SEBALD LINKS:AFTER “PATIENCE”(THE NEW FILM BY GRANT GEE) AND AFTER “AFTER NATURE”(TRANS. HAMBURGER 2002).BY STEVEN BENSON

Having watched this hypnotic and poignant film(“”Patience:After Sebald: A Walk Through the Rings of Saturn”, 2012,dvd) and read all three sections of “After Nature”, Sebald’s poem, written in the 1980s, BEFORE his famous prose fiction- and eerily prefiguring many of his later thematic concerns-I feel  am entering a sebaldian maze of

desolation

destruction-wreaked by man on himself and other men

the uncanny-In Freud’s sense of the “unheimlische heimat”(see earlier posthttps://decayetude.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/the-uncanny-return-an-unsettling-re-working-of-unheimlisches-heimat/,and my personal response to this idea, in the form of a poemhttp://towardsutopia.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/unheimliche-heimatunhomelyuncanny-home/, ie the feeling that you have been somewhere BEFORE: it both has some of the familiarity of a “heimat”(“homeland”)yet is strangely UNfamiliar(“unheimlische”),because part of oneself has usually (subconsciously) been severed from oneself, and thus seems familiar because it has left its (unsettling) residue in the subconscious mind(recognizing one’s own suppressed homoerotic feelings is an example Freud himself, in his earlier writings, used) but is, simultaneously, estranged from oneself. The most striking example, in Sebald’s later writing, is in “Rings of Saturn” where the sebaldian narrator not only feels he has not only previously BEEN to his  friend and translator( the poet Michael Hamburger’s) house; but that he actually lived his friend’s LIFE, that is he had  BEEN him. Another explanation of this-which would fit neatly with the homoerotic sublimation/suppression theory, with which I agree-is object identification: the sebaldian narrator is in love with the poet and therfore wanted to BECOME him (or aspects of him);in other words, a sort of wishful -thinking identification with the beloved

the effect of attrition in nature-for example the erosion of the Suffolk cliffs(Dunwich) and the silting up of the Suffolk coastal rivers(touched on in the film).

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The film is visually evocative and haunting; and, from the viewpoint of an introductory understanding of Sebald’s concerns, themes and style, and of the expansion of the author’s OWN grainy mesmerising photographic images and benjaminesque “captures”(of lost time) into the director’s OWN images,it is very effective. However,to any experienced reader of Sebald, I felt that some of the added commentaries detracted from letting the landscapes and black and white images speak for themselves. I think the film would also be likely to lead to further exploration of Sebald’s OWN writings. The soundtrack, by “The Caretaker”, “mashed-up” and looped Schubert songs, from 78s, is itself haunting and eerie: music from a distant planet.

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So, moving into “After Nature”,and concentrating on the first two poems of the sequence. “After Nature”:what does each word mean/refer to?

1. To Sebald(and/or to the sebaldian narrators therein)

2. Because I believe, to a resonable degree, in the Barthian “Death of the Author” thesis,( and am thus imposing my own subjectivity ON TOP of Sebald’s intended meanings): what does it mean to Me, as an individual reader?

NATURE: refers tothe natural, ie NON manmade environment, as opposed to the man-MADE one of, for example, the destructions of wars;and  the (concomitant) oppression and destruction (sometimes) of marginalised “groups”/peoples, for  instance Jews and homosexuals and many others(Sebald refers, for example, in Part 2,to the cruel colonisation of Inuit peoples.) However “natural” (non man-made or non adulterated) nature is not always beneficent either: there are floods, merciless (ice) landscapes, siltings and cliff collapses.  This more the direct concern of Part 2, “And if I remained by the outermost Sea”, about the botanist and explorer, Steller. Part 1, about Grunewald the homosexual early 16th century painter,is more about  what man has done to man(with , in MY  interpretation, the emphasis on MAN, most wars , though not quite all, being caused by men’s exteriorization of their inner insecurities into outward competitiveness, tribalism and thereby sometimes resulting in warfare).Grunewald’s figures, in his paintings, are distorted and tortured(literally; there is much about Christ’s crucifixion) ; and SELF-tortured and SELF-distorted. there is a strange passage(pp.18/19) where it is left ambiguous, playing into history’s lack of definite knowledge in this matter,whether Grunewald and Matthias Nithart are the two aspects of Grunewald himself or that they are lovers; probably both, knowing Sebald’s(later)writings on homosexual oppression; and there is the idea of ” two painters  in ONE{my capitals} body/whose hurt flesh belonged to both”, a wholly OVERT reference to  the same-sex love affect between Grunewald and Nithart/”Nithart”(whether he existed historically or not is irrelevant here because to the sebaldian narator they  are re-imagined as TWO lovers{interestingly, the translator is Michael Hamburger himself!})

3. what is “natural”, ie innate to each individual as regards sexual orientation, ie. “After{Grunewald and Nitharts’}Nature”, their NATUAL homosexuality and love for each other:”pursuing the study/Of their own nature”, p.19.

There is a lot going on in this passage from p.17-19!Firstly,we have Sebald’s usual exteriorization of the inner psychological, desuetudinous self/landscape into EXternal catastrophe, which is, in contrast to the naturality of Grunewald and Nithart’s relationship,UNnatural, (in the sense that man corrupts nature and causes wars or lays the foundations for nuclear catastrophes); or, as, with Grunewald, his obsession with PHYSICAL bodily wounds, a sort of somatisation of inner psychological and emotional scars; thus, Grunewald gets the plague and comes out in all kinds of (exteriorized) “excrescences”. Secondly, there is the link again between Freud’s idea of the INTERNAL  manifestation , via somatisation, of EXternally inflicted wounds, played out in Grunewald’s tortured, masochistic art, mirrored, again, by numerous lists of GLOBAL catastrophes; so we have the start of a theme here, in the 1980s, which is to recur, in the 1990s, in the later fiction. Intererestingly, Sebald corresponded with , and was familiar with, the work of Adorno, in particular, but also Benjamin(to be explored in a poem shortly): this was at the time, 1966-8, of his being a reader at University of Manchester, a dark time in his life (cf Richard Shepherd,”The Sternheim Years”,in “Saturn’s Moons,”ed.Jo Caitling and Richard Hibbitt,2011, for a factual account of this period).I might make some comments on the last section of “After Nature” (“Dark Night Sallies Forth”) which uses his time in Manchester as a springboard for obscure(even for Sebald) links to more global catastrophes. However, I feel somewhat overwhelmed , for the present, having reached this apogee of knowledge and awareness of the absolute darkness of at least SOME of Sebald’s vision(HE has been accused of draping atrocities in “aesthetic melancholia”; not so-a very reductive reading, but his writing style IS, nonethless aesthetically startlingly beautiful and graceful) But the visions of all three sections of this earlier book and of lots of his later work go far far deeper than adopting a pose of aesthetic melancholy or even(solely) a true position of such; that one could think this is truly risible!.

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Anyway, I am stepping back from the edge, something most(if not all)of  Sebald’s narrators and characters were unable to do.Perhaps the manifold readings of “after” and “Nature” are best crystallised in a poem(by myself!):

AFTER:

Decimated

Blank

White

World

Post nuclear

Annihilation

(Think Orford Ness);

Or some other

Apocalypse…

NATURE

Taking

“After”

Oneself,

Being

Oneself,

AS Nature

Made us,

INCLUDING

Homosexuals:

We are made

LIKE Nature:

AFTER Nature.

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Published by: decayetude

ENTHUSIASMS: CLASSICAL MUSIC, ESPECIALLY OBSCURE ROMANTIC COMPOSERS; BACH/HANDEL LITERATURE, ESPECIALLY THOUGHTFUL, WELL-WRITTEN(STYLISTICALLY)NOVELS W G SEBALD WALTER BENJAMIN THEODOR ADORNO(JUST BEGINNING!) AESTHETIC PHILOSOPHY GAY MEN'S WRITING;QUEER THEORY STIMULATING DISCUSSIONS(EMOTIONALLY AND INTELLECTUALLY) GOOD RICH THICK ESPRESSO MICHAEL PONTI SPRITUALITY/LIFE'S "AURA"(BENJAMIN), WHATEVER TRANSCENDENTAL THING YOU WANT TO CALL THIS MEMORY-the elusiveness thereof. LOST TIME AND AN ATTEMPT AT ITS REDEMPTION(NON THEISTICALLY/RELIGIOUSLY)

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