Journal of Romance studies

On reading Sebald criticism: witnessing the text

Journal of Romance studies (2009), 9, (3), 10–22.

Abstract

This article discusses trends in literary theories of trauma and how their influence can be felt in criticism of the work of W. G. Sebald. Such criticism tends to find in the disruptive interplay of verbal and pictorial discourses, typical of Sebald’s work, textual aporias that reflect traumatic interruptions of the cultural remembrance of the extremes of modernity in general and the Holocaust in particular. Tracing literary criticism that focuses on Sebald’s use of photographic images in Austerlitz, this article argues that such criticism veers towards treating the text as the unmediated inscription of a traumatic interruption, and suggests that, rather than finding trauma in the text, Sebald’s work provokes such critical responses in order to revoke them, revealing not trauma but theoretical formulae for trauma. Sebald’s work thereby frustrates attempts to experience vicariously the trauma of Holocaust victims that his novel represents.

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Crownshaw, Richard