Thursday, February 20, 2014

Patience: After Sebald

2012, UK, directed by Grant Gee

As elliptical and absorbing as the book, W.G. Sebald's Rings of Saturn, that inspires it, Grant Gee's film provides glimpses into the physical world that Sebald encounters during the course of the long walk that gives the book its framework, while also suggesting that a literal re-tracing of steps is not the most productive way to understand Sebald's process or intent. The book is almost like a series of Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit holes -- one moment we're strolling along a stretch of coastal Norfolk, the next we're considering the ramifications of the Taiping Rebellion, Roger Casement's work to publicize abuses in Congo, or the cultivation of the silkworm. At times, this reminded me of the effect of clicking on too many hyperlinks: you can't quite re-trace your steps to figure out why you're suddenly reading about some new and absorbing topic.

And yet there's nothing accidental about Sebald's intent -- the silkworms provide a haunting example, with the long section on their cultivation foreshadowed throughout the text, and working in parallel with other sections on connections forged across time and space. One commentator here discusses the extraordinary effect of Sebald's method, whereby an apparently benign beginning suddenly brings us to the camps of the Second World War, for instance, confronting us like a slap in the face amidst the apparently bucolic setting of his book. There's an image in the book, reproduced in the film, that encapsulates that effect rather brutally -- bodies lying on the ground in the kind of forest that the Romantics might have celebrated (an image that recalls Simon Schama's extraordinary discussion of forest imagery in Landscape and Memory, published the same year as Sebald's book).

No comments:


List of all movies

Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States