What should you know about the German-English writer?

Art Explainer by Zaborona in stories
Danyyl Lekhovitser
March 23, 2023
Becoming a Nobel Prize laureate at 70-80 is good luck for a young person. It is a joke of the Nobel Committee because most of the laureates receive the award already at an advanced age. In this sense, Sebald was an infant: he was prophesied to win the Nobel at 57 (although he died before the commission's decision).
Illustration: Maria Petrova / Zaborona
In the 2000s, Sebald turned from an inconspicuous academic to an indispensable intellectual canon figure. When critic Susan Sontag was asked if great literature was still possible, she named Sebald.
Photo: imago images / Detlev Konnerth
Sebald's search intersected with the themes of the "memory boom" of the 1980s: the Holocaust, collective memory, and historical trauma. It affected, in particular, his personality. The writer simplified his German name, Winfried Georg, as "too Nazi" to the initials W.G. In everyday life, he used the name Max.
In the novels "Austerlitz" and "Emigrants," a block of the 20th century appears, which cannot be bypassed: the Holocaust, the memory of the tragedy, and, most importantly, its oblivion. Because of this, Sebald was often attributed to the thematic authors of "literature after the Holocaust" (although he refused such a status).
Photo: Roba / SiegfriedxPilz UnitedArchives14418
The disaster for Sebald had no geographical dimension: he wrote about the Belgian colonization of the Congo and the destruction of German cities by carpet bombing. He did not have a human plane either: he contemplated the disappearance of herrings and butterflies, old towns, and abandoned houses. He recorded how everything that breathes and does not breathe slips into oblivion.
Sebald's job was to hold the dead by the hand and be their mediator among the living — to prevent them from becoming forgotten and, in this way, to prevent their second, already definitive death. In English, there is the word "caretaker." It is the overseer of the graves, but in the literal translation — the one who worries. It's about him.
Photo: AP Photo / Michel Euler
Sebald is called the author of memorial literature, which was started by Marcel Proust and continued by Volodymyr Nabokov. However, Sebald prefers to study not individual but collective memory, trying on the role of a worker of a post-human museum dedicated to the memory of the Earth when we are gone. Therefore, its exhibits include everything from the history of the concentration camp to a stuffed squirrel.
Photo: epd-bild / MatthiasxSchumann epd-Kunstinstallation Gaia6-kopieren
It is difficult to call the author a reformer. Still, his manner, which can be characterized as a fusion of diary prose, travelogue, and historical essay writing, became the beginning of the direction of documentary fiction — “factasy” between historical fact and literary fiction.
Yes, reading Austerlitz, supported by documentary photographs, about the Prague Jew Jacques Austerlitz, who was sent to Britain as an infant, away from the Nazi occupation, we do not know whether this is entirely fictional or fact-based material.
A page from the book "Austerlitz"
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