Austerlitz on Writer’s Block

Sebald’s Austerlitz is beautiful. This passage is the start of a minutely observed and extreme case of writer’s block:

How happily, said Austerlitz, have I sat over a book in the deepening twilight until I could no longer make out the words and my mind began to wander, and how secure have I felt seated at the desk in my house in the dark night, just watching the tip of my pencil in the lamplight following its shadow, as if of its own accord and with perfect fidelity, while that shadow moved regularly from left to right, line by line, over the ruled paper. But now I found writing such hard going that it often took me a whole day to compose a single sentence, and no sooner had I thought such a sentence out, with the greatest effort, and written it down, than I saw the awkward falsity of my constructions and the inadequacy of all the words I had employed. If at times some kind of self-deception none the less made me feel that I had done a good day’s work, then as soon as I glanced at the page the next morning I was sure to find the most appalling mistakes, inconsistencies and lapses staring at me from the paper. However much or little I had written, on a subsequent reading it always seemed so fundamentally flawed that I had to destroy it immediately and begin again.

2 thoughts on “Austerlitz on Writer’s Block

  1. >unreal: You are right, this passage suggests the quest for perfection but it develops into an inability to write. It is one of the most moving parts of the book.

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