Monday 31 December 2018

W.G.Sebald, The Rings of Saturn

To substitute metaphor for the concept: to write, said Roland Barthes. With a substrate of Roland Barthes and Brian Dillon and unseasonably warm, still weather, I start for maybe the third time The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald, his walk down the Suffolk coast, a weave of internal, external coincidence and uncertainty with a warp of historical, geographical fact set up for us to absorb in a desolate landscape: internal, external.

These contemplative, melancholic yet factual men, I can keep pace with them, then rapidly I lose what I've read. It's the cloth I'm left with, and, this evening, Schubert's Death and the Maiden quartet. Sebald's Suffolk is a landscape I know, I know the quality of the light and the relief of the desolation. This is the east coast of England, opposite Holland or Belgium. The east coast stands for lost causes. St Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. I always liked that. It gave me something to start from.

Sebald, Max to his friends, incomer of a few decades, living up the road in Norfolk, has transferred his needs onto this empty coast whose moments came maybe a hundred years ago, maybe a thousand, maybe now. He is open to every association, like the small train crossing a river and how it was surplus to requirements in China a hundred years ago and fetched up in Suffolk, proving the decline of the Empire of China, and then there was the Joseph Conrad Suffolk connection and the Vicomte de Chateaubriand story, the silk industry and the urn burial—these factual men are in shadowlands, if this is what they want.

Suddenly, exhausted from a maze of August landscape and historical reference, here is Sebald ready to visit Michael Hamburger outside a village called Middleton, fellow incomer from Germany, translator, ruralist.

It's like the music of Philip Glass, just when you can't take another repetition, another league out from land, the music breaks and you're back in familiar rhythms again.

Hamburger's pile of jiffy bags by a door—you keep them and there are always more than you need—could have been Sebald's. Coincidences run wild. In rendering these people he becomes them, lapsing into the their language, their context, as his own. Down the coast there's Swinburne who visited, with other melancholics in the late nineteenth century, the lost village of Dunwich which slid into the sea. Lost cause, if ever. And Edward Fitzgerald who translated the Rubiyat of Omar Khayam from Boulge Hall in Suffolk and died of ancestral distress and failing sight. And how Sebald, Max to his friends, came upon Boulge, the Fitzgerald seat, via a Dutch man of money wishing to settle thereabouts. These are some of the threads we ride among the rings of Saturn.

No comments :

Post a Comment