Invisible landscapes : landscape, memory and time in W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The eponymous protagonist of Austerlitz, W.G. Sebald's final prose novel, is haunted by landscapes of loss. Both Austerlitz and the narrator are acutely aware of the signs of destruction and of the invisible histories of loss in the landscapes through which they travel. Through the gaze of both these characters Sebald exposes the haunted wasteland of post -war Europe and describes the sites of many of the atrocities of the Holocaust. While much has been written about Sebald's use of landscape and his emphasis on memory, there is very little research to date that has taken a phenomenological approach to Sebald's texts. There are specific affinities, for example, between the musings of the protagonist and the narrator of Sebald's Austerlitz and Merleau-Ponty's philosophy of perception. This dissertation explores the implications of Merleau-Ponty's existential phenomenology as an approach to Sebald's Austerlitz, by showing that while phenomenology provides a valuable conceptual framework through which to engage the novel, there are aspects of this phenomenological approach which Sebald's work, in its narrative form, is able to extend beyond the boundaries of philosophical discourse. The central argument is that Austerlitz's perception of architectural sites is inextricably linked to aspects of memory and narrative. This dissertation first explores the thematic concerns of the outworking of traumatic memory in the spaces of architecture, in the subjective experience of time, and in the act of perception; after which it examines how Sebald's narrative technique creates a text-scape which implicates its reader's gaze.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 82-84).