Luftkrieg und Literatur

W. G. Sebald|German edition

About the book

When W. G. Sebald presented his theses on aerial warfare and literature (Luftkrieg und Literatur) at the University of Zurich in the autumn of 1997, the echo was unheard-of. Sebald spoke about "the inability of an entire generation of German authors to record and bring into our memory what they had seen. More important to them than describing the real conditions was, he said, the restoration of their own self-image. W. G. Sebald's provocative attack appears here for the first time as a paperback, supplemented by an essay with which the author responds to the heated discussions. A provocative thesis: German literature failed before the horror of the aerial war. With analytical acuteness and a wealth of material, Sebald marks a wound in post-war literature that has not healed to this day. His challenging investigation is complemented by an essay with which Sebald responds to the heated discussions.


ISBN: 978-3-596-14863-9

Luftkrieg und Literatur (Aerial Warfare and Literature) is published in 1999. The same year, March 24th 1999 exactly, the German postwar period came to an end. In Operation Allied Force the German Air Force, for the first time after WWII, took part in an armed combat mission. „Der Aufsteiger“ (the upward climber), so the 2020 title of Edgar Wolfrum Geschichte Deutschlands von 1990 bis heute shifted the paramount political commandment of power from „Never again War“ to „Never again Auschwitz“. Luftkrieg und Literatur „was initiated by Carl Seeligs description of a trip with the institutional patient Robert Walser that took place in midsummer1943, exactly on that same day followed by the night in which the city of Hamburg perished in fire.“ Sebald analyses the blank that the aerial warfare over Germany left in German literature and diagnoses a „failure in face of the violence of the absolute contingency that emerged out of our heads mania for order.“ The „disastrous horror“ of aerial warfare over Germany seems to have barely left „a trail of pain“. Rather it has been tried to make of it „a glorious page in the register of things endured successfully and without evidence of inner weakness.“ W.G Sebald choses the rare German word Ruhmesblatt (glorious page). It reminds us of another, completely different „glorious page that has not and will not be spoken of“ from that same year of the war 1943. The „merciless“ scale of the events triggered by the „professionals of terror“ opens up only, if ever, „under a synoptical, artificial view.“ Documentation needs Fiction. From page 35 to 80 Sebald tries to find the start of a „Natural History of Destruction“. In this attempt he again and again takes into artificial view the night of July 28th, when under the title >Operation Gomorrha< „the complete annihilation and incineration of the city“ of Hamburg began. In the end Sebald confines his view from that of Alexander Kluge, whose view „despite all intellectual steadfastness is also the horrified look of the angel of history ". The Sebaldian view, the readers of the not jet written view, is similar to the one of Clockwork Orange Alex, clinged in the Ludovico Technique. No more Singing in the Rain. The Fire Next Time.

Michael Stöppler

Michael Stöppler

Social Scientist


in the Literature Atlas

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