A Melancholy Journey through Landscapes of Transience

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Abstract

Saturn is the planet of melancholy, about which Walter Benjamin writes: “I came into the world under the sign of Saturn - the star of the slowest revolution, the planet of detours and delays.” W. G. Sebald’s prose poetics seems to be driven by this motion, which is more than a simple state of being: it is a way of perceiving the world as well as a way of writing, perpetual transition, walk, halt, deviation from the road, getting lost and finding the way back. The paper reflects on W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn (Die Ringe des Saturn: Eine englische Wallfahrt, 1995], a unique literary achievement deeply embedded into the history of literature, culture and the arts, which can be best construed from the direction of “the order of melancholy.” On the pages of the book the reader can traverse, together with the Sebald-narrator, a route in East Anglia, with digressions in various directions of (culture) history. The journey in the concrete physical space turns into an inner journey, into a spiritual pilgrimage; the traversed locations become documents of destruction and transience. From the perspective of the order of melancholy places are determined by their relations, temporality and role in history rather than by their concrete geographic coordinates. The infinitely rich construction of the narrative creates a continuous passage between the local and the universal, the concrete locations of the journey and the scenes of world history, between the time of the journey and the (colonial] past, between East and West. The traversed historical, cultural and medial spaces displace the perception of human existence and result in the incommensurable aesthetic experience of the Sebaldian prose.

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