H.G. Adler and W.G. Sebald: From History and Literature to Literature as Historiography

Lynn L. Wolff


This article places an emphasis on Adler as both an historian and a poet. Highlighting Adler’s engagement with both the past and the possible ways of (re) presenting the past, this article also considers the range of Adler’s scholarly and artistic texts and how they push the boundaries of form and method to document and bear witness not only to the atrocities of National Socialism but also to the vicissitudes of humanity, thereby assisting as well as challenging our understanding and imagination. The article then draws out the connections between H.G. Adler and W.G. Sebald, including Sebald’s commemoration of Adler’s scholarly work within the fictional prose text Austerlitz (2001). Writing in a tradition forged by Adler and motivated by similar concerns, Sebald’s œuvre fuses historiography and literature, providing new ways to reconsider the contentious relationship between the two discourses. Reading Sebald’s fictional prose as a new form of literature-as-historiography, or “literary historiography” as I term it, reveals his poetics of engagement that involves the reader in an ethical negotiation of the past, Germany’s past and the Holocaust in particular, through aesthetic questions of literary discourse and epistemological questions of the representation of history. (LLW)

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