Monday, April 23, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 16.1 (W.G. Sebald)

On the Natural History of Destruction
Sebald, W.G.
On the Natural History of Destruction

I am pretty sure this, like yesterday's title, was also a gift, possibly, again, from Jonathon Welch. But I could be wrong.

I was about to write that it was the only one of my Sebald titles that I've yet to read, but opening it up I realized that I have read it. The first paragraph, anyhow, but likely the whole thing. I have a hard time remembering Sebald's books.

Perhaps it has to do with their digressive nature.

Just as I start to form a mental image of what I am reading, the narrative moves off in another, often unexpected, direction. I enjoy the fluidity of movement between history and fiction and autobiography, the photos interspersed in the text, the way my mind feels as it tries to integrate them into the images I am forming in my mind, wondering always if the stories came first or if the author constructed the narrative around the photos, but I when I am done, that is what I remember, the experience of reading rather than the content.

Anyone else experience Sebald this way?

from On the Natural History of Destruction

Today it is hard to form an even partly adequate idea of the extent of the devastation suffered by the cities of Germany in the last years of the Second World War, still harder to think about the horrors involved in the devastation. It is true that the strategic bombing surveys published by the Allies, together with the records of the Federal German Statistics Office and other official sources, show that the Royal Air Force alone dropped a million bombs on enemy territory; it is true that of the 131 towns and cities attacked, some only once and some repeatedly, many were almost entirely flattened, that about 600,000 German civilians fell victim to the air raids, and that three and a half million homes were destroyed, while at the end of the war seven and a half million people were left homeless, and there 31.1 cubic meters of rubble for every person in Cologne and 42.8 cubic meters for every inhabitant of Dresden–but we do not grasp what it all actually meant. The destruction, on a scale without historical precedent, entered the annals of the nation, as it set about rebuilding itself, only in the form of vague generalizations. It seems to have left barely a trace of pain behind in the collective consciousness, it has been largely obliterated from the retrospective understanding of those affected, and it never played any appreciable part in the discussion of the internal constitution of our country.

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