So how has reading this
led me to my treasured edition of this?
All the Sebaldians out there will know in an instant.
In conversation with Michael Silverblatt on US radio station, KCRW Santa Monica, I heard Max (as he preferred to be known and will be henceforth on here because I'm fed up with W.G.) Sebald mention Virginia Woolf and a moth.The Emergence of Memory arrived and within a transcript of that interview.
Grateful thanks to Vertigo for the link to this interview because it was good to hear Max Sebald's voice.Michael Silverblatt is a perceptive and penetrative interviewer and what you miss on first listening you recoup with interest as you read. He had run with the suggestion of the invisible subject in Sebald's writing, the image as a vehicle for the unspoken. In Sebald's words a way round a paralyzed moral capacity, a forgetfulness almost, is to approach them
'obliquely, tangentially, by reference rather than by direct confrontation'.
Sebald then described the essay The Death of the Moth by Virginia Woolf , as he interpreted it, investing it with many of Virginia Woolf's concerns about the First World War and its aftermath,
'the damage it did to people's souls, the souls of those who got away and naturally of those who perished'.
I was mindful of an occasion when I heard a well-known but shall be nameless poet talking and expressing his utter incredulity and amazement at some of the seemingly ridiculous interpretations placed on his poems.He verged on derisory and I wanted to say 'actually that's tough, they're ours now' but of course didn't.
You can only speculate on whether thoughts of war were uppermost on Virginia's mind as she watched that moth die.
At first I wasn't convinced, by the second reading I saw something and by the third perhaps I'd got it?
'The struggle was over. The insignificant little creature now knew death. As I looked at the dead moth, this minute wayside triumph of so great a force over so mean an antagonist filled me with wonder. Just as life had been strange a few minutes before, so death was now as strange. The moth having righted himself now lay almost decently and uncomplainingly composed. O yes. he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am.'
For me this is one of the joys of reading, no one can say anyone else is mistaken in their interpretation of the words on the page, you bring to it yourself and your own context, and que sera sera, the rest just happens.
This time last year I was Warming to Woolf and I think I've overcome all prejudices and aversions to what I had always seen as cold chilly writing and Virginia and I have now arrived at a much better understanding.It was Night and Day which did the trick, turned me round that elusive corner and in the interests of equity if you want to hear Virginia Woolf's voice, listen here.
I was so pleased Max Sebald had made me take The Death of the Moth off the shelf again because it's a beautiful volume, a fifth impression so not so priceless that I can't ...er...pencil my thoughts in the margins and all in that original Vanessa Bell dust-jacket. I don't read it often enough but there is nothing to match Virginia Woolf's wry and ascerbic commentary as well as her reflections on life and loves.Often very no nonsense but equally likely to be deeply sensitive, perceptive and complex.
Immediately following the moth episode a piece entitled Evening Over Sussex: Reflections in a Motor Car, here's the irresistible opening paragraph
' Evening is kind to Sussex, for Sussex is no longer young, and she is grateful for the veil of evening as an elderly woman is glad when the shade is drawn over a lamp, and only the outline remains.'
and that was me done for and the rest of the evening sorted.