Unmasking sanctioned authority : a study of word and image in the novels of W.G. Sebald / by J'Lyn Chapman.
This dissertation focuses on the confluence of text and image in the work of the German novelist and critic W.G. Sebald. The relationship between text and image produces a non-narrative structure that represents the weight of trauma and cultural dislocation, even as it ruptures narratives of history and progress, and mystifies "sanctioned authority," a term synonymous with totalitarianism. Sebald's project shows how history and subjectivities in the grip of sanctioned authority can be powerfully represented outside realistic narratives that document a linear passage of time and a "rational" understanding of the causes and effects of trauma. What is at stake for Sebald is the need to represent trauma—both personal and shared—as contingent and multiple in its effects, horrifying and specific but dispersed through time and space in its recreation in words and images that form multiple texts within a text. Nothing is made easier by this, and the physical trauma even becomes a metaphysical trauma. Yet there is somehow a therapeutic effect. In order to examine both the possibilities of representation and the subject itself, Sebald incorporates reproduced images (photographs, maps, blueprints, and newspaper clippings, for example) into his text and relies on the resulting intertextuality to mediate and open up meaning in ways that unpack the trauma. He creates narrators and characters who enact the challenge to represent unavoidable history through writing, memory, and images that construct their identities and memories in opposition to the ethical failures of the totalizing narratives of sanctioned authority.By discussing Sebald's novels in the order in which they were written, the dissertation presents close readings of the texts. The dissertation is also inter-discursive in that it intersperses commentary on the nature of interpreting Sebald's work within the context of parallel texts: post-Holocaust cultural critique. So there is reference to the ideas of Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, Jean-François Lyotard, and Hannah Arendt. These theorists intersect with Sebald in their critique of the Enlightenment project, the Holocaust and totalitarianism, as well as in their focus on individual life and its relationship to society and history. Further, the dissertation also uses a post-Freudian interpretation of trauma and repression to discuss the compulsive return of subjects (characters and narrators) and texts (Sebald's critical work and fiction) to moments of disjunction. And holding all this together is my view of Sebald's texts as rhizomatic in structure, willing and able to weave together multiple discourses, which itself plainly owes a debt to the critical theories of Deleuze and Guatarri.Sebald's work demonstrates that the way to bear witness to trauma and historical rupture is to represent the processes of interpreting a horror that is past but always present, and to enter into these processes from a perspective that must continually examine itself. Thus this dissertation seeks to reveal the reciprocal nature of Sebald's visual and written texts and the way they establish social and personal trauma as painfully real, even as they are always contingent and open to multiple readings.
Record last modified: 2018-05-18 16:20:00
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