Postgraduate students research a broad range of topics across the School disciplines.
Creative Component: Summerlands, a novel, & Exegesis: Postmemory, Bricolage and the Interface Between Image and Text in the Prose Fictions of W. G. Sebald
'Summerlands' is an original work incorporating memoir, fiction, folktales and visual material, and is based on my family’s experience as Second World War refugees from Lithuania to Australia. Elaborated through the microcosm of a dysfunctional family, the main themes of the novel are the dissonance between intention and utterance; the burden of memory; nostalgia for vanished worlds; and the inability of people who have survived extreme loss to relinquish the source of their trauma. The action of the novel takes place in a single day in chronological time, but subverts chronology in a conflation of memories.
The aim of my thesis is to cast new light on representations of ‘postmemory’ through an examination of the complex interrelationship between image and text in the prose fictions of W. G. Sebald. The exegesis will identify Sebald’s embedded images as documentary evidence, affirmation of existence, intervals which arrest time and slow down the speed of reading, and repositories of memory and imagination, and will interrogate the interface between image and text in terms of the Japanese aesthetic concept of ‘ma’. The exegesis and the creative component are linked thematically by a concern with catastrophe, trauma, exile, displacement, alienation and survival, and structurally by the use of embedded images.
In their introduction to ‘A Literature of Restitution’, the editors place particular emphasis on Sebald’s assertion that literature is able to ‘worry away at claims of historical veracity, to imagine alternative, and often elliptical, expressions of historical experience, and to pose unnerving questions about the relationship between, and representation of, the past and the present.’ I have chosen to present my research in fictional form because literature allows for a spontaneous, imaginative and emotive interpretation of past and present, which the constraints of historical accuracy demanded of pure memoir or biography do not permit.
In my exegesis I will show that the interface of image and text in Sebald’s prose fictions exponentially multiplies inherent and extrapolated meanings. The nebulous angst exhibited by Sebald’s subjects and narrators, and transferred to the reader, is a consequence of that multiplicity of coincidental, chaotic and apparently incoherent visions, and relates directly Sebald’s project of verification and reparation. My unconventional use of ‘ma’ as an analytic tool, and my contribution to the literature of postmemorial experience, should provoke considerable interest amongst Sebald scholars.