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Skickas inom vardagar. Sebald's On the Natural History of Destruction explores German writers' silence about a moment of mass destruction In the last years of World War II, a million tons of bombs were dropped by the Allies on one hundred and thirty-one German towns and cities. Six hundred thousand civilians died, and three and a half million homes were destroyed. When it has cast such a very dark shadow over his life and work, Sebald asks, how have so many writers allowed themselves to write it out of their experience and avoid articulating the horror?

Byatt, New Statesman 'Demands to be read for its grand emotional power Secondly, I think Vollmann misses the point. How is it, first of all, that humans can even have the choice to disregard this kind of suffering? And third of all, Even if Germans repressed during the war, why did they continue to repress afterward? Yet Sebald never connects this silence, this looking away, this numbness, this forgetfulness, and this inhumanity to the more general moral collapse of Germany as it sunk into barbarism in the s. It is precisely what allowed the Holocaust to occur. Silence and denial enabled the process at every hideous step of the way: the hysterical propaganda, the rise of the death squads, the Nuremberg laws, the torture centers, the deportations, the camps, and finally the gas chambers.

Beyond this answer, I would wonder about the state of German publishing. Sebald tells us that a novel about the bombing by Peter de Mendellssohn written in the s was only published in and one by Henrich Boll which Sebald considers to be among the best novels on the matter was written in , but sat until the s. Yet the lecture says nothing about why these books were shelved. Was it the author? Nervous publishers?

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Perhaps if these two authors had published, others might have been encouraged to do the same. A start? Sebald would have done better to ask these questions. The unnamed reviewer at the Complete Review also has an argument as to why there were so few books published on the topic:. I would agree, but not entirely.

Literature of the more reportorial type the type Sebald seems most interested in, especially least here often appears shortly after an event. Moreover, it sold in large quantities to a public thirsty for information about the war—quite different from the German experience.

After the titular essay half the book , Sebald discusses the work of three Germans who wrote about the war although not about the bombing. Sebald heaps scorn on the first, Alfred Andersch. In it, the novelist examines the devastation of German cities by Allied bombardment and the reasons for the astonishing absence of this unprecedented trauma from German history and culture.

This historical void is in part a repression of things -- such as the death by fire of the city of Hamburg at the hands of the RAF -- too terrible to bear. But rather than record the crises about them, writers sought to retrospectively justify their actions under the Nazis.

On The Natural History Of Destruction

For Sebald, this is an example of deliberate cultural amnesia. His analysis of its effects in and outside Germany has already provoked angry painful debate. Sebald's novels are rooted in meticulous observation. His essays are novelistic. They include his childhood recollections of the war that spurred his horror at the collective amnesia around him. There are moments of black humor and, throughout, the sensitivity of his intelligence.

This book is a study of suffering and forgetting, of the morality hidden in artistic decisions, and of both compromised and genuine heroics. Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. Published March 4th by Penguin MD first published More Details Original Title. Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about On the Natural History of Destruction , please sign up. I wonder if Sebald specifically mentions how Fashism ended in Europe? Does he propose a practical model for like tyrannies around the world and people who are resisting them, how to go about toppling fascist-like governments and theocracies?

Mehrnaz Is there a summary of this book somewhere? See 1 question about On the Natural History of Destruction…. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Jul 30, BlackOxford rated it really liked it Shelves: german-language , history , criticism , war. Helping the Angel of History Although Sebald has some clearly stated moral criticisms of the Allied carpet-bombing of German civilians during WWII, these are not the main subject of his Zurich lectures nor of the personal responses he includes in this volume.

Rather, it is the widespread impact of such trauma and the subsequent effects of what amounts to a massive cultural as well as psychological repression that he analyses. I think such an effort is worthwhile mainly because it suggests paralle Helping the Angel of History Although Sebald has some clearly stated moral criticisms of the Allied carpet-bombing of German civilians during WWII, these are not the main subject of his Zurich lectures nor of the personal responses he includes in this volume.

I think such an effort is worthwhile mainly because it suggests parallel phenomena in many other areas of large-scale human tragedy. There are events simply too terrible to recall, to discuss, or even to admit to consciousness. The death toll in Hamburg alone was probably that of the atomic blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. And the physical destruction was virtually complete in many German cities over even greater areas than in Japan. The remarkable thing for Sebald is that these losses were not seriously considered in either official analyses or in literature for almost half a century.

But there is also the humiliation risked if such events were to recognised in the presence of the forces of the occupying victors. And given the immense task of rebuilding from nothing in the affected cities, morale could only have been compromised by contemplating the causes of the devastation.

These seem obvious, or at least plausible, enough. But these are rationalisations rather than explanations.

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The basic fact that these rationalisations revolve around is the experience itself, an experience of survival within inexpressibly horrible conditions of death, destruction, decay, filth, and disease. The survivors witnessed extinction not just of their friends and families but of an entire civilisation.

They starved, lived in caves, acted more like an insect colony than a society - in some cases, for years. Collective catastrophe forms an historical break, a before and after.

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The before becomes largely mythological in light of the catastrophe while the catastrophic events themselves are incomprehensible, almost divinely transcendent in their sheer excessiveness. Melodrama is always a literary temptation in these circumstances; but this is a distraction rather than an exploration of the horror involved.

Sebald puts his intellectual finger on the central problem which is not with officials or authors but with the nature of the experience: Those who undergo such trauma cannot express their experience. The survivors of apartheid in South Africa similarly report a failure of expression during the Truth and Reconciliation process. It does not seem unreasonable to extrapolate this sort of mute testimony to other events - to slavery and the extermination of the natives in America; to those who served in the trenches in the first European war; to the survivors of genocide in Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

The list of such occasions in which language of their existential reality is entirely absent is of course endless. Recognition that perhaps the most important things about such events are inherently beyond language is significant in everything from literature to government policy-making. Minimally it might make us all a bit more humble in our opinions. Mass trauma seems most likely to get transmitted entirely outside of language. This makes their effects more rather than less pronounced. Just recognising this possibility might be a major intellectual breakthrough.

The Angel, with horrified fixity, looks back on the past while it is swept forward by the storm of events. It is completely oblivious to either its present state or its future. It, therefore, has no real experience except of what has already been recorded. It is helplessly mute because records are inadequate to cope with the circumstances in which it finds itself.

The book is a sort of meditation which demands thinking about tragedies other than the destruction of almost every German city. View all 13 comments. Feb 24, Ana rated it it was amazing Shelves: absolute , history , non-fiction , of-self , somehow-societal , of-life-and-death , war-stories , law-abiding-citizen , page-turner. Besides the essay on area bombing, of which I was interested and which was the main reason for me purchasing this book, I was very pleasantly surprised by a review of Jean Avery's work, which I can't wait to read now. Beautifully written on the part of Sebald and with such consideration towards victims, such strong belief that we must understand both the perpetrator and the victim in any criminal process such as the WWII genocide was.

To hear of mothers who pack their burned and mummified chil Besides the essay on area bombing, of which I was interested and which was the main reason for me purchasing this book, I was very pleasantly surprised by a review of Jean Avery's work, which I can't wait to read now. To hear of mothers who pack their burned and mummified children in suitcases after escaping from German cities that were flattened out by the British and American bombers, is to hear the side of the story very rarely told: the double victims of the Second World War, the citizens of a country run by a raging lunatic who had to suffer at the hands of his and his friends' insanity, while at the same time being bombed for intimidation purposes by the Allies.

It's a loss-loss situation, and when speaking and writing of Nazi Germany, a lot of people forget that. View 1 comment. May 09, Hugh rated it liked it Shelves: translations , non-fiction , read This posthumous collection is a curious mixture. The bulk of the book consists of an adapted lecture series on the bombing of German cities, the unprecedented nature of the destruction in cities such as Hamburg and the curious lack of references to it in most German post-war literature.

This is powerful, moving and thought provoking. The remainder of the book is a series of essays on three German writers, none of whom I knew anything about, and although this was interesting in what it said about This posthumous collection is a curious mixture. The remainder of the book is a series of essays on three German writers, none of whom I knew anything about, and although this was interesting in what it said about the culture of the time, it would not inspire me to read any of these writers.

The first is Alfred Andersch - who seems comically vain and egotistical, the second is Jean Amery, a Jewish survivor of the camps and the third is Peter Weiss, who was also a painter. Sebald was always an intriguing writer, but for the most part I don't think this ranks with his best work. View 2 comments. Jun 21, AC rated it liked it Shelves: 20thst-century , fascism. The essay is clear and contains some interesting points. Sebald believes that contemporary Germans suffer from a sort of cognitive disconnect that comes from denying the fact of their trauma -- AND the fact that they themselves quite obviously were the ultimate cause of that trauma.

For those seeking to understand the strange psychology of the Germans that is on display today in the current crisis, this essay will repay the effort of reading it. Shelves: non-fiction. You would think the massive air raids on Germany in World War II, the most dramatic experience the German people have ever gone through, would be a subject Germans couldn't stop talking about. The exact opposite is the case. But why? Sebald goes to the bottom of this phenomenon in the four essays that make up this book. He comes up with a thorough, convincing and riveting explanation.

German authors are largely to blame. The first essay traces this out. The second names a famous German author as You would think the massive air raids on Germany in World War II, the most dramatic experience the German people have ever gone through, would be a subject Germans couldn't stop talking about. The second names a famous German author as an example of this. The third essay discusses a German author who resisted this trend. The fourth essay recaps these ideas in a discussion of the artist Peter Weiss.

Readers see how Germany's authors glazed over not just the experience of the air raids, but the experience of the years leading up to them. Along the way Sebald calls into question not only authors, but the accounts of ordinary Germans as well. For example, letters written at the time show no syntactical problems describing the attacks. I'm curious how the German accounts of air attacks compare to the British ones of the Blitz. But that's another essay. German authors, for their part, had careers to build, and the realism of the actual experience gave way to the authorial quest for cool About Germany's writers the author is equally to the point: When a morally compromised author claims the field of aesthetics as a value-free area it should make his readers stop and think.

This caution should serve for all readers. Sebald points out that such literary stylization tends to create a complicity between reader and author. Do modern authors similarly mask our current problems? This is thought-provoking. I give the book only four stars in part because I wasn't familiar with the authors Sebald criticizes mea culpa and also because, for once, I think an author didn't say quite enough. A concluding essay would have gone down well with me.

On The Natural History Of Destruction

One thing Sebald does particularly well is to give readers a clue as to the really great German books and authors they ought to look into. Start with this one. On the Nautral History of Destruction is top-notch, and I strongly recommend it. May 17, Justin Evans rated it it was ok Shelves: essays.

Had this been reviewed more fairly by my fellow Goodreaders, I probably would have gone up to 3 stars, but instead I find myself thrown into a position of aggression.

Had this been written by, e. Thankfully for lovers of mildly diverting amateur history and effective literary polemic i. Meanwhile, one third of Peter Weiss's Aesthetics of Resistance, which Sebald praises effusively in the last essay here, has been published by a small university press. So it goes. The main attraction of this volume is a pair of lectures Sebald gave on the German people's supposed failure to remember and therefore work through the horrific destruction of that country's cities at the end of the second world war--a destruction that will be familiar to anyone interested in now slightly out of favor novels like Slaughterhouse 5.


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This has the virtues of appealing to what I am told are Sebald's main themes, memory and forgetting. I confess, these are not my favorite themes, but I am saved here because statement i is blatantly untrue. This, too, is untrue, as Sebald admits, and once more alters his statement to iii German writers have not repressed the destruction of, e. Sebald; that is, they have not written extremely plain descriptions of objects like burnt human limbs. Please note that Sebald was an infant while the bombing was going on, so he certainly doesn't and can't 'remember' the destruction.

This is really where the argument comes to rest: nobody has written a book about the destruction of the German cities, to which Sebald could, in good conscience, have given five stars on goodreads. That is not much of an argument. The insights it gives into Sebald's aesthetic preferences do not endear him to me, either, since his suggestion is that any 'artistic' representation of this destruction is morally bankrupt, and what is needed is, more or less, the straight facts ma'am.

Perhaps among German authors this could seem like a radical statement. To those of us used to Anglo-American 'plainness,' unfortunately, it sounds like a plea for yet more lower journalism. The two lectures are nicely written, and the essay on Peter Weiss aforementioned may, I hope, spur publication of Aesthetics of Resistance's second and third thirds. I hope this in part because the essay on Jean Amery was probably behind the recent translation of the work discussed here, on the air war. The first lit-crit essay is a polemic against Alfred Andersch, a writer I'd never heard of, and thanks to Sebald's entirely convincing essay, will probably never read.

Of course, that would have been the case without Sebald's essay. The dark core of the book is Sebald's addendum to his lectures starting on page I suspect that this is the most Sebaldian part of the book: it flits around the author's uninteresting personal experiences, and the fragments seem, to me at least, to add up to nothing.