The Paradox of the Memoir in Will Self’s Walking to Hollywood and W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn

walking_thumbFrom Aristotle who reportedly walked as he talked, to Wordsworth’s romantic rambles, there is a history of links between walking and writing. In a new article for Postgraduate English, Martin Gleghorn explores two memoirs by Will Self and W.G. Sebald, in which the “writers embark upon walks along various stretches of England’s eroding east coast as a means of attempting to dispel an insidious sense of melancholy.” In the process, their narratives become an opportunity to reflect upon the act of memoir-writing itself.

Focusing on W. G. Sebald’s 1995 work The Rings of Saturn and Will Self’s 2010 work Walking to Hollywood, this essay examines the ways in Sebald and Self portray the memoir as a genre of writing that is necessary on a personal level, despite the fact that they are both notably conscious of the fact that the act of charting their experiences is an inherently futile one. For both writers, this futility is the logical end product of the combination of entrapment and isolation that characterises modern existence. In turn, this paper will analyse the various historical, cultural, psychological and physical factors that catalyse such melancholy for Sebald and Self, and in discussing these factors aims to come full circle by uncovering why it is that the need to document one’s life experiences becomes such an essential one.

This article is available in the new issue of Postgraduate English, one of the UK’s leading journals publishing literary research by postgraduates. The Call for Papers for the next issue is now out, and all postgraduates or early-career researchers are invited to contribute.


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