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Mary Ruefle on W.G. Sebald


I am currently reading Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle. I appreciate her quotes. Here’s one concerning the late W.G. Sebald:

I had recently one of the most astonishing experiences of my reading life. On page 248 in The Rings of Saturn, W. G. Sebald is recounting his interviews with one Thomas Abrams, an English farmer who has been working on a model of the temple of Jerusalem–you know, gluing little bits of wood together–for twenty yeas, including the painstaking research required for historical accuracy. There are ducks on the farm and at one point Abrams says to Sebald, “I have always kept ducks, even as a child, and the colours of their plumage, in particular the dark green and snow white, seemed to me the only possible answer to the questions that are on my mind.” It is an odd thing to say, but Sebald’s book is a long walk of oddities. I did not remember this passage in particular until later the same day when I was reading the dictionary, where I came upon the meaning of the word speculum: (1) an instrument inserted into a body passage for inspection; (2) an ancient mirror; (3) a medieval compendium of all knowledge; (4) a drawing showing the relative position of all the planets; and (5) a patch of color on the secondary wings of most ducks and some other birds. Did Sebald know that a compendium of all knowledge and a duck’s plumage were one and the same? Did Abrams? Or was I the only one for whom the duck passage made perfect, original sense? I sat in my chair, shocked. I am not a scholar, but for the imaginative reader there can be discoveries, connections between books, that explode the day and one’s heart and the long years that have led to the moment. I am a writer, and the next step is inevitable: I used what had been revealed to me in my own writing.

June 11, 2014 8:03 am

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