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Feb. 7, 2017: Rings of Saturn and Mathematics

I just started reading W.G. Sebald's Rings of Saturn, which, along with the author's Austerlitz, has been on my mental reading list for a little more than six years. I have a somewhat specific timeframe in mind because it was Mr. Izen—my droll, deep-voiced 12th-grade multivariable calculus teacher—who first told me about Sebald. Izen had a fondness for Germanic thinkers and would begin each class with a quotation from Kierkegaard, Kafka, Hegel, and any number of other people whose names I recognized at the time but, for the most part, had never actually read. The class would discuss the quote for a couple minutes before Izen offered his definitive reading. Since then, I've presumed Sebald, Izen's favorite contemporary author, to be an unimpeachable genius—not so much in the literary sense, but in the way that a mathematician or physician might be a genius. Precise, a little nerdy: an Einstein, as it were, not a Tolstoy. Of course, this was based on Mr. Izen...

Anyways, reading the book, which is in many ways about memory, has made me turn back to my high school days. A strange time, mostly a good one, though I don't feel like elaborating at the moment. In any case, like I said, I've only just started reading Rings of Saturn—but, well, I love it. I'm a sucker for travel-oriented novels; moreover, Sebald analyzes human interactions, history, art, and architecture in a manner both perceptive and familiar. Every anecdote, every new location, every new character, makes perfect sense, even if it's unexpected. There's a part where he makes a sort of "the map is not the territory" observation about Rembrandt's "Anatomy Lesson" that totally unlocked the painting for me, as I had never really "gotten it" beyond a cursory "spectacle" type of reading beforehand.

And then, speaking of fluidity, Sebald's narrator absorbs the voice of the people he talks to, such that their memories become his, become the book's perhaps. It's engaging and real, and—I'm not one to use the word "delight" often, but reading Rings of Saturn, it seems apt. Now to, you know, read the remaining two-thirds of it...

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