Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sebald and Bernhard

from Understanding W G Sebald, before I return the book back to the library.

As discussed earlier, Sebald's brand of humour is rooted in exaggeration. And here too the influence of Bernhard, as well as (although less frequently cited) Bernhard's aesthtically "quiescent" fellow countryman, the aforementioned nineteenth-century novelist Adalbert Stifter, can be felt. As the literary critic James Wood observes, "for all the apparent quietness of Sebald's prose, exaggeration is its principle, an exaggeration he has undoubtedly learned from Bernhard." Likewise, the pessimism in Sebald's works Wood likens to Bernhard's, except that Bernhard's "principle of exaggeration" is applied more consistently to the grotesque, whereas Sebald's concentrates more commonly on the elegiac, although the grotesque is by no means lacking. Sebald acknowledges the significance of Bernhard for his literary life and refers to Bernhard's particular brand of literary "extremism" as "periscopic writing."

9 comments:

Antonia said...

'periscopic writing' is a good one,but somehow am not so sure whether I should agree with this remark that Sebald has learnt exaggeration from Bernhard. I wouldn't say there is a lot of exaggeration in Sebald's book. what do you think, alok, does he mean with exaggeration? Tne quietness? Quietness as exaggeration?

Alok said...

I think by exaggeration he means the way Sebald turns commonplace things into something strange and grotesque. Most of Sebald's descriptive passages feel as if they were written by some visitor from an alien planet! Isn't that so?

He cites a few passages from Bernhard's novel Gargoyles to show that he does the same thing -- turning domestic and commonplace objects into something grotesque... He also says that Kafka is their common antecedent, which is understandable. There is also some discussion of Freud's theory of "Uncanny" in the book which i didn't really understand much.

Antonia said...

hmmmnn an alien?I think Sebald is 'only' just more diligent in observation and description.....
I find that too easy, Kafka as their common antecedent. There are profound differences between the three of them....no?

Alok said...

yes they are of course different, but i think there are also a lot of similarities...

i dont have rings of saturn with me right now but this review points out a scene that i remembered from the book. the narrator sees a couple having sex on a beach and he describes the scene as this:

In The Rings of Saturn, while observing the nesting holes of some sand martins, he accidentally spies a couple having sex on the beach and they seem to him "a many-limbed, two-headed monster that had drifted in from far out at sea, the last of a prodigious species." To enter into one of Sebald’s books is to experience the almost impossibly peculiar, quite vertiginous, sense of inhabiting another’s extreme solitude.

from here

this is one example of a kafkaesque prose. i think there are many such examples in sebald's books. also remember the scene when he describes the trees with the dutch elm disease. that had also struck me as startling and bizarre.

Antonia said...

hmmmnn I don't know - certainly one can find here and there a passage, but in the end Bernhard and Sebald are way less 'dead end' than Kafka was. Probably helplessness of the author who instead of realy exploring the nature of Sebald which is of coiurse difficult,always falls back upon Kafka....or maybe I just have heard to many people saying: this or that book,it is like Kafka and I find that too easy. Sebald and Kafka are profoundly different. Only because some people are intorvert it doesn't have to mean they have much in common. Style is a difference, also:richness, also: open mindedness etc...

Antonia said...

dont you also get so totel different feelings when you read them?when I read Kafka,it goes all the way downhill, everything narrow,no hope,no life. Kafka is for me the core of pessimism
when I read Sebald my reading feeling is much more contemplative, far less hopeless even tho melancholy at times, richer in his descriptions and style, much more open minded and makes me want to look out for the little beautiful details out there in the world
and Bernhard agitates me, makes me rage or laugh with him,in general rage...

Alok said...

I personally feel that all three belong to the same school, more or less. :)

not much in the sense of their philosophy, although there is some commonality there too, but more in terms of style and how they use language....

i recently read an excellent essay on Bernhard which brings all three together. Will see if i can copy it here.

Antonia said...

ok alok...this is interesting...these reading journeys and what everyone thinks and how different the perceptions are. that's nice,that plurality of views...ye scopy the essay one day...:) whenever you have time

Alok said...

you are absolutely right. thats the beauty of literature. otherwise we would rather be studying science! :)

will get the essay soon.