Yesterday, I came across the chapter “On the sexual Lives of Creatures and other Matters ” in Eric L. Santner’s Book: “On Creaturely life :Rilke, Benjamin , Sebald”. Thank you, Mr./Dr. Santner; and with all due acknowledgements to you: I hope you find this short piece on Google. I had argued, in my posting, “Sebald and homosexuality: ReWriting Its invisible History” , and in a later, more detailed, and argued, posting http://towardsutopia.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/wg-sebaldcritics-responsenon-response-to-the-large-amount-of-homosocialityclose-male-friendshipsand-of-homosexualbisexual-characters-in-his-work-with-particular-reference-to-the-character-of-h/that that Sebald had a curious interest in narrators who had suppressed areas of their (homo/bi) sexuality: the characters of Selwyn in “The Emmigrants”; and “Dr K”, in “Vertigo”(roughly approximating to Kafka); not to mention the wholly overt relationship between Ambros Adelwarth and Cosmo Solomon (“The Emmigrants”).
Making my point re MOST, with only a very small handful of exceptions, critics’ intransigent ignoring of this massive, repeated and glaringly obvious issue in Sebald’s work, both in relation to the Holocaust(indirectly, of course) and generally, I made my claims and showed my evidence for the large amount of same-sex bonding as well as the overt and semi-overt homosexual/homoerotic relationships. Mr./Dr. Santer goes further(thank you!) and uses the Freudian theory that repression of these homoerotic parts of the essential self in a number of Sebald’s characters are an exemplar of Freud’s theory that repression of these “impulses” leads them not only to be expressed in somatization disorders or in mental unease( a frequent condition of the lost, aimless, wandering sebaldian narrators), but in a sublimation of them to a general view of life as a virtuallly unremitting focus on catastrophe and disaster and decay and desuetude in nature, and, by extension, in man’s attempts at TAMING nature by building, for example, monumental building; which, because of their very otiose monumentalism fall prey to their own vastness-to quote Sebald “they carry within them the seeds of their own decay”. I have given examples of these buildings from my own experience and Sebald’s own writings in earlier posts. So, in other words, these bleak narrators’ psychic neglect, and sometimes decay, is transmuted/sublimated into seeing everything as collapsing in on itself, for instance the Suffolk coastine (in “The Rings of Saturn”); or arond an obsession with large, decaying buildings. This is something I want to explore in more detail when I have time.
Santner therefore has already, by utilising Freud’s sublimation decay and natural(and man-made) catastrophe theory, gone one step further already in his analysis of the repressed strong homoerotic tendencies of quite a lot of Sebald’s characters; and what that repression leads to in these people’s world view, as well as the sebaldian narrator himself. We thus have what I think is the broadest, most cataclysmic view of Sebald’s work; that inner psychic disintegration, denial or repression is wholly mirrored by outer decay, ruin, and horrendous natural and man-made catastrophes; a sort of sebaldian- narrator -very- grim- world view. Santner tentaively reaches out to another conclusion:which is that even homoSOCIAL male bonding may be a cover for homoerotic desire ; and quotes also the example of object identification, where the sebaldian narrator(in “Rings of Saturn”)wanders round Dunwich Heath, lost and aimless, and eventually happens on the house of his friend Michael Hamburger, who he fears actually BECOMING; ie a TOTAL loss of personal identity, a common sebaldian narrator’s theme, a subsuming wholly of the self, in the (repressed to one’s self as identified) loved one. Santner goes no further; but this is the outer limits of Sebald scholarship hitherto on the issue of sexuality(though some work has been done on gender issues, how he uses women usually only as passive transmitters of stories/information).
So thank you Eric Santner, and Helen Finch, who emailed me regarding this subject(which she herself is investigating).It might be a large clue or even a partial answer to Sebald’s grim world vision: the indivisibility of the psychological and the social, and that only by being WHOLE individual psychological beings do we ensure that a world of evil and corruption on a social scale is not engendered.
Interestingly and serendipitously, reading Proust currently, I am struck by the huge commonalities of themes:memory, passage of time, attempting to recapture lost time.And, more pertinent to this posting,the Proustian narrator’s many repressions of his (homo) sexual ego state, mirroring the AUTHORS own secrecy(though most people knew about his sexual orientation); though, MOST intriguingly, by the tortuous sublimations of this secret sexuality into voyeuristically watching lesbian lovers, writing negatively re “inverts”(Baron Charlus) et al; so there is a similar transmutation /sublimation of sexuality going on there which gives rise to the Barthian(also gay)”through the keyhole/peephole” analysis of the Proustian narrator’s way of writing,( of which more anon!when I shall try and make concrete links with sebaldian narrators on this repression/sublimation issue)