Leafing through an anthology of articles and essays called The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with WG Sebald, it strikes me how little of his work I’ve spent any time with. My love of his books is based solely on Rings of Saturn, his digressive narrative of a 30-mile walk. That book lit a fire under my reading and I spent months reading it repeatedly, following the questions it raises.
I went straight from Rings of Saturn to Austerlitz, started reading but half way through my initial enthusiasm for the book dissolved into disappointment. I resolved to tackle Sebald again another time, which may as well be now, starting with Vertigo.
The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with WG Sebald includes a piece by Arthur Lubow called Crossing Boundaries. It offers up the following passage which draws me back to Sebald:
…the joy of reading Sebald is the pleasure of stepping into the quirky treasure-house of his mind. “I don’t consider myself a writer,” he said. “It’s like someone who builds a model of the Eiffel Tower out of matchsticks. It’s a devotional work. Obsessive.” His books are like some eighteenth-century Wunderkammer, filled with marvelous specimens, organized eccentrically.
In truth, I am drawn back to Rings of Saturn, but if I reread it now, I suspect I’ll never deepen my exploration of Sebald’s other works. I’ll drop off a favourite passage as a substitution:
I suppose it is submerged realities that give to dreams their curious air of hyper-reality. But perhaps there is something else as well, something nebulous, gauze-like, through which everything one sees in a dream seems, paradoxically, much clearer. A pond becomes a lake, a breeze becomes a storm, a handful of dust is a desert, a grain of sulphur in the blood is a volcanic inferno. What manner of theater is it, in which we are at once playwright, actor, stage manager, scene painter and audience?