An 'Evening Entertainment': last week we went to the Picture House together to watch the documentary film called Patience about WG Sebald and based on his The Rings of Saturn , about walking in Suffolk; yes, full of charm and wonder. And it is true that we were a threesome at the film, which is an uneven number for socialising (one thinks of chaperones and such arrangements, not that courting is our bag these days).
It was ‘On a Journey’; I get my copy of Rings of Saturn from off the book shelf and see that it was first published in England 1998, having been translated from the German original published in 1995. The black and white filming mimicked the photographs which are such an integral part of his Technik (in German where it means both the technique itself and the more mysterious knack of knowing how to do it), the impression of smoke and a shaky hand held camera, and a touch of magic.
However, one wonders if poor dead Max would not have groaned to see the trickery of an image of his face being superimposed on the still photograph of some smoke rising from a roadside firework, which a researcher, ‘devotee’ or ‘fan’ had let off at the cross-roads where he had met his death in 2001. Max was a stickler about his disgust for stylistic “adornment” of any kind, whether photographic magical tricks, or the uncritical critical adulation of the Anglophone (English and American) Sebald Industry. Where for instance, I asked myself, were the Germans?
Ah yes, but perhaps you noticed the music during the film? It was Schubert, one of the tunes from the Wintereise , as I think it trying to remember now. It was possibly the last in that song series, Die Liederman (the hurdy-gurdy man) – Und er last es gehen / Alles, wie es will, / Dreht, und seine Leier / Steht ihm nimmer still – but without the words in the film version, the music was, as it were, unsupported.
And ‘In a Train’; I cannot recall whether in The Rings of Saturn he (the narrator) travelled by train. It is likely. In his Selected Poems (1964-2001), Across the Land and the Water, many of the poems describe journeys made , some explicitly some probably, in trains. Begin with the very first poem in the collection:
How hard it is
to understand the landscape
as you pass in a train
from here to there
and mutely it
watches you vanish.
Max wrote that one as early as 1964, indicating he knew his direction of travel if not the final destination even then as a young man, which was about the time he arrived to live in Manchester. The short two-stressed lines (in German) are typical of a great many of his poems: the clickety-clack rhythm of the carriage wheels on the rails (before the high-speed rail versions replaced them), and again reminiscent of Schubert and his frequent use of two repeating notes.
And his ‘Darker Tones’: “melancholy but without any hint of pathos”, as Alfred Brendal described it on BBC Radio 3 last night. It is Radio 3’s 8-day, all day Schubertiade, and it is in full flow now – The Schubert Industry – don’t miss it! The two repeating notes and darker tones, whatever was the cause (the effects of the Treponema Pallidum and mercury poisoning some say): for two alternating and repeating notes I particularly recommend you try listening to his Andante D929, but Patience – it is 9 mins and 36 secs long.
And do you not think Schubert would also have liked trains, if he had lived long enough to know what they were, and would have written songs about train travel? Who knows, probably two-stressed rhythmic train songs to add to the near 700 other songs he wrote in his actual life, and perhaps based on poems by Johann Mayrhofer (Freund und Text dichter: 46 Schubert songs and 2 operas are based on his poems) before the writer committed suicide by jumping from the window of his office in Vienna in 1836 in his 49th year.
Max, and Johann Mayrhofer and Franz Schubert on trains, having had some choice in the matter – unlike trains of no return: Kadish Ofra Hazi, Kadish.