Exploring the Edge of Trauma in W.G. Sebald’s Novel 'Austerlitz'

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POULOS, George, ed., Stavroula VARELLA, ed.. Explorations in World Literature, from Ancient to Contemporary. Athens: Athens Institute for Education and Research, 2013, pp. 149-156. ISBN 978-960-9549-36-3
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 still bear the wounds of war, 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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Holocaust trauma, identity, postmemory, Kindertransport, ruins
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ISO 690BOTEZ, Catalina, 2013. Exploring the Edge of Trauma in W.G. Sebald’s Novel 'Austerlitz'. In: POULOS, George, ed., Stavroula VARELLA, ed.. Explorations in World Literature, from Ancient to Contemporary. Athens: Athens Institute for Education and Research, 2013, pp. 149-156. ISBN 978-960-9549-36-3
BibTex
@incollection{Botez2013Explo-23140,
  year={2013},
  title={Exploring the Edge of Trauma in W.G. Sebald’s Novel 'Austerlitz'},
  isbn={978-960-9549-36-3},
  publisher={Athens Institute for Education and Research},
  address={Athens},
  booktitle={Explorations in World Literature, from Ancient to Contemporary},
  pages={149--156},
  editor={Poulos, George and Varella, Stavroula},
  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 still bear the wounds of war, 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;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;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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