Fragments of one's existence : the reader, W.G. Sebald / by Markus Zisselsberger.
This dissertation examines the extensive body of literary criticism of German-language writer W.G. Sebald (1944-2001), its relationship to his prose fiction and, in particular, the subjective and imaginative investments in literary texts that characterize Sebald's work as a reader. Through an analysis of Sebald's relationship to Jean Améry, Peter Weiss, and Franz Kafka, the study delineates an ethics of reading in Sebald's writing, one that is driven primarily by the writer's goal to share a reading and learning experience in an act of storytelling rather than to offer an interpretation in accordance with scholarly conventions. The study suggests that at the center of this ethics of reading is the tension between a reader's desire to excavate fragments of his own existence in the reading process and a writer's desire to follow and commemorate the fragments of other life-stories.The introductory chapter provides an overview of Sebald's work as a literary scholar and critic, from his engagement with the German writers Carl Sternheim and Alfred Döblin early in his career to his later fascination with Austrian literature and marginalized writers like Ernst Herbeck. The second chapter takes as its starting point Sebald's comparison of Kafka's writing to a famous childhood photograph of the author and interrogates the links between Kafka's work as a hermeneutic object of Sebald's literary essays, and the appearance of "Kafka" as an intertextual and photographic figure in Vertigo. Chapter three examines the nature and significance of horror in The Rings of Saturn and On the Natural History of Destruction through an investigation of Sebald's relation to the German-Jewish writer Peter Weiss. Chapter four discusses Sebald's essays on the writer and Shoah survivor Jean Améry in the broader context of juridical and medical discourses in postwar German culture and investigates the narrator's peripatetic retracing of Améry's traumatic experiences in Austerlitz. The final chapter turns once more to Kafka to demonstrate that the latter's story-fragment, "The Hunter Gracchus" offers crucial insights into the autobiographical origins of Sebald's writing project and the broader relationships between life and literature in the prose poem After Nature and in Vertigo.
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