Advertisement

Herring Fisheries, Fish-Eating and Natural History in W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn

  • Dominic O’Key
Chapter
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature book series (PSAAL)

Abstract

This essay argues that W. G. Sebald develops literary strategies which call into question the politics of fish-eating. To do this, I closely read a passage from The Rings of Saturn in which Sebald’s narrator melancholically reflects on over two hundred years of herring fishing in the North Sea, and on the long-term consequences of the economic commodification and scientific instrumentalization of herring. I argue that this passage challenges anthropocentric and extractive logics which normalize overfishing, oceanic acidification and ecosystem collapse. By drawing on Theodor W. Adorno’s dialectical formulation of “Natural-History”, which thinks of nature and history as mutually constitutive, as well as the recent ocean turn in popular and critical discourses, I analyze how Sebald’s narrative strategies—humour, historical analysis and the placing of in-text images—develop a critique of flesh-eating and aquaculture. Sebald’s natural history of the herring both mourns and ultimately resists the practices of industrialized aquaculture.

Notes

Acknowledgements

Helen Finch’s comments, questions and criticisms have sharpened my research on Sebald. I am also grateful to Uwe Schütte who confirmed my hunch that Sebald was vegetarian.

Works Cited

  1. Adorno, Theodor W. Negative Dialectics. Translated by E. B. Ashton. New York: Continuum, 1973.Google Scholar
  2. ———. “The Idea of Natural-History.” In Things Beyond Resemblance: Essays on Theodor W. Adorno, edited by Robert Hullot-Kentor, 252–269. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.Google Scholar
  3. Alaimo, Stacy. Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.Google Scholar
  4. Bond, Greg. “On the Misery of Nature and the Nature of Misery: W. G. Sebald’s Landscapes.” In W. G. Sebald: A Critical Companion, edited by J. J. Long and Anne Whitehead, 31–44. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004.Google Scholar
  5. Buck-Morss, Susan. The Origin of Negative Dialectics. London: Macmillan, 1977.Google Scholar
  6. Cosgrove, Mary. “W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz.” In The Novel in German Since 1990, edited by Stuart Taberner, 195–211. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.Google Scholar
  7. Couper, Alastair, Hance D. Smith, and Bruno Ciceri. Fishers and Plunderers: Theft, Slavery and Violence at Sea. London: Pluto, 2015.Google Scholar
  8. Crownshaw, Richard. The Afterlife of Holocaust Memory in Contemporary Literature and Culture. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2010.Google Scholar
  9. DeLoughrey, Elizabeth. “Submarine Futures of the Anthropocene.” Comparative Literature 69 (2017): 32–44.Google Scholar
  10. Earle, Sylvia A. The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Oceans Are One. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2009.Google Scholar
  11. Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. London: Routledge, 2002.Google Scholar
  12. Fuchs, Anne. “W. G. Sebald’s Painters: The Function of Fine Art in His Prose Works.” Modern Language Review 101 (2006): 167–183.Google Scholar
  13. ———. “Ein Hauptkapital der Geschichte der Unterwerfung.” In W. G. Sebald and the Writing of History, edited by Anne Fuchs and J. J. Long, 121–138. Würzburg: Königshausen and Neumann, 2007.Google Scholar
  14. Groves, Jason. “Writing After Nature: A Sebaldian Ecopoetics.” In German Ecocriticism in the Anthropocene, edited by Caroline Schaumann and Heather I. Sullivan, 267–292. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2017.Google Scholar
  15. Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.Google Scholar
  16. Helmreich, Stefan. Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.Google Scholar
  17. Hullot-Kentor, Robert. Things Beyond Resemblance: Essays on Theodor W. Adorno. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.Google Scholar
  18. Hutchinson, Ben. “The Shadow of Resistance: W. G. Sebald and the Frankfurt School.” Journal of European Studies 41 (2011): 267–284.Google Scholar
  19. Jaggi, Maya. “The Last Word.” The Guardian, 21 December 2001, https://www.theguardian.com/education/2001/dec/21/artsandhumanities.highereducation.
  20. Jameson, Fredric. Late Marxism: Adorno or the Persistence of the Dialectic. London: Verso, 2007.Google Scholar
  21. Kennedy, Roseanne. “Humanity’s Footprint: Reading Rings of Saturn and Palestinian Walks in an Anthropocene Era.” Biography 35 (2012): 170–189.Google Scholar
  22. Lepenies, Wolf. Das Ende der Naturgeschichte: Wandel kultureller Selbstverständlichkeiten in den Wissenschaften des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts. Munich: Hanser, 1976.Google Scholar
  23. Long, J. J. W. G. Sebald: Image, Archive, Modernity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.Google Scholar
  24. Longo, Stefano B., Rebecca Clausen, and Brett Clark. The Tragedy of the Commodity: Oceans, Fisheries, and Aquaculture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015.Google Scholar
  25. Lorimer, Jamie. “The Anthropo-Scene: A Guide for the Perplexed.” Social Studies of Science 47 (2017): 117–142.Google Scholar
  26. Öhlschläger, Claudia. “Medialität und Poetik des trompe-l’œil: W. G. Sebald and Jan Peter Tripp.” GegenwartsLiteratur 6 (2007): 21–43.Google Scholar
  27. O’Key, Dominic. “W. G. Sebald’s Zoopoeticsː Writing After Nature.” In Texts, Animals, Environmentsː Zoopoetics and Ecopoetics, edited by Frederike Middelhoff, Sebastian Schönbeck, Roland Borgands, and Catrin Gersdorf, 217–227. Freiburg: Rombach, 2019.Google Scholar
  28. Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturalism. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2008.Google Scholar
  29. Probyn, Elspeth. Eating the Ocean. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.Google Scholar
  30. Roberts, Callum. The Unnatural History of the Sea. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2007.Google Scholar
  31. Rose, Gillian. The Melancholy Science: An Introduction to the Thought of Theodor W. Adorno. London: Verso, 2014.Google Scholar
  32. Safran Foer, Jonathan. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009.Google Scholar
  33. Santner, Eric. On Creaturely Life: Rilke, Benjamin, Sebald. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.Google Scholar
  34. Schmidt-Hannisa, Hans-Walter. “Aberration of a Species: On the Relationship Between Man and Beast in W. G. Sebald’s Work.” In W. G. Sebald and the Writing of History, edited by Anne Fuchs and J. J. Long, 31–43. Würzburg: Königshausen and Neumann, 2007.Google Scholar
  35. Schütte, Uwe. W. G. Sebald: Einführung in Leben und Werk. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2011.Google Scholar
  36. Sebald, W. G. Nach der Natur: Ein Elementargedicht. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1995.Google Scholar
  37. ———. Die Ringe des Saturn: Eine Englische Wallfahrt. Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn, 1995.Google Scholar
  38. ———. Austerlitz. Munich: Carl Hanser, 2001.Google Scholar
  39. ———. “Mit einem kleinen Strandspaten: Abschied von Deutschland nehmen.” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 22 December 2001.Google Scholar
  40. ———. The Rings of Saturn. Translated by Michael Hulse. London: Vintage, 2002.Google Scholar
  41. ———. After Nature. Translated by Michael Hamburger. London: Penguin, 2003.Google Scholar
  42. ———. Campo Santo. Translated by Anthea Bell. London: Penguin, 2006.Google Scholar
  43. ———. A Place in the Country. Translated by Jo Catlin. London: Penguin, 2014.Google Scholar
  44. Sebald, W. G., and Gordon Turner. “Introduction and Translation of an Interview given by Max Sebald.” In W. G. Sebald: History-Memory-Trauma, edited by Scott Denham and Mark McCulloh, 21–29. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2006.Google Scholar
  45. Shukin, Nicole. Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.Google Scholar
  46. Stone, Alison. “Adorno and the Disenchantment of Nature.” Philosophy and Social Criticism 32 (2006): 231–253.Google Scholar
  47. Wolff, Lynn L. W. G. Sebald’s Hybrid Poetics: Literature as Historiography. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014.Google Scholar
  48. Wood, James. “W. G. Sebald, Humorist.” New Yorker, June 5 and 12, 2017. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/06/05/w-g-sebald-humorist.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dominic O’Key
    • 1
  1. 1.Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute, University of LeedsLeedsUK

Personalised recommendations