Seeing after Auschwitz : Sebald, Conrad, Levi / by Bernard R. Richter.
In the context of twentieth-century violence, notions of seeing, looking and observation emerge in key works by W.G. Sebald, Joseph Conrad and Primo Levi. In Chapter 1, I show that Sebald's Vertigo, The Rings of Saturn and On The Natural History of Destruction are similar in that they stress what it means to experience violence from different points of view. Sebald's texts strongly suggest that violence can only be understood in terms of its effects on the body. In On The Natural History of Destruction, Sebald criticizes German writers of the post World War II era who failed to provide a detailed account of the destruction of the allied bombing campaign on German cities. Sebald's texts set up my analysis of Joseph Conrad's and Primo Levi's respective work. In Chapter 2, I analyze three texts by Joseph Conrad, "The Secret Sharer," The Shadow-Line: A Confession and Heart of Darkness . In his letters, Conrad defines literature in much the same terms that Sebald does. Conrad's letters and other non-fiction writings make a special case for the capacity for literature to allow the reader to "see" and experience everyday reality in new ways. Conrad extends his emphasis on looking and seeing in the stories I analyze. In Chapter 3, I analyze Primo Levi's writings on Auschwitz. Levi's work associates Nazism with rash and illogical judgment. Levi asks his reader to bear witness to what Levi observed first hand. My discussion ends in the coda wherein I outline the ways in which Georges Didi-Huberman, Sara Guyer and Giorgio Agamben engage the issue of seeing in the context of twentieth-century violence. All three explore the violence of the Holocaust through the question of seeing and understanding. Seeing, looking and observation have value in themselves in the work of W.G. Sebald, Joseph Conrad and Primo Levi. At the same time, these notions seem to take on greater historical and ethical urgency because of the violence and destruction of the twentieth century.
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