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.

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