W.G. Sebald – The Haunted World

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January 23, 2016 by Admin

Have you read the writings of W. G. Sebald? If not, you have missed one of the great writers of the second half of the 20th century. If I was asked to sum up his remarkable literary creations in one word, I would say, perhaps un-originally, haunted.

Wikipedia describes his writings thusly, “Sebald’s works are largely concerned with the themes of memory and loss of memory (both personal and collective) and decay (of civilizations, traditions or physical objects). They are, in particular, attempts to reconcile himself with, and deal in literary terms with, the trauma of the Second World War and its effect on the German people.”

My introduction to his work came with 1999’s essay collection, On the Natural History of Destruction, which contains Sebald’s truly terrifying account of Allied firebombing of German cities in World War II. In another essay, he questions why German writers took so long to come to terms with what their country had done in the war. Memory and loss of memory, whether accidental or deliberate.

In The Emigrants Sebald’s tells of his involvement with and the life stories of four different characters, all of whom are German emigrants (to England and the United States). The section set in Manchester, England, at that time a crumbling wreck of a place, is particularly compelling.

I have also read his The Rings of Saturn, an account of a rather ambitious walk he took along the coast of the county of Suffolk in his adopted home of England. Again, many ghosts, this time embodied in the historical and current literary figures born or residing in several of the villages he passes through, or in the houses they built there.

The fact that his books almost always include grainy, eerily suggestive black and white photos (which I assume Sebald himself took) add an extra layer to the haunting.

I’ve found a very interesting YouTube video about The Rings of Saturn. See it below.

More about his work in a New Yorker essay, Why You Should Read W.G. Sebald at http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/why-you-should-read-w-g-sebald.


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