Academic journal article German Quarterly

Reading W.G. Sebald: Adventure and Disobedience

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Reading W.G. Sebald: Adventure and Disobedience

Article excerpt

Bladder, Deane. Reading W.G. Sebald: Adventure and Disobedience. Rochester: Camden House, 2007. 255 pp. $75.00 cloth.

In her study of the prose writings of WG. Sebald, Blackler argues that Sebald's texts elicit a "disobedient reader" who is liberated from "the institutional conventions of textual authority" (21). She claims that Sebald has written an "intriguing new kind of fiction" (ix) that cannot be contained by the conventional notion of the novel and offers "a new way of writing about experience" (x). Sebald "creates the space where human beings can actually think," she writes (5). These are ambitious claims indeed, and the success of the study must at least in part be evaluated on the basis of whether or not they are sufficiently substantiated.

Bladder's insistence that Sebald's texts call into being a disobedient reader creates some knotty conundrums that are never systematically addressed. For example, Bladder writes that the Sebaldian reader is "compelled to disobedience" (97) but "not commanded" (96). Her reliance on the metaphor of "emancipation" of the reader from reading according to literary conventions would seem implicitly to contradict the notion of disobedience. One might argue, for example, that emancipation implies liberation from a status of servitude that does not necessarily require the active resistance of those who are liberated, whereas disobedience suggests an existing agent who, in terms of the practice of reading, actively resists the imposition of meaning and constantly creates the text for herself, regardless of whether it is conventional or subversive in its approach to genre and form. Bladder's positing of "the Sebaldian reader" seems to be far less a celebration of disobedience than of an ideal reading practice carried out by highly literate and astute readers who have at long last found an object suitable to their intellectual capabilities. Her unapologetic proclamation of "Sebaldian reading" as an elitist practice of "reading for 'those who know how to read'" (12) suggests an adherence to yet another set of protocols prescribing which readings will be privileged as "disobedient."

Bladder freely admits to having an agenda: she wishes to pursue a more universal approach to reading Sebald, one that views him as "human rather than German" (10), yet she fails to reflect sufficiently on the problematic binarisms that she sets up between a putatively universal Anglophone reading public and a German (and Germanist) readership that she believes to be overly concerned with parochial questions of German history. …

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