The photograph-lined books of contemporary German author W.G. Sebald narrate a complex history of repressed violence, geopolitical displacement, and subjective and national recollection in postwar Europe. The capacity for transmigration, defined as the ability to traverse boundaries both geopolitical as well as between life states, is treated at length in The Rings of Saturn (1995) and emerges as one of the author’s exemplary methods for transmitting violent histories resistant to representation. The moths, photographs and emigrants that populate Sebald’s stories and appear on the pages of his books share this capacity for transmigration and become interchangeable with one another. An account of the metamorphosis of moths reads as a description of the photographic process, just as the recovery of an old photographic portrait becomes a metaphor for the return of a forgotten emigrant across time and space, and the harvesting of silkworm moths in a Nazi-era pedagogical film emerges as a thinly veiled allegory of the Holocaust. This article argues that Sebald employs transmigration both thematically and methodologically to address the ethical challenges to representing catastrophe, in a manner that preserves the reader’s capacity for remembrance and reflection.
"Moths, Photographs, and Emigrants: The Capacity for Transmigration in the Work of W. G. Sebald,"
Criticism: Vol. 58
, Article 5.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/criticism/vol58/iss2/5