ELCS4022 - WG Sebald's Literary Prose: "they are ever returning to us, the dead"
Value: 0.5 course units
Tutor: Dr Mererid Puw Davies
Assessment: 1 assessed essay of 3 000 words and a 1.5 hour desk examination (Term 3)
In the closing years of the twentieth century, WG Sebald, who died suddenly in 2001, came to be recognised as a major international literary voice. His innovative, often challenging prose work addresses, powerfully and subtly, issues which are central to the modern condition as he saw it. These include decay, nature and its destruction, crime, mental disturbance, social outsiderdom, travel, memory, art and their relationship to history; and above all, the shadow that violence, war and atrocity (especially the Nazi Holocaust) cast over contemporary Europe. Sebald’s oeuvre is notable too for its highly unusual stylistic and formal features, such as the repeated, enigmatic use of images and photographs, documentary material, narrative framing and distinctive, curiously positioned narrators.
Sebald was born and brought up in (West) Germany, and wrote his literary texts in German. However, he is of special interest to us as readers of European literature in London, for he lived and worked throughout almost all his adult life in England, teaching literature at university, and his work demonstrates profound engagement with a wide range of modern European literature and history. It has also been well translated into English, and there is a vast and growing international secondary literature on Sebald.
This module explores all four of Sebald’s major works of literature in prose, Vertigo (1990), The Emigrants (1992), The Rings of Saturn (1995) and Austerlitz (2001). Two weeks are dedicated to each text. In each case, in the first week we will focus on a key thematic issue in the text in question, and in the second on a formal aspect - while bearing in mind that such separation of form and content is strategic, and that both will inevitably form part of each week’s discussion. It will be noted, too, that the issues in question are germane to all Sebald’s creative prose texts, so that discussion from one pair of weeks will inform and be continued in all the following sessions. Seminars will be based on collaborative close readings and discussions of the primary texts and discussion.
Preparatory reading and set texts:
- W.G Sebald, Vertigo, trans. by Michael Hulse (1999) (London: Vintage, 2002)
- --, The Emigrants, trans. by Michael Hulse (1996) (London: Vintage, 2006)
- --, The Rings of Saturn, trans. by Michael Hulse (1998) (London, Vintage, 2002)
- --, Austerlitz, trans. by Anthea Bell (2001) (London: Penguin, 2001)
- W.G. Sebald, Schwindel. Gefühle (1990) (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch, 2005)
- --, Die Ausgewanderten (1992) (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch, 2006)
- --, Die Ringe des Saturn (1995) (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch, 2007)
- --, Austerlitz (2001) (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch, 2006)
Initial Secondary Bibliography:
- Christopher Bigbsy, ‘In Conversation with WG Sebald’, Writers in Conversation with Christopher Bigsby, 2 vols (Norwich: The Arthur Miller Centre / EAS Publishing / Pen&Inc), II, pp. 139-65
- Saturn’s Moons: WG Sebald – A Handbook, ed. by Jo Catling and Richard Hibbett (Oxford: Legenda, 2011) (UCL Main Library: GERMAN R274 CAT)
- WG Sebald: History, Memory, Trauma, ed. by Scott Denham and Mark McCulloh (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2006) (UCL Main Library: GERMAN R274 DEN)
- WG Sebald: Schreiben ex patria / Expatriate Writing, ed. by Gerhard Fischer (Amsterdam and NY: Rodopi, 2009)
- WG Sebald and the Writing of History, ed. by Anne Fuchs and JJ Long (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2007).