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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Presentation Details

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Silence and Loss in W.G. Sebald's The Emigrants

James King.

W.G. Sebald's The Emigrants is one of the most acclaimed narratives published in the last ten years and has already attracted a great deal of critical attention. My presentation will focus on the generic status of this book, which is a work of fiction disguised to look like a series of four short biographies of Germans in exile. In fact, each of the narratives is constructed differently, although each is referenced in a playful way to Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory. Although I shall begin by investigating Sebald's post-modern use of photographs in The Emigrants, I shall concentrate on the self-consciously post-structuralist approach taken by Sebald in this text; in particular, I shall show how he uses photographs to undermine, rather than enhance, the biographical status of his material, and I shall demonstrate how he created in the most complex of the portraits that of Max Ferber - a fictional composite based on a former landlord and the distinguished English (but German-born) artist, Frank Auerbach.


James King  (Canada)
University Professor
Department of English
McMaster University

  • Post-structuralism
  • Cultural amnesia
  • Photography
  • The Emigrants
Person as Subject
  • Sebald, W.G.

(30 min Conference Paper, English)