Use this URL to cite or link to this record in EThOS: http://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.487093
Title: The one-winged angel : history and memory in the literary discourse
Author: Ribo, Ignasi
Awarding Body: University of Sussex
Current Institution: University of Sussex
Date of Award: 2008
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Abstract:
This study explores an ambiguity in W.G. Sebald's literary discourse. The author presents writing as a way to resist the fatality of the historical process and to overcome the limits of historical representation. His narratives are founded on the recognition that it is ethically necessary to speak in the name of the victims, but epistemologically impossible to do so. In order to overcome his scepticism, Sebald developed a discourse of memory largely inspired by Nabokov and Benjamin's ideas of aesthetic redemption. The reader should be transformed through a sort of epiphany, an aesthetic illumination that works in his imagination and engages him in a ritual of mourning. This discourse, however, hides a tendency to glorify the figure of the melancholy writer, portraying him as a cultural hero. The narrator of Sebald's fictions is not just a critical witness of the catastrophic course of the world, but an image of the poet who struggles heroically against fatality and is redeemed, not because he triumphs, but precisely because he fails. It is my contentiOIi that Sebald's concept of the writer as a sublime-tragic figure - what I call the one-winged angel - undermines the political, if not the ethical, significance of his artistic legacy. In this study, I try to make W.G. Sebald's literary discourse explicit. Analysing his published fictions and essays, I describe the implicit trail that extends from his interpretation of the meaning of histOly and the problems of its representation to the emergence of remembrance as a form of cultural heroism, which appears to ~e the keystone of Sebald's writing. In the first chapter, I explore Sebald's notion of a 'natural history of destruction,' in order to elucidate the idea of history that underlies his writings. In t~e second chapter, I consider how Sebald's particular blend of fact and fiction articulates and contends with the practices of historiography. The conclusions of these two chapters are developed in the third chapter, which analyses the central role of remembrance in Sebald's writings, both as a break in the mythifying tendency of the 'natural history of destruction' and as a form of breaching the limits of representation. Finally, in the fourth chapter, I consider the aesthetical implications of Sebald's discourse of remembrance. In particular, I confront his pretension that literature should engage the reader in a rite of mourning, as a way of maintaining hope in the midst of fatality, with the model of the tragic. By probing into the function and the limits of his melancholy narrative voice, I show that the essential concern of Sebald's essays and fictions is the hopeless struggle of the artist. As I argue in my conclusions, Sebald's literary discourse originates from a tragic conception of man and the world, but tends to subvert its premises by heroizing the figure of the melancholy writer. In this sense, it is possible to speak of Sebald's work as an attempt to avoid the fatality of history through a ·form of aesthetic transcendence, which stems from Romantic and Christian sources.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.487093  DOI: Not available
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