by cheri block
I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading on the subject of memory and memorials.
The thesis I am writing concerns the memories of two men, one Czech Jew and one German, both of whom entangle themselves in a story of the retrieval of unremembered memory.
Their stories, and those of other people within the 2001 book Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald, intersect with one of the saddest memories of the 20th century–the Holocaust.
I am examining the narrative devices that Sebald uses in his story, one that digresses, philosophizes, and deeply troubles.
How accurate are our memories? When we recall a painful or sentimental or hilarious experience and retell it to our friends or family members or therapists, how embellished or exaggerated is it?
Some of us decorate our memories and retell them to others to get attention. Others of us are purging our memory banks to create more space in an already crammed vault. Then there are those who have been traumatized, stuffed the trauma, and find that denying the soul its reality causes psychic upset.
Whatever the reason, we cannot fully trust our memories.
We all use narrative devices to push forward our own personal narratives, ones that are rooted in memory.
In the case of the story I am analyzing, the main character (and narrator at times), Jacques Austerlitz, tries to recall painful memory. His creator, author W.G. Sebald, surrounds him with photographs, diagrams, delay, imagery, and other narrators who periscopically interpret his thoughts.
In the end, the text serves up a Holocaust memorial that we can put in our pockets.