Monday, March 05, 2007

W. G. Sebald : Rings Of Saturn

It was with a heavy heart that I finished reading the rings of Saturn, written by W. G. Sebald.
While it is occasionally difficult to distinguish this work, and label it in a particular genre, it goes without saying that it stands on its own as a cultivated exercise in the dark art of melancholy. The book, which starts as a ramble across the English East Coast turns into a reflection of many things past, of the ravages of time lost, of the nonnegotiable loss of all memory and times gone by. It is a meditation on loss, of people who have now left this mortal coil. It does not ask for sadness to be harnessed. This book is only sadness.

The last passage, about silk and mirrors, references to writers and weavers in the same breath and the persuasive air of gloom that this work conveys, tightens the heart, leaving it sighing but silent.

Sebald employs a narrative that is so disconcerting and so fragile with the reminder of every impermanence that man has to ponder, that one is left asking why the effort.....the eccentric arts that Thomas Browne was a master in, urn burials and phosphorescent fishes brought a smile to my lips. I felt that this is what I should have read years ago, as if all the melancholy in this world is not enough.

Constant references about destruction and the decay of old houses, the geographical description that he employs matches the pensive reflections he has to offer. I was absolutely rivet ted with the images of Catherine and her sisters sewing and unsewing, the ghostlike apparitions in her house and the almost apologetic face that the writer has to bear with when he departs from her house. It is as if he was responsible for her sadness, her sad life and after having read it, I felt an overwhelming sadness cross my heart, having been a part of her unspoken tragedy, responsible for her silence, responsible as we sometimes feel for all dark crimes committed everywhere, especially those that find access from the heart to ones lips and from there to the fading world of paper and ink.

The book ends with a detailed account of bombyx mori and other associated species and the constant , unhesitant almost aggressive attempt is made by the writer to assume a moral responsibility for crimes against all fishes, trees, and silk worms.

The rings of Saturn is perhaps how novels must evolve from the stranglehold of conventional fiction, from the boring metaphysics of the stream of consciousness, from Freud and Post -Freudians, from Postmodernism and other such evils.
This is a very important work, one that lashes and hits with all the sadness in the writer's mind. It is a way of writing that defies description, to say the least.

16 comments:

Alok said...

you write very eloquently!!

It is indeed one of my favourite books. It is wonderful the way Sebald pays homage to the dead, the gone and the forgotten. and yet in the end you feel how small, how only symbolic the whole exercise is. there are so many other dead and forgotten people (and things) for whom there will never be any Sebald! and yet after all this, the nature's wave of destruction continues...

Antonia said...

i was very moved by Catherine and her sisters, too.

KUBLA KHAN said...

Thanks.
there is truth in what you say, who will lament for forgotten people?
and who will write like Sebald?

Antonia said...

who will write like Sebald: the early Raoul Schrott, his Finis Terrae book.
Some day I was pondering about taht too. had some people in mind. Maybe Emmanuel Berl, to some extent. Andre Dalmas, in a different direction. But without the use of photos, only Raoul Schrott has this, but his other books are not so good as far as I have pursued this.
there is some truth in this, who will write for the forgotten people. I like so much that Sebald liked Robert Walser.

unni said...

try Fernando Pessoa

he gets me suicidal on any day of the week!

Nice writing by the way :-)

KUBLA KHAN said...

thanks Unni
yes, pessoa yes.
I have read his book of disquiet and his poems.
he is the master of saturnine arts.
antonia....i havent read the book you quoted. shall try to....thanks.

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