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21.1.06

WG Sebald, Austerlitz

The novel as travelogue of recollection and loss. Of the rootless migrant, adrift in denial yet governed by the dark impulses of deep memory. Of stories, pictures and observational lists told at a narrative degree removed (She said, Austerlitz explained, etc) and consequently perilously close to abstracted distance. A novel without much corporeality or bodily ties; a work of remembrance addressed to the vertiginous void of oblivion, fiendishly devoted to details and the conceptual slip of time and generations lost. And yet powerfully European in a geographic sense, informed wholly by the world lost after WWII. Actually, I'd hesitate to even call it a novel in the formal/dialogic sense of the word, with narrative contours and inexorable movement; it is almost pure travelogue set on the rails and stations of memory. Ahem. There is sufficient mastery in 't (especially on migrant mentality, unbelonging etc), for sure, but also a touch of aloofness in its fortresses and death camps and myriad vaulted objects. Leaves one hungry for the cerebral finesse of the full-blooded writer.

posted by rino breebaart  # 6:16 pm
Comments:
It's that aloofness that always left me a little alienated from Sebald's work - while Mel and others are dazzled by it, I find myself struggling to be fully enagaged and excited by it; not excited like a teenager, but like an adult - all the gears of the mind working, brain and heart fully engaged.

Interesting that you bring up the novel's narrative distance (I remember, she told me) - Bernhard is another European writer who uses similar devices - usually with an even greater ferocity. Though in every other way they are dissimilar writers.
 
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