Sunday 23 June 2024

Herzog is the voice of Sebald

I was reading Sebald up at the pond  — I'm halfway into The Rings of Saturn, his journey down the east coast of england — and the voice of Werner Herzog came through. We watched his film about the practice, the business, in Japan of actors standing in for missing relatives, a father, for example. So Werner and Max (Sebald was Max to his friends) meet up at the pond on the warmest afternoon this year. In the half-light of East Anglia, where I grew up, Max is plugging for home, but along the way he excursions with Conrad to the Congo, second-longest river in the world, and to China with a miniature railway engine fetched up in Lowestoft, Suffolk, and lastly the propeller plane from Amsterdam back to Norwich. Werner lives in Los Angeles. He is all over the world, as far away as mind and body can go, he is up on deck, a slight smile on his face, interrogative, explanatory, quiet. In both voices, Werner's and Max's, there is the soft german sense of offering, of willingness, Max's more learned, yet quizzical, as he makes his way down the east coast of England, Werner's — and this is film, not the page — more benign compère. The modern german voice does not want to impose, but is so pleased to reveal. I was reading Max and I could hear Werner. The hawker dragonfly is here again. And the electric blue darter. Small frogs are assimilating into the pondside and beyond.

Sunday 16 June 2024


The Garden Against Time, IN SEARCH OF A COMMON PARADISE by Olivia Laing, who is restoring a garden in Suffolk, reading Thomas More, Thomas Browne, John Clare, W.G. Sebald, William Morris, Derek Jarman, and making an argument for the commons, for the commonality of land, the primacy of land in our lives. 

I read the first half very fast, then a pause, then the last two sections up at the pond today, with intermittent sun and very small frogs, much smaller than their late tadpole state, it seemed, hopping in and out of the pond. 

Olivia Laing's book made me think about what we're doing here, our moves towards commonality. People come here and walk about and help. 'It's almost offensively stunning', said Jack the dancer from Australia, who's staying in the cabin, after his first walkabout last week at the champagne hour, early evening. 'It's like a dream', said Jyeung from South Korea. Inspiring. Paradise. Several people  have said.  Paradise is offensively stunning. Why? 

Olivia Laing answers that question to some degree.

Tuesday 11 June 2024


I read To the lighthouse for epiphanies, up at the pond last week, for recognition and comfort, and then, unwilling to let it go, start reading the book again at night. Around and beneath the epiphanies, Mrs Ramsay wrestles with the question of rich and poor, Lily Briscoe, out in the garden with her easel and her painting—that reddish brown patch is Mrs Ramsay at the window knitting woollen stockings for the lighthouse keeper's boy— wrestles with Mr Ramsay's idea of reality which seems to be summed up by a plain deal table upside down in a tree. Mr Ramsay is a tyrant looking for sympathy. Mrs Ramsay can only rest when her youngest is asleep. Children remember everything, she says. An hour later, still awake, I try to remember the names of the eight Ramsay children, in pairs and singly, Jasper and Rose, Andrew and Prue, James and Cam. This borrowed family gathers other borrowed families as it goes along, other recessive guests, called Lily, William, Augustus, with their half-eaten internal dramas in the manner of Tchekov, Kurt Lippa for example, who grew up in Macau and played ferocious table tennis, loved Schubert and bel canto, an Austrian Jew who— 

Nocturnal reading is a parallel world, parallel and permeable. Reading Virginia Woolf up at the pond in June is not the same as reading her at night, a second time. Last week it was part of a bigger rhythm. The second time, every line is particular, my rest places are different: Mr and Mrs Ramsay, the eight children, the summer house on Skye. How Virginia Woolf refashioned her family into this book, ran with them again. This is what you have to do, what writing is for. 

Monday 3 June 2024


Yesterday in the New Yorker I read Anthony Lane on Blinkist, the app for people who don't want to read the whole book. Most of the books on Blinkist are on how to survive/make billions. So many books on self-improvement, how to deal with this or that. Maybe Blinkist is giving these books what they deserve. They also reduce Jane Austen, Wittgenstein, John Milton. What do they deserve?

Today I read Virginia Woolf up at the pond.  To the Lighthouse. This was where I wanted to be. Reading sentences and paragraphs as they were written at a particular time by a particular person, V. Woolf in the afternoon, with her roll-ups and her writing board, finding her Moments. By late afternoon, not quite sunny but warm, more than halfway through the book, I can read the way a horse can break into a run, the way a cat can while away the time on warm liscannor stones, what I'm reading is an equivalence of where I am. To the lighthouse and the surface of the pond, the plants around it, the changing sky, the dreams I had last night and the night before, Mrs Ramsay coming to herself after the children have gone to bed, Lily Briscoe in and out of her painting, Mr Ramsay tying the laces on his beautiful boots — he had a way of tying laces so they never came undone — his wife's astonishing beauty, beautiful phrases, beautiful pictures, shadows in the fruit bowl, as long as no one wanted a pear, the astonishing beauty of the pond.

But what she wished to get hold of was that very jar on the nerves, the thing itself before it had been made anything.

I asterisked that passage many years ago. What is the difference between a Blink and a Moment? Do you play your days like a piano or trust the algorithm? The blackbird has a bath in the pond. A couple of planes go over. North wind. They come this way when there's a wind from the north.