SEBALD’S ATTEMPT AT RESTITUTION; AND LIVING IN THE “UNDERGROUND ZONE”. COMMENTS ON AN OBSCURE SEBALD ESSAY AND MORE ON SANTNER:”ON CREATURELY LIFE”(2006).BY STEVEN BENSON

In 2001, the year of his death, Sebald gave a speech(on the occasion of the opening of the Stuttgart “House of Literature”); co-incidentally (or not-this is Sebald!) I read this concurrently with my ongoing perusal of Santner:”On Creaturely Life”. Santner really gets it about such an important swathe of Sebald’s writing/ concerns.

In the speech by Sebald himself, “An Attempt at Restitution:A Memory of a German City”(published as an essay, in the “New Yorker”, 20/12/04, in their archive, on the net), he says a few things which further elucidate my previous post, and mine and Santner’s main thesishttps://decayetude.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/thanks-to-eric-l-santneron-the-sebaldian-narators-repressed-homoeroticism-homosexual-panic-and-natural-catastrophecatastrophization/;

the thesis that Sebald, his narrators and characters’ worldview is an OUTER mirror of INNER psychic disturbance, repression and trauma, including suppression or the inability to fully express repressed homosexuality or bisexuality.

How much Sebald himself(because Santner argues, in Lacanian fashion,the process is sometimes largely or partly subconscious)is aware of this process is moot. But it is THERE,consciously, semi-consciously and/or subconsciously , in this startling speech.

Firstly, we have a reference to “a dark fatherland”(literally the land of his National Socialist father in Sebald’s case), in reference to an, at first, seemingly innocuous childhood card-game showing pictures of German cities(in 1947).

Sebald, then,in a typically enriched, rhizomatic and contrapuntal paragraph,refers to a postcard from a young girl from Stuttgart to a woman in Saltburn-by-the-Sea (Co. Durham){eerily again, my latest post, before this, on this very blog,a place I visited some 2/3 months sincehttps://decayetude.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/saltburn-2013an-adventure-in-inter-textuality-by-steven-benson/}. In her letter the girl refers to seeing(in 1939)”a festival of the Hitler Youth”. Concomitantly, the primary memory Sebald, aged 56,retains from his childhood card of Stuttgart is the Central station(a station again!), a building of angular brutalist{sic} architecture”(op. cit).

He then mentions, significantly,that, finally visiting Stuttgart, at the age of 21,there was “something not quite right about it”; even in 2001, he does not spare his “compatriots”(a word Sebald used with eerie, laden overtones, in an interview). They are not to be saved from awareness of the dark past of Germany and its willingness/psychological need to forget and “move on” after the Hitler regime atrocities.

……………………………………………..

Santner spends some of his last chapter writing about Freud’s case-study of Daniel Paul Schreber, the judge,who became paranoid after suppressing his homo-erotic desires.Sebald himself, in the speech, says(talking re a visit to Tripp, the artist, who Sebald subsequently wrote an essay about; see my analysis herehttp://towardsutopia.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/a-snatch-of-half-vanished-melody-the-closest-glimpse-we-have-into-sebalds-soul-and-his-pre-occupations-ruminations-on-a-place-in-the-countrytrans-caitling-2013-part-1tripp-and-introd/), in what is an EXTREMELY SIGNIFCANT passage in his oevre,:”…Tripp gave me a present of one of his engravings, showing the mentally ill judge…Schreber…with a spider in his skull…..-what can there be more terrible than the ideas always scurrying round our minds?{sic}-and much of what I have written{so Sebald’s actual writing structure and process, as Santner has again pointed out, is included}since derives from this engraving,even {sic} in my method of procedure: in adhering to an exact historical perspective, in patiently engraving and linking together apparently disparate things in the manner of a still life”(speech, ibid). Santner has devoted a whole book to Schreber’s diaries,”My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul Screber’s History of Modernity”,( new edition 1998); but he hones in on the Schreber and Sebald connexion in “On Creaturely Life”(pp.174ff) by pointing out two things:

1.Sebald and his characters/narrators’ catastrophic world view is very close to Schreber’s paranoiac and similar view of the world, caused primarily, by homosexual panic and suppressed homoeroticism. Thus, Santner writes:”Against this background it is tempting to bring Freud’s claims{re Schreber}to bear on the “case” of Sebald; or, rather, on that of his narrators. So, does not this combination, in Sebald’s work, of visions of world destruction and ruin(by war, by erosion, by entropy, by natural destruction), a certain pre-occupation with homoerotic desire{Casement, Ambros and Cosmo, Henry Selwyn and Naegeli, Grunewald} and with episodes of paranoia{“Dr. K” and the sebaldian narrator in “The Emmigrants”}fit rather neatly into the matrix of Freud’s account{of Schreber}?”(Santner, ibid, p.178)

2.Add to this what Sebald himself experienced: his father was a Werhmacht(First World War ) Officer and fought for the National Socialist army in World War 2; the death of his beloved grandfather, Josef Egelhofer; his own exile from his corrupted homeland. That could well adumbrate and lead to an endpoint such as Santner(elaborating on Freud’s account of Schreber) and , for example, Zizek(in “Living in the end Times”, 2010), in his chapter(“depression”) on the post traumatic self(a kind of psychological death)elucidate.

Sebald weaves in, amongst his narratives of destroyed or damaged selves, atrocity after atrocity, disaster after disaster: the Belgian Congo, Theriesenstadt,homosexual and Jewish oppression and elimination and marginalisation:Cosmo, Ambros and Selwyn die, psychologically, before our eyes, amongst worldwide disasters (wars) and become shells of themselves, in much the same way as Sebald himself forever looks back at some pre-Beidermeier era, lost, communitarian, neighbourly past, contrasted with the perils and destructiveness of the capitalist market economy(“Place in the Country ” essays)at the same time presenting us with a beautiful, frail written (and photographic) picture of his love for his grandfather(the essay on Hebel in “A Place in the Country”).So,the micro and macro cosmic inner/external catastrophe symbiosis works at all levels, including stylistically,in the interweaving of these deracinated narratives and sub-narratives and their similarly displaced author.

Returning to the speech,Sebald expounds yet more on the “invisible connections that determine our lives and how the threads run”(ibid); and “why can I not get such episodes out of my mind?”More disturbingly still, Sebald(here speaking directly in his OWN voice)describes himself as still hallucinating(in 2001) that “the fires are still blazing above us and that since the terrors of the last war years, even though we have rebuilt our surroundings so wonderfully{one cannot but see irony in that adverb}well, we have been living in a kind of underground zone”. Refugees are then mentioned, and the “zones of destruction”, Sebald listing Afghanistan,Sudan, Eritrea and Kosovo. Then he charts the “epoch of violence” which grew following the first Napoleonic Revolution and shaped itself gradually into the National Socialist era and Hitler(a trajectory I have written about in my essays on “A Place in the Country”,a collection where it is outlined in much more historical detail).

A lost love, talking of Holderlin, (the latter could not sustain a relationship because of class differences), is talked about.

The speech nears its close as Sebald has a rare, DIRECT mention of people being “deported to forced labour camps and extermination camps{sic}…where many were worked to death in the stone quarries”. So, the atrocities of man; and the internal uprooted, undead, malaise-ridden self. Then, and not far from Adorno on poetry after the Holocaust,Sebald addresses the “House of literature”, yet again does not spare them; and in a pithy attempt at answering the question of what is literature good for(after the Holocaust and the other atrocities of modernity), he says:”There are many forms of writing; only in literature, however, can there be an attempt{sic} at restitution over and above the mere recital of {historical] facts and over and above scholarship{hence one reason for Sebald’s belleslettristik, essayistic, rhizomatic, contrapuntal style}”. So, he sees writing as an attempt- and attempt it can only be-at writing back into history the forsaken, the exterminated, the marginalised and the invisibilised; reparative, to a degree, if you like.This is the most(tentatively) optimistic statement I have seen in Sebald that writing is not (just) a disease, or a compulsion caused by the realisation that there is no true neighbourliness, in Santner’s sense, in the world he and his narrators and characters inhabit.

…………………………………………….

So, Max:in one short speech, be it consciously, semi-consciously or Subconsciously, you have set forth your vision of nature and , especially, mankind’s progress towards apocalyptic, Zizekian catastrophe…and your OWN, and your array of narrators and characters’, INNER dereliction.Could we but learn from it….

 

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Published by: decayetude

ENTHUSIASMS: CLASSICAL MUSIC, ESPECIALLY OBSCURE ROMANTIC COMPOSERS; BACH/HANDEL LITERATURE, ESPECIALLY THOUGHTFUL, WELL-WRITTEN(STYLISTICALLY)NOVELS W G SEBALD WALTER BENJAMIN THEODOR ADORNO(JUST BEGINNING!) AESTHETIC PHILOSOPHY GAY MEN'S WRITING;QUEER THEORY STIMULATING DISCUSSIONS(EMOTIONALLY AND INTELLECTUALLY) GOOD RICH THICK ESPRESSO MICHAEL PONTI SPRITUALITY/LIFE'S "AURA"(BENJAMIN), WHATEVER TRANSCENDENTAL THING YOU WANT TO CALL THIS MEMORY-the elusiveness thereof. LOST TIME AND AN ATTEMPT AT ITS REDEMPTION(NON THEISTICALLY/RELIGIOUSLY)

Categories homosexuality, homosociality, psychogeography, Sebald, spectral geography, uncanny, UncategorizedLeave a comment

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