AbstractThis article argues that W. G. Sebald’s prose fiction reverses the traditional positioning of the witness as a point of singularity, and that it instead theorizes a relationship to the act of witnessing that, while anchored in personal experience, is imbued at its core with impersonal form. Using The Rings of Saturn as my central example, I demonstrate that it is the tension between the immediacy of first-person experience and the characteristic distance of Sebald’s style that makes possible the narrator’s attunement to the “traces of destruction” that he encounters during his walk, and to which he bears witness both in and through his narrative. Sebald’s witnessing, then, is less a relation between past and present or witness and event than it is a critical orientation that produces the imperative to bear witness as a function of the very permeability of these categories.
SubjectsWitnessing, Impersonality, Experience, Style, Form, Sebald, W. G. (Winfried Georg), 1944-2001
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