Friday, May 11, 2012

Sebald Is As Good As Advertised

But the more I labored on this project over several months the more pitiful did the results seem.  I was increasingly overcome by a sense of aversion and distaste, said Austerlitz, at the mere thought of opening the bundles of papers and looking through the endless reams I had written in the course of the years.  Yet reading and writing, he added, had always been his favorite occupation.  How happily, said Austerlitz, have I sat over a book in the deepening twilight until I could no longer make out the words and my mind began to wander, and how secure have I felt seated at the desk in my house in the dark night, just watching the tip of my pencil in the lamplight following its shadow, as if of its own accord and with perfect fidelity, while that shadow moved regularly from left to right, line by line, over the ruled paper.  But now I found writing such hard going that it often took me a whole day to compose a single sentence, and no sooner had I thought such a sentence out, with the greatest effort, and written it down, that I saw the awkward falsity of my constructions and the inadequacy of all the words I had employed.  If at times some kind of self-deception nonetheless made me feel that I had done a good day's work, then as soon as I glanced at the page next morning I was sure to find the most appalling mistakes, inconsistencies, and lapses staring at me from the paper.  How much or little I had written, on a subsequent reading it always seemed so fundamentally flawed that I had to destroy it immediately and begin again.  Soon I could not even venture on the first step.  Like a tightrope walker who has forgotten how to put one foot in front of the other, all I felt was the swaying of the precarious structure on which I stood, stricken with terror at the realization that the ends of the balancing pole gleaming far out on the edges of my field of vision were no longer my guiding lights, as before, but malignant enticements to me to cast myself into the depths.


JMW said...

Funny you should post this now. I'm just about to start reading him for the first time, for various reasons. Starting with Rings of Saturn and then probably the Emigrants. Looking forward to it.

Anonymous said...

Rings of Saturn I read last month. It's fantastic. I think I told you that I'd been reading a lot of James Wood? He wrote a great piece on Rings of Saturn in one of his books, which motivated me to read it. Fantastic.

JMW said...

Yes, Wood. I've got Radetzky March and Moon and Bonfires also on my to-read pile because of that discussion.

I miss Vegas.