Tuesday, May 15, 2012

memory notes: WG Sebald


100: If Newton thought, said A, pointing through the window and down to the curve of the water around the Isle of Dogs glistening in the last of the daylight, if Newton really thought that time was a river like the Thames, then where is its source and into what sea does it finally flow?  Every river, as we know, must have banks on both sides, so where, seen in those terms, where are the banks of time?  What would be this river's qualities, qualities perhaps corresponding to those of water, which is fluid, rather heavy, and translucent?  In what way do objects immersed in time differ from those left untouched by it?

101: The dead are outside time, the dying and all the sick at home or in hospitals, and they are not the only ones, for a certain degree of personal misfortune is enough to cut us off from the past and the future.

140: I had constantly been preoccupied by that accumulation of knowledge which I had pursued for decades, and which served as a substitute or compensatory memory.

221: What made me uneasy at the sight of it [the capital of a cast-iron column in Pilsen], however, was not the question whether the complex form of the capital now covered with a puce-tinged encrustation, had really impressed itself on my mind when I passed through Pilsen with the children's transport in the summer of 1939, but the idea, ridiculous in itself, that this cast-iron column, which with hits scaly surface seemed almost to approach the nature of a living being, might remember me and was, if I may so put it, said A, a witness to what I could no longer recollect for myself.

The emergence of memory: Conversations with WG Sebald, ed. Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Seven Stories Press.

Interview with Eleanor Wachtel:

I have always had at the back of my mind this notion that of course these people aren't really gone, they just hover somewhere at the perimeter of our lives and keep coming in on brief visits.

The other function [of using photos in the text] that I see is possibly that of arresting time.  Fiction is an art form that moves in time, that is inclined towards the end, that works on a negative gradient, and it is very, very difficult in that particular form in the narrative to arrest the passage of time.

And the photographs can also do this--they act like barriers or weirs which stem the flow.  I think that is something that is positive, slowing down the speed of reading, as it were.

[Memory] is what qualifies us as emotional creatures . . . And I think there is no way in which we can escape it.  The only thing that you can do, and that most people seem to be able to do very successfully, is to subdue it.  And if you can do that by, I don't know, playing baseball or watching football on television, then that's possibly a good thing, I don't know.

There is something terribly alluring to me about the past.  I'm hardly interested in the future . . . at least about the past you can have certain illusions.

significance of dust

Last Interview with Sebald:

The moral backbone of literature is about that whole question of memory. To my mind it seems clear that those who have no memory have the much greater chance to lead happy lives. But it is something you cannot possibly escape: your psychological make-up is such that you are inclined to look back over your shoulder. Memory, even if you repress it, will come back at you and it will shape your life. Without memories there wouldn't be any writing: the specific weight an image or phrase needs to get across to the reader can only come from things remembered - not from yesterday but from a long time ago.

Tim Denevi sends a couple more Sebald quotes my way: "Memory, he added in a postscript, often strikes me as a kind of dumbness. It makes one’s head heavy and giddy, as if one were not looking back down the receding perspectives of time but rather down on the earth from a great height, from one of those towers whose tops are lost to view in the clouds."

And: "And so they are ever returning to us, the dead. At times they come back from the ice more than seven decades later and are found at the edge of the moraine, a few polished bones and a pair of hobnailed boots."


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