Forthcoming: Richard T. Gray, Ghostwriting: W. G. Sebald’s Poetics of History. New Directions in German Studies. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2017.
Ghostwriting provides a comprehensive picture of W. G. Sebald’s prose fictional narratives and the poetic practices that define their literary artistry. It examines his four major works of narrative fiction, Schwindel. Gefühle (Vertigo), Die Ausgewanderten (The Emigrants), Die Ringe des Saturn (The Rings of Saturn), and Austerlitz, in the broader context of Sebald’s intellectual endeavors. Framed by examinations of unpublished creative projects, this study investigates the genesis of Sebald’s literary practices and his aesthetic conceptions. One distinguishing feature is a reliance on Sebald’s unpublished papers, research notes, working library, and draft manuscripts. The approach is grounded in careful philological interpretations, supported by detailed historical-critical research. The book’s aim is a better understanding of Sebald’s ability to invoke “ghosts,” using fictional means to revitalize the biographies of historical individuals. Gray outlines the various aesthetic techniques that constitute this poetics of history: a perspectival narrative approach that ventriloquizes the voices of historical informants through the voice of the first-person narrator, who is their “ghostwriter”; a reliance on intertextual borrowings that transform this narrative voice into a polyphonic chorus; the inclusion of visual materials that constitute Sebald’s fictions as iconotexts and problematize their documentary function; ekphrasis as an alternative descriptive technique for combining text and image; the leitmotivic structure of his texts, which plays on patterns of historical coincidence; the overlay of real and fictional models to generate composite characters that appear both unique and typical; a playful self-reflexivity that metafictionally qualifies the authority of the text; and a combinatory practice that selects and reorders historical, fictional, and textual building blocks and requires managerial skill for its orchestration.