Mar. 20, 2013 - Issue #909: Water Crisis
We all need a little Patience
Visual essay considers the life and work of author WG Sebald
Which is also to say that Sebald is ripe for fresh exegesis—there is both a genuine desire and a market. But I suppose it is a niche market, which would explain why even the fevered readers among you mightn't have heard about Grant Gee's Patience (After Sebald), which follows the footsteps of Saturn. It first appeared in select cinemas in 2011 and has since been released on DVD by Cinema Guild. It is nearly as resistant to category as the book it's inspired by, bearing traces of biography, criticism, homage, travelogue and atmosphere-piece. Much of the film consists of slow dissolves between stark black and white landscapes, while rarely seen commentators address Sebald's life and work in voice-over. As a way of invoking The Rings of Saturn for the uninitiated, I find Patience a little misleading: such a muted, limited visual field doesn't reflect the calm yet constant cascade of data, narrative and conjecture on offer in the book (or, for that matter, any Sebald book). Not that we should expect Patience to be mimetic—if we want a film that feels more like reading Sebald, perhaps we should watch Sans Soleil (1983) or Buñuel's The Milky Way (1969). Better to regard Patience as a valuable accessory rather than a parallel artwork, and to enjoy it as a sort of meditation object in its own right.
Some highlights: software developer Barbara Hui sharing her brilliant digital map of the Saturn walk, which includes footnotes explaining what digressions each spot prompted in Sebald; poet Andrew Motion on the Orford Merman; a consideration of the similarities between Suffolk and the Zone from Stalker (1979); visual artist Tacita Dean on itinerary maps one can "follow" without ever leaving home; psychologist and essayist Adam Phillips on how Sebald's is the kind of Holocaust writing we need; and the voice of Sebald himself discussing the use of fog in literature. Patience marked the first time I'd ever heard Sebald's voice; how ghostly when placed amidst all these other living voices. But living and dead intermingle always in Sebald, so how fitting, then, that Patience allows this particular ghost to linger, and to wander with us a while longer. V
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