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Reading W. G. Sebald

Reading W. G. Sebald: Adventure and Disobedience

Deane Blackler
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 271
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt7zstqc
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  • Book Info
    Reading W. G. Sebald
    Book Description:

    W. G. Sebald was born in 1944 in Germany. He found his way as a young academic to England and a career as professor of German. Only between the late 1980s and his untimely death in 2001 did he concentrate on nonacademic writing, crafting a new kind of prose work that shares features with but remains distinct from the novel, essay, travel writing, and memoir forms and gaining elevation to the first rank of writers internationally. No less a critic than Susan Sontag was moved to ask "Is literary greatness still possible?," implying that it was and that she had found it embodied in his writing. Deane Blackler explores Sebald's biography before analyzing the reading practice his texts call forth: that of a "disobedient reader," a proactive reader challenged to question the text by Sebald's peculiar use of poetic language, the pseudoautobiographical voice of his narrators, the seemingly documentary photographs he inserted into his books, and by his exquisite representations of place. Blackler reads Sebald's fiction as adventurous and disobedient in its formulation, an imaginative revitalization of literary fiction for the third millennium. Deane Blackler received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature in 2005 from the University of Tasmania.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-699-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Notes Toward an Itinerary
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    D. B.
  6. Introduction: A Pre-amble
    (pp. 1-39)

    The evolution of European literary prose fiction out of classical and vernacular epic poetry and romances which privilege imagination has become a familiar story. Ian Watt and other scholars begin with Miguel de Cervantes’sDon Quixote(1605, first translation into English 1612). It is the tale of a picaro who is plunged into a melancholy state by reading fiction. His cure entails setting out on a journey — accompanied by his steady companion — and engaging sober philosophical questions about the nature of reality, not least his own. Cervantes, a voracious reader, created a Menippean dialogical text full of incongruities...

  7. 1: Encounter with Disobedience
    (pp. 40-52)

    The creativity of the reader grows as the institution that controlled it declines.

    — Michel de Certeau,The Practice of Everyday Life

    The reader, post Ronald Barthes and others, is no longer quiescent, that obedient, passive creature subject to the explicit and implicit tyrannies of the text and its author, the text and its narrator(s). I shall be more essayist than theorist, the kind of transgression which has no place in a scholarly monograph, a kind of disobedience, blurring the boundaries between orthodoxy or convention and imaginative or creative license, that errant “I,” that restless traveler, that ambulant, writerly voice....

  8. 2: From W to the Norwich–London Road
    (pp. 53-92)

    This story, a documented fragment, begins in a village in a remote corner of southern Germany and concludes in Norfolk on the main road leading from Norwich to London.

    The writer W. G. Sebald was born in the Bavarian village of Wertach “at the back of a valley” (Sebald 2002, 86) in the mountains of the Allgäu in Southern Germany to Rosa, née Engelhofer, and Georg Sebald (McCulloh 2003, xv). In Sebald’s own words, “Wertach was a village of about a thousand inhabitants, in a valley covered in snow for five months a year. It was a silent place” (Jaggi...

  9. 3: Views from a “Coign of Vantage”
    (pp. 93-226)

    In this section, which suggests a reading practice, I argue that Sebald’s reader is positioned to be disobedient, interrogating and constructing images according to his or her own engagement with the destabilizing and disconcerting verbal text. I consider three aspects central in the production of Sebald’s disobedient reader.

    First, Sebald’s fiction eschews narrative in the conventional sense, abandoning conventions of plot and character, and employs a curiously homodiegetic first-person narrator, my focus in stage 1. This narrator is a solitary, soliloquizing writer, not interested in engaging the reader directly in a narrative contract of the usual kind, absorbed instead in...

  10. Conclusion: A Farewell Note
    (pp. 227-230)

    I have argued that the prose fiction of W. G. Sebald, presenting to the reader as nonfiction, is fictional practice designed to engage the reader in a new way. This new way elicits or perhaps shapes the kind of reader I have called, after Umberto Eco’s “model” or “obedient” reader (1995, 16), disobedient. This is a reader who is liberated from the tyranny of the text, from its authority, able to engage contemplatively and imaginatively in what Julia Kristeva described as l’envol de la pensée and le vagabondage de l’imagination, the flight of thought and the wandering imagination, which engages...

  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 231-250)
  12. Index
    (pp. 251-256)