The Present Pasts: Image and Text in the Fiction of W.G. Sebald

Karolina Kolenda

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/ths.2017.005

Abstract


In her Regarding the Pain of Others (2003), Susan Sontag suggests that contemporary culture draws on photography to a historically unprecedented degree. This ubiquity of images, she claims, especially images of violence, imposes itself even on those who seek to express the specifc post-Holocaust nature of reality through textual medium. Her major example is the German writer, W.G. Sebald. In his novels, text is accompanied by images whose role, in Sontag’s reading, is reduced to that of an illustration. In my article, I suggest that the position of the photographic image in Sebald’s novels cannot be approached from the perspective proposed by Sontag. Rather, it invites reading in terms of the spectral presence of images whose intrusion into textual reality is as haunting as it is unavoidable. Referring to recent theories of photography, I discuss how in Sebald’s novels the relationship between text and image can be explained as that of parallel structures whose linearity is always already interrupted (haunted) by past events. I refer to recent theoretical perspectives on photography in order to account for the interactions between different media in Sebald’s works and for their visual/textual engagement with the interplay of temporalities that characterizes the working of memory.

Keywords


W.G. Sebald; photography; hauntology; memory

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References


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