This essay argues that any critical engagement with the literary writings of W. G. Sebald requires a thorough understanding of both contemporary German cultural history as well as his largely untranslated critical corpus. I further contend that scholars who lack proficiency in German are disadvantaged because they are barred not only from a wealth of research and scholarship but also from unpublished papers at the German Literary Archives in Marbach. My argument is supported by a case study at the end of the essay that explores an overlooked facet of Sebald’s writing in German—namely, the persistent use of the word Neger, which translates as both “Negro” and “nigger” but has been silently neutralized in English translation.

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