"On the Natural History of Destruction" and Cultural Memory: W. G. Sebald

in German Politics and Society
View More View Less
  • 1
Restricted access

Benjamin's well-known emblematic description of the rememberer as an archaeologist in "Excavation and Memory" is a fitting point of departure to explore the meaning, transmission, and form of cultural memory as a methodology and a subject in German studies. In this article, I explore the shift toward a renewed materiality of memory in fields such as archaeology and disaster studies that have been tangential to the discourses of cultural memory based on trauma and on identity politics prevalent in German cultural studies. After describing current practice in these fields and their relevance to the formation of cultural memory within the context of German studies, I then read the writing of W.G. Sebald within the framework of archaeological tropes in which the spaces dedicated to the dead play a major role. The close reading of Sebald's text serves as a model for re-reading other contemporary German literary texts within the broader context of other disciplinary approaches to the space of memory in the aftermath of atrocity.