Less heroically, but certainly no less correctly, one could also see writing as a continually self-perpetuating compulsive act, evidence that of all individuals afflicted by the disease of thought, the writer is perhaps the most incurable.… How difficult it is in general to bring the machinery of thought to a standstill.…What I found most surprising in the course of these observations is the awful tenacity of those who devote their lives to writing. There seems to be no remedy for the vice of literature; those afflicted persist in the habit despite the fact that there is no longer any pleasure to be derived from it, even at that crucial age when, as Keller remarks, one every day runs the risk of becoming simpleminded and longs for nothing more than to put a halt to the wheels ceaselessly turning in one's head.… Evidently the business of writing is one from whose clutches it is by no means easy to extricate oneself, even when the activity itself has come to seem loathsome or even impossible. From the writer's point of view, there is almost nothing to be said in its defense, so little does it have to offer by way of gratification.--W.G. Sebald, quoted in Troy Jollimore's stimulating review. [HT L.A. Paul]
Alone in my circle of bourgeois scholars, I often find Sebald mildly irritating because he sells an intoxicating mixture of learnedness, nostalgia, and suggestions of depth to be found in imaginative engagement with the details of living --all irresistible to folk like us. I always struggled to express my irritation, but Jollimore helpfully quotes Sebald's preference for "something that is small and self-contained," which is for him "a moral and aesthetic ideal." While I instinctively admire Sebald's aversion against "large-scale things...in architecture or evolutionary leaps," his ideal leaves little room for expansiveness, natural and moral and systematically partakes in the humanistic project of self-domestication (recall). Sebald's moral and aesthetic preferences are a thinly disguised longing for control, even in the face of genuine self-knowledge that such control remains elusive. His is intrinsically a conservative aesthetic that offers a spirited consolation (by withholding ordinary forms of consolation) to those, I fear, that recoil the inevitable excesses in living. Of course, I wouldn't find Sebald irritating if I didn't recognize myself in these longings.