Eye of the Story

The Evergreen State College

Category: Week 4 Reading

Close Reading of Sebald… by Henri Poilevey

“For a while I sat on the grass between the electric fence and the cliff edge……….I would imagine that the world was held together by the courses they flew through the air.”
(pg. 66-67; text indicated by ellipsis omitted for brevity)

Before this passage begins, the narrator is walking along a beach, which narrows into mere coastline as he ascends upwards onto a cliff. He notes the lifelessness of the area; the “broken, barkless wood” of the trees that resemble animal bones of species long extinct. There is something grey and pallid about the nature imagery he describes, the sea in the distance being “leaden-colored” for instance, and it seems his use of black-and-white photography whose details are hard to make out matches his descriptions of the environment throughout the book. Looking out to the water, he sees a lone sailboat in the distance, his only companion in sight. The boat seems motionless to the narrator; it could be because the boat is moving at the same rate as the narrator, so no motion is seen. Or perhaps its motionlessness is abstract, like how the moon never seems to move even as we approach it.

As he reaches the top of the cliff, he comes across a herd of swine enclosed in an electric fence and makes his acquaintance with one of them, and the narrator notices the dirtiness of the pig and how miserable and submissive it seems. Our passage starts afterwards, as the narrator goes on the edge of the cliff, only a short distance away from the fence that held the pigs in, perhaps to prevent them from jumping off the cliff into the water. I believe this is what the narrator thinks as he looks out to the water and notices the sailboat, strangely, has disappeared. His memory, rich from Biblical teachings of his youth, makes him recall two stories from the Gospels, both involving the Sea of Galilee, the scene where many of Jesus’s teachings and miracles are purported to have happened. He recalls the miracle of the calming of the storm, which was a story of a furious storm attacking a boat on the Sea of Galilee, a boat carrying Jesus and his disciples. Why does the narrator think of this story as he witnesses the sailboat mysteriously disappear, especially when it previously seemed to be completely motionless? It seems as if there was a suggestion of a thought in the narrator, although not a conviction or even a little suspicion, that the sailboat sank as the narrator interacted with the pig, despite there being no storm whatsoever. I cannot think of another reason why the narrator would think of this story in this particular context. After all, this book as a whole is not about firm connections, but about loose associations, many of which happen by chance in the myriad ways the human finds themselves in nature, which mirrors the myriad ways one text can be in the presence of another text.
Then there is the second story, also telling one of Jesus’s miracles. The narrator summarizes this story in more detail than the previous one. The story is quite simple: Jesus encounters a man, thought of as being possessed by demons because of his psychotic and self-destructive behavior. Jesus then performs an exorcism on him. In the traditional routine of an exorcism, the exorcist asks the demon’s name, which Jesus does. The demon replies, “My name is Legion: for we are many.” Jesus then performs the exorcism, but he doesn’t rid of the demons completely; he transfers them to a herd of about a thousand swine. The swine, all together, then plummet headfirst into the sea. I think there is a connection between the demon saying “we are many” and there being many swine. If there are “many” beings in one person, there is inevitably internal conflict among all those beings, which is the figurative cause of the maniac’s insanity and terror. So if there’s an impression of conflict, which I imagine as many beings shooting in different directions inside the madman, which causes the agony… then how come when the many demons are transferred to the pigs they all go in one direction, with conformity, into the sea? The narrator suspects the story was made up by an evangelist to explain the inferior nature of pigs to humans. He writes, “…was this parable made up by the evangelist, I wondered, to explain the supposed uncleanliness of swine; which would imply that human reasoning, diseased as it is, needs to seize on some other kind that it can take to be inferior and thus deserving of annihilation?” (67)

I once again ask the question about why this particular story comes to the narrator’s head in this environment, and I briefly hinted at my suggestion earlier, that he saw the pigs, so close to the edge of cliff that the only thing that prevented them from plummeting off the cliff into the water was the electric fence that would shock them if they even considered it. And I agree with the narrator on his suspicions about the story and its origins; the submissiveness of the pigs that the narrator noticed is not inherent to the pigs’ nature, but is a trait that is both learned and bred through generations of human-animal relationships and agriculture. One can think forward on this topic, on what the story means and how it came to be, and go on for many hours or many pages. But this is not the nature of the narrator, he does not stay in one place. The diversity of his thoughts are as diverse as the history of the environment he explores.

Something Else In the Sum (Rings of Saturn Close Reading.)

As I read this book, Rings of Saturn, I find myself not knowing quite what it is, or how to look at it.
I suppose it is fiction. It says fiction on the back cover, so it must be. But I can’t decide whether the narrator is following a path that the author himself followed, or simply an imagined one.
I don’t know enough of the coast he describes to know if it is real, and I don’t know enough of history and the histories of other countries and individual people to know if the narrator’s many tangents of history and bits of things that he’s reminded of in his wanderings are factual or real, or almost real or near factual.
It must be fiction of sorts, fiction can draw on much reality, and fiction is capable very easily of capturing a truer reality than the world itself can be. So I guess the discussions of history is true enough, even if it is fictional truth.
When I decided that it didn’t exactly matter whether it was real facts or whether it was finely woven fiction, I settled in to explore the structure of this novel. I don’t think I’ve encountered a structure like the one of this novel before. It feels very unfamiliar, and odd, but I find it interesting to read. Because it’s not so much like a normal story, it’s more like a collection of snapshots, of the narrator’s life and the lives and histories of the people and places he’s traveling through. There’s a lot of subtle connections, threads, and themes running through the book. But it doesn’t feel like it’s building to a conclusion exactly, at least not at this point.
The narrator is taking an exploration into self or into his ideas, or simply into different places. He doesn’t know what the conclusion of his exploration will be, and doesn’t seem to be particularly looking for one. And the reader is invited along in this exploration, and it is being shared with us. It’s not demanding that we share in it, nor is it telling us outright what we should be finding from the exploration. Rather it is simply letting us take what we will from the exploration and it’s not a bad thing if we don’t get the same thing from the snapshots and wanderings as the narrator or the author or the person next to us reading the same novel.
The narrator’s moments of pondering and searching for answers are brought up and left behind quickly and subtly. They are important, but they are not the priority at the time they’re mentioned. They’re part of the story, and they’re perhaps necessary. But they’re not exactly the direct focus of the narrator’s thoughts and recollections and studies.
This is the feeling that I am getting from this wandering story and unpressured story. This is what allowed my mind to wander and pick up the smaller bits of story and writing that made me the most interested or made me notice them as something to come back in the story.
I find myself wanting to come back and read this novel again, when I have time to investigate the things he is talking about in history. I’m fascinated by the bits we learn about Roger Casement. From this work, I think perhaps he’s the kind that I would like to learn more about. It reminds me there are many books, especially older books considered classics, that I would appreciate and enjoy more if I had more information about the context they were written in. But not enough time for now.
There were a couple of things that stood out to me, while I was reading. Things that made me pause to note the page number so I could go back to them. So that I could think about them more, even though I wasn’t really sure what I would be thinking about them.
On page ninety and ninety-one, the Narrator describes what he sees as he rides in a small airplane. On page ninety one, the imagery and description Sebald uses make it a wonderful and interesting exercise in scaling; “it is as though there were no people, only the things they have made and in which they are hiding. One sees the places where they live and the roads that link them, one sees the smoke rising from their houses and factories, one sees the vehicles in which they sit, but one does not see the people themselves. And yet they are present everywhere upon the face of the earth, extending their dominion by the hour, moving around the honeycombs of towering buildings and tied into networks of a complexity that goes far beyond the power of any one individual to imagine,”
On page eighty I was caught by the simple line: “What manner of theatre is it, in which we are at once playwright, actor, stage manager, scene painter and audience?” The Narrator is discussing dreams, and what makes them. He mentions a hyper reality that comes from memories, but also something else that cannot be described or explained that makes dreams what they are.
Before our discussion in seminar, the reasons these things had caught in my mind were pretty simple. I love theater, I’ve been a theater tech for a student production at 5th Avenue Theatre for the past three years, and my mind had a lovely image in mind trying to picture or imagine what a place it would be, or whether it would be a theater, or if it would be something else entirely.
I liked the way that Sebald had described the view from the plane, a way that made me imagine the Narrator’s mind’s picture being sort of like a Powers of Ten video, first seeing the individuals on a street, then up further to the roads, then only what you could see from the clouds. So much is affected by people, but from a distance you cannot really see the people, the things that have changed existence on this planet so much.
After our seminar discussion I was informed of a new way of interpreting and connecting the bits of text I had wanted to share. Our conversations about dreams and what makes them special, and about the way there always seems to be a little something else in things like dreams, or plays, or even movies, that makes them a little bit more than all the things that go together to make them.
This discussion made me keep thinking about this weird, tenuous but interesting all the same connection between my chosen text. It finally gave me a kind of a point to use in this essay, where I hadn’t entirely found one. Because while this interpretation, this connection, certainly isn’t the only one, and can’t be said to be the correct one by any stretch of the imagination, it is interesting. And in my mind, interesting is quite valuable.
The dream, as the narrator was musing, is a theater where you are both creating and witnessing. And all that goes into dreams, your memories, your mind, your emotions and attitudes, and all of you and your ability to create that goes into dreams, doesn’t always account for what you understand and feel when you witness that dream as it is created.
An individual human being has a great deal of power over their immediate surroundings, but no where near the power that our creation of cities and systems and complexity would suggest. Then at a large scale, we are quite insignificant and powerless. But still from a distance you can see our influence everywhere.
In these two minor musings on the narrator’s part, and my further musings about them, there seems to be a pattern indicated; the sum is greater than the parts. I think a lot of people feel that there is something else added to the finished product of many things. It’s discussed in different ways, it’s intuition for some, it’s magic, it’s spirituality, something science explain eventually, maybe it’s just an illusion altogether. But it is interesting, how many things people perceive to be greater than the sum of their parts.

Cody Duer – Rings of Saturn Close Reading

The Rings Of Saturn
The Rings Of Saturn is a book that is quite different from the books that we have read in the past 3 weeks. This is a narrative just like the other books, however, the format of this book is written as if the viewer has an inside look into the narrator’s mind as he recounts his adventure of Suffolk. As the narrator goes on his walking tour, he delves into the history of the places he visits. As I read this book, I found it very hard to follow the story and keep my interest. Because of this, I’m not sure what I wan to talk about since nothing peaks my interests.
Before I start accusing the book of being crappy or pointless, I want to first talk about where I’m coming from as student. First of all, my educational career has been focused on visual storytelling. Most notably animation as the form of storytelling. And what inspired me to pursue this interest of mine were from watching animated movies and tv shows. Because of these interests, I have grown to the typical 3 act stories and having a target audience. I took this class to learn techniques that could make stories interesting, capturing the heart and minds of the audience. Techniques that I could help me out in my dream goal of being an animator for Pixar. Needless to say my knowledge of literature storytelling let alone artistic exploration of writing.
When I began reading this book, like all the books in the past few weeks, I went in with an open mind and eagerness to learn storytelling techniques. As I read the book, I found it very hard to read. The book is written in a form where the viewer gets an inside look into the narrative’s mind. Meaning that it reads off as a bunch of thoughts of different topics seamlessly together. Because each chapter has anywhere between 5 and 15 subjects, the overarching story becomes fuzzy and hard to follow. The amount of times the chapter switches topics, I find myself difficult to continue reading. It could just be what I find interesting to read, but when I read this book I find myself falling into random thought, in the same way that the book is written. This is why I find this book to fail on its form of writing. It could be because I’m not in the “target audience” that the author had in mind but as far as finding a technique that can capture a wide audience, this one did not work well for me.
If I have to give a compliment to the writing, it would be the vividly described passages. The writer would have a whole page dedicated to describe a mountain top or the room of an office. The reason why I appreciate this is because I am a visual person. As an artist, especially one that works with movies, we come across projects where we have to create an image based on written description. Not only was this book descriptive, I could imagine the scene playing out in my in my head, being painted as I read. This is important because I can use this technique in my screenwriting. In screenwriting, visual description is important because it helps lay out the scene, set the mood and even the characters. In a live action movie, this type of description can help out greatly with designing sets and getting establishing shots. In an animation, it helps the artist capture what the writer and director envision. One thing I have to worry about is having too much description in a script. Each page on a script is suppose to translate to one minute on screen, so having a page long writing to describe a scene won’t fly to well with a director.
All in all the book is very confusing. The format makes it hard to follow, the story is hard to figure out and there are no characters I can relate to. From my background and goals for learning storytelling, I would say this book book failed at writing compelling story. The book did succeed on describing visuals and painting pictures for the viewers to imagine and the individual history stories stood alone on being interested. Overall I’m disappointed in the fact that I was unable to learn much from this book nor can I use this book for future references.

Whitman Craig – Close Reading of Sebald

Certain themes and images seem to echo and reference one another often in The Rings of Saturn, but these connections, whether through a shared history or a turn of phrase are all haunted by the possibility of a coincidence. Many of the inferred references I saw could have been missed by Sebald just as easily as by anyone else, and no direct meaning can be taken from such repeated images as shadows, rucksack, dream, herring, hemlock, and others by themselves. The emerging patterns of such loose and vague openings for connection are contingent upon what stays with each reader. But it’s impossible to avoid a frustrating sense of fragile meaning or an eerie sense of incomprehensibility, when such mysterious patterns undeliberately seep into one’s impression of the narrative. This disorienting experience of chance weighs upon the narrator particularly heavily in one instance, where he learns from his friend Michael’s memoirs that they had both, decades apart, befriended the same reclusive professor, Stanley Kerry, when they were each 22 years old respectively. In response to this coincidence the narrator states,

“No matter how often I tell myself that chance happenings of this kind occur far more often than we suspect, since we all move, one after the other, along the same roads mapped out for us by our origins and our hopes, my rational mind is nonetheless unable to lay the ghosts of repetition that haunt me with ever greater frequency.” (pg. 187)

This experience is reproduced within the pros themselves. Through faint allusions and associations, memories of previous discussions in the book can be re-awoken within the mind of the reader, and as the complexity of associations increase the further one reads, the more the ideas and subjects of the book melt into one another like fading memories. The momentum of The Rings of Saturn isn’t forward toward its conclusion but backward looking towards it’s own past.

This alienating experience, of chance associations, is more readily accepted in our dreams than in our waking lives, and in the same chapter where Stanley Kerry is introduced, dreams come to the forefront. The narrator describes that, months after getting terribly lost on Dunwich Heath, he returned there in a dream. Lost and tired once again, the narrator comes upon a pavilion that gives him a view of the maze ahead.

“…a pattern simple in comparison with the tortuous trail I had behind me, but one which I knew in my dream with absolute certainty, represented a cross-section of my brain.” (pg. 173)

Here Sebald barely conceals that this dream is a metaphor for the way he navigates his personal thoughts and perhaps the way he navigates his thoughts on the page, a weary wonderer. The narrator knew with “absolute certainty” that the maze represented his mind. Sebald previously noted the sense of clarity that is imbued in dreams and in this dream, he is granted with inhuman perception. As he continues on the next page,

“Although in my dream I was sitting transfixed with amazement in the Chinese pavilion, I was at the same time out in the open, within a foot of the very edge, and knew how fearful it is to cast one’s eye so low.” (pg.174)

The anecdote that follows this dream similarly feels like losing oneself in a dream, as he recounts his friend Michael’s visit back home to Berlin after the war. There is a transition that doesn’t loudly announce itself when the narrator switches from describing Michaels escape from Berlin in third person, to describing his return in the first person. Without quotations, we are reminded that Michaels first hand account of the experience is being retold to us through the narrator and thus denied any sense of immediacy, even in the recollecting. The story is kept in the past, yet since this first person narration, which for most of the book belongs to the narrator, goes on for several pages unbroken by a single “he said” our minds slip into assuming these are the experiences of the narrator himself. Regardless, adrift where he use to call home, Michael is at a loss for words. As Michael recounts his longing for resolution,

“All that was required was a moment of concentration, piecing together the syllables of the word concealed in the riddle, and everything would again be as it once was. But I could neither make out the word nor bring myself to mount the stairs and ring the bell of our old flat. Instead I left the building with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and walked and walked, aimlessly and without being able to grasp even the simplest thought…” (pg. 178-179)

            Faced with the immense weight of the past, words fail Michael because he wishes of them what language cannot fulfill. Short of being in denial, his encounter with the past is simply and horrifically indefinable. Sebald directly confronts the fallibility of language when he asks whether writing is perceptive or delusional. In response to his own query Sebald writes,

“Perhaps we all lose our sense of reality to the precise 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.” (pg. 181-182)

Though Sebald acknowledges the significance of the endeavor to create knowledge, he concludes that, like so many people and places in this book, it is doomed to ultimately fail. And so many times meaning escapes the reader if they depend upon reason alone, but as Sebald demonstrates in dreams, understanding is not interchangeable with perceiving. Furthermore, perceiving is not equitable to rational ways of seeing. For instance, when the narrator asks his friend Anne to call for a cab, she is reminded, by chance, of a dream she recently had. In the dream the narrator had called a cab for her, which became a limousine and she went for a drive. As the narrator retells it,

“The atmosphere through which the car moved was denser than air, and somewhat resembled streaming currents of deep, silent water. She saw the forest, Anne said, with absolute clarity and in meticulous detail impossible to put into words… I have only an indistinct notion of how beautiful it all was, said Anne, nor can I properly describe now the feeling of being driven in that limousine that appeared to have no one at the wheel.” (pg. 190)

Even through streaming currents of air, Anne describes a heightened sense of clarity, one that is beyond words. It seems that throughout the entire book, Sebald makes the gentle argument that perceiving supersedes meaning, and that clarity comes from being lost.


Jeffrey Kirby- Reading of Sebald

Why did Sebald title his work The Rings of Saturn

                In the epigraph there is a scientific definition of the rings of (the planet) Saturn. The theory states that the rings of Saturn are the fragments of a former moon, disintegrated by tidal force. In other words, an invisible power (gravity) led to the moon’s dissolution, thus creating an all-together new identity as a circle or ring. The relationship here, is ripe for metaphoric reaping. For what more is Sebald doing in Rings of Saturn than cataloguing the insistence of man to manipulate the mortality of forms through his preponderance of ideas. The rings of Saturn is a novel about the epiphenomenon of corporal existence, that is the disease (or wellspring for those inclined toward self-deception or God) of human consciousness and its infectious proliferation within the objective world. Or, a less nihilistic thesis could be something like: The Rings of Saturn is a novel about the triumphs and tribulations of the human being, and his or her necessity (possibly due to a priori affliction) to fictionalize his or her existence in the face of incessant ceasing. What follows is an example of the aforementioned infection and/or fictionalization, commonly referred to as metaphor, here unfolded for the further enrichment of our literary minds.

                Let us take the idea of Saturn and allow ourselves to manipulate it with our imaginations. Now I’m asking you to play the part of poet here. So if you’re a scientist, with an insufferable insouciance to categorize, dissect and cauterize, may I offer you my shallowest of apologies, for the following trajectory is one that leaps. So then, the planet Saturn. A liquid, gaseous, and flittering being, whose very existence itself rests on its movement and whose vast expanse and gravity more than makes up for its instability. Saturn is the human mind. Next, let us imagine the rings of Saturn. A disintegrated oneness, whose essence is indiscernible, lost to the procession of what could be trillions of particulars in endless cycle.  Saturn’s rings are the world. And just like the world, Saturn’s rings, although stemming from a singularity, are definable only by the relationship of its constituent parts, of which, as a particular system, the planet Saturn itself is also part. Thus, Saturn is dependent on its rings and vice versa, as just the same can be said for the mind and the world. And just as the relationship of the human mind, within a body, is a singular entity stuck in the middle of an endless and inescapable cycle of particles coming and going but ultimately staying the same, so is the relationship between Saturn and its rings. But could the rings of Saturn exist without Saturn? Could the world exist without the mind? Or perhaps a more interesting question is this: Within the confines of the given metaphor, that being Saturn as mind and Saturn’s rings as the world, could we not flip the identities of the two, that being Saturn as the world and Saturn’s rings as the mind, and still have a metaphor of no less power or meaning?  Furthermore, what if neither Saturn nor its rings were victims of cycle? What if Saturn, trapped as it is within its rings, gained consciousness, not dissimilar to humanities, and wished for linearity, for the subsistence of a singular point or line? Perhaps this is the question that Sebald is grappling with: humanity’s need, inherent or not, to formulate practicality and linearity within a system which is only flux, endless becoming. Perhaps the human being ought to be, or simply is, a rebel: Cause and effect his weaponry, dreams his auxiliary, and memory, simultaneously his panacea and bacteria against an endless onslaught of wounds, in the fight to become…

The Rings of Saturn, Close Reading, Tommy Chisholm

Sebaldian Narrative


“As I sat there that evening in Southwold overlooking the German Ocean, I sensed quite clearly the earth’s slow turning into the dark. The huntsmen are up in America, writes Thomas Browne in The Garden of Cyrus, and they are already past their first sleep in Persia. The shadow of night is drawn like a black veil across the earth, and since almost all creatures, from one meridian to the next, lie down after the sun has set, so, he continues, one might, in following the setting sun, see on our globe nothing but prone bodies, row upon row, as if leveled by the scythe of Saturn—an endless graveyard for a humanity struck by falling sickness, I gazed farther and farther out to sea, to where the darkness was thickest and where there extended a cloudbank of the most curious shape, which I could barely make out any longer, the rearward view, I presume, of the storm that had broken over Southwold in the late afternoon. For a while, the topmost summit regions of this massif, dark as ink, glistened like the icefields of the Caucasus, and as I watched the glare fade I remembered that years before, in a dream, I had once walked the entire length of a mountain range just as remote and just as unfamiliar. It must have been a distance of a thousand miles or more, through ravines, gorges and valleys, across ridges, slopes and drifts, along the edges of great forests, over wastes of rock, shale and snow. And I recalled that in my dream, once I had reached the end of my journey, I looked back, and that it was six o’clock in the evening. The jagged peaks of the mountains I had left behind rose in almost fearful silhouette against a turquoise sky in which two or three pink clouds drifted. It was a scene that felt familiar in an inexplicable way, and for weeks it was on my mind until at length I realized that, down to the last detail, it matched the Vallüla massif, which I had seen from the bus, through the eyes drooping with tiredness, a day or so before I started school, as we returned home from an outing to the Montafron. I suppose it is submerged memories that give to dreams their curious air of hyper-reality. But perhaps there is something else as well, something nebulous, gauze-like, through which everything one sees in a dream seems, paradoxically, much clearer. A pond becomes a lake, a breeze becomes a storm, a handful of dust is a desert, a grain of sulphur in the blood is a volcanic inferno. What manner of theatre is it, in which we are at once playwright, actor, stage manager, scene painter, and audience?”

The Rings of Saturn, III, pg. 78-80


In The Rings of Saturn W. G. Sebald takes his readers through a dizzying narrative centered on a walking trip on the eastern coast of England and in doing so manages to transcend space, time, and consciousness. The novel is broken into ten chapters of about thirty pages each, with a gossamer in the wind like narrative floating through the pages of time, space, and the minds of Sebald’s friends, acquaintances, and various persons of interest. A concise example of this metaphysical tromp can be found in the above section from chapter three. The quote begins with Sebald in Southwold, England; sitting on the shore and staring northeasterly into the German Sea. The eclectic journey Sebald takes the reader on in three measly pages appears as so: from England to Germany, into Sebald’s consciousness, to America, into Thomas Browne’s consciousness, back to England, into the sky, all the way to the Caucasus, a memory of a dream, the peaks of an imaginary mountain range, a memory from childhood of actual mountains in Austria, and then finally back to Sebald’s present consciousness—presumably on the shore of the Southwold beach.

Though the narrative only makes mention of Germany and America by name and no action actually takes place in either place, they are invoked in the reader’s mind. Famous sites from these countries, their position on a globe, as well as the North Sea (German Sea), and the United States on the opposite side of the globe, drift as a montage through the cinema of the readers mind. When Thomas Browne is made mentioned the reader is reminded of the fifteenth century in which he lived, and just as soon as the reader’s made it four hundred years in the past, we’re staring back at the globe where Persia is occupied.

In quoting Browne, Sebald brings us back to the shore he sits on in Southwold. It’s evening and the blank, bleak image of the ocean is what invokes the words of Browne out of him. The void that is the black water of night reminds him of the inevitability of death and how every night it appears as though one half of the earth has laid down and died. The origin of the novel’s title can also be speculated on in this moment. The rings of Saturn are a scythe cutting down, annihilating, every individual nightly. Without the use of quotes or even breaking up these thoughts into multiple sentences, Sebald begins ruminating on the storm clouds on their way out, thus moving back to the present and the spatial, having blended history, geography, and memory with philosophy; all in one sentence.

Sebald describes the outgoing storm clouds—by making use of the word massif—as mountainous. The massif clouds remind him of a dream he had years ago where he romped through a remote and unfamiliar mountain range, covering thousands of miles in footsteps. He realizes that the dream felt so vivid to him because its imagery matched a boyhood memory of his in the mountains of Austria. Lastly Sebald ponders the makings of dreams and memories and their intersection, leaving the reader comparing dreams and ourselves as the architects of our dreams, to that of live theatre, asking how this production by one individual is even possible.

Though this is only a small slice of the greater text that is The Rings of Saturn, it is an apt glimpse at what a “Sabaldian Narrative” does. Sebald’s narrative mode is a form of stream-of-consciousness writing and what makes it unique is its ability to seamlessly fuse so many variables into one text. When Sebald sat on the shore of Southwold (if he actually did) it’s easy to imagine his writings from this evening as a journal entry. His mind and his pen start by staring at the sea and by the end of the entry he’s wondering how dreaming is even possible. His mind snowballed from the black sea, to Browne, to a dream, and then into an old memory; the seemingly unrelated people, places, and things that roll over the pages of his journal are now connected by a narrative. The text creates a moment of fusion, a network of infinite connections and possibilities. Reading Sebald is like spending an hour on Wikipedia. For example, lets say you pull up the website because you’re curious about the former films awarded Best Picture at the Academy Awards, you start opening new tabs about all the old movies you’ve always meant to watch, you start researching who the actors and directors of these movies are, you read up on their personal lives, the causes they’ve supported, and now you’re researching the history of the AIDS epidemic, to which you start opening tabs about African countries you’ve never heard of before and start brushing up on some history, and before you know it you’re reading about French colonialism. And it’s Wikipedia so you can’t even really be sure if any of the content you’ve been reading is entirely accurate. But what does that have to do with the Oscars? Nothing? Maybe everything. Sebald’s novel creates a vast network of connections with endless possibilities, reminding us that everything in this world is connected whether we’re conscious of it or not. His trek along the English coast is only a vessel for containing the infinite nature of a mind in motion. This is how minds move, like the links on Wikipedia, like the narrative of a W. G. Sebald novel.

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