“The invisibility and intangibility of that which moves us remained an unfathomable mystery” (The Rings of Saturn, 18-19).
W. G. Sebald arrives at the above articulation immediately after a description of a stay in hospital, a convalescence of the sort spoken rarely of these days. Indeed it appears now that such convalescences are the stuff of fiction, found only in the novels of Thomas Mann, or perhaps Denton Welch. And it might be true to say that one remaining resort that offers us the thoughtful and reparative time we so much need for convalescence, the time necessary to reflect upon or make meaning of the strange phenomenon of being, is in literature itself. Sebald’s description of his character’s convalescence is itself a metaphorical description of his own practice as a reader and writer, and of the quiet solitary activity that such endeavors require. These moments of reading and writing are at once moments both of the world, but also necessarily removed from the world. His life in the world is the life of a literary observer. His book is littered with stories of similar folk, with those literary-minded figures that are somehow captivated by an activity that attempts to make sense of the world whilst simultaneously forcing their withdrawal from it. It is as if we can only take the time to think of life when we cease to live it.