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Freud to W.G. Sebald: Narratives of Trauma, Trauma of Narrative

April 4 - May 9, 2022
Mondays, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. (six sessions)
online via Zoom


In this seminar, we will explore Sebald’s final novel, Austerlitz (2001), and the narrative “Max Ferber” from The Emigrants (1992), as literary representations of trauma. Sebald unfolds his concept of trauma through a myriad of themes and tropes, such as, intermingled identities of survivor and victim, speaker and listener; displacement; exile; individual and collective trauma; silence; forgetting and remembering, and Holocaust memory.

One of the most acclaimed writers of twentieth-century German literature, Sebald’s works convey a profound mode of despair and melancholy, as well as urban decay. In her new biography (Speak Silence), Carole Angier reads these tropes autobiographically, drawing new attention on the author’s own depressed states. We will examine the representation of trauma not only thematically, but also through Sebald’s narrative techniques that render writing itself traumatic.

Two selected essays by Sigmund Freud, “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917) and “Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through” (1914), will complement the Sebald readings. Although Freud does not present a fully-developed trauma theory, his fundamental concepts of repression, resistance, forgetting, and the unconscious among them, all inform the notion of trauma as an underlying cause of mental disorder.


The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald  translated By Michael Hulse ( New Directions, 1997, or: New Directions, 2016)

Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald, translated by Anthea Bell (Random House, 2002)

“Mourning and Melancholia” and “Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through”  by Sigmund Freud (essays provided to participants)

Reading Schedule

 Monday, April 4

Introduction; Sebald, Austerlitz pp. 3-74 (up to the new section “While I was . . .”)

Monday, April 11

Austerlitz, pp. 74-117 (up to the new section)

Monday, April 18

Freud, “Mourning and Melancholia” (pdf); Austerlitz, pp. 117-166 (up to “But to come back . . .”)

Monday, April 25

Austerlitz, pp. 166-283

Monday, May 2

Freud, “Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through” (pdf); Sebald, “Max Ferber” (in The Emigrants), pp. 149-193 (up to the new section)

Monday, May 9

“Max Ferber”, pp. 193-237

Access Program
We want our writing classes and Delves to be accessible to everyone, regardless of income and background. We understand that our tuition structure can present obstacles for some people. Our Access Program offers writing class and Delve tuitions at a reduced rate. The access program for writing classes covers 60% of the class tuition.

Please apply here for access rate tuition. Contact Susan Moore at susan@literary-arts.org if you have questions.



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Ülker Gökberk

Ülker Gökberk is Professor Emerita of German and Humanities at Reed College.  She earned her Ph.D. in Germanics at the University of Washington (1986) and her M.A. and B.A. degrees in Philosophy at the University of Istanbul.  She has been at Reed since 1986. Her forthcoming book is titled Excavating Memory: Bilge Karasu’s Istanbul and Walter Benjamin’s Berlin.
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