Patience (After Sebald) “is a multi-layered film essay on landscape, art, history, life and loss”. It is also a documentary of sorts, a “film in search of an author” - namely, writer and Wandersmann W.G. Sebald, the German-born, British-based author of The Rings of Saturn, Austerlitz, and On the Natural History of Destruction.
The Rings of Saturn is one the most successful experiments of psycho-geography in creative writing. It narrates stories about people and places, and it is organised to follow various walks (or one long walk) that Sebald took through East Anglia and Suffolk and along the coast. I have never read a book like it. That is, I have read many books that try to imitate its meandering structure and eclectic range, but never one as strong, persuasive, good.
Sebald’s work interweaves the local and the universal, the infinitely large and the infinitely minute. It moves effortlessly from history to literature, from anecdote to myth; it typically involves bio-chemistry and astronomy, physics and mechanics, and it deals with transportation, disease, military technology, voyages of discovery, the impermanence of man, and the permeability of borders. It is at once creative and documentary writing, in that by invention it conjures up times and places, people and objects, while at the same time describing and observing what is placed in front of the reader’s eyes as though it were an objective reality, a palpable landscape. Think Walter Benjamin meets Italo Calvino meets Stephen Hawking: there you have him.
I am not alone in my love of Sebald: film-maker Grant Gee has been equally obsessed with Sebald’s work, and the journeys - both imaginary and real - it prompts the reader to undertake. Gee’s film Patience (After Sebald) was screened for the first time almost exactly one year ago at a conference on Sebald, in which various members of my department were involved. Tonight it’s being screened followed by a Q&A at the Renoir cinema in Russell Square, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it.