W. G. Sebald's emblematics: opaque images of broken rebellion
This thesis represents perhaps the first extensive study of allegorical imagery in general, and emblematics in particular, across the œuvre of W. G. Sebald (1944-2001). In so doing, it seeks to place Sebald in a long, notably Germanophone lineage which can be traced back to the early modern period, though one significantly mediated by the revival of interest in allegorical imagery during the first half of the twentieth century (that of Karl Giehlow, the Warburg school, and Walter Benjamin’s idiosyncratic labours thereafter, chiefly in Origin of the German Trauerspiel and The Arcades Project). This thesis apportions equal weight to Sebald’s long and short works, the latter of which have often been marginalised or neglected by anglophone critics. In keeping with its dialectic of word and image, the emblem has, from its very inception, fulfilled a dual function: representation and exposition. In addition to the oft-remarked interposition of word and image in his later works, Sebald’s writing dating back to the early 1980s betrays a tendency to combine these functions in peculiar ways, a tendency which only intensified over the course of the subsequent decade. In Sebald’s later, longer works, the narrator plays a central role in the emblematic staging, so to speak, then in the exposition of such enigmatic images as are made to appear. In that emblematics is constitutionally a reiterative form of expression, a long contextual and theoretical introductory chapter is followed by chapters concentrated on certain of Sebald’s most significant emblems: dogs, corpses, and moths and butterflies.