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Image and Narrative - Article

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Issue22.Autofictionand/inImageAutofictionvisuelleII

ImageandText,FactandFiction:NarratingW.G.
Sebald'sTheEmigrantsintheFirstPerson
Author:ToddHeidt
Published:May2008
Abstract(E):Thisarticlefocusesontheambiguousrelationshipbetweenreality
andfictioncraftedbyW.G.Sebaldinhiscollectionofshortstories,The
Emigrants.Whilescholarshavetraditionallyfocusedontheuseofphotographyin
theworkofSebald,thisarticleseekstobroadentheattentiongarneredbyhis
oeuvretoincludetheautofictitiousInarratorheemploys.Bothserveas
referents,whichextendbeyondthefictionandintoreality,yetsimultaneously
andintentionallyblurthelinestheyseemtodrawbetweenfactandfiction.As
such,thetextandimagescontinuallydestabilizeeachother.Iconcludeby
readingSebaldwithHomiBhabha,arguingthathispostcolonialtheoriesoftime
lagandthedisplacementofenunciatorypowercanbeappliedtothepost
HolocaustwritingsofSebald.
Abstract(F):Cetarticleproposeuneanalysedtailledurapportambiguentre
ralitetfictiondanslesnouvellesdeW.G.SebaldruniessousletitreThe
Emigrants.TandisquelesspcialistesdeluvredeSebaldsesontsurtout
intressslusagedelaphotographiedanssesouvrages,leprsentarticle
cherchelargirlechampdinvestigationouvertparluvredeSebald,
notammentensoulignantlenarrateurcaractreautofictionnelutilispar
lauteur.Lesdeuxprocduresserventderfrents,quitransgressentles
frontiresentrefictionetralitet,defaonintentionnelle,rendentflouesles
lignesdedmarcationentrelesfaitsetlafiction.Ainsi,texteetimagese
dstabilisentlunlautresansrelche.Danslaconclusiondelarticle,jepropose
derelireSebaldtraverslesidesdeHomiBhabha,enavanantlhypothseque
lesthoriespostcolonialesdeceluici,concernantlesnotiondetemporalitetde
dplacementdupouvoirdnonciation,peuventgalementtreappliquesaux
critsdaprsAuschwitzdeSebald.
keywords:W.G.Sebald,HomiBhabha,photography,Inarrator,postHolocaust
writing
Tocitethisarticle:
Heidt,T.,ImageandText,FactandFiction:NarratingW.G.Sebald'sTheEmigrantsintheFirstPerson.
Image[&]Narrative[ejournal],22(2008).
Available:http://www.imageandnarrative.be/autofiction2/heidt.htm

W.G.Sebaldclaimeduntiltheendofhislifethatthephotographsanddocuments
heusedwereinlargepart"authentic"thatistosaythatthepeoplehewrites
aboutexisted,andthatthevastmajorityofhisphotographsare"whatyouwould
describeasauthentic"and"areadirecttestimonyofthefactthatthesepeopledid
existinthatparticularshapeandform."(Wood:25)Thissenseof"authenticity"to
whichSebaldlaysclaiminvolvesofcoursethemannerofhisdiscourseaswell.
Theimplicitassumptioninhisstatementisnotonlythatthesephotographsare
veraciousartifacts,butalsothe"testimony"onecouldeasilyalsosay"narrative"
isendowedwithameasureoftruthvalue.Interestingly,inattestingtotheir
statusas"authentic",Sebaldalreadymitigatesthetruthvalueofthephotographs,
relativizingtheclaimwithacareful"whatyouwoulddescribeas."Inlayingclaim

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totheobjectivepowerofcertificationandproofwhichphotographyseems
inherentlytolendhisnarratives,Sebaldleavesthedooropentofiction,invention
andultimatelyuncertainty.Muchinasimilarfashion,though,Sebaldappealsto
thegenreofautobiography.TheSebaldianInarrator"suture[s]himselfintothe
storiesofothersandconstruct[s]asenseofnarrativeandbiographical
continuity"(Long:137)andyetSebaldquaauthoropenlydiscussedhisinvention
andfictionalizationofstorieshecouldn'trecover(orrecollecthimself)fromthe
materialobjectshecollected,andsometimesinvented.
Whiletheimagesmay,atleastinmostcases,havebeentrulyofthepersons
namedinSebald'sprose,thisdoesnotmeanthattheywerereproducedwithout
havingfirstbeenalteredaccordingtoSebald'sintentionaluse(s).Sebaldwas"an
exactingcustomerattheUniversityofEastAngliacopyshop,discussingwhat
mightbedonewithhisimages,adjustingthesizeandcontrast."(Homberger:20)
Suchanalterationofaphotographcouldundermostcircumstances(suchasuse
inworksclaimingameasureofhistoricalaccuracy)renderthepiecea
falsification.Indeed,"ifyouwanttoattacktheveracityofaphotographyoucan
suggestthatthestandardprocedurewasnotactuallyfollowed"(Mitchell:30)
SuchanapproachwouldcertainlydiscountSebald'sclaimtotruth.Heopenly
spokeofhisworkasasortofhistoricalproject,atonceliteraryandinventive,for
healsoopenlyadmittedfillinginthegapsofthesestorieswithhisowncreation,
passingfreelyfromonetotheother.Setintooralongsideatextualaccountofthe
narrative,onewonderswhichisthefalsification:either,noneorboth.Which
questionistheproperonetopose:Towhatextentdoesthetextchallengethe
veracityofthephotograph?Ortowhatextentdothephotographschallengethe
veracityofthetext?
ThispaperwillfocusonthephotographsincludedinW.G.Sebald'scollectionof
four"longstories"asheputsit,TheEmigrants(theEnglishtranslationomittedthe
subtitle"FourLongStories"andchangedthenameoftheprotagonistofthelast
epynomousstoryto"MaxAurach"ratherthan"MaxFerber"),astheystraddlethe
boundarybetweenmedia,historyandfictionandasobjectscollectedandinserted
intothetextbyanautofictionalInarrator.PrototypicallySebaldianinstyleand
structure,eachofthesestoriescontainsanarratorwhoencountersaJewish
migraffectedbytheHolocaustandthenproceedstoreconstructthelostand
shatteredremnantsofthisindividualandtheirfamilyand/orfriends.Collapsing
andblendingtheexperienceofthereaderandthenarrator,aswellasthe
narratorandhischaracters,Sebaldchartsthedevelopmentsintheseintimate,
familyhistoriesasaseriesofanecdotes,artifactsandphotographsfromthelives
oftheindividualsaffectedbyaHolocausttheyescapedphysically,butwhose
"traumaispreciselytheirabsencefromtheexperiencesofdeportation,detention,
andmurderthatbefelltheirfamilyandfriends."(GregoryGuider:439)Inwriting
thesestories,Sebald'smultimedialapproachrenderstheshatteredlivesofthese
historicalindividualscumcharactersinstarkreliefwhileelidingadirect
confrontationwiththehorrorsoftheHolocaustitself.

Two(Three?)KindsofPhotographs

WilliamJ.Mitchell'sdiscussionofthetruthvalueofimagesinthepost
photographiceraaddressestheconcernsofauthenticityandaccuracydirectly."A
reallyboldliar(particularlyonewhocanexploitsomemantleofauthority)can
simplyappropriatelegitimatepicturestofalsenarrativesbyprovidingthemwith
fakeprovenancesmuchasconfidencetrickstersequipthemselveswithfake
biographies."(Mitchell:49)Indeed,ononelevel,thisispreciselywhatSebald

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does.Liftingimagesfromunknownsources,researchedbutnotinamannerwhich
onenormallyconsiderstobehistoricallyaccurate,thephotographstellaparallel
storyalongsidethetext(seeHarris:379).Theymatchafacewithanameanda
bodywiththepsychologicaltraumaofthenarrative.However,heplayswiththis
statusashistoryand/orfiction,archaeologyand/orconstitutionofthesestoriesin
thephototextitself.
Theprocessionofphotographsinthebookcanbasicallybetreatedastwoparallel
andinterrelatedgroups.Suchdivisionshaveprovidedfruitfulreadingsbefore,but
IdonotwishtocontinueJ.J.Long'sdistinctionbetweentextualorparatextual
here(i.e.thosephotographswhichreceivedirectmentioninthetextversusthose
whichaddressareaderoutsidethetext,see"History,Narrative,Photography":
118120)Thefirstgroupconsistsofthephotographstakenbythe
narrators/Sebaldduringtheprocessofcraftingandfleshingoutthesestories.One
isthenencounteredwithcontemporaryphotographsofcemeteries(3,222225),
keys(221)andevenoneofthenarrators(89),collectedasapartoftheprocess
ofputtingtogetherthepiecesofthesestoriesatthemomentoftextual
production.Thisgroupchartstheproductionofthetextprovidingasetof
"certificate[s]ofpresence"andfunctioningasasortof"authentication"(Barthes:
87)oftheirresearchpracticesasthenarrativeselfconsciouslyunfolds.Itisas
thoughSebald'snarrators,inattemptingtojustifythe(hi)storiestheyarewriting,
documenttheprocessofwritingitinimages,lettingthephotographstellaparallel
storyofreconstructioninwhichthe"exclusionofhumanbias"(Mitchell:28)
normallyascribedtotheobjectivityofphotographylendsitselftoboththeobject
ofstudyandthemannerinwhichitiscarriedout.
Theothergroupofphotographsareolderandhavebeencollectedbyorgivento
thenarrators.Ishyfromcallingthesephotographs"historical"photographs
becauseoftheinterpretivelibertiestowhichSebaldadmitshowever,the
temporalgapbetweenthesephotographsandthecontemporaryphotographsis
certainlyoneofthemostimportantconsiderationsininvestigatingthenatureof
Sebald'suseofimages.Forlackofabetterterm,Iwouldliketocallthesefound
photographs,whichoftenfunctionlikeafamilyphotoalbum,focusingprimarilyon
peopleasopposedtoplacesandthings.Theseareoftenofgroups:schoolgroups
(39,47,75),families(71,74,101,217)andfriends(48,49,81,92)pictured
togetherandframedasacommunity.WithSebaldhowever,binarydivisionsyield
verylittleafewphotographsstraddlebothofthecategories.Theimagesof
AmbrosAdelwarth'sagenda(Sebald:132,135)areadmittedlyafalsification.
(Angier:13)Aphotographwhichiscontemporaneoustothetextualproductionis
beingpassedoffasafoundphotograph.Sebaldmixescreationwithcollection
liberallytoachievehisworks,playingtheroleofobserverandobservedinhis
historicalmodeofwriting.Matchingthetext,thesetwo(orthree)groupsofphotos
helptoestablishandreinforcetheebbandflowoftimeinthetext,sweepingfrom
pasttopresentandacrossmultiplenarrators,textualandvisualperspectivesand
timeframescoveringafullcentury.
Indoingso,onefindsoneselfreturningagaintoMitchell'squoteabove,realizing
thatSebaldisabletodothisbecauseofacertain"mantleofauthority."Itismy
contentionthatSebald'smantleofauthorityishisautofictionalInarrator.
Doublingtherealityeffectofhisprosebyusingphotographyandwritinginthe
modeofamemoir,Sebald'simagetextsreinforceandthendestabilizethiseffect
byexposingitsowninconsistenciesandtherebycausingthereadertoquestion
wheretheboundariesliebetweenhistoricalfactandSebald'sinvention.

BlendingFactandFictionintheFirstPerson

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ThedoubledrealityeffectofSebald'sproseissimultaneouslyaproblematicand
theoreticallyexcitingobfuscationofboundariesbetweenhistoryandinvention.
Theimagetextsultimatelyserveasasortofspringboardinthecatechretical
spacesbetweentheostensibleveracityofthephotographandthegenreof
memoirononehandandtheacceptedandacceptablefictionofproseliterature
ontheother.Inmanyrespects,Sebald'stextsareareificationoftheLacanian
"answerofthereal".AsSlavojZizekdescribesit,"[t]heroleoftheLacanianreal
isradicallyambiguous:true,iteruptsintheformofatraumaticreturn,
derailingthebalanceofourdailylives,butitalsoservesasasupportofthisvery
balance."(29)Thus,"[t]his'answerofthereal'isnecessaryforintersubjective
communicationtotakeplace.Thereisnosymboliccommunicationwithoutsome
'pieceofthereal'toserveasakindofpawnguaranteeingitsconsistency."(30)
Indeed,thephotographsandobjectsSebaldcollectsanddisplaysserveasthis
sortofpawn,extendingbeyondtheacceptedboundariesofafictionaltextand
penetratingreality.Sebaldunderscoreshisresearchand"authentic"objectsof
studyevenchartingandrecordinghisresearchmethods,aswillbediscussed
belowyetfreelyinventswhererealityfailstoprovidethedetailsorcontinuethe
threadofthestory.Theserealpeople,verifiedinphotographsandschoolhouse
diagrams,agendasandcallingcardsarecastinsurreal,almostmagicalnarrative
trajectoriesconfoundedbySebald'swebofchancemeetings,serendipitous
accidentsandsharedanniversaries.(onSebald's"electiveaffinities",see
Friedrichsmeyer's"Sebald'sElectiveandOtherAffinities"in:Denhamand
McCulloh7790)SuchjuxtapositionslieattheheartofSebald'sautofiction,ashe
exploitsthe"presumptionoftruthvalue[which]isexperientiallyessentialitis
whatmakesautobiographymattertoautobiographersandtheirreaders."(Eakin:
30)
Sendingthereaderbackandforthbetweentruthandfictionadistinctionwhich,
whenviolated,canunleashgravescandalsandraiseseriousethicalquestions(as
inthecasesofthefalsifiedHolocaustmemoirofBinjaminWilkomirskior,more
recently,thehyperbolizedaccountofaddictionandrecoverybyJamesFrey)
textandphotographcalleachotherintoquestion,whilealsoextendingthisdoubt
intotheotherformsofhistoricalwritingandevidencewhichweencounterinour
dailylives:history,memoirandautobiography.Situatingitselfinallandno
genres,Sebald'sblendof"authentic"photographsandfirstpersonnarrationhas
beenthesubjectofmanyastudy,andyethisblatantallusionstohisown
autobiographypresentperhapsmostpowerfullyinTheEmigrantsduetoitsfour
foldrepetition,arisingineachstoryhasgonelargelywithoutdiscussion.(The
connectionstoSebald'sbiographyarewellcharted:SeeBigsby3637,56,59,
DenhamandMcCulloh:22,McCulloh:xxiiixxivand32)
HisearlierworksNachderNatur(AfterNature)andSchwindel.Gefhle(Vertigo)
hadbeenwellreceivedcritically.AfterNatureisalong,prosepoemwhich
achievedmuchofthenarratologicalacrobaticswithregardtotimeandhistory
whichwouldbecomeahallmarkofSebald'sstyle.ThenovelVertigotoowouldbe
astageinSebald'sdevelopmentwhichonecannotoverlook.Hissegueintoprose
hasscenesofdisorientationanderuptionsofpasteventstriggeredbypresent
visionswhichwouldalsobeindicativeofhislaterwork.But,asPoltronierinotedin
hisinterviewwithW.G.SebaldfollowingthepublicationofTheEmigrants,this
workhadbecomelesspersonalthanhispreviousworks.(138)ThoughSebald
disagreeswithhisinterviewerslightly,statingthatthenarratoralwaysshines
throughthetext,thoughitshouldbetheauthor'sgoaltocraftthenarrator's
opinionasdiscretelyaspossible(139),Poltronieri'sobservationshedslightonan
importantshiftinSebald'soeuvre.TheEmigrantsisarguablythefirstseriesof
storiesinwhichSebaldcombinesphotographyandanInarratorwhobecomesso

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distinctlydisplacedfromthecenterofthenarrativebytheframedstoriesof
others.Sebald'ssubsequentworks,includingthemasterfulAusterlitz,areinmany
respectsmoredirectlytheaestheticoffspringofTheEmigrantsthanSebald's
previousworks.(AlthoughMorganprefersachronologicaldivisionofSebald's
worksintodecades(leavingAusterlitzinacategoryofitsown)othershave
corroboratedmyviewofalineagebetweenTheEmigrantsandAusterlitz.See
particularlyBarzilai:210)Thisisperhapsthebasisofthepreferentialtreatment
TheEmigrantsenjoysinthesecondaryliterature,forfarmorehasbeenpublished
onthiscollectionthanonanyotherindividualworkbySebald.Austerlitzisaless
pureexperimentwiththisstyleinsomeways.Itslengthalonestandsasperhaps
thelargestobstacle,andSebaldhimselfsaidthatthisstorywasmorea"collation"
consistingoftwoandahalfrealstories.(Bigsby:70)Onthecontrary,thefocused
formatofTheEmigrantsallowsjustsuchanautobiographicalslant.
Oneofthemoststrikingfeaturesofhisstyleis,withoutquestion,hisnarrator.As
mentionedabove,anInarratoralwaysplaysaroleinthisprocessofdiscovery
andreacquisitionofmemoryandindeed,asortofreclaimingofbiographyfor
thosepersonsencounteredbythisnarrator.Thisisnearlyalwaysmentionedin
scholarshiponSebald,thoughadeeperanalysisisdifficulttofind.EricSantner's
recentstudyofWalterBenjamin,RainerMariaRilkeandW.G.Sebaldcarefully
mentionsa"centralnarratorfigure,'W.G.Sebald'"(49),conspicuouslyin
quotationmarks.Similarly,FriedrichsmeyerinterjectsquicklythatSebald'sstories
aretoldthrough"narratorswhomweallknowtobearanoftenuncanny
resemblancetotheircreator."(80)Sebald'sformerfriendandcolleague,
ChristopherBigsby,wovetogetherSebald'sbiographywithaninterpretationofhis
work.However,theclosesthecomestoteasingaparttheroleofautofiction
directlyinSebald'sworksisinthefollowingstatement:"Theghost[ofthepast]is
withinandhencethekeytoconfrontingitlies,asitwouldforSebald,inpart
throughautobiography,inpartthroughfiction,inpartthroughdocumentedtruth,
inpartthroughareanimatedhistorycontainedwithinanarrativeofthepresent."
(89)ThatSebald'snarratorsareautofictionalavatarsofhimselfseemstohave
becomeaforegoneconclusioninSebaldstudies.(SeealsoFurst:220,Morgan:
8788andMcCulloh:1011)
TheshorterformatoftheshortstoriescontainedwithinTheEmigrantslendstothe
volumeanautofictionalflexibilitywhichSebald'sotherworksperhapsdon'tenjoy.
Eventhemuchlongerpiece,MaxFerber/Aurach,canbeboileddowntoafew
briefepisodesandautobiographicaldetailsoftimeandplace.Themeetingsare
few,thenarrator'sconnectionstoManchesterandthepainterFrankAuerbachcan
beestablishedeasily.(Santner:100)Intheotherstoriescontainedinthisvolume,
similarsuchconnectionscanbedrawndirectlytoSebald'slifeandexperiencesas
mentionedabove.IfSebald'sphotographyhangsbetweentherealmsofhistorical
accuracyandhistoricallyinspiredfictionalnarratives,theundeniableconnections
betweenSebaldandhisInarrator(s)inthesestoriesshouldalsobeinvestigated.
Thetacitassumptionthatthenarratorandauthorarethesameleadstoyet
anotherqualifyingcharacteristicofautobiography,despite"smallmismatches"
whichseem"accidentalorbesidethepoint"andwhichareoftenadeliberate
methodof"keepingthereaderoffbalanceintermsofthebook'sgenre"ashas
beenthecaseinotherautofictitiousmemoirs(Adams:62).Whetherornotoneor
moreInarratorsarepresent,orifinfactalldetailsrelatingtothisInarrator
parallelSebald'sownlife,becomesirrelevant.Itisinsteadtheaestheticand
ethicaldimensionoftheautofictitiouseffectSebaldcraftsinhisworkswhichmust
betakenintoconsideration.Theveryuncertaintyisthepointofhisproseandhe
activelychallengesthereader.Sebald'sgameof"Isthissoorisn'titso?"ismost
oftendiscussedinrelationtohisphotography.Hehimselfplainlystatesthathe
employsphotographyforarealityeffect,callingphotography"wonderfullyuseful"

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inthisregard.(SebaldandTurner:27)Sebaldnotonlywantsthereadertoask
thesequestionsofwhererealityleavesoffandfictionbegins,hewantsusto
assumethatheisatleastinpart,butcertainlynotintototellingthetruthinhis
ownInarrative.
Hedoesthisinmyriadothermannersaswell.Notonlyhisphotography,buthis
detaileddescriptionsofrealphysicalspaceshavealsoprovenimportanttohis
prose(Furst:220).Evenhisphotographsofticketsandkeys,forexample,serve
adocumentarydrivetocataloguetheveracityofthenarrativeconstruction
(Sebald2002a:221,226).Eachoftheseistetheredtoanirrepressible"I"of
narrativeauthority,whichbecomesagrammaticalaffidavitofauthenticity.J.J.
LonghasnotedthatSebald'snarratorsimbricatethemselvesinthestoriesthey
aretellingbyusingthemetaphorofsuturing.(137)Thehistoricalreference
points,photosandautobiographicalelementscontributefurthertothistechnique.
Foritisnotjustthenarratorbutanhistoricalsubject,W.G.Sebald,whoseemsto
besuturinghimselfintothesestories.Furthermore,thisisbridgedwiththereader
bymeansoftheubiquitous"I"ofhumanexperience.Sebald'sautofictionbrings
questionsofautobiographytohistreatmentofthetumultuoustwentiethcentury,
butimplicatesthereaderaswellinthisprocessofmourningandrememberingas
weask"questionsaboutourselvesandourlifestoriesindirectlybyobserving
othersastheystruggletofindanswers."(Eakin:14).Nolongerrelegatedtothe
closedsystemofsignificationrenderedbothuncannyandsafeforitsabilityto
replicaterealitywithinfantasy,thesecurityoffictionfadesastherealityofthe
autobiographicalthreadinSebald'sworkcomestothefore.
Sebald'ssometimesdizzyingstylisticmaneuveringsblendhisInarratorstogether,
rootingthestoryintherealityoftheInarratorwhichisSebald(oratleasthis
autofictionaldoubleheleadsustobelieveitis)andextendingintothestory,into
othercharactersandobscuringthefictionalqualitiesofthebookbystainingitwith
thepotentialoftruth.McCullohhasnotedthat"amajorthemeinSebald'sworkis
theheightenedorintensifiedrealitycreatedbyfiction."(7)Whilethisiscertainly
true,thenatureoftheinterplaybetweenrealityandfictioniswhatcraftsthis
dynamic.Notsimplytransgressingtheboundariesbetweenrealityandfiction,
Sebaldsendshischaractersandhisreadersbetweenthetwountiloneisno
longercertainwhereoneendsandanotherbegins.Bywritingfromthe
autofictionalperspectivewhichhasbecomehishallmark,Sebaldutilizesthe
universalizing"I"ofhisproseasasortofreferentintherealworld.Muchashis
photographs"confirmadetailofappearanceor()'document'anevent,"(7)his
Inarratorsexploitthe"presumptionoftruthvalue"Eakinunderscores.(Eakin
1992:30).Thisservesasadoubleanchorintherealworld,infusinghisprose
withtheethicaldemandsposedbyanyconfrontationeitherdirectorindirect
withtheHolocaust,andparticularlyintheformofHolocaustmemoir,foras
EphraimSicherhasproclaimed,"nowhereisthedistinctionbetweenfictionand
nonfictionsoproblematicasinHolocaustliterature."(xvi)Bycontinually
underscoringtheostensiblyfactualbasistohisnarratives,whilesimultaneously
questioningrecollection,Sebald'sprosebringstolightnotjustagroupof
Holocaustmemoirsinparticular,rathertheproblematicstatusofrepresentation
forHolocaustmemoiringeneral.

Sebald'srealityeffect

Sebald'sphotographsareinneedofbeingreadinconjunctionwiththetext,but
morespecificallyinconjunctionwiththestyleofnarration.TheautofictionalI
narratorwholoomsinthewingsbringsthereaderbacktoquestionsoftruthand

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fictioninnewregisters.AsHeinrichDeteringnotes,thethinlyveiled
autobiographicalnarratorW.G.Sebaldeffectsaheightenedfocusonthetruth
valueofthephotographsandotherfoundobjects.Havingreallyencountered
thesecharacterssoDeteringassumesSebaldhasmeticulouslylistenedtotheir
stories,traveledthestationsoftheirlivesandpreservedthematerialobjects
(photographs,callingcards,andsoforth)whichtheyhaveleftbehindasameans
of"certify[ing]theunbelievabletruths"ofthesestories(85,mytrans.).Inorder
tosecurethesenarrativesinatruthofsomekindorother,thestoriespass
throughthephotographsandbacktoSebaldhimselfplayingtheroleofanI
narratorofanautoficitonalworldrenderedpreciselytocastdoubtuponthe
boundariesbetweentruthandfiction,whilereaffirmingtheethicalimperativeto
continuetobearwitnesstothetraumatictwentiethcentury.Thisisperhapsthe
sortofdynamicbetweenfictionandrealityMcCullohsuggestsliesattheheartof
Sebald'sworkwhenhespeaksofSebald's"heightenedorintensifiedreality
createdbyfiction"(7)

Sebald'sabilitytoaugmentthereferentialpowerofaphotographbytakingitout
ofitshistoricalcontextandcreatinganarrativearoundsuchan"accurate"
referentoftheworldisherebyreaffirmed.ThephotographicrecordoftheI
narrator'scollectionandwritingoftheselifestoriesbecomesitsowncertificateof
presenceforasetofmethodologicalapproaches.TheautofictionalInarratoris
alsoanautofictionalIphotographer.Sebald'sreorganizationofthereferential
natureofhisfoundphotographsfoldsbackuponthenarrativeinthe
fictionalizationofhisresearchandcollectionmethods.Perhapsthemostglaring
instanceoftheintersectionoffictionandphotographyaretheimagesofAmbros'
agenda(Sebald2002a:132,135)whichSebaldadmitsareafalsification.
(Angier:13)Thisphotographisinsomesenseevenmoredubiousthanthefaked
photooftheNazibookburningin"MaxFerber"(184)sinceitiscontemporary
photographmeanttoserveasproofofthenarrator'sownresearchmethods.
Sebaldmixescreationwithcollectionliberallytoachievehisworks,playingthe
roleofobserverandobservedinhishistoricalmodeofwriting.Inthis
fictionalizationoftherealworlditistheInarratorwhomwe,asreaders,are
inclinedtobelieve.Thismetanarrativeofthewritingofthestoryasthestory
unfoldsblendstemporalboundaries,butalsoservesasaparallelautofictiontothe
lifestoriesSebaldcollects.

BhabhaandSebald:PostColonialandPostHolocaust?

WhilethepostcolonialliterarycriticHomiBhabhamayseemthematicallyfar
removedfromSebald'spostHolocaustwritings,hisanalysisoftrendsin
internationalpostcolonialliteratureandhistheorieslaidoutinTheLocationof
CulturemayalsobeusefulinunderstandingSebald'smultimedialtexts.
Inreferringtotheprocessofwritingitselfthroughoutthestories,Sebaldnarrates
thepassageoftimeinnarration.Inoneparticularcaseneartheendof"Max
Ferber",Sebaldupdatesthereaderontheprogressofthefinalpieceofwriting
whichthereaderiscurrentlyengaging,stating:"Duringthewinterof1990/91,in
thelittlefreetimeIhadIwasworkingontheaccountofMaxFerbergiven
above.[]OftenIcouldnotgetonforhoursanddaysatatime,andnot
infrequentlyIunraveledwhatIhaddone,continuouslytormentedbyscruplesthat
weretakingtighterholdandsteadilyparalysingme."(230)Themultipletime
framesandpassageoftimewithinthetextasSebaldjumpsfromgenerationto
generationandacrossdecadestoreconstructastory,arealsopresentinthe

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structureofnarrationitself.Sebaldherecombinesyetanothertimeframe:thatof
theplot(hisjourneytoBadKissingen)hasbeeninterruptedbythepresentof
narration,reflectingontheearlierprocessofcreatingthenarrativeinthewinter
of1990/91,whichisthenconsumedbyareaderinanewpresent.This
experienceoftimebecomesbothatextualandmetatextualelementwhich
Sebaldbringstothereader'sattentiontimeandagain.
ThisstructureoftimelagispreciselywhatBhabhadescribesinhistreatmentof
postcolonialliteratureandculture.Thechasmoftimebetweentheeventandits
narrationbecomesitselfanimportantnegotiationinmeaningandintentionalityin
retrospect(Bhabha:183).InthecaseofSebald,thisretrospectiveposition
becomesradicallyredefinedasthisprocessofeventandenunciationalready
separatedbytimebecomesdividedbetweenmultipleInarratorsandvarious
pastsandpresentsinthetextjustasinthenecessarilydiachronicexperienceof
viewingaphotograph.Attimes,thesesubjectsevenseemtocompetewithone
anotherforthepositionofenunciationasSebaldimbricatesandblendsfirst
personnarratorsandprimarydocumentsdirectlyintothepresentnarrativemode
(suchasMmeLandau'sextendedmonologuein"PaulBereyter"orthepassages
fromthejournalin"AmbrosAdelwarth").
Sebaldisabletotherebyreclaimdiscourseforthemarginalizedbyreenactingthis
timelaganditsinherentdisplacementofthepositionofenunciationfromone
persontoanother.AsBhabhasaysinhisdiscussionofBarthes'"writingaloud","
[i]tistheartofguidingone'sbodyintodiscourse,insuchawaythatthesubject's
accessionto,anderasurein,thesignifierasindividuatedisparadoxically
accompaniedbyitsremainder,anafterbirth,adouble."(184)Inthecaseof
Sebald,oneseesaliteralizeddoubleofthesubject,materializedandcapturedin
theformofaphotographadoubleboundbothtotheirretrievablepastnessof
theselostpersonsandtotheuniqueconditionsoftimeandspacewhichbrought
aboutthephotograph,matchinganindividualwithaparticularhistoricalmoment.
Itwouldseemthattheinclusionofphotographswouldhelptopindownand
reinforce(ifnotenforce)theidentityofthesubjectintheformofthesignifier.
Oneshouldthereforebeabletoorderthesubjectintoalargerwebofmeaning,
givendetailsandimageswhichsupportasetofhistoricalcircumstanceslinkedby
theevidencefurnishedbyphotography.However,Sebald'scharactersare
anythingbutlocalized,delimitedanduncrypticsignifiers,andthemedialdoubling
betweenimageandtextisadoubledfailure,leavingtworemainders,two
afterbirths.Similarly,thenarrativedoublingbetweenSebald'scharactersandhis
autofictionalInarratorsspawnevenmoreremaindersleftunresolved.
Itisthe"completedyetparadoxicallyopenendedexperience"ofreadingSebald's
textsinwhich"everythingisinterrelatedbysomesecretorderliness,buteventhe
authorisn'tcertainpreciselyhow"(McCulloh:24,22)thatforcesadeteriorationof
traditionallytemporallydependentmodelsofnarration.Instead,thesenarratives
optforanimagetextandasortofassociativeshufflingofyearsandlives
mediatedbyanothersubject,theInarrator,toachieveatoncea"directionand
contingentclosurebutnoteleologyorholism."(Bhabha185)TheSebaldianI
narratorspecificallyeschewsthetotalizationofateleologicalrecapitulationof
events,extendinginalogicalformatfrombeginningtoendorasaflashback
whicheruptsatameaningfulmomentorinreferencetoameaningfulphotograph.
Insomeways,theveryavoidanceofthesesortsofemotionalhooksinthe
narrativestandsasastrategywhichsidestepsasaccharinesentimentality.
Whereastraditionalphotographictheorydependsuponthenaturalhuman
responsetophotography'sstatusasproof,hereSebaldproblematizesthat
seeminglyessentialcharacteristic.Similarly,oneisremindedofEakin'sstatement
aboveconcerningtheinherentfaithreadershaveinInarrators(Eakin1992:30)
andthecomparablecertificationofproofthegenreofautobiographynormally

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commands.
Yet,insteadofcraftingameaningfulrelationshipbetweentheautofictionaltext
andreality,inwhichphotographsfunctionastheproofbindingthetwotogetherin
asortofgrammarofsignification,thetextcausesthereadertoquestionthe
photographsandviceversa.Inobviouscases,aswiththereproductionofthe
fakedphotographoftheNazibookburning(184),oursenseofphotographyasa
certificateofrealityisquestioned.InmoresubtlemannersasinSebald'slackof
captions,unnamedsubjectsandsometimespurposefullyconfusingpositioning
therearebreakswiththetraditionalstrategiesofrepresentation.Thephotographs
standasobjectsobscuredinmeaningbythetexts:Whoaretheotherpeoplein
thecarinthisphotographofPaul'sfather?(53)Thenarratortellsusheisinone
schoolhousephoto,butwhichchildishe?(47)Whereandwhenandwithwhom
wasthefamilyphotoofMaxFerber'smothertaken?(217)Andinturn,thetexts
createafieldofmeaningsandassociationswhichaffectourreadingofthe
photographs.Inlightofsuchuse,thenatureofphotographyasacertificateof
presencefadesasitbecomesanarrativeinitsownright.Photographsdonot
merelytrapamomentintimeratheronereadsthefacesandplaces
photographed,investigatingcatechresesofmeaningbetweentextandimage
lookingforthatwhichneithercouldintimatealone.Itisneitherthecasethatthe
photographsservethetextorthatthetextservesthephotograph,butbotharein
adialoguewhichactivelyalterstheperceptionoftheother.
Thus,textssomewherebetweenrealityandfictionareaccompaniedby
photographsrepositionedwithinthisduplicitousfieldofmeaning,butwhichare
themselvestheobjectsofcropping,cutting,contrastmanipulationsandother
techniqueswhichopenupthepossibilitytoattacktheirveracity.(Mitchell:30)
Whileheardentlymaintainedhis"authenticity"ininterviews,Sebald"invitesdoubt
inhistelling"(Zwart:245)andinhisshowing.
Bhabha'sargumentsconcerningthehopeforahybriditytocounteractthetime
laggedimaginaryhistoricalconstructofapostcolonialconditionwhichsupports
racismculminateinhisclaimthat"[i]tispreciselysuchunresolved,transitional
momentswithinthedisjunctivepresentofmodernitythatarethenprojectedintoa
timeofhistoricalretroversionoraninassimilableplaceoutsidehistory."(Bhabha:
250)IncraftingatextwhichatoncegroundsitselfinpostHolocausttopics,yet
choosestofocusondecidedlyquotidianindividualsatsucharemovefromthe
normalconstellationofeventsonenormallythinksofundertherubricofthe
Holocaust,Sebaldcarefullyapproachesandsimultaneouslyavoidsthelargescale
historicaleventoftheHolocaust.Indoingso,heprovidesanewenunciatory
spaceforitsvictimsinthoseinassimilableplacesoutsidehistory.Constructed
somewherebetweenliteratureandhistory,factandfiction,hisimagesandtexts
couldinsomewaysbeseenascontributingtoasortofnonhistoryinthesenseof
Bhabha's"neithermodernnorantimodernbutnonmodern."(251)

ItisinthismannerthatSebaldmakesasignificantcontributiontotheoriesand
ideasconcerningmediaashistoryandmediaasmemory.AsGeorgeKouvaros
notes,"Sebald'swritingsarebothameansofcommunicatingwiththedeadand
crucialtothewayhewritesthedilemmaofmemoryotherthanasaprocessof
consciousremembrance."(174)Inthisanalysis,Kouvarosbringstolightthevery
slipperynatureofSebald'suseofphotographywhichmakesitproblematicas
history,andyetsocentraltohisnarration.Sebald'snarrativestyleisdependent
upontheprocessofrecoveryandthestructureofremembering,bringingstories
andphotostobearuponthenarrativenotfromalogical,retrospectiveand
teleologicalperspectiveofhindsight,butastheybecomeavailableandallowthe
readertoshareinboththeirdiscovery,curiosityandobscurity.
Thereadersharesinthenarrativesuturedtothe"I"ofSebald'sautofictitious

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perspectiveandalsoinSebald'snarratingofthenarrativeprocess,therefore
doublyimplicatedintheidentificationwithandmourningovertheselostsouls.
Sebaldalignsthereaderwiththeactofrecoveryandmourningitself,modelingas
itweretheveryprocessofmourninginthestructureofhistextsandimages.
Sebald'sinsistenceonnonconventionalstructuresandmeansofcreatingthis
experience,hisalmostsubversiveuseofphotographsandtextinconjunctionwith
eachothercanbesaidto"confusethecontinuityofhistoricaltemporalities,
confoundtheorderingofculturalsymbols,[and]traumatizetradition"insucha
wayasto"contestthesententious'conclusion'ofthedisciplineofculturalhistory."
(Bhabha:179)Carefullycreatedasahaphazarddocument(Zwart:seeesp.243
and154),photographswhichseemtohaveslippedbeyondthecontrolofthe
narratorappearinsomecasespagesawayfromtheirtextualreferent(asinthe
caseofAmbrosinTurkishtraditionalcostume).Atothertimesphotosare
included,butnotcited,theretosparkthebeginningsofmemory,nottomarkits
completionandsignificatoryendpointbroughtunderthereignsofanhistorical
explanationortraditionalnarrativeresolution.Itistheunresolvednatureofthese
charactersandSebald'smodusoperandiinpresentingthemwhichmovesbeyond
traditionalmeansofrepresentingtheeffectsoftheHolocaust,yetstandsasacall
forcontinuedattemptsatrepresenting,rememberingandmemorializing.Sebald
engagesa"[c]ontemporaryWesternsociety[which]representsaworldinwhich
peoplehavelearnedtoseparatepainlesslyfromeverything,wherewhathasbeen
lostleavesnoscars,notraces,inthepsychesandphysiognomiesofthe
survivors."(Santner1990:67)However,hechoosestounderscoreandperhaps
toattemptanalternativemodelagainstthehowofourpainlessseparationinhis
styleofnarrationofremembranceaswellasthewhatofourseparationfrom
theseobjectsof"spectralmateriality"(seeSantner2006:152157fora
discussionofspectralmaterialityandSebald'sphotography)andthelivestowhich
theybearwitness.Intheunresolvednatureofthisactofnarrationand
remembrance,thephotographsrendertherelationshipsbetweensignifierand
signified,betweenrepresentationandreality,betweennarratorsandreaders
ambiguous,leavingmoreopenthanclosed,moretoinvestigateandmoreto
mournratherthanpresentingaconvenientlypackagedemotionalcatharsiswhich
allowsthereadertomovebeyondthetraumasofthetwentiethcentury.

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HavingstudiedandtaughtinChicago,SalzburgandVienna,ToddHeidtis
currentlyaPhDcandidateinGermanStudiesattheUniversityofCincinnati,USA.
Hisinterestslieintheintersectionsofmultimedialrepresentationandnarration.
Hisdissertationfocusesonnarrativestrategiesandmeansofrenderingrealityin
filmandliteratureduringtheWeimarRepublic.Hisisalsoservingaseditorin
chiefforthejournalFocusonGermanStudiesforthe20072008academicyear.

ThissiteisoptimizedforNetscape6andhigher

sitedesign:SaraRoegiers@Maerlantcentrum

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