…the longer i think about it the more it seems to me that we who are still alive are unreal in the eyes of the dead, that only occasionally, in certain lights and atmospheric conditions, do we appear in their field of vision. [my ellipses]

– W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz

more on the dead


  1. jp

    i’ve been dipping into some of the same waters lately:

  2. skinnyblackcladdink

    hey jp. how’s the Sebald going for you then? i recommend On the Natural History of Destruction as an essential extension of Sebald’s ‘fiction’. i’ve only read, of his novels, Austerlitz and Rings of Saturn, so far, though after those two and Destruction i’m now liable to read anything he’s written. Sebald is at his best, imho, when he is at his most digressive, which puts Rings and his essays, for me, a whit or two above Austerlitz. the latter to my mind, however, scores points for its haunting obliquity.

  3. jp


    I liked Austerlitz, my introduction to Sebald, a lot. I agree that his digressiveness is his great strength – I don’t believe any of his apparent side-lanes are really digressions at all, but that the musings on architecture sprinkled throughout Austerlitz are an important part of his exploration of his themes.

    It’s an oddly old-fashioned way of writing (Thomas Mann’s digressions on music theory in Doktor Faustus come to mind) but I think Sebald showed that it was a way of writing that still works. I’m on the look out for more of his books.

  4. skinnyblackcladdink

    agree: digressive, but without really digressing, then, if that makes any sense; Sebald focuses his themes by leading the reader to look askance, tangentially rather than directly, at them. if you liked that about Austerlitz, i strongly recommend Rings of Saturn. in the ‘faux digressions’, if you will, of Austerlitz, the central themes always remain on the very edges of our vision, so that we are never quite sure he is really talking about, or really means to be talking about, what he is talking about, if you see what i mean. in Rings, the excursions, the trajectories Sebald follows, are far bolder, less restrained, such that the focus very much shifts onto the apparently tangential subject and we might completely lose sight of the book’s center as we follow Sebald down each side-lane. it’s a poor way of putting it, i know, but you’ll get a better idea of what i’m babbling about once you’ve had a spin through Rings.

    i have to admit, i haven’t read either work very deeply, but just paddling about on the surface i personally found more satisfying than with most any other book i’ve read. i would take your point on Sebald’s accomplishment a step further by saying not only does he show this old-fashioned, somewhat mannered style still works, he makes it astonishingly fluid as well.

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