'Trauma Obscura' revealed : Revisiting loss in W. G. Sebald’s 'Austerlitz'

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2014
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BÉNYEI, Tamás, ed., Alexandra STARA, ed.. The edges of trauma : explorations in visual art and literature. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014, pp. 104-120. ISBN 978-1-4438-5342-2
Zusammenfassung

Europe’s architectural ruins and urban blend of past and present are thematised in W.G. Sebald’s novel Austerlitz as both localisers of memory and metaphors of human trauma. Together with the written, archival testimonies, on the one hand, and the unwritten, human memory, on the other, the fictional urban sites depicted in this novel ( i.e. the London streets and tube stations, the Antwerpen, Luzern and Paris train stations, the former Prague ghetto and many other ruins and fortress walls) still bear the wounds of combat, oppression and murder. Discovered through a complex process of archeological reconstruction and identification, these public places help reconstruct a harrowing personal story of self-loss and self-discovery.

Jacques Austerlitz is now a professor of architecture, a British citizen plagued - at the end of his career - by the crisis of non-identity. His travels take him around Europe for assiduous research and careful observation of historical ruins and architectural wonders, while he himself is haunted by the eerie feeling of something essential missing from his life. It is when he decides to retrace the train trip back to his native Czech Republic from London (via Germany) that early childhood memories - thought dead - start coming back to him. The map of his estrangement as a child refugee during WWII is now reconstructed step by step, with a double climax in Prague and Paris, two urban spaces still imbued with trauma, where he tracks down elements of his parents’ own story of deportation and death at the Nazis’ hand.

This paper proposes, therefore, to explore the archeology of trauma as a sum of fragmented stories preserved and transmitted by architectural relics as a reassembled whole, one that carries, compliments and sometimes replaces human memory. Although materially tangible and more reliable than the often elusive human memory, these soulless sites of trauma fail nevertheless to provide that soothing, reassuring element so necessary to closure and human healing.

Zusammenfassung in einer weiteren Sprache
Fachgebiet (DDC)
800 Literatur, Rhetorik, Literaturwissenschaft
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Post-Holocaust Trauma, W.G. Sebald, Postmemory, Transnational Trauma, Transgenerational trauma, Holocaust Trauma, 20th century German Literature
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ISO 690BOTEZ, Catalina, 2014. 'Trauma Obscura' revealed : Revisiting loss in W. G. Sebald’s 'Austerlitz'. In: BÉNYEI, Tamás, ed., Alexandra STARA, ed.. The edges of trauma : explorations in visual art and literature. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014, pp. 104-120. ISBN 978-1-4438-5342-2
BibTex
@incollection{Botez2014Traum-26141,
  year={2014},
  title={'Trauma Obscura' revealed : Revisiting loss in W. G. Sebald’s 'Austerlitz'},
  isbn={978-1-4438-5342-2},
  publisher={Cambridge Scholars Publishing},
  address={Newcastle upon Tyne},
  booktitle={The edges of trauma : explorations in visual art and literature},
  pages={104--120},
  editor={Bényei, Tamás and Stara, Alexandra},
  author={Botez, Catalina}
}
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    <dcterms:abstract xml:lang="eng">Europe’s architectural ruins and urban blend of past and present are thematised in W.G. Sebald’s novel Austerlitz as both localisers of memory and metaphors of human trauma. Together with the written, archival testimonies, on the one hand, and the unwritten, human memory, on the other, the fictional urban sites depicted in this novel  ( i.e. the London streets and tube stations, the Antwerpen, Luzern and Paris train stations, the former Prague ghetto and many other ruins and fortress walls) still bear the wounds of combat, oppression and murder. Discovered through a complex process of archeological reconstruction and identification, these public places help reconstruct a harrowing personal story of self-loss and self-discovery.&lt;br /&gt;&lt;br /&gt;Jacques Austerlitz is now a professor of architecture, a British citizen plagued - at the end of his career - by the crisis of non-identity. His travels take him around Europe for assiduous research and careful observation of historical ruins and architectural wonders, while he himself is haunted by the eerie feeling of something essential missing from his life. It is when he decides to retrace the train trip back to his native Czech Republic from London (via Germany) that early childhood memories - thought dead - start coming back to him. The map of his estrangement as a child refugee during WWII is now reconstructed step by step, with a double climax in Prague and Paris, two urban spaces still imbued with trauma, where he tracks down elements of his parents’ own story of deportation and death at the Nazis’ hand.&lt;br /&gt;&lt;br /&gt;This paper proposes, therefore, to explore the archeology of trauma as a sum of fragmented stories preserved and transmitted by architectural relics as a reassembled whole, one that carries, compliments and sometimes replaces human memory. Although materially tangible and more reliable than the often elusive human memory, these soulless sites of trauma fail nevertheless to provide that soothing, reassuring element so necessary to closure and human healing.</dcterms:abstract>
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