“To Serve under the Chimney”
“With every year I have spent since then in this birthplace of industrialization, amidst the black façades, I have realized more clearly than ever that I am here … to serve under the chimney” (192).1 The words are those of Max Ferber, the titular subject of the last of W.G. Sebald’s quartet of long short stories collected under the title The Emigrants (Die Ausgewanderten, 1992). Ferber’s comment is reported by the anonymous first-person narrator who tells all four stories and is a strong presence throughout as he pieces together the fragments of Ferber’s life and his family’s earlier history. His cryptic statement about serving “under the chimney” can be invested with a double meaning: literally the “chimney” refers to those of Manchester in the North of England where Ferber has been a painter since the 1940s, but metaphorically chimney also evokes the crematoria of the Holocaust death camps, which Ferber escaped, although his parents didn’t. The word “serve” suggests Ferber’s subjection to both the city’s physical gloom and to the haunting shadow of the past, which flickers in a protean mosaic of memories and amnesias.
KeywordsBurning Dust Graphite Europe Assimilation
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