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Durham University

School of Modern Languages & Cultures

Events in Modern Languages & Cultures

Culture & Difference Research Group: Sebald's Bachelors: Queer Resistance and the Unconforming Life, Dr Helen Finch [Leeds University]

28th November 2012, 12:00, A56, Elvet Riverside I, Durham University

Why are homosexual bachelors, moments of queer desire and alternative models of masculinity scattered throughout the work of the celebrated German writer W. G. Sebald? From the painter Matthias Grünewald in After Nature who has a ‘better eye for men’, to Edward FitzGerald in The Rings of Saturn who goes cruising on the North Sea in search of a lover, decked out in a feather boa, queer bachelors reappear again and again. 

In this talk, Helen Finch argues that these bachelors subvert melancholy throughout Sebald's poems and prose. While Sebald is known as the pre-eminent ‘anatomist of melancholy’, literary historian of trauma and mourner of the Holocaust, the queer moments in his texts disrupt the dominant themes of catastrophe. Because they refuse normative structures of masculinity, heterosexual desire and reproduction, these queer moments serve as a form of resistance to the dominant structures of German literature, European history and patriarchal society. 

Drawing on the theories of Deleuze and Guattari, Finch argues that Sebald’s queer bachelors are by turns comic, tragic and poetic, but they still combine to the production of a ‘desiring machine’ within Sebald’s work. This provides an alternative, possibly more hopeful way to respond to the tragic effects of capitalism and the losses caused by the progress of history.

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