Sunday, July 5, 2009

Books: The Rings of Saturn, by W.G. Sebald

In a dream state, Sebald recounts a trip through a sea-side town, along which his mind wanders, as dreaming minds are apt to do. He writes about a Chinese empress who refuses to give up the throne to her young, male successors, about a shore-abutting town that migrated constantly away from the sea as the coast eroded, until the town was washed away in entirety, about the Western discovery of silkworms and governments' insistence that people cultivate these strange creatures, blind and hungry for only one kind of plant. It's an expansive book with the occasional black and white photo of a moth or a painting or a skull, a treasure-hunt that retroactively informed my reading of Laird Hunt's The Exquisite and Thomas Wharton's The Logogryph. Sebald is a dreamer and a collector, an unwitting influence on me via his influence on one of my most important teachers at Berkeley. His historical digressions generate a tone of passing and shifting and losing, a half-waking, weathered nostalgia into which I've keyed for so many stories.

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