The Sign of Saturn: Melancholy, Homelessness and Apocalypse in W.G. Sebald's Prose Narratives

Peter Morgan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


W.G. Sebald's prose narratives of the 1990s, Schwindel. Gefuhle, Die Ausgewanderten and Die Ringe des Saturn, have been positively received as reflections on history and memory after Auschwitz. In the present article a more critical view of Sebald's narrative stance is Suggested. Sebald shares his generation's problem of not being able to talk about postwar German identity, and hence about his own identity, other than in terms of Auschwitz. While this may lead to a sympathetic portrayal of individual lives in Die Ausgewanderten, it also involves a repression and a projection of important aspects of self-identity. Auschwitz becomes the literary symbol of the over-determination of Sebald's generation by the national past. In Die Ringe des Saturn Sebald's narrative melancholy escalates into an apocalyptic negativity as Auschwitz turns from a historical event into an all-encompassing myth of destruction. The argument falls into two parts: firstly Sebald's narrative melancholy is shown to have its origins in a sense of over-determination by the past and loss of a sense of group identity, generating a powerful counter-movement of apocalyptic rejection; secondly his narrative perspective is contextualised in terms of the left-wing melancholy' of postwar West German intellectuals, with reference to Lepenies's Melancholie und Gesellchaft, and Grass's Aus dent Tagebuch einer Schnecke.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-92
JournalGerman Life and Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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