Holocaust and Herring: The Resuscitation of the Silenced in W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn

Martin Blumenthal-Barby


Sebald’s narrator is a pilgrim, and his “English pilgrimage” leads him through the county of Suffolk in East Anglia. His mission lies in the attempt to comprehend the brutalities of battle and the despair of the victims he describes. In a distinctly Benjaminian sense, the narrator enacts justice by telling the stories of injustice and barbaric crime constitutive of history as such. He sees (as does the saturnine Walter Benjamin) justice as, above all, justice for the dead, and that means remembering the injustice done to them. To be sure, the narrator is aware of the appropriation of “justice” by the ruling class of each generation, which is why he restores the unrecorded stories of the vanquished and resuscitates their silenced discourse. Oddly enough, Sebald’s narrator himself falls victim to his narrative quest: he who tells the stories of others in order to do justice yields to despair. (MB-B)

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