Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
What is memory? Is it a familial inheritance, a file in the archives, an unanswerable question, a ghost of someone, or something, long dead? And, beyond the “what” of memory, there is also the “how.” How does one gain access to memory? By digging through history books, flipping through family photo albums, daydreaming in solitude, or by listening to the stories of first-hand witnesses? This thesis seeks to address the above questions in relation to the memorial accounts of the trauma of World War II and the devastation of the Holocaust in W.G. Sebald’s novel, Austerlitz by making use of the theoretical tools provided by Jewish mysticism–– specifically the reparative notion of tikkun, the diagrams of the sefirot, and the act of creation as part of a dialogue between text and image. Although pairing the Kabbalah and a 21st century novel may seem untoward, reading the two together creates a new method for approaching the problem of memory, and the memory of trauma specifically. Memory is therefore understood in this thesis as having three key characteristics: it requires movement (in both an imaginative and physical sense), it is an act of creation, and it allows characters to simultaneously be both one and many–an individual and a collective. Turning to theorizations of Jewish mysticism not only contextualizes Sebald’s ideas within a much older philosophical heritage, but such a turn also helps to reframe questions of the Holocaust and memory within a distinctly Jewish tradition and thereby exposes a new angle for addressing a series of questions that has saturated scholarship since the end of WWII. Reading Sebald within the context of Jewish mysticism opens up productive avenues for understanding the dialectical exchange between the collective and the individual in acts of memorial reparation and the ways in which such dialectics rely heavily on creativity and mobility. Thus, rather than holding the historical and the personal, the public and the private, the collective and the individual, as oppositional categories, this thesis seeks to understand the ways in which the text’s characters are in constant movement between these categories whenever they seek to understand a past that has been partially erased by a monumental loss of human life (and therefore a monumental loss of human memory).
Klevdal, Jordan, "The Mystics of Memory: Jewish Mysticism in W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz" (2018). English Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 110.