W.G. Sebald and the condition of exile

Schlesinger, P. (2004) W.G. Sebald and the condition of exile. Theory, Culture and Society, 21(2), pp. 43-67. (doi:10.1177/0263276404042134)

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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0263276404042134


W.G. Sebald’s literary output has consistently addressed the theme of exile, which is most fully explored in his last novel, Austerlitz. This article places Sebald’s literary output in the context of contemporary debate in the social sciences about memory and identity. It is argued that Sebald used the form of a biographical memoir to illuminate powerfully the ‘condition of exile’. His focus is the impact of the Holocaust on European Jews. As a self-conscious German writer possessed of a sense of historical responsibility, he chose to treat this subject obliquely. Sebald used the device of the unreliable narrator. At least some of the disconcerting effect of his literary work lies in its playful use of an ethnographic style and method. It is argued that Sebald has developed a hybrid style, method and form that may be called ‘literary ethnography’. For Sebald, himself in self-exile, the recovery of memory and the seeking of one’s past do not – and cannot – ultimately resolve the problems of being in exile. Knowing one’s past has no ultimately redemptive qualities. The condition of exile remains irredeemably liminal and there is no repairing the damage.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Schlesinger, Professor Philip
Authors: Schlesinger, P.
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PR English literature
College/School:College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Theatre Film and TV Studies
Journal Name:Theory, Culture and Society

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