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Witnessing, Memory, Poetics

Witnessing, Memory, Poetics: H. G. Adler and W. G. Sebald

Helen Finch
Lynn L. Wolff
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Witnessing, Memory, Poetics
    Book Description:

    Since 1945, authors and scholars have intensely debated what form literary fiction about the Holocaust should take. The works of H. G. Adler (1910-1988) and W. G. Sebald (1944-2001), two modernist scholar-poets who settled in England but never met, present new ways of reconceptualizing the nature of witnessing, literary testimony, and the possibility of a "poetics" after Auschwitz. Adler, a Czech Jew who survived Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, was a prolific writer of prose and poetry, but his work remained little known until Sebald, possibly the most celebrated German writer of recent years, cited it in his 2001 novel, Austerlitz. Since then, a rediscovery of Adler has been under way. This volume of essays by international experts on Adler and Sebald investigates the connections between the two writers to reveal a new hybrid paradigm of writing about the Holocaust that advances our understanding of the relationship between literature, historiography, and autobiography. In doing so, the volume also reflects on the wider literary-political implications of Holocaust representation, demonstrating the shifting norms in German-language "Holocaust literature." Contributors: Jeremy Adler, Jo Catling, Peter Filkins, Helen Finch, Frank Finlay, Kirstin Gwyer, Katrin Kohl, Michael Krüger, Martin Modlinger, Dora Osborne, Ruth Vogel-Klein, Lynn L. Wolff. Helen Finch is an Academic Fellow in German at the University of Leeds. Lynn L. Wolff is an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow in German at the University of Stuttgart.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-328-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    H.F. and L.L.W.
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: The Adler-Sebald Intertextual Relationship as Paradigm for Intergenerational Literary Testimony
    (pp. 1-22)
    Helen Finch and Lynn L. Wolff

    When W. G. Sebald dedicates ten pages of his fictional prose workAusterlitzto H. G. Adler’s historical, sociological, and psychological study of the Theresienstadt “ghetto,” Adler’s tome is introduced as a source so obscure that it would take only the most meticulous of scholars to be able to seek it out. Sebald’s protagonist, the learned architectural historian Jacques Austerlitz, is just such a scholar, but when his research takes him further, he finds that this volume’s author is an elusive figure, stating how H. G. Adler was “mir unbekannt … bis dahin” (A335; a name previously unknown to...

  6. Part I. Intertexts in Context

    • 1: Opening Address: The Connections between H. G. Adler and W. G. Sebald, from a Personal Perspective
      (pp. 25-28)
      Jeremy Adler

      It is an honor for me to offer a few opening words to this volume on H. G. Adler and W. G. Sebald. The symposium that served as a starting point for this volume, hosted by the Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, was, as far as I am aware, the second Sebald symposium in London University, and the second on H. G. Adler—the first having been devoted exclusively to H. G. Adler’s correspondence with Hermann Broch. That in itself deserves recognition. Moreover, the symposium and this volume are made special by virtue of the fact that they widen...

    • 2: Memory’s Witness—Witnessing Memory
      (pp. 29-54)
      Peter Filkins

      Two writers, born within 350 miles of each other, and yet worlds apart. Two writers, who would come to live, as exiles, within 100 miles of each other, work in the same academic field, share at least one important friend (Michael Hamburger) as well as an obsession with the Holocaust and its representation in literature and scholarship, and yet who never met or corresponded with one another. Two writers, the younger of whom not only read the other’s works extensively but also placed him as a figure in his own text while openly using maps and figures from the elder...

    • 3: Writing the Medusa: A Documentation of H. G. Adler and Theresienstadt in W. G. Sebald’s Library
      (pp. 55-78)
      Jo Catling

      In the “Guardian Profile” which appeared in September 2001 in anticipation of the UK launch of Anthea Bell’s translation of W. G. Sebald’sAusterlitz(2001), interviewer Maya Jaggi describes how Sebald “loathes the term ‘Holocaust literature.’”¹ While the assertion no doubt owes something to Adorno’s famous dictum, Sebald is quoted as stating, “It’s a dreadful idea that you can have a sub-genre and make a speciality out of it; it’s grotesque.” Attempts at “recreations” are described as “an obscenity”—according to Jaggi, Sebald commends Lanzmann’sShoah² but condemnsSchindler’s List—and he asserts: “I don’t think you can focus on...

  7. Part II. Witnessing Trauma and the Poetics of Witnessing

    • 4: Bearing Witness: The Poetics of H. G. Adler and W. G. Sebald
      (pp. 81-111)
      Katrin Kohl

      The act of bearing witness is ineluctably dependent on real places, real events, and the utterances of real people. As such it stands in tension with Aristotelian poetics, which suggests that poets should leave the stuff of actuality to the historiographers: “It is not the poet’s function to relate actual events, but thekindsof things that might occur and are possible in terms of probability or necessity.” Whereas the historian relates actual events and focuses on “the particular,” poetry is “more philosophical” and “elevated” since it “relates more of the universal.”¹ In the German context, this philosophically oriented approach...

    • 5: “Schmerzensspuren der Geschichte(n)”: Memory and Intertextuality in H. G. Adler and W. G. Sebald
      (pp. 112-136)
      Kirstin Gwyer

      In 1988, W. G. Sebald took part in a symposium held in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of Austrian author and Holocaust survivor Jean Améry’s suicide. Sebald himself presented a paper with the title “Jean Améry und Primo Levi,” which was published in a volume of the conference’s proceedings in 1990.¹ Though short, this article is significant in its ability to shed light both on Sebald’s appreciation of first-generation testimonial literature and on his own approach to writing after and about the Holocaust. And though relatively rarely discussed in Sebald scholarship, the critical responses it has elicited may be said...

    • 6: “Der Autor zwischen Literatur und Politik”: H. G. Adler’s “Engagement” and W. G. Sebald’s “Restitution”
      (pp. 137-156)
      Lynn L. Wolff

      In her recent book onThe Generation of Postmemory, Marianne Hirsch revisits and expands her concept of “postmemory” to emphasize both its processual nature and the position of the viewer. In considering the transmission of traumatic experiences beyond those experienced during the Holocaust, Hirsch opens up her discussion to allow for transnational as well as intermedial comparisons. In addition to authors, Hirsch looks at visual artists whose works can be situated within “a structure of inter- and transgenerational return of traumatic knowledge.”¹ One of these artists is Bracha Lichtenberg-Ettinger, whose work Hirsch characterizes as follows:

      In subjecting her original images...

  8. Part III. Memory, Memorialization and the Re-presentation of History

    • 7: Memory, Witness, and the (Holocaust) Museum in H. G. Adler and W. G. Sebald
      (pp. 159-179)
      Dora Osborne

      In W. G. Sebald’s final prose workAusterlitz(2001), the eponymous protagonist famously consults H. G. Adler’s encyclopedic study of Theresienstadt and expresses regret at never having met its author.¹ While this is surely the most tangible link between the two men, another place, also instrumentalized in the mechanisms of Nazi persecution and deportation, suggests a further connection: the Jewish Museum in Prague. Adler was personally involved in the work of the museum immediately after World War II and it leaves an interesting mark on his fiction, providing the model for the two museums that feature in the novelsEine...

    • 8: History, Emotions, Literature: The Representation of Theresienstadt in H. G. Adler’s Theresienstadt 1941–1945: Das Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft and W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz
      (pp. 180-198)
      Ruth Vogel-Klein

      In a text about the genesis of his bookTheresienstadt 1941–1945,¹ H. G. Adler states that he attempted, following the paradigm set by ethnologists, to observe the concentration camp “vorurteilsfrei und nüchtern” (impartially and soberly)² while simultaneously taking into consideration his own position as a participant. According to Jeremy Adler, in his afterword to the 2005 reprint ofTheresienstadt, H. G. Adler founded his method on the work of the ethnologist Bronislav Malinowsky. This method implies a “Doppelblick” (double gaze) that is at the same time both from inside and from outside.³ In making this connection, Jeremy Adler accentuates...

  9. Part IV. Literary Legacies and Networks

    • 9: The Kafkaesque in H. G. Adler’s and W. G. Sebald’s Literary Historiographies
      (pp. 201-231)
      Martin Modlinger

      H. G. Adler and W. G. Sebald as both writers and scholars share more than a few interests, as the introduction to this volume points out. Especially in their approaches to what might best be described as literary historiography, they follow a similar ethics of witnessing, memory, and poetics. Both also share an interest in Franz Kafka. As the following pages will try to demonstrate, an examination of the kafkaesque elements in Adler’s and Sebald’s works serves to elucidate each writer’s concept and practice of literary historiography. W. G. Sebald’s interest in Kafka, demonstrated both in his scholarly articles and...

    • 10: Generational Conflicts, Generational Affinities: Broch, Adorno, Adler, Sebald
      (pp. 232-253)
      Helen Finch

      Adler and Sebald are twoEinzelgängerof literature (as Michael Krüger’s postscript to this volume suggests) but they both were also enmeshed in a rich network of literary relationships. Not only do they share certain literary affinities, above all with Kafka, but as writers who also are participating in the contested terrain of postwar German literature and cultural discourse, their relationship to each other is also part of a complex field of literary interrelations. To analyze these interrelations is to view the links between Adler and Sebald as part of a network of intellectual relationships that constituted the field of...

    • 11: “Der verwerfliche Literaturbetrieb unserer Epoche”: H. G. Adler and the Postwar West German “Literary Field”
      (pp. 254-274)
      Frank Finlay

      The central concern of the present chapter is with the question of why H. G. Adler’s literary works failed to find a wider reading public during his own lifetime. My main focus is on the corpus of letters between Adler and Heinrich Böll which are held, respectively, in the German Literary Archive in Marbach, and the Historical Archives of the City of Cologne. Some of this correspondence has only come to light recently, during the process of review and re-archiving of material which survived the physical collapse of the latter institution in 2009. Following the suggestion of Adler’s biographer,¹ I...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 275-276)
    Michael Krüger

    At first, one is alarmed to hear H. G. Adler and W. G. Sebald’s names uttered in the same breath. Why these two in particular, and not two or three others? However, if one ponders this a few moments longer—and coincidentally happened to know both of them as I did—suddenly a network of connections arises, the entanglement of which only allows for the following conclusion: yes, these two solitary men, who likely never met one another personally, belong together.

    When Winfried Georg Sebald was born in Wertach im Allgäu in 1944 at the end of the hopeless war,...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-296)
  12. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 297-300)
  13. Index
    (pp. 301-322)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 323-323)