Ruin, allegory, melancholy : on the critical aesthetics of W.G. Sebald's The emigrants and The rings of Saturn
Faculty of Social Sciences. Sociology
, p. 1-12
University of Antwerp
While ruins have been a popular object for nostalgic yearnings of a better past, they also harbour an ambivalent potential for moral and historical critique. This article unpacks the variety of meanings ruins embody in W.G. Sebalds The Emigrants and The Rings of Saturn. I do so in three steps. First, I demonstrate how his sensory appreciation of buildings and objects is closely entwined with two moralhistorical critiques that were formulated most poignantly by authors of the Frankfurt School: the dialectics of progress and regress, and the remembrance of the repressed. Second, I describe in more detail the style figures through which Sebald puts these critical aesthetics to practice: Walter Benjamins notions of the storyteller and allegory. Third, I critically reflect upon the melancholy effect these critiques and style figures produce, and the possibilities they provide for both dialogical critique and contemplative resignation.