Conversational Reading reviews W. G. Sebald: Image, Archive, Modernity

W. G. Sebald: Image, Archive, ModernityScott Esposito at the always worthwhile and interesting Conversational Reading has a very good review of J. J. Long’s W. G. Sebald: Image, Archive, Modernity. Long’s book as you might have guessed from the subtitle views Sebald’s work in light of his efforts to understand and portray modernity in his work. Esposito writes:

A partial list of major topics [in Long’s book]  will bring more detail if not more cohesion: (post-)colonialism, photography, the gaze, maps, archives, police/nanny states, the Holocaust, passports/travel, taxonomies, World War II, memory, identity, Foucault. In other words, the raw material of Long’s book is the raw material of modernity itself, which, Long contends, is also the major ingredient in Sebald’s literature. And so, modernity being a difficult bag to grasp, it’s hard to get too tight a hold on what sits between the covers of Long’s book.

Perhaps the best way to sum it up is to say that Long discusses how Sebald’s books attempt to bring together the disparate aspects of modernity through the technology of the archive, much as the modern state tried to do. Long contends that Sebald’s books are archival in nature, and he attempts to show how Sebald’s archival books present aspects of modernity ranging from wonder and spectacle to migration and dislocation.

Esposito concludes, writing:

Long is the editor of a collection of Sebald criticism … and here he demonstrates the great familiarity with and sensitivity to his subject that his position of editor of a collection on Sebald would suggest. I’ve found this book to be greatly useful in developing a more thorough approach to Sebald (as well as a number of authors with whom Sebald shares several affinities), and I think this will be a book I’ll be returning to often.

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