W. G. Sebald’s unsystematic search

Cover00Damion Searls at Bookforum:

When we read Sebald fifteen or so years ago, his combination of historical acknowledgment and cultural engagement seemed definitive, but rereading him recently, I was surprised to feel the work out of date in some ways. I thought he had captured what it meant to be alive in our time, but our time has moved on: to put it bluntly, gone online. His method was one of drawing connections—“Since then I have slowly learned to grasp how everything is connected across space and time,” he remarks in A Place in the Country—but that is not something one learns slowly anymore. Here in Internet world, finding connections is the work of a nanosecond. The last two pages of Rings of Saturn catalogue various occurrences on the day Sebald finished writing, and it used to read as a deeply moving web of connections across time, moving because it tracked Sebald’s mind making those connections. Now it almost seems like a second-rate Wikipedia entry, /April-13-Events.

On the other hand, Sebald never just found connections or followed links; he made them, made them new. Sebald’s work is not encyclopedic, because it lacks any drive for totality or pretense of completeness—he follows whim, goes wherever things take him.

more here.