On Reading Sebald: The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz

  • Richard Crownshaw
Part of the Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies book series (PMMS)


In interview, W. G. Sebald has projected an idealised reader thus: ‘A picture, being visual information, can be contemplated, it does not have to be decoded in time. You can just sit and see it, and the ideal reader for me would be a reader who does not just read the text but sees, who lifts out the perennial wasting which occurs in time’ (Bigsby, 2001, p. 156). In other words, Sebald’s idealised reader is one who would participate in the memorative projects of his various narrators in their attempt to reconstruct and remember lives, things and places subject to modernity’s destructive projects, logics and impulses. Reconstruction and remembrance take place by way of what remains: textual traces, stranded artefacts, architectural ruins, deserted spaces and equivocal witnesses. These remnants of modernity constitute Sebald’s compendious narratives as the props of his narrators’ memory work. As Sebald suggests above, just like the remnants narrativised, his texts themselves are rendered fragile in the face of modernity’s ongoing destructive principles. If modernity can be characterised as a process of creative destruction that moves unevenly across its spheres of activity yet inexorably towards a point of oblivion, then, memory is an interruptive force. The idealised reader would participate in the memory work staged by Sebald’s texts, transforming those texts into objects of memory.


Photographic Image Traumatic Memory Memory Text Cultural Memory Historical Memory 
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Copyright information

© Richard Crownshaw 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Crownshaw
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of English and Comparative Literature, GoldsmithsUniversity of LondonUK

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