[lit-ideas] Re: The Philosopher Who Died of the Disease of Cancer

  • From: David Ritchie <ritchierd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 03 Jun 2004 16:35:26 -0700

on 6/1/04 6:57 AM, Stephen Straker at straker@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx wrote:

> Sorry to be so negative ...
> To make up for this, allow me to recommend the indescribably
> wonderful *Austerlitz* by the recently departed WG Sebald.
> (Among other possibilities, you could count it as a serious
> study of consciousness.)

    I'm reading this.  I wonder whether others are?  So far I'm experiencing
a tension: I'm both engaged and put off simultaneously.  I like some of the
book's eccentricities, suggesting that, for example, a fortresses amounted
to signals to the enemy re. what you consider to be the weakest point in
your defences (tell that to the Crusaders) but the narrator's voice points
me towards *unconsciousness* rather than consciousness.  Sometimes it drones
on and on:

I looked out at the flat, almost treeless landscape, the vast brown expanse
of the plowed fields, the railway stations where I would never get out, the
flock of gulls which makes a habit of gathering on the football pitch on the
outskirts of Ipswich, the allotments, the crippled bushes overgrown with
dead traveler's joy on the embankments, the quicksilver mudflats and
channels at Manningtree, the boats capsized on their sides, the Colchester
water tower, the Marconi factory in Chelmsford, the empty greyhound track at
Romford, the ugly backs of the terraced houses past which the railway line
runs in the suburbs of the metropolis, the Manor Park cemetery and the tower
blocks of flats in Hackney, sights which are always the same and flit past
me whenever I go to London, yet remain alien and incomprehensible in spite
of all the years that have passed since my arrival in England.

    I'm reminded of the way in which Monty Python characters would give
laborious instructions on how to take the B351 past Basingstoke and then the
A99 through the roundabout...  Sebald captures the dullness of grey days in
Belgium and Britain just perfectly.


    But I'm going to carry on; when was the last time Stephen recommended a
book this highly?  Will anyone join me?

    Finally, I have a silly question, one of those things that nags if you
don't put it to bed: can those German speakers amongst you imagine this as
something a German speaker who is fluent in English would say, "died of the
disease of cancer"?  The reference is to Wittgenstein, but that makes no
difference.  You'll find me, and the phrase, on page forty.

David Ritchie
Portland, Oregon

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