Water Stories

Everything was drenched. The cloud canopy was aglow in the cooler wavelengths of deluge. Everything was slick. I commuted between neighbor cities. Arrived, I pulled into the vaguely unreal parking garage.

After changing to gym clothes, I walked to the Y, ran on the treadmill, and then stretched. This undid the pain from the long commute.

In Austerlitz, Sebald inserts 82 photographs. Or is it 84? According to this essay, the answer is 87. 

In an interview with Michael Silverblatt on Bookworm, Sebald agrees with Silverblatt’s observation that the narrative description circles around artifacts of the holocaust but mostly avoids them. The photographs follow that pattern. Many of the photographs are disturbing,  are of oppressive architecture and dismal scenes, but aren’t concentration camps. Silverblatt says that this “invisible referent” and “silent presence” is  “always left out but gestured toward.”

Sebald gives his reason for this approach and concludes his reply by saying that “…so the only way that one can approach these things, in my view, is obliquely, tangentially. By reference, rather than by direct confrontation.” 

The narrator’s thinking is so absorbed by a subject that, besides not wanting to speak about it directly, he doesn’t need to, because the residue of that thinking is evident in his observations on other artifacts. 

And that’s something strange about reading. Unless the reader recognizes and generates a challenging set of questions and,  by rereading the text and related texts, and by developing and testing hypotheses, endeavors to answer them, they remain what Rother calls a “permanent beginner.” (Page 18.) Never abandoning their habits completely enough to master a new  set, they spread out their existing patterns. They recognize and appreciate other skillsets but they never become proficient. 

Any text is so saturated in its context, it is necessarily more implication than assertion. And unless the reader can surface these implications, they are swept along. They follow patterns, in effect, under compulsion. Not that this needs to be described so disapprovingly. Floods can be talked about from a more geological perspective. 

 

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