As a writer, Sebald had invented an arcane aesthetic by cobbling together things imagined and things recalled; his essays and novels challenge the idea that facts hold a greater claim to truth than misremembered faces, overlooked details or overheard gossip. Aunt Egelhofer, who was real, was Sebald’s gateway to the world of the Wallersteins, who were also real. And yet their narrative hovers in a misty zone typical of Sebald, who was loyal to neither history nor fiction but rather to an unstable confluence of invention, memory, and imagination.
Photographs also play a key role in all of Sebald’s books, casting an aura of documentation and verisimilitude on the narrative, and yet they are also vague and unreliable. Blurry images and illegible handwritten notebooks emphasize the imminent extinction of objects, people, places, or buildings that are already, or perhaps always were, on their way out. Jews, for Sebald, personify the very essence of transience and extraterritoriality, residents of a might-have-been world that has known better days. Other lines are blurred in Sebald’s universe, too. As a narrator in “The Emigrants” writes, “I leafed through the album that afternoon, and since then I have returned to it time and again, because looking at the pictures in it, it truly seemed to me, and still does, as if the dead were coming back, or as if we were on the point of joining them.”
Andre Aciman, W.G Sebald and the Emigrants: How a friendship with two elderly Jewish refugees inspired the German novelist. The New Yorker August 25 2016
Filed under memories, story
“Sometimes, seeing one of these moths that have met their end in my house, I wonder what kind of fear and pain they feel while they are lost. As Alphonso had told him, said Austerlitz, there is really no reason to suppose that lesser beings are devoid of sentient life. We are not alone in dreaming at night for, quite apart from dogs and other domestic creatures whose emotions have been bound up with ours for many thousands of years, the smaller mammals such as mice and moles also live in a world that exists only in their minds whilst they are asleep, as we can detect from their eye movements, and who knows, said Austerlitz, perhaps moths dream as well, perhaps a lettuce in the garden dreams as it looks up at the moon by night.”
W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz
. . none of the books [ of W.G. Sebald] published while he was alive were labeled as fiction or nonfiction, novel or essays. And he made sure that storytelling was at the heart of it. In Austerlitz, for example, he does what I term (for personal use) “concentric narration” (he said that she said that he said . . . ) whereby whatever comes from the past passes through people. The only way to have an organic connection with the past is by way of narration, while the knowledge of (as opposed to information about) history has to be shared in language. I always thought that Sebald used photographs in his books in order to expose their failure as documents. He places photos to interrupt the narration so as to show that they mean nothing unless they are inside storytelling. Photography might be self-authenticating (as Roland Barthes thought) but their authentic truth is available only in language, as practiced in narration.
Aleksandar Hemon (interviewing Teju Cole) (from here)
©Clara Brack, Roses, awaiting a story to enfold them
Always even-tempered, he spent most of his time out of doors, going on long expeditions even in the worst of weather, or when it was fine sitting on a camp stool somewhere near the house in his white smock, a straw hat on his head, painting watercolours. When he was thus engaged he generally wore glasses with grey silk tissue instead of lenses in the frames, so that the landscape appeared through a fine veil that muted the colours, and the weight of the world dissolved before your eyes. The faint images that Alphonso transferred on to paper, said Austerlitz, were barely sketches of pictures – here a rocky slope, there a small bosky thicket or a cumulus cloud – fragments, almost without colour, fixed with a tint made of a few drops of water and a grain of malachite or ash blue.”
WG Sebald, Austerlitz, p124-126
I dream about my childhood in the same dark tonality of my paintings. The sky is always lowering into the sea, the beach is deserted and something awful has happened or is about to happen. Rick Amor comment on painting Nightmare 1982
Sometimes I even imagined that I had seen one or other of the people from the photographs in the album walking down the road in Bala, or out in the fields, particularly around noon on hot summer days, when there was no one else about and the air flickered hazily.
W.G. Sebald Austerliz
No sooner did I become acquainted with someone than I feared I had come too close, no sooner did someone turn towards me than I began to retreat. In the end I was linked to other people only by certain forms of courtesy which I took to extremes and which I know today, said Austerlitz, I observed not so much for the sake of their recipients as because they allowed me to ignore the fact that my life has always, for as far back as I remember, been clouded by unrelieved despair. W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz