Art, Fiction, & History

Fascinating discussion about W G Sebald, one of my favourite German authors in the 20th century, whom I had the privilege to exchange some letters with shortly before his untimely death.
Sebald considered himself a sort of ‘exiled’ writer, but more in the context of “The Emigrants”, the title of one of his books, as Sebald’s exile was deliberate, not instigated by war or persecution.
I have felt in many ways connected to this writer.
We come from the very same area of South Germany ( Oberallgaeu, he was born in Wertach, just a few miles away from my hometown Sonthofen ). Then his uneasiness about German history and Germany in general I have always shared, and then there is his rather unique literary style, where history and presence are intertwined and texts are interspersed with photos to illustrate the relationship to reality.
“Die Ausgewanderten” ( “The Emigrants” ) is a typical Sebald book:
4 long stories about “Emigrants”, people of Jewish origin who could not fit in with society any longer. Particularly one story touched me very much, that one of the teacher Bereyter in Sonthofen. The real name was Arthur Mueller, he had been one of W G Sebald’s teachers at school. He was a highly educated individual and teacher who committed suicide just outside town at a railway bend which is very familiar to me, as I have passed it many times with my bike as a child.
Armin Mueller’s biography was irreparably damaged due to the adversities and consequences he had faced throughout his life as a result of the Nazi rule.
Here the blurb to the discussion video:
“Sebald situates his work in the gray zone between fiction and history, positioning himself with both proximity and distance to his subject matter, alternating between first-hand victim and third-hand witness. At the center of Sebald’s writing is the taboo of the “wrongful trespass:” a fear that either he will falsely identify with events he himself has not experienced or that his objectivity will dilute the emotional impact of what he describes. This roundtable, moderated by André Acian (Distinguished Professor, The Graduate Center CUNY) examines how Sebald responds to this concern by creating works that straddle the boundary between fact and fiction in order to portray and grapple with historical events.”
And here are the links: to Arthur Mueller, the discussion at the Cuny Graduate Center of The City University of New York and an excellent article from The New Yorker.