Sebald as Essayist

Patrick Madden at Numéro Cinq:

Georg Lukacs, who preceded Adorno and who offers many similar statements, seems to deal specifically with an essay that begins with an external, not a personal subject, much as Sebald’s work is derived from studies of other people, places, and events. Lukacs’s rendition of the science/art split hinges on his statement that “science offers us facts and the relationships between facts, but art offers us souls and destinies” (3). He justifies the need for essays in contrast with drama (or, I imagine, fiction) by pointing out that some reactions can be shown visually and aurally, but thought is invisible. Thus the essay deals with the inner workings of a mind. The essay is needed also as intermediary between concepts (abstractions) and things (concretions), between image and significance. For Lukacs, then, the essay form is marked by its questioning, its avoidance of didactic or simplistic answers, its fragmentariness, its humor, its modesty, its consideration of the quotidian, its irony, its fight against tradition, its visionary nature, its friction with fact (perhaps this is key), its interruptions, its primacy of point of view over feeling. He sees the essay as process, not product, journey, not destination. The essay, according to Phillip Lopate [Against 75], “allows one to ramble in a way that more truly reflects the mind at work,” struggling, grasping, circling, but never preaching.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Thirsty for More Sebald At The New Yorker’s book blog, Teju Cole offers a solid review of the new book of Sebald’s selected poetry, Across the Land and the...
  2. David Foster Wallace Essayist? Jonathan Keats at Prospect Magazine provides an interesting review of DFW’s new book Oblivion, and argues that Wallace might do better as an essayist. Keats...
  3. Sebald Documentary Gets U.S. Distribution Other than the inclusion of Rick Moody in this film, sounds pretty good: Patience (After Sebald) has been picked up for U.S. distribution. Directed by...
  4. Boyd Tonkin on Sebald If this is the sort of thing you like, you’ll find a lot of it here. As a model of tact and a talisman against...
  5. Undiscovered Sebald Vertigo offers an early look at The Undiscover'd Country (at a very scholarly, $90), a new collection of 12 essays on Sebald. Post here....

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