Category Archives: Sebald

No longer natural

Flaubert was in a sense the forerunner of writing scruples. I do believe that in the eighteenth century, say, Voltaire or Rousseau wrote much more naturally than people did from the nineteenth century onwards. Flaubert sensed this more than any other writer. If you look at Rousseau’s letters, for instance, they’re beautifully written. He dashed off 23 in a day if necessary, and they’re all balanced, they’re all beautiful prose. Flaubert’s letters are already quite haphazard; they’re no longer literary in that sense. He swears, he makes exclamations, sometimes they’re very funny. But he was one of the first to realise that there was appearing in front of him some form of impasse. And I think nowadays it’s getting increasingly difficult because writing is no longer a natural thing for us.

– Sebald (via here)

The plaque in the lake

It is a common perception among colleagues and friends that where his writing was concerned Max played his cards very close to his chest, revealing, if anything, very little, and, if ever, very often after the event. Even though we knew that Max would occasionally submit pieces for publication in German periodicals and literary magazines, successes such as the publication of Nach der Natur (After Nature) in 1988, as well as his being shortlisted for the Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis in Klagenfurt, Austria, in 1990, were communicated to us casually in typical throwaway lines. A case in point is the story which he recounted on his return to UEA shortly after receiving the Johannes-Bobrowski-Medaille in Berlin in June 1994. At one of our regular convivial gatherings in the German Sector office, Max described how, early in the morning after the award ceremony in Berlin, he had made his way down to the shores of the Wannsee. He had with him what he dubbed the “indescribably hideous” plaque which he had received at the ceremony. Unable to contemplate ever being able to find houseroom for it, Max, an aesthete through and through, had hurled it into the water, where, he assured his incredulous colleagues and to his evident glee, it had sunk without a trace.

Gordon Turner 

For days and weeks on end

For days and weeks on end one racks one’s brains to no avail, and, if asked, one could not say whether one goes on writing purely out of habit, or a craving for admiration, or because one knows not how to do anything other, or out of sheer wonderment, despair or outrage, any more than one could say whether writing renders one more perceptive or more insane. Perhaps we all lose our sense of reality to the degree to which we are engrossed in our own work, and perhaps that is why we see in the increasing complexity of our mental constructs a means for greater understanding, even while intuitively we know that we shall never be able to fathom the imponderables that govern our course through life.

— Sebald, The Rings of Saturn (trans. M. Hulse)