Out of the shadows

W.G. Sebald, stifled by the culture of silence in post-war Germany, by ‘people’s ability to forget what they do not want to know’, settled in 1960s England and wrote groundbreaking literary works to great acclaim. Ten years after Sebald’s untimely death, Uwe Schütte, a former student, reflects on his life

Out of the shadows

Freedom fighter: Sebald objected to the great silence in Germany after the war, arguing that ‘the moral backbone of literature is about that whole question of memory’

"I taught for almost 30 years until I took early retirement in 1991," explains Austerlitz, the eponymous hero of W.G. Sebald’s last work of prose fiction, "because of the inexorable spread of ignorance even to the universities." One would not be mistaken to see this criticism as also coming straight from the heart of the writer who created Austerlitz. After all, apart from being considered a strong contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature, Sebald was first and foremost an academic who had spent all his professional life in UK higher education.

Over more than three decades while he taught in this country, Sebald produced a considerable body of critical writings, ranging from reviews to essays, and from journal articles to a number of monographs. While his literary texts often prompt hagiographic praise, Sebald’s critical texts remain largely unknown, not just in this country, but equally in Germany.

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