Architecture and memory in W. G. Sebald's 'Austerlitz'

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Abstract

Austerlitz was the German expatriate author W. G. Sebald's last book before his untimely death in 2001. Greeted with great critical acclaim, the novel is a profound meditation on history, memory, and loss. Sebald's larger attempt to represent and memorialise the lasting trauma of the Holocaust, in an oblique and understated rather than a literal way, led him to a new kind of literary expression described by Eric Homberger as 'part hybrid novel, part memoir and part travelogue'. What is most interesting about Austerlitz, for the purposes of this article, is that it makes so much use of architecture. In this, it joins a tradition of literary works that treat architecture as a metaphor for human endeavour and artifice, social structures, and attempts to order and construct the world. But, there is more to the buildings in Austerlitz. The book offers insights into the larger meaning - often, but not always, melancholy - of architecture in culture and society, past and present. This is elucidated at a personal level, in the way that surroundings and spatial atmospheres can affect the emotional life of an individual, and also at a collective level, in the way that buildings bear witness to, and last beyond, the trials and duration of a single human life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41 - 48
Number of pages8
JournalARQ: Architectural Research Quarterly
Volume19
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

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