History in Sebald’s Austerlitz

My question: How is the theme of the subjectivity of history reflected in the book

I wonder if there is a link between the way Austerlitz handle information about his past and the ending of the book. History is a huge theme in this book and I wondered if the ending was an indication of an underlying message, which I infer to be the subjectivity of history. First, I would like to say that my question is not concerned about addressing the ‘suspense’ at the end of the book. Because, if we are talking about the suspense and what the purpose of the suspense is alone, without contextualizing it, the possibilities are endless. Rather, I think it would be more interesting to form a correlation between the suspense and the way Austerlitz handles information obtained about his past. By the end of the book the theme of history and how history is subjective really stood out to me. The narrator and Austerlitz’s teacher were the two responsible for constantly reinforcing it. The narrator mentions that there is no way to retell history at its truest. Hilary gives us a sense of the limitations of our historical knowledge. He tells us that there is little to no way we can fully understand history in a holistic manner because one, there could be missing pieces to the puzzle, or two, we judge historical events based on preconceived notions. History is not something that can be memorized and retold, unlike say the bible, where we can memorize its verses now and recite, word for word, exact to the original verses, in the future. Historical information retold today, are simply ‘renditions’ of what they truly are because nothing can account for it in its entirety. With this context in mind, the ‘suspense’ at the end could be an indication that Austerlitz will continue his journey on an endless search for historical truth. This is how I think the theme of historical knowledge is linked with the ending.

1 Thought.

  1. Ah, I get your question and your interpretation much better now! It also helps that I’ve read your essay too, which includes some similar themes. So the idea as I’m understanding it now is that Austerlitz can’t really find the historical truth he wants because, well, it’s impossible to find. So that’s why there’s no “closure” at the end. Is that it? And there’s also the point that he is selective in what he keeps from himself, what he walls off of his past (whether consciously or unconsciously), which means he is directly engaging in making his own history subjective. That’s how I’m taking your point here, and it’s interesting!

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