By any standard, it was a blow to contemporary literature when WG Sebald was taken from us prematurely three years ago at the age of 57.
But in Sebald’s case. there is a more acute tragedy in that he was the one living novelist who we wanted to read as he aged. No one thought more deeply or wrote more beautifully about memory.
No one dealt in more haunting ways with the terrible task of remembrance that faced Germany after WWII. Gunter Grass [can I get an umlaut on this frickin program?] is, of course, no slouch but for my money, Sebald is the writer who will be read long after the rest of us are dead. Which is fitting somehow.
Anway, a typically lyrical, uncanny, beautiful essay by Mr. Sebald can be found in the current New Yorker. It isn’t available online yet but is more than reason to buy the Fiction Issue. The final paragraph of the essay had this 3quarker in a rather choked up state for a minute there.
“So what is literature good for? Am I, Holderlin [umlaut] asked himself, to fare like the thousands who in their springtime days lived in both foreboding and love but were seized by the avenging Parcae on a drunken day, secretly and silently betrayed, to do penance in the dark of an all too sober realm where wild confusion prevails in the treacherous light, where they count slow time in frost and drought, and man still praises immortality in sighs alone? The synoptic view across the barrier of death presented by the poet in these lines is both overshadowed and illuminated, however, by the memory of those to whom the greatest injustice was done. There are many forms of writing; only in literature, however, can there be an attempt at restitution over and above the mere recital of facts, and over and above scholarship. A place that is at the service of such a task is therefore very appropriate in Stuttgart, and I wish it and the city that shelters it well in the future.”