Vertigo

in Seabald, Fontainbleau, memory

This post was mostly written earlier this summer, in the days after I had finished reading a book.

I’ve just finished reading W. G. Seabald’s Vertigo. This is the second of his books that I’ve read over the last decade, and it is as haunting as the first. The first of his I read was The rings of Saturn.

Towards the closing pages of the book I was filled with a great expectation that I might possibly experience some deep revelation. The way he cast his prose against the timbre of reality made me feel from moment to moment that some veil might be drawn aside.

Most of my reading is snatching pieces of flotsam out of the constant ocean of content we have ever expanding in front of us. The times when I sat in a state of reflection seem to have receded, and it seems to me that I am always going somewhere, thinking ahead, or fast with the regrets of the moments just past.

I’m sitting writing these notes in a town that I have orbited for the last ten years, a place that holds many memories and hopes. A place that I find my mind wandering too, perhaps too often.

The fabric of what Seabald writes about - memory, place, in some sense the struggle to understand the very possibility of existence, these themes hold up well tonight. I left my family this morning, and for the next few hours I am a stranger, revisiting a part of his own past.


postscript On returning from Switzerland with my wife and son, in the guest bedroom of her parents house I found my copy of The Rings of Saturn lying on a shelf. I’ve been in that room many times in the last number of years, and passed over the book. I must have left it there sometime around our honeymoon. It has a bookmark nestled inside, one that was cut out from a transparency I had prepared years earlier, little cells, each containing either a simulation of water flowing around a cube, or the outflows of gasses from the centre of violent galaxies. I can no longer quite recall. Each cell now, more like a fragment of a memory, jogging the mind, a pattern at once distantly familiar, and at the same time foreign enough that I no longer have any hope of being sure where it came from.