Patience (After Sebald)

Patience – a film by Grant Gee. Based on the book ‘Rings of Saturn’.


W G (Max) Sebald born in Germany 1944. In 1966, Sebald was appointed “lektor” at the University of Manchester, and four years later took a lectureship in German in the school of European studies at the newly founded University of East Anglia (UEA). Living in a small home with a decidedly rural feel at Wymondham, Sebald wrote a series of books which made him a formidable critic of German writing, including studies of Sternheim, Doeblin, the German theatre, and two collections of essays on Austrian writing.

W G Sebald

W G Sebald

‘Patience’ refers to the passage in Austerlitz in which a pack of family postcards are rearranged as in a game of patience until they are finally put in the correct sequence.

See Barbara Hui Litmap Project. Online map with literary links and references. The Rings of Saturn was the first lit map that she plotted.

‘Rings of Saturn’ – a series of walks in concentric circles. The rings of Saturn are caused by moons getting too close to the planet and then shattering.

‘Silk’ as a recurring theme in RoS.

Compares to Virginia Wolf’s ‘The Waves’? See her description of a moth coming to it’s destruction in a flame in Sussex. She was perturbed by WW1.

See Lise Patt co-editor ‘Searching for Sebald’


Christopher Woodward ‘In Ruins

The dead fish amongst the men in Lowestoft; the dead people in the forest.

Herring in Lowestoft

Herring in Lowestoft

Suffolk link with ‘The Zone’ in Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’? (Geoff Dyer on Stalker)

He has become important for contemporary artists – we have to see his as a writer and an artist.

Saturn rules over Melancholy. Depression as productive of art. Feeling inexplicable feeling of loss. Living in the aftermath of some catastrophe.

‘Rings’ also has the sonic meaning. Rings a bell. Rings out.

Patti Smith - tribute concert for W G Sebald in 2011. (Photo by Malcolm Watson)

Patti Smith – tribute concert for W G Sebald in 2011. (Photo by Malcolm Watson)

The book meanders, drifts (derive).

British romantic tradition: walking as recovery; American tradition walking as discovery (road movies).

The quick retreat of Dunwich Cliff. Dunwich Church is no longer there. Andrew Motions Grandmother jumped off these cliffs and committed suicide.

Camus’ ‘rip in reality’. Suddenly something different and more real occurs.

Thomas Browne – the quincunx pattern. Uncanny connections. Browne was the son of a silk merchant.

‘True to his own prescription, Browne records the patterns which occur in the seemingly infinite diversity of forms; in The Garden of Cyrus, for instance , he draws the quincunx, which is composed by using the corners of a regular quadrilateral and the point at which its diagonals intersect. Browne identifies this structure everywhere, in animate and inanimate matter: in certain crystalline forms, in starfish and sea urchins, in the vertebrae of mammals and the backbones of birds and fish, in the skins of various species of snake, in the crosswise prints left by quadrupeds, in the physical shapes of caterpillars, butterflies, silkworms and moths……’

Quincunx pattern

Quincunx pattern

Tacita Dean essay on W G Sebald. ‘Objective chance method’ – you go along and something happens and it makes you take a different direction.

Vertigo blog on Tacita Dean and W G Sebald’s influence on her

“the gods in their playful glee put us down in the wrong place and we spend our entire life trying to , not find the place where we are supposed to be, but to find who we were supposed to be”. Diane Arbus

After his walk Sebald collapsed and ended up in hospital.

Guardian Obituary of W G Sebald



  1. Thanks for this. Sebald is an astonishing writer, and RoS one of my top 5 books.

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