Memory, Word and Image: W.G. Sebald’s Artistic Legacies

Seminar taught by Prof.Dr. Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes and Dr. Ilse van Rijn

Amsterdam, 6 December (Pre-meeting), 12-14 December (Conference), 16 December (post-meeting), 2019

Artists tend to work across disciplines and “art cannot be disciplined” (Hito Steyerl). Taking the case of W.G. Sebald’s interdisciplinary word and image practice on memory and presences of (migratory) lives as touchstone for our discussions, this conference seeks to foster academic, professional, artistic and public scholarship by exploring cutting-edge interdisciplinary research, findings, techniques, practices and theoretical advances in the areas of memory, word and image. Which role do art and literature play in this regard?

In order to deepen our understanding of writing with images (a key question in e.g. artistic research) and how it intersects with questions of memory, participants of the seminar will actively participate in the international conference 12-14 December 2019. The conference is the core activity in this NICA course; up-to-date details can be found at:

This seminar is meant for all researchers interested in word and image matters, whether from a literary, cultural analysis, art history or other vantage point.

In a pre-meeting with Mia Lerm Hayes on Friday 6 December, students are asked to relate the conference’s themes to their own research and motivate their plans for which of the parallel sessions and/or workshops they will attend. They will read at least one of Sebald’s major novels and prepare the conference keynote by James Elkins (details below) by consulting, where much primary and secondary literature are given. Art students of ‘Approaching Language,’ Sandberg Instituut, join university students, the course thus conceptually questioning the traditional separation between image and language, practice and theory, as does Sebald’s work.

On 16 December, the Monday after the conference, students will reflect on their findings in a morning workshop taught by Ilse van Rijn. This session is followed by a discussion with James Elkins in the afternoon. For these Monday encounters, students are asked to prepare (on basis of the pre-meeting) a page that relates their own projects to the matters of discussion (or Elkins’ work more broadly), leading to a question for Elkins to address at the meeting.

Finally, students will write a short reflection on their learning during the conference and meeting with Elkins, to be commented on with feedback by the teachers.

James Elkins : Models For Word and Image: From Rodenbach to Fernandez Mallo

Keynote Abstract:

The prevalence of Sebald in studies of fictional narratives that incorporate images has led to a lack of theorization of other practices. Sebald’s practice is generally to anchor the image in its surrounding text in such a way that the reader is led up to, into, and past the image with minimal interruption in the flow of reading. In that way his narratives can explore continuous paths of memory on which images are passing waystations. It is also possible to permit images to slow the narrative, or to draw readers repeatedly back to the images, or to use images to cast doubt on the narrator or the narration. I will compare Sebald’s practices to what can be found in Georges Rodenbach, Breton, Tan Lin, Anne Carson, Christian Bök, Fernandez Mallo, Philipp Weiss, and others, in order to suggest that Sebald is only one example of a long discontinuous history of writing on images.

James Elkins is C. Chadbourne Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism (1989). BA, cum laude, 1977, Cornell University; MFA and MA, 1983, and PhD with honors, 1989, University of Chicago. Books:Pictures and Tears: A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings; Chinese Landscape Painting as Western Art History; Pictures of the Body: Pain and Metamorphosis; The Domain of Images; How to Use Your Eyes; What Painting Is; The Poetics of Perspective; The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing; Why are our Pictures Puzzles?; On Pictures and the Words That Fail Them; What Happened to Art Criticism?; Six Stories from the End of Representation; Visual Studies: A Skeptical Introduction; What Photography Is; Art Critiques: A Guide.

Register by sending an email to Eloe Kingma at The seminar can host up to 10 participants and admission is on a first come, first in basis. For full participation and the written reflection you may earn 3 EC.