Remembering and Imagining Sebald
The chapter called W.G. Sebald: An Act of Restitution in Christopher Bigsby’s recent book ought to be required reading for anyone interested in Sebald. I’m not sure how often one can say that a book related to the Holocaust can be a “good read,” but that’s how I found his well-written book Remembering and Imagining the Holocaust: The Chain of Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). Bigsby’s fluid style is in keeping with his determination to strike a balance between biography and textual interpretation and, furthermore, to understand the inter-relationships between writers’ lives and their works. The longest and, in my opinion, best chapter is devoted to Sebald, with other chapters on Rolf Hochhuth, Peter Weiss, Arthur Miller, Anne Frank, Jean Améry, Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, and Tadeusz Borowski. Bigsby ends the book with a chapter called Memory Theft, about several writers whose claimed Holocaust experiences have been disproved, including Binjamin Wilkomirski and Jerzy Kosinski.
“This book began with a desire to celebrate the work of W.G. Sebald, a friend and colleague,” Bigsby declares on the first page, and the dual perspective of friend and colleague sets the pattern for an engaging exploration of nearly all of Sebald’s books. Bigsby traces the parallel course of Sebald’s growing awareness of Germany’s unspoken past with his increasing focus as a writer on that same past and on the terrible damage that German silence has inflicted on both war- and post-war generations. Bigsby’s reading of Sebald’s books is nicely nuanced by his friendship with Sebald and their conversations. (Sebald is one of the writers included in Bigsby’s earlier book Writers in Conversation vol. 2, which I have just ordered.) Bigsby, more than any other writer I have read, has really permitted me to better imagine W.G. Sebald as both a man and a writer.
Christopher Bigsby is a Professor of American Studies at the University of East Anglia.