To the Funhouse: W. G. Sebald's Playful Intertextuality
Schowengerdt-Kuzmany, Verena Veronica
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<italic>To the Funhouse: W. G. Sebald's Playful Intertextuality</italic> examines intertextual and intermedial techniques of narrative composition in the works of W. G. Sebald (1944-2001) as a creative and ludic methodological device that confronts and disrupts modes of articulating memory and bearing witness in literature. As one of the most acclaimed contemporary German authors, Sebald is widely respected for his careful treatment of 20th century European history, especially the Holocaust and its impact on the German and Austrian literary landscape and psyche. In my dissertation I propose, however, that Sebald's prose texts are more playful than has been recognized and move, instead, beyond the depiction of trauma, suffering, and melancholia. My project suggests that Sebald's practice of intertextuality and intermediality constitutes a unique and playful method of articulating hope through a complex layering of fragments of literary and visual historical testimonies, and that serves as a critique of linear epistemology. In addition to fluctuating between fiction and nonfiction and crossing borders between genres and media, Sebald's texts assemble embellished, falsified, or stolen quotations into a disorienting intertextual funhouse in which the works of forerunners are placed as if in a hall of mirrors, which reflect and distort the original sources from literature, biography, film, journalism, historiography, painting, and photography. By examining his allusions to playful writers, or "precursors," such as Vladimir Nabokov and John Barth I suggest that he is a carnivalesque trickster. Sebald's borrowings from a variety of cultural productions are a response to the crisis of representation in literature since WW II and a comment on and enactment of a complexly layered postmodern historiographical process, a kind of performative literary architecture that is hyperaware of its forerunners and at the same time questions the concept of precursors itself. My dissertation argues that Sebald's texts represent a turning point in the process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (overcoming of the past) in contemporary German writing, and propose writing as a form of therapy that reconstructs the modern individual as a mosaic of fragments. <bold>Chapter 1:</bold> "Die Buchstabenbrücke aus dem Unglück in den Trost:" Border Crossings in <italic>Schwindel. Gefühle.</italic> The study begins with an analysis of Sebald's first prose text, <italic>Schwindel. Gefühle.</italic>, and with a comparison between it and two preceding collections of Sebald's critical essays, <italic>Unheimliche Heimat</italic> and <italic>Die Beschreibung des Unglücks</italic>. I argue that Sebald's development as a creative writer is rooted in his work as a literary critic. <italic>Schwindel. Gefühle.</italic> plots an escapist, if imaginary, Italy against the negative realm of Germany/Austria, which is pictured as the uncanny homeland Sebald had analyzed in <italic>Unheimliche Heimat</italic>, and associated with unhappiness. However, following a statement in the foreword to <italic>Die Beschreibung des Unglücks</italic>, Sebald uses melancholy as a form of resistance and transfigures his narrator's death wish into a mental and textual exercise. This chapter furthermore examines pretexts by Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank, Albrecht Schaeffer, Franz Kafka, Adalbert Stifter, and Ingeborg Bachmann. My analyses show that <italic>Schwindel. Gefühle.</italic> is a text defined by polarities and the boundaries between them and juxtaposes a religious worldview to a rational, modern mindset. The sense of loss of an uncanny patria is mitigated in the end by a reliance on art, specifically texts, as redemptive and creates a bridge of words to a fictive Bohemia that restores the sense of a homeland in the imagination. <bold>Chapter 2:</bold> The Moth, the Dachshund, the Squirrel, and its Tricks: Reflections of Nabokov in <italic>Austerlitz</italic> In my second chapter, I expand on the reaffirmation of life through art discernible in <italic>Schwindel. Gefühle.</italic> by turning to an analysis of the intriguing and intricate interweaving of Vladimir Nabokov's texts into <italic>Austerlitz</italic>. I describe the playful intertextual connections between <italic>Austerlitz</italic> and works by Nabokov (<italic>Speak, Memory</italic>, <italic>Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle</italic>, <italic>Pale Fire</italic>, and <italic>Pnin</italic>). In particular, I show that Sebald borrows animals from Nabokov's texts as metaphors for memory. In <italic>Austerlitz</italic> and in Nabokov's texts, the transcendence of time and space are paramount themes. Sebald incorporates magical elements and glossy memories from his forerunner, but also suffuses Nabokov's manner of remembering with a dimension of sadness, instantiating Borges's comment that "every writer creates his own precursor" and going beyond it by inviting a reassessment of the source text. In <italic>Austerlitz</italic>, through allusions to intertexts by Nabokov and the emulation of Nabokov's methodology, hope is articulated by the transformation of life into art. Consequently, I make the case that the end of Austerlitz leaves room for hope and closure. By copying Nabokov's style and borrowing his characters, Sebald reveals himself as a postmodern trickster. <bold>Chapter 3:</bold> Landscape with the Fall of Icarus: W. G. Sebald's Suffolk The project next turns to Sebald's third work of creative prose fiction, <italic>Die Ringe des Saturn</italic>. Here I investigate painting and trace Sebald's movement from intertextuality to intermediality, especially to a painterly perspective. I also analyze the presence of the Icarus myth, which symbolizes, on the one hand, an escape from the labyrinth of past disasters, and, on the other hand, the moral fall of humankind caused by ambitions and technological advancements. With its focus on painting and conceptualization of eco-catastrophes, <italic>Die Ringe des Saturn</italic> reconnects to Sebald's first creative text, the prose poem <italic>Nach der Natur</italic>, which I document as an intertext throughout. Sebald's most melancholy text vacillates between a nostalgic 19th-century and a bitter 20th-century point of view, which emerges as one of several tensions that dominate this travelogue. Other tensions analyzed are the constant shifts of perspective and the narrator's ambiguous stance towards colonialism and imperialism. Sebald filters "Africa" and "China" through exclusively European texts, and constructs them as inaccessible, imaginary spaces without a present, which calls into question the text's ostensible concern with the legacy of colonial and imperial ventures. I demonstrate that <italic>Die Ringe des Saturn</italic>, rather than resolving these vacillations, turns away from the entrapments of texts and moves towards painting as a less fraught artistic representation of history. <bold>Chapter 4:</bold> Falsification as Disruptive Method in <italic>Austerlitz</italic> and <italic>Die Ausgewanderten</italic> Die <italic>Die Ausgewanderten</italic> and <italic>Austerlitz</italic> are closely related, and Jacques Austerlitz shares attributes with the four emigrants from <italic>Die Ausgewanderten</italic>, therefore my dissertation ends with a chapter that analyzes both of these texts. The presence of falsified diaries in "Max Aurach" and "Ambros Adelwarth" anticipates the central theme and narrative strategy of forgery in <italic>Austerlitz</italic>, which contains appropriated Holocaust memoirs (by Saul Friedländer and Susi Bechhöfer). The metaphor of a funhouse, which Sebald playfully suggests in "Ambros Adelwarth" through intertextual similarity of the story to John Barth's paradigmatic postmodern text "Lost in the Funhouse," develops into Sebald's complex model of a hall of mirrors in <italic>Austerlitz</italic>. Like Max Aurach, Jacques Austerlitz is a composite character whose experiences derive from genuine traumatic memories of survivors, an act of borrowing at odds with playful postmodern techniques of composition. My project analyzes whether Sebald's use of Holocaust memoirs is ethical and arrives at the conclusion that he deliberately engages with the themes of appropriation and falsification by playfully transfiguring them into a formal, semantic, and literary metaphor. <italic>Austerlitz</italic> and "Ambros Adelwarth" comment on inadequate and derivative processes of remembering and demonstrate that historiography is an undertaking that necessarily contains lacunae and errors. In this chapter I also analyze intertexts by Walter Benjamin and Vladimir Nabokov, among others, and films by Orson Welles and Fritz Lang, and suggest that a carnivalesque reading of <italic>Austerlitz</italic> and <italic>Die Ausgewanderten</italic> is best suited for taking account of the provocative disruptions these texts create.