Great fragments in just this small review. In the years since I first read Austerlitz and was summarily blown away without really knowing how or why, I have found that others are able to meaningfully outline a continued fascination with Sebald much better than I.
Sinclair wants to unravel the ‘quiet cult of managed melancholy’ that has been building up around Sebald’s legend, and so he gives us a Sebald who is flawed, worried, curious, determined, ill.
This “managed melancholy” is worth pondering for a long while in and of itself. This is the melancholy of immersion in both memory and forgetting.
The published books present a man most comfortable with a scenario of waiting: station hotels, Swiss lakes, distant views of snow-capped mountains, flights into northern cities, walks through marches on sandy paths. Waiting for that single justifying encounter: the trapdoor of memory, the skewed quotation, the echo of a translated text.
Indeed, considering Sebald and his “characters” as models of waiting is enough to inch you into a permanent though casual position next to the trapdoors of memory that are his books themselves.
He impersonated what I took him to be – writer, walker, culturally burdened European – so beautifully that I wondered if this was an actor, a hireling.
This is rather of hilarious, since so many may try to impersonate that same apparent impersonation!
“This material,” the back page explains, “in an earlier form, was part of the first draft of American Smoke: Journeys to the End of the Light, a book due to be published in November 2013. It was decided, as the text moved through later stages in the editing process, that a London detour might be confusing. Now it stands alone.” That excerpt, Iain Sinclair’s Austerlitz & After: Tracking Sebald, has just been released as a chapbook that packs a real punch for its mere 28-pages.
This being Iain Sinclair, the reader should not be surprised to find that the Sebald pages are framed by a narrative of murder and dismemberment. During a morning walk in Hackney, Sinclair happened upon the crime scene where parts of the body of soap opera actress Gemma McCluskie had surfaced in the brown sludge of Regent’s Canal. The crime scene becomes a site…
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