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The third essay (min. 1500 words) needs to be concerned with the books from the period following WWII (i.e., the cold War), Choose either The Joke or Austerlitz for your topic, following one of the prompts below (Austerlitz to be supplied later):

The Joke:

  • Irony is used to describe at least three categories of discourse: dramatic irony, in which a character on stage says something without understanding its full significance (not applicable in this case); situational irony, in which events play out very differently from what was intended; or verbal irony, in which a character says something opposite to her / his real meaning. Find one incident or one pattern of incidents from The Joke which is an example of situational irony, and discuss its importance to the novel and to the author’s apparent world view.
  • Kitsch is the term used to describe art which is bad in specific ways (sentimental, manipulative, over the top). The Jokeprovides multiple examples of kitsch used for political purposes (Julius Fucik’s heroism, Helena’s radio reporting, the co-optation of folk art). Choose one of these, and drawing upon for relevant information outside the novel, discuss how those in power make use of kitsch.


  • Several topics discussed by Austerlitz pertain to the emergence of memory. Choose one of these and describe how it pertains to the wider concerns of the novel generally and, if relevant, to Austerlitz personally.
  • Sebald makes unusual use of photographs in the novel. Classify these, exploring their relation to the nearby prose account. What effect does Sebald’s use of photographs have?

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