Eddie Watkins's Reviews > The Emigrants

The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald
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it was amazing
bookshelves: german-fiction
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A beautiful book about deeply ingrained, even crippling, sadness, tragic death, and suicide. Rather than a novel it's more a suite of four tales whose logic as it progresses becomes increasingly more connotative and poetic, becoming finally in the last few pages a shuffling of evocative images that cleanse and invigorate as they further reveal deeper folds of abiding sadness in the world; a dark emptiness that is somehow fertile.

For Sebald the source of this fertility is memory. He will often present a character trapped in a sterile life, a life of futility and emptiness, and he will then uncover rich and colorful aspects of this person’s past through research, which then completely transforms the original impression of the character without relieving the sadness, and even deepening it as an aura of lost, yet secretly abiding, richness is overlaid on the present. This is one “strategy” that makes Sebald’s books so satisfying, in that it creates a world that is never as it initially seems, a world that always has more to reveal, if only we were to search for it, and remember.

Sebald’s work offer further examples of the mystery of how reading of depressiveness can be so soothing; how reading of solitary, repressed suicides can be so comforting; how sadness can feel so good.

How is this? and why?

I will attempt a provisional explanation: Sebald, and others, do this by tapping into the inherent sadness of nature itself. Nature itself, the flora the fauna, all living wild things are permeated by the sadness of their own solitariness. Of course this is as seen from a human perspective, and I do not mean that the plants and animals themselves are feeling and aware of this sadness; but looking into the eyes of even a pet dog one can see boundless wise depths of what I can only call sadness, an awareness of fragility and need, even if so nakedly complete and inherent as to be unconscious; but looking into those eyes is so comforting, even if loaded with frightening insights. As humans we can imagine ourselves interconnected through vast webs of cultural significance and meaning transcending time, which temporarily can give a sensation of abiding community and oneness, eradicating the solitary self, lifting us above nature into seemingly permanent significance, but this is an illusion. This is not to say that we aren't all interconnected, but only that the ligaments of our interconnectedness are beyond our knowing, are so deeply interfused that we invariably forget them and are left marooned as it were in conscious waking life, futilely seeking connections; and this is the look in the eyes of the dog – the being marooned, and the need, and the pathway in to interconnectedness beyond our conscious knowledge. And to know that the interconnectedness we need is beyond our conscious knowledge is sadness, a dark emptiness that is also somehow fertile.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
Finished Reading
February 18, 2011 – Shelved
October 8, 2014 – Shelved as: german-fiction

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