of all of the most recent research

Excerpt

Since his death in a road accident in December 2001, W. G. Sebald has become one of the most written-about contemporary German authors. Conferences devoted to his work have been held in Davidson (North Carolina), Munich, Paris, Sydney, Marbach am Neckar and elsewhere, and the secondary literature devoted to his work is now extensive – to say nothing of interviews, reviews, obituaries and further publications in press. While these scholarly writings discuss a wide range of thematic and formal aspects of Sebald's work, it is possible to identify a limited number of topoi that recur in almost all the criticism so far published: the Holocaust, trauma and memory, melancholy, photography, travel and flânerie, intertextuality and Heimat. It is my contention that these individual topoi can in fact be seen as epiphenomena of a much wider 'meta-problem' in Sebald's work, one to which only a small number of critics have drawn explicit attention, but which dominates his work from start to finish. That is the problem of modernity.

By modernity, I understand the seismic social, economic, political and cultural transformations that took place in European societies from the eighteenth century onwards. These changes have their roots in a longer history that goes back to developments that occurred in the decades around 1500 (the 'discovery' of the New World, the Renaissance, the Reformation and the emergence of mercantilism). These moments conventionally represent the threshold between the medieval and early modern periods. But the eighteenth century witnesses . . .

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