Saturday 14 March 2015

First time this year sitting up at the pond, blissfully warm, listening to the play of water trickling, and a bird or two, staring at lightly rippled reflections and not quite reading Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald which I started again yesterday. Now and then glance at the cover of the book next to me, with its image of a little boy dressed in white like a creature out of time; then look at the pond with Sebald-like attention and dreaminess, the way you watch a film about Pina Bausch, and afterwards, even without moving, you're convinced that you can walk, leap and collapse like Pina Bausch and her dancers.

How does the impermanence, the melancholy of Austerlitz inhabit the home pond: water boatmen in the salle des pas perdus, towns unaccountably empty if not bereaved, memories that will not, will, will not enter the mind they vacated many years before; the ghostly-uncanny of Prague in the 1930s, the sorrow of Belgium, the chill of Wales, the sooty subterranean of Liverpool Street Station, the skulls of Bedlam, the silence of Terezín?

A small brown beetle I don't recognise swims my way. By the time it reaches the edge and disappears behind a stone, I know what it is: a Sebald beetle.

Like Awakenings, Austerlitz is far from plot, more like a state of being, a quest in danger of arrest if not paralysis. No grinding machinery here, only aftermath and disquiet. No characters. So to speak. Sebald often says that. So to speak. So is a weightier word in German than in English. Flatter yet more resonant or differently resonant, differently interrogatory:
Vera said that every time we reached the page which described the snow falling through the branches of the trees, soon to shroud the entire forest floor, I would look up at her and ask: But if it's all white, how do the squirrels know where they've buried their hoard? Ale když všechno zakryje sníh, jak veverky najdou to místo, kde si schovaly zásoby? Those were your very words, the question which constantly troubled you. How indeed do the squirrels know, what do we know ourselves, how do we remember, and what is it we find in the end?

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