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W.G. Sebald's afterlives: haunting contemporary landscape writing

W.G. Sebald's afterlives: haunting contemporary landscape writing

Weston, Daniel (2016) W.G. Sebald's afterlives: haunting contemporary landscape writing. In: Heholt, Ruth and Downing, Niamh, (eds.) Haunted Landscapes: Super-Nature and the Environment. Rowman & Littlefield International, London, pp. 167-180. ISBN 978-1783488810

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W.G. Sebald sought out ghostly presences in place but he has now also become one for other writers who follow after him. He haunts contemporary place writing en masse, and in particular that of East Anglia where The Rings of Saturn, his most regionally located prose narrative, takes place. As artist Jeremy Millar notes, ‘he is now a layer of that history of which he writes’ and ‘a very definite part of that landscape’ (interview in Gee 2015). Sebald has been an important and influential figure for authors writing about landscape over the last decade, with a significant number drawing heavily on (and some outright adopting) his idiosyncratic mode of engaging with place and of writing about that engagement. His influence – openly admitted by many and less explicitly signalled by a greater number still – has been pervasive in practice across a range of creative disciplines: the sample of work indebted to Sebald that I will discuss in this chapter encompasses visual art, exhibition curation, film, poetry, and prose writing. In this chapter I ask where Sebald’s example can be felt in the work of a number of writers and practitioners in order to assess what kind of report it produces and also what senses of a place it might preclude. In addition, reflections on visits to the Suffolk landscapes and places on the itinerary of The Rings of Saturn are briefly incorporated. My own sense of these places is markedly different from that communicated in the book. This disjuncture does not merely reaffirm the already well-established point that Sebald’s accounts are subjective and semi-fictionalized, but speaks to the pervasive influence of his genre defying texts in landscape writing today. Following consideration of texts where Sebald’s inflections can be discerned, I evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of his spectral presence and ask what happens when haunting – in the form of a set of recognizable literary tropes deployed repeatedly across a genre – reaches a point of saturation.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > School of Humanities & Social Sciences (HSS)
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Last Modified: 21 Apr 2020 10:56

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