August 26, 2012

The novelist as editor: Fair Play by Tove Jansson


Fair Play (1989) by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal (Sort Of Books, 2007)



Fair Play is about two women-artists, one writer and one filmmaker, who are life-long friends and who try to make sense of their lives through art. Their relationship is told in vignettes describing their work and life in a seaside house and their constant engagement with different art forms: film, painting, literature, and photography.

That doesn't look very appealing based on synopsis alone. But the Finnish author Tove Jansson (1914-2001) is a peerless practitioner of concision. Her work is precise and tightly edited, making no room for anything that will destroy the whole composition. A seemingly extraneous detail must be thrown away; it is simply "idiotic" to let it stay. The principle is laid out early on while Jonna, the filmmaker, helps Mari arrange the pictures on her walls: "That pretty mirror is idiotic, it doesn't belong, we have to keep it austere. The sword's okay, if a little pathetic. Here, measure – it'll be seven, or six and a half. Give me the awl." No excess, no nonsense.

   "I know," she said, "rejection's not easy. But you reject words, whole pages, long impossible stories, and it feels good once it's done. It's no different rejecting pictures, a picture's right to hang on a wall. And most of these have hung here too long; you don't even see them any more. The best stuff you have, you don't see any more. And they kill each other because they're badly hung. Look, here's a thing of mine and here's your drawing, and they clash. We need distance, it's essential. And different periods need distance to set them apart – unless you're just cramming them together for the shock effect! You simply have to feel it... There should be an element of surprise when people's eyes move across a wall covered with pictures. We don't want to make it too easy for them. Let them catch their breath and look again because they can't help it. Make them think, make them mad, even..."

The prose itself follows this aesthetic of ruthless editing. Crop the unwanted stuff, emphasize the best parts, arrange things strategically, allow freedom of space, be intuitive, be instinctive, don't dumb down things for people, make them think, make them mad.

This is not a call for minimalism for the sake of minimalism, however. This is a thinking, pulsing piece. It's not entirely averse to the "irrational" and hodgepodge, but those tendencies must be required by genius in order to be permitted in a work of art. The great film directors, according to Mari, know all about the irrational. They use ill-fitting things for a purpose, to make a whole, to make a point. They know what they want to show. Their apparent quirkiness is part of the play.

In Fair Play, the barriers of art, work, and life are fluid. The characters' work ethic dictates the form and content of the art they create and the moral imperatives they set for themselves. A life-style of discovery and contemplation seems to be the ideal way to set one's self into the world.

Jansson's short pieces usually begin with a simple conflict, then the quirks and seemingly out of touch behavior of her characters are set off against that conflict ("It was excellent bringing in an irrational detail," Jonna said of a detail that seems out of place in a movie.), and then after an understated resolution the stories end with a seemingly harmless sentence – e.g., "They came back to the island from a totally new direction, and it didn't look the same." – that does not sound in the least bit arbitrary but very wise and full of import given the intelligence and perception she invested in the simple telling.

"Endings can be really hard," Mari said of stories. Jansson's other strength is in stating the obvious but giving them a little tweak. Her sentence endings usually have a feel for the double entendre. It's obvious that a lot goes into thinking how to end emphatically but she makes the final sentence a unitary element of the whole.

   It was a very small bar, long and narrow with a pool table in the back. Annie herself tended the bar, the jukebox played constantly, and people came in steadily and greeted one another in passing as if they'd seen each other an hour ago, which perhaps they had. No ladies among the clientele.
   ...
   The friendly crowding, the jukebox, the pool balls clicking from the curtained-off section of the room, a sudden laugh in the even flood of conversation, a voice being raised to object or explain, and people coming in the whole time and somehow finding space. Annie worked as if possessed but with no traces of nerves, her smile was her own, and the fact that she was hurrying did not mean time was short.

We realize from the end of that passage ("the fact that she was hurrying did not mean time was short") that Annie's natural energy through all that hustle is partly derived from her love of her work and place. But we recognize it as we assess the whole room, visualize the atmosphere in the bar; all the details (the crowd, bar, jukebox, pool table, laughing, and conversation) clicking into their proper places.

In omitting the unnecessary and reducing things to their bare essentials, Jansson is the perfect model of Strunk & White school of writing. They would have gladly indorsed the novelist's clear and bright prose free of artificial darknesses.

   The picture went black and stayed black for a long time. Several weak flashes of light, nothing more, and the screen was empty.
   Mari said, "You have to cut that; no one will get it. It was too dark."

Art appreciation, and an uncompromising principle of art editing, nourish Jonna and Mari even as their friendship and love sustain them both. Readers of the novel can sense all these from a prose of high polish. Catch your breath. The wonder on offer is as limpid as a seascape under clear skies watercolor.




August 24, 2012

A lateral reading of W. G. Sebald's apocalypse








At the end of Vertigo, W. G. Sebald's narrator was travelling on a train and fell into sleep after browsing "at random" through the diary of Samuel Pepys (Everyman's Library, 1913). He had a dream, a dessicated mountain landscape fading into a vision of apocalypse:

Into that breathless void, then, words returned to me as an echo that had almost faded away – fragments from the account of the Great Fire of London as recorded by Samuel Pepys.

The Great Fire of London lasted for all of three days in early September 1666. The "fire" in the narrator's dream is a recreation of memory and subconscious as right before falling asleep, the narrator "found [himself] going over the same few lines [passages in the diary] again and again without any notion what they meant."

Here I'm juxtaposing the dream account of Sebald's narrator and Pepys's first hand account of the fire. I borrow the method of comparison from James L. Cowan's "Sebald’s Austerlitz and the Great Library". All emphases below are mine.



PassageSebald and Hulse, VertigoPepys, 2 September 1666
1We saw the fire grow. It was not bright, it was a gruesome, evil, bloody flame, sweeping, before the wind, through all the City.When we could endure no more upon the water; we to a little ale-house on the Bankside, over against the ‘Three Cranes, and there staid till it was dark almost, and saw the fire grow; and, as it grew darker, appeared more and more, and in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the City, in a most horrid malicious bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire.
2Pigeons lay destroyed upon the pavements, in hundreds, their feathers singed and burned.And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconys till they were, some of them burned, their wings, and fell down.
3A crowd of looters roams through Lincoln's Inn. Soon as dined, I and Moone away, and walked, through the City, the streets full of nothing but people and horses and carts loaden with goods, ready to run over one another, and, removing goods from one burned house to another.
4The churches, houses, the woodwork and the building stones, ablaze at once.The churches, houses, and all on fire and flaming at once ...
5The churchyard yews ignited, each one a lighted torch, a shower of sparks now tumbling to the ground. ... and every thing, after so long a drought, proving combustible, even the very stones of churches, and among other things the poor steeple by which pretty Mrs. ———— lives, and whereof my old school-fellow Elborough is parson, taken fire in the very top, an there burned till it fell down.
6And Bishop Braybrooke's grave is opened up, his body disinterred.(see Pepys, 12 November 1666)
7Is this the end of the world?
8A muffled, fearful, thudding sound, moving, like waves, throughout the air. The powder house exploded.... and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruins.
9We flee onto the water. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that layoff; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another.
10The glare around us everywhere, and yonder, before the darkened skies, in one great arc the jagged wall of fire.We staid till, it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it.
11And, the day after, a silent rain of ashes, westward, as far as Windsor Park.



From this we can get a glimpse of how novelist's "aesthetics of falsification" works by (i) summarizing the event from a source text and (ii) adding in some details from his own imagination.

We can also observe how Sebald and translator Michael Hulse reproduced or reworded phrases from Pepys's diary. The "filter of memory" was not a perfect reproduction and was prone to periphrastic addition of details that tried to capture the sense of the apocalyptic.

The 6th passage is notable for its lack of counterpart to the day's diary. There is no mention of Bishop Braybrooke in the diary entries from September 2 to 6. But in a later entry, two months after the fire, Pepys did mention the fate of Bishop Robert Braybrooke's remains.

This afternoon going towards Westminster, Creed and I did stop, the Duke of York being just going away from seeing of it, at Paul’s, and in the Convocation House Yard did there see the body of Robert Braybrooke, Bishop of London, that died 1404: He fell down in his tomb out of the great church into St. Fayth’s this late fire, and is here seen his skeleton with the flesh on; but all tough and dry like a spongy dry leather, or touchwood all upon his bones. His head turned aside. A great man in his time, and Lord Chancellor; and his skeletons now exposed to be handled and derided by some, though admired for its duration by others. Many flocking to see it. (Pepys, 12 November 1666)

This detail of the bishop's miraculously unburnt corpse was too far advanced in the diary, and it was amusing that Sebald's narrator included this in his dream account. For the novelist, the preserved state of the corpse after the conflagration was a posthumous fact that was just too good to pass up (see this commentary about the state of the corpse and also this one about a strange case of necrophilia).

The chilling question, "Is this the end of the world?", is also pure Sebald. It is the kind of statement a person in the midst of a tragic event, or while observing one, is expected to make. (During this month's heavy flooding in Manila, for example, J. texted me the same thing, which I immediately contradicted. I realized, however, that in these times we indeed live through a series of apocalypses.)

The final sentence in Sebald's depiction of the fire is another passage that I cannot correlate from Pepys's diaries. Windsor Park and Lincoln Inn (in passage # 3) are also absent in the diaries.

The blog Vertigo mentioned that the original German edition of the novel ends with the number "2013" before the word "Ende". It also speculated that the 1913 edition of Pepys's diary could be made up by Sebald.

Depicting a true catastrophic event with a few imaginative alterations is Sebald's way of imagining himself in the narrative and appropriating the role of first hand witness for himself. What feels aesthetically right is morally right, he said in an interview. He is one sublime novelist who used his creative license to select real dramatic details to represent the essence of the thing and to introduce extra details to intensify the experience of lateral reading.


Pepys's eyes; Sebald's eyes; Related posts



August 22, 2012

A note on W. G. Sebald's prose


"Il ritorno in patria", from Vertigo (1990) by W. G. Sebald, translated by Michael Hulse (Vintage Books, 2011)



The fourth and final section of W. G. Sebald's first novel starts rather singsong-like.

In November 1987, after spending the last weeks of the summer in Verona, working on my various tasks, and the month of October, because I could not bear to wait any longer for the onset of winter, in a hotel high above Bruneck, near the tree line, I decided one afternoon, when the Großvenediger emerged from behind a grey snow cloud in an especially ominous way, that I should return to England, but before that go to W. for a while, where I had not been since my childhood.

The qualifying clauses extended an otherwise straightforward statement. Removing the obfuscating clauses, what the narrator was saying was simply, "I decided one afternoon ... that I should return to England, but before that go to W. for a while, where I had not been since my childhood."

It was "a good thirty years" since the narrator had left W. (Sebald himself was born in Wertach im Allgäu.) It was about time to come back. But his manner of saying so through the words of his translator, in a roundabout way, creating a staccato rhythm, with clipped clauses separated by commas piling up like lines of a poem, was a signal that we were once again about to enter a labyrinth. Of memories, dreams, hallucinations, ghosts. But mainly ghosts.

Going home. Nothing could better artistically map out the structure of memory, reveal the writer's hyperreal recollections in polished prose. Nothing could exercise his tragic worldviews than a jog through home-grown memories. W. was the fixed destination; but the mental itinerary and landscapes were ever fluid. The narrator's voice unfolded just as ponderously with Sebald, shaped and refined by a singular sensitivity and sensibility.

For that purpose, he boarded a train and espied the countryside and gossiping passengers. The scenery outside was transparent, yet the atmosphere was dense. He seemed to be accelerating toward something catastrophic, if not apocalyptic. The ominous train journey could remind one of the cold hysteria enveloping the opening scene of The Melancholy of Resistance by László Krasznahorkai, with whom Sebald shared some literary affinities.

Encountering a dozen hens on an open field affected the narrator deeply, "for some reason that [he] still cannot fathom". "I do not know what it is about certain things or creatures that sometimes moves me like this."

As if to counterbalance the awkwardness of his opening lines, the ensuing sentences flowed rather magically. The Sebald sentence could be a treasure. Deadly funny or serious, it had a Walserian compactness that nudged ordinary objects towards their lifelong destiny.

The doorbell clanged, and there we were, standing in the small shop in which a host of long-case clocks, wall-mounted regulators, kitchen and living room clocks, alarm clocks, pocket and wrist watches were all ticking at once, just as if one clock on its own could not destroy enough time.

Mounted on the walls above the brown-painted panelling, stuffed martens, lynxes, capercaillies, vultures and other exterminated creatures were awaiting their time until they could take their long overdue revenge.

The novelist's conveyance of his aesthetics required the paraphrasing of his reference materials (diary entries, news articles, short stories, books, memoirs, frescoes). It also involved periphrasis or the extension of words, phrases, and sentences – a device he probably borrowed from classical German writers. Hence, "further and further" instead of just "further", "more and more" and nothing less.

A periphrastic exposition was obvious from the awakenings of memory. It was there in the Bernhard-inspired attributions (he said, she said) in conversations. The mechanism of memory was not forced but rather delicately prodded, as when a neighbor of the narrator required him to participate in the remembering:

When I inquired about the origins of the books, Lukas was able to tell me only that Mathild had always been a great reader, and because of this, as I might perhaps remember, was thought of by the villagers as peculiar, if not deranged.

...

To the contrary, said Lukas, she evidently came to feel quite comfortable in her detachment, and indeed the way in which, year after year, she went about among the villagers whom she despised, forever dressed in a black frock or a black coat, and always in a hat and never, even in the finest weather, without an umbrella, had, as I might remember from my own childhood days, something blissful about it. [my emphases]

The elevated style of translation was perhaps faithful to the courteous original. The topic was madness and/or memory and yet the elegant shape of the sentences had a hint of darkish humor in them.

Then again, the narrator was, like his novelist, coming face to face with the legacy of his sanitized memory, the unexplained rubble and ruins in German cities he encountered as a child every fortnight in a newsreel, signs of wartime disgrace never to be talked about. Dealing with the amnesia – cheated, swindled memory – that saddled his growing up was quite possibly the narrator and the novelist's raison d'etre, the "indication of the cause" (Die Ursache), as the title of Thomas Bernhard's memoir of air bombings would have it. Unlike Bernhard's having witnessed firsthand the bombing of cities and hence being exposed to the true "natural history of destruction", the narrator was mourning his ignorance of the meaning of the images in the newsreel – "Almost every week we saw the mountains of rubble in places like Berlin and Hamburg, which for a long time I did not associate with the destruction wrought in the closing years of the war, knowing nothing of it, but considered them a natural condition of all larger cities." It was necessary for him to go back to W. to pick up the pieces of his family history and to start to bear witness to his muddled existence.

Even as a precocious little child, the young narrator already had a penchant for collecting documents, photographs, and found objects.

The door to the Engelwirt landlady's room was usually left slightly ajar, and I frequently went in to her and would spend hours looking at the collection of postcards she kept in three large folio volumes. The landlady, wine glass in hand, sometimes sat next to me at the table as I browsed, but only ever spoke to tell me the name of the town I happened to be pointing to. As the minutes passed by this resulted in a long topographical litany of place names such as Chur, Bregenz, Innsbruck, Altaussee, Hallstatt, Salzburg, Vienna, Pilsen, Marienbad, Bad Kissingen, Würzburg, Bad Homburg and Frank am Main. There were also numerous Italian cards from Merano, Bolzano, Riva, Verona, Milan, Ferrara, Rome and Naples. One of these postcards, showing the smoking peak of Vesuvius, somehow or other got into an album belonging to my parents, and so has come into my possession. [emphases mine; a photograph of the smoking crater of Vesuvius was shown on the page]

Two things to note in this passage. First is I would have liked to put all those proper place names in ellipses but they were obviously part of the periphrasis. It was necessary to itemize these names, to the point of brute force method of remembering, because that was the point of remembering. Not mentioning them, and not reproducing the post card of Mt. Vesuvius, could throw into question the whole account. These were evidences made to bear on the telling, to authenticate the details, to punctuate their reality. (Sebald's periphrasis came to full utility in the extra-long sentence in Austerlitz. Cf. the seemingly endless crime scenes in Roberto Bolaño's 2666, and José Saramago's litany of saints martyred by every conceivable means in The Gospel According to Jesus Christ.) The second point is that the "somehow or other" could be an indirect admission that the child had filched the postcard from the landlady!

Sebald's use of the two devices in his prose, one that lengthens (periphrasis) and one that foreshortens (paraphrase), was not rigid. The two usually worked in combination. Franz Kafka's story "The Hunter Gracchus", was directly alluded to and paraphrased in the third section. It was already hinted at in the second section, with one of the characters named Salvatore, just like in the Kafka story. The story was reenacted, or adapted, in a sort of false or made-up version (a periphrasis) in this section when Sebald introduced a Gracchus figure. The paraphrase and the periphrastic were the potent tools of Sebald's aesthetics of falsification.

The reader was also suddenly winked back to the first part of the book, the Stendhal section. Touching an old, hanging uniform sleeve brought the narrator "utter horror" as the clothing "crumbled into dust". And then we were told it belonged to an Austrian who fought the French in 1800, the year Stendhal started his campaign. In fact, it was the year mentioned in the first sentence of the novel.

In Sebald's calculated writing, memories and coincidences speak the same language. The seemingly hidden, invisible, or fictional(ized) ideas are collapsed or augmented. The syntactical structures and textures of poetic prose point to a robust instance of transtextuality.


August 2, 2012

W. G. Sebald's aesthetics of falsification


"Dr K. Takes the Waters at Riva", from Vertigo (1990) by W. G. Sebald, translated by Michael Hulse (Vintage Books, 2011)


Amazon.co.uk: At the beginning of Vertigo, you follow the young Stendhal in Napoleon's army and introduce the central theme of the book: the unknowability of the past and memory's unreliability. As a writer you must draw on memory--do you feel that all the stories we tell are fictions, or do some stories have more truth than others?

Sebald: Seen from the outside, some stories have more truth than others, but the truth value of the story does not depend on its actual truth content. The truth value depends on how it is framed and phrased. If a story is aesthetically right, then it is probably also morally right. You cannot really translate one to one from reality. If you try to do that, in order to get at a truth value through writing, you have to falsify and lie. And that is one of the moral quandaries of the whole business.

...

[Photographs] are part of [my working] process. They act as a token of authenticity--but they can be deduced, forged or purloined. And of course that in turn throws up one of the central problems of fiction writing, which is that of legitimacy and the arrival at the truth on a crooked route. This is why "vertigo" in German has a double meaning--schwindel in German means "swindle". What right do you have to write about any of these things? Have you been there, and felt these things for yourself?

– "The Questionable Business of Writing", interview with Toby Green (undated)


The figure of Kafka finally appears, as Dr K., in the third section of W. G. Sebald's Vertigo. Dr K. journeys to Vienna in a "fretful state of mind". He notices things with the same feverish intensity as Stendhal in the first section.

So, the odd chapters (I and III) of Vertigo talk about the travels of two European novelists while the even ones (II and IV) follow the narrator in his own physically and mentally taxing adventures.The lengths of the stories are about the same for each pairing (30 pages for the odd chapters; roughly 100 for the even chapters).

The novel's four-story structure hints at a "mirroring effect". Doppelgängers and doubles frequently appear. Connections and coincidences, unintended or not, are implied. Out of well-selected facts and events, dates and places, coincidence is unifying the details. To what ends? "It's this whole business of coincidence," Sebald explained, "which is very prominent in my writing":

I hope it's not obtrusive. But, you know, it does come up in the first book, in "Vertigo," a good deal. I don't particularly hold with parapsychological explanations of one kind or another, or Jungian theories about the subject. I find those rather tedious. But it seemed to me an instance that illustrates that we somehow need to make sense of our nonsensical existence. You meet somebody who has the same birthday as you—the odds are one in three hundred and sixty-five, not actually all that amazing. But if you like the person then immediately this takes on more . . . and so we build on it, and I think all our philosophical systems, all our systems of our creed, all constructions, even the technological worlds, are built in that way, in order to make some sort of sense, when there isn't, as we all know. [from "The Meaning of Coincidence", interview with Joe Cuomo, New Yorker, 2001, emphasis added]

Sebald seems to be delineating an artistic point of view and using his K.-type characters to make sense of confounding personal and collective experiences. Memory comes to grips with the history of destruction. It learns it cannot catch up. Yet memory is what all these literary artists have in common, the main instrument of their vocation. Exercising memory brings them to uncanny associations of previous experiences, delivering to their senses extensive bouts of vertigo. Memory undoes the writers even as it consoles their troubled souls.

Dr K.'s travel was on September 1913. "The Stoker", the first chapter of Kafka's unfinished novel Amerika (The Missing Person), was published in May of the same year. "The Stoker" started with 17-year old Karl Rossmann sailing into New York and coming into view of the Statue of Liberty. ("The arm with the sword now reached aloft, and about her figure blew the free winds.") In Vertigo, Dr K. also encountered a similar figure but in a different form. While resting in a hotel room, where stray sounds from the outside drifted in "through curtains stirred by the breeze", Dr K. imagined "an iron angel who kills travellers from the north". In his hallucination he saw the ceiling of the room breaking open "in a cloud of plaster dust" to reveal "a figure [descending] on great silk-white wings, swathed in bluish-violet vestments and bound with golden cords, the upraised arm with the sword pointing forwards." It's not quite the altered version of the statue in Kafka's Amerika. The vision of the killer angel suddenly vanished and dissolved into the actual painting of a ship's figurehead on the ceiling. (This imagery was probably closer to the picture of a bushman with spear and painted shield as seen by Gracchus on his bed aboard a ship in another Kafka story, "The Hunter Gracchus".)

Paranoia, to which Dr K. was of course prone, was a manifestation of Stendhal syndrome. But Dr K. seemed to be suffering from a more mysterious tendency. Sebald approached his subject very indirectly, relying on presumed feelings and attitudes of his veritably Kafkaesque character. The fictionalization (alteration, invention, appropriation, presumption) of Kafkaesque details here followed Sebald's aesthetics of falsification. "If a story is aesthetically right, then it is probably also morally right." The sword was pointed forwards (towards Dr K., the intended victim, on the bed) instead of upwards. This vision, like any vision, was untrue, but it was at least consistent to the character's state of mind, and hence in some ways aesthetically right. Falsifications are ever justified if they carry the story along and are not derived from a tin ear.

Narratorial slips confessed that the tale we are reading was limited by lack of knowledge: "How Dr K. passed his few days in Venice in reality, we do not know. At all events, his sombre mood does not appear to have lifted. [emphasis added]" And later: "We know, as I have said, nothing of what he really saw." And again later: "However, there is nothing in Dr K.'s Desenzano notes to tell us of what he saw on that 20th of September in Verona." Ignorance, however, did not prevent the narrator from speculating about what Dr K. witnessed and felt on that fateful day. And the next day: "We have no record of how long the people of Desenzano continued their watch for the Deputy Secretary from Prague that afternoon, nor when, disappointed, they finally dispersed." And so on.

Regardless of this freely acknowledged constraint, the story proceeded to pile a lot of suggestive details. Due to the fabrication of some story elements, the Sebald aesthetic was, paradoxically, both truthful and unreliable. Within the limits of narrative design and structure, the plot seemed to amble along according to the law of entropy, chaos theory, or uncertainty. A mostly silent old general, another K.-like figure, talked to Dr K. about this.

When one thinks about it, a vast range of unfathomable contingencies come between the logic of the battleplan and that of the final despatches [...] Tiny details imperceptible to us decide everything! [...] Tiny details, but they weigh as heavy as 50,000 dead soldiers and horses at Waterloo. The fact is that ultimately it all comes down to specific gravity. [...] It is a fundamentally insane notion, he continues, that one is able to influence the course of events by a turn of the helm, by will-power alone, whereas in fact all is determined by the most complex interdependencies.

The wrong turn of the helm,"a moment of inattention on the part of the helmsman", was the reason the hunter Gracchus, in the story by Kafka paraphrased by the narrator, was not ferried by a passing barque. Gracchus now travels "the seas of the world ever since, without respite."

The third section ended with a philosophical reflection on the Gracchus's destiny in Dr K.'s short story, a stalking of a middle-aged man by Dr K. à la Gustav von Aschenbach, and a letter to his dear Felice telling her of this "illicit emotion", this "lusting" for an unattractive son of a Jewish bookshop owner. The homoerotic ending lent a mystifying perspective to what went on in the story. Might not this episode explain Dr K.'s repressed temperament throughout the whole section?

The text of "Dr K. Takes the Waters at Riva" was accompanied by 10 photographs and illustrations. By their immutable, black-and-white silences, the images enact the Sebald aesthetic. The text resists their false presence. But on the same page, their surface ink are of the same substance. Through both modes of expression runs the same subtle pretense.

On Kafka, these studies/essays by Sebald should be worth a look.

1. "The Undiscover'd Country: The Death Motif in Kafka's The Castle" can be found in Franz Kafka's the Castle (Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations) (Chelsea House Publications, 1988), a collection of essays on The Castle, edited by Harold Bloom. It was also published in Journal of European Studies (March 1972).

2. "The Law of Ignominy: Authority, Messianism and Exile in The Castle" is in the anthology On Kafka: Semi-Centenary Perspectives, edited by Franz Kuna (London: Paul Elek, 1976).

3. "To the Brothel by Way of Switzerland: On Kafka's Travel Diaries" and "Kafka Goes to the Movies" are in Campo Santo (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2005; New York: Random House, 2005), translated by Anthea Bell.

4. Silent Catastrophes (Penguin Books, 2014), translated by Jo Catling, is an upcoming English omnibus of two essay collections of Sebald on Austrian writers (Stifter, Schnitzler, Hofmannsthal, Kafka, Canetti, Bernhard, Handke, Joseph Roth, Broch, Améry, etc.).