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Literature as Historiography: W.G. Sebald’s Hybrid Discourse

November 8, 2010 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Black and White Portrait image of Lynn Wolff wearing glasses and a dark shirt

Monday Seminar:

Lynn Wolff

Dana-Allen Dissertation Fellow (2010-2011)

German, UW-Madison


The discursive difference between literature and historiography as defined by Aristotle has remained an organizing principle for both discourses across the ages. In my dissertation I trace the sustained contact between literature and historiography, highlighting where they diverge and converge, and examining, in particular, the way in which a new hybrid discourse of literature as historiography, or what I term “literary historiography,” emerges in the works of German-language author W.G. Sebald (1944-2001). It is a primary aim of Sebald’s writing to bring various fields into dialogue—often disparate ones such as the fine arts and the natural sciences, for example—while at the same time questioning these various ways of knowing. In this presentation, I will provide an overview of my dissertation and elucidate the core questions Sebald formulates in his texts regarding literature’s relationship to reality and fiction’s relationship to history. Together with these questions, the thematic constellations Sebald presents, such as memory, trauma, and the Holocaust, reach beyond the borders of German studies not only to the study of literature in general but to broader aesthetic and epistemological concerns shared across the humanities.


Lynn L. Wolff is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of German at the University of Wisconsin, Madison with a Ph.D. minor in French. Her research interests include: German and French literature, culture, history, and philosophy from the 18th through 21st centuries; Holocaust Studies; Gender Studies; Narratology; Photography; Translation Theory, and World Literature/s. She has authored articles on W.G. Sebald; H.G. Adler; literary and historical representations of female concentration camp guards; and the 1780 essay contest of the Prussian Royal Academy. Wolff has been a Fulbright Research Fellow, a UW-Madison Graduate School Fellow, a Deuss/Schultz Distinguished Graduate Fellow of the UW-Madison German Department, and a Dorot Graduate Student Research Assistant at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She has also received fellowships from the German Historical Institute and the National Archive of German Literature (Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach).


November 8, 2010
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
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University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States