W.G. Sebald Essay

Will Self has a lengthy essay in The Guardian about how he developed an affinity for W.G. Sebald:

So, with such sporadic immersion, you can appreciate that mine is not
an academic critical approach, yet nor is it an exercise in overweening
fandom, such as that enacted by Nicholson Baker to John Updike in his –
very funny – book U & I. Unlike Baker, I did not require Sebald’s
affirmation, or even acknowledgment. With most dead writers such
intercourse would be an impossibility, but the intensity of Sebald’s
authorial voice, and the conviction expressed in his work again and
again that the barrier between the living and the dead is
semi-permeable, might have led a writer more credulous than I to tap
upon Ouija keys rather than qwertyuiop ones.

There is some interesting stuff here for Sebaldians. For instance:

So, no great critic – and maybe with a hint of snobbery as well.
There’s worse, too, for while Adorno may have ascribed to Beckett’s
work a "joyful pessimism", in Sebald’s we find, emanating in palpable
waves from their nebulous narrator, a kind of fey melancholia: this is
a sensibility that revels in its solipsism, finding there an ineffable
sweetness. Some critics of The Rings of Saturn, for example, were taken
by the improbability of anyone walking – as Sebald’s alter ego does –
for the 25-odd coastal miles from Lowestoft to Middleton in Suffolk,
without meeting a considerable number of people. But you have only to
read his other books (I hesitate to call them "novels") to discover
landscape after cityscape devoid of population. Sebald’s narrator is
always walking in empty streets, sitting in empty railway carriages, or
eating in restaurants purged of their clientele. Admittedly, he often
finds this "curious", as he does much he encounters along the way, but
when he does come upon people they are too often "dwarfish", subsumed
to their mode of transport, or scattered about – as are the backpackers
outside Venice station in Vertigo – like corpses.



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