Highgate

Thursday

More thoughts on Sebald

"On that first day of November in 1980, preoccupied as i was with my notes and the ever widening and contracting circles of my thoughts, I became enveloped by a sense of utter emptinesses and never once left my room. It seemed to me then that one could well end one's life simply through thinking and retreating into one's mind, for, although I had closed the windows and the room was warm, my limbs were growing progressively colder and stiffer with my lack of movement, so that when at length the waiter arrived with the red wine and sandwiches i had ordered, i felt as if i had already been interred or laid out for burial, silently grateful for the proffered libation, but no longer capable of consuming it." [Vertigo]
I happened to read this page out loud to Jenny the other night while i was laying in bed and she was putting away laundry and organizing some of her things. Afterwards i had to go back a read it a few more times, to myself, in my head and out loud to my self alone; and it was even more enjoyable to transcribe it here. For about 3 years now I've been slowly making my way through Sebald's pseudo prose-fiction, and a book of his poetry is in the mail right now... These are not books that lend themselves to a quick read, they move slow and need to be taken in doses and washed down with contemplation; nothing is offered up with ease - It's hard for me to put my finger on just what it is about his writing that nonetheless grips me, when his books are almost completely without a grip; rather they just float detached, over terrible things and beautiful forgotten places, memories and vague emotions. Though these stories leave me aching to my core afterwards and i often go back just to read some beautifully written phrase or paragraph.

Most of Sebald's work as you can find out just about anywhere, revolved around the concepts of memory, history, fact and fiction, and it would seem the inevitable annihilation of all these things and their creators... He goes from place to place, sometimes as himself, other times as perhaps Kafka, or an unnamed narrator. With German precision he recollects the exacting details of once bustling british seaside resort towns, or of some provincial Italian train station; or does he? was he ever there - have they ever existed? Chances are, they did - he has pictures of them that he puts in his books, pictures he finds, pictures he takes - but the locations, the names are in question or perhaps the type of wood used to make a clock was not english oak, like he explicitly pointed out... these are after all, some kind of dream, or subjective recollection of a past spilled over with fantasy and emotion...
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excerpt from a Guardian interview:

Maya Jaggi: Jacques Austerlitz [from the book "Austerlitz"] recovers memories in his 50s of having arrived in Britain from Prague on the Kindertransport. Much of your work is about memory: its unreliability, its shattering return after being repressed. Does literature have a special role to play in remembrance?

WG Sebald: The moral backbone of literature is about that whole question of memory. To my mind it seems clear that those who have no memory have the much greater chance to lead happy lives. But it is something you cannot possibly escape: your psychological make-up is such that you are inclined to look back over your shoulder. Memory, even if you repress it, will come back at you and it will shape your life. Without memories there wouldn't be any writing: the specific weight an image or phrase needs to get across to the reader can only come from things remembered - not from yesterday but from a long time ago. |the rest|

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Regardless, these stories resonate w/ me - more so in mid winter; but all year round i find them thought provoking or good company for a thoughtful mood. For me, the biggest pull would have to be his take on the passage of time, how it obscures and inevitably obliterates.
His novel "The Rings of Saturn" remains his most effecting work on this subject, and probably one of the heaviest peices of writing i've ever read, (again and again... )

That he died suddenly in a car accident 6 years ago seems to hammer home his themes of memory and destruction. At any rate, it makes me sit and think, when i should be writing code and fixing other peoples mistakes. (Which i should add, i'm no good at - i got my hands full w/ my own.)

I took some photos at The Shelburne Inn last summer while staying the weekend with Eva and paired them with excerpts from "Rings" and "The Emigrants" for a post a while back, you can see them here
Some Selected Information
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Guardian Unlimited: |obituary| + |interview|
New Direction Publishing: |Publisher's Notes|
California Literary Review: |Life without Max|

1 comment:

casey said...

cool post. I really want to read this guy — after I slog through my current pile, that is.