Friday, November 23, 2007

Sebald - Chapter Analysis - Part One

Breaking down a Chapter of Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, paragraph by paragraph - this serves to show the subject of the paragraph and the sweeping contents, the nature by which Sebald expertly (or in some cases, inexpertly) crosses from one time or topic to another. In so producing this text it should be possible for you the reader to work out 1) how Psycho-geography is manifested (the change between Sebald and Conrad or Casement as subject in the text), and 2) how relatively easy it is to jump topics simply by shoe-horning in one topic on top of another (though you still need to read the chapter itself to really appreciate it)

Observations of the text:

  • Paragraphs run on for pages, covering multiple topics
  • Quotations exist within the main paragraphs. Not delineated by quotes, or on separate line – so that the reader feels almost as if Sebald is still speaking (which, of course, he is – through his research). At some points backtracking is required to ensure the reader knows who is currently speaking: Sebald or one of his topics
  • October and April (especially) play a big role in the text – major events occur during these months – Autumn and Spring – Death and resurrection
  • When references to Konrad are changed to Korzeniowski I became lost as to who he was (no longer the writer to be, but someone else). Lost in the text I became confused as to who he was and why any of what I was reading had any relevance. There were hints of Heart of Darkness, and I was sure that he was Joseph Conrad, but I couldn’t relate it midtext
  • Opens and ends with Casement, but the majority is about Conrad – Casement becomes a subnote – Sebald is more interested in Congolese holocaust, and Casement’s his way in to that
  • Description which accompanies Sebald’s sleep is the key to other moments of colour in the rest of the chapter – possibly true, but not really accurate.
  • Sebald forgoes quotations because he wants everything to serve his purpose – theme and synchronicity. Reality and quoting wouldn’t allow this. So, by avoiding quotes he can put words in the mouths of the historical figures. This doesn’t distract from the facts – because much of what is covered (if not all) really did happen and that’s what’s important. Glossing up the text with these semi-fictitious anecdotes allows Sebald to avoid didactics while making clear the horror of the human race. When he fills in Conrad, he is doing what thousands of writers have down to people like Achilles – mythologizing. The big facts and the character remain the same.
  • Pictures are sometimes irrelevant but like the made up anecdotes these fictional descriptions help provide hooks for the reader to keep them going
Paragraph 1

Sebald in Southwold

  • BBC documentary about Casement (executed in 1916 for treason)
  • Sebald sleeps through it and wakes only to remember its opening (Casement met Joseph Conrad in the Congo)
Conrad’s account of Casement
Sebald to reconstruct the documentary himself

Paragraph 2

Jozef Teodor Konrad and his parents (the Korzeniowskas) - 1861

  • Russian revolt; Polish National Committee meetings (mid October)
  • Konrad observes and initiated (end of October); his father (Apollo) arrested
  • Military tribunal exiles Apollo to Vologda
  • Apollo describes (in letter of 1863) Vologda – green winter (death)

Paragraph 3

Konrad and his parents

  • Konrad’s mother’s (Evelina) tuberculosis worsens in Vologda
  • Authorities allow Evelina and Konrad a longer stay in Ukraine before going to Vologda
  • Evelina on the day of departure (more dead than alive), neighbours looking on
  • *Slips into present tense with this paragraph: I didn’t realise until: “Not a single word is spoken”*
  • Description of the carriage, and of Konrad inside; cousin’s finger tips (indicate horror)
  • The governess, the leaving, district police, the commandant

Paragraph 4

Konrad and his parents

  • *Back to past tense*
  • (Early April 1865) Evelina dies; Apollo, a writer (as Konrad will become), can’t work – trying to translate Victor Hugo
  • 1867 (days before Christmas) Apollo released from exile – poor and ill
  • Travel to Lemberg, short stay, then Cracow – grief stricken for wasted years
  • Konrad’s patriotic play, and Apollo having burnt all his own manuscripts
  • Description of burning – mention of ash like black silk
  • Apollo’s death – waning away, witnessed by Konrad (reading adventure books)

Paragraph 5


  • Apollo’s funeral – silent cortege lead by Konrad (aged 11)
  • Observation of the place and weather, and suggestion that Konrad decides to become a sea captain
  • Three years later, Konrad expresses his wish to his uncle (Tadeusz)
  • Tadeusz tries several things to stop Konrad
  • 14th October 1874 – Konrad (not yet 17) leaves Cracow by train to Marseilles (not to return for 16 years)
Paragraph 6


  • 1875 – he crosses the Atlantic (barque: Mont Blanc) and travels
  • Narrowly avoids the eruption of Mount Pelee
  • Description of cargo and Konrad in Marseilles (salon of Mme Delestrang)
  • Description of Mme Delestrang’s husband (a banker) and his shady involvements
  • Konrad (here forth referred to as Korzeniowski) involved with a mysterious lady
  • Lady (lacking true identiy in history texts), called Rita (perhaps also Paula) – mistress of Don Carlos (to be instated on Spanish throne)
  • Nov 1877 – Don Carlos returns to Vienna with his lady – suspicion of them being same person (Rita vanished when Baroness arrives)
  • Konrad avails himself upon the lady and shoots himself (Feb 1877) either attempted suicide or in a duel
  • Some mention of Operas and what Konrad could have written but…
  • 24th April 1878: Konrad leaves for Constantinople
  • 18th June 1878: arrives in Lowestoft (England)

Paragraph 7


  • Konrad’s time in Lowestoft – unfamiliar place, people and language (but which he will learn to write with)
  • Konrad learns from the local papers
  • List of news items from the time (Wigan mine explosion; Mohammedan uprising in Rumelia; suppression of kafir unrest in South Africa; education of fair sex suggestion; inspection of Indian troops; Whitby housemaid burns herself alive (accidentally); Largo Bay leaves with Scottish emigrants; lady suffers a stroke when her son returns home; Queen of Spain grows weak; Slaving coolies work on fortifying Hong Kong; highway robberies in Bosnia – travelling at a standstill

Paragraph 8


  • Feb 1890 – Konrad returns to aunt and uncle
  • Description of arriving and boy (mute) – lots of deaths, boy survived, impeccable sense of direction
  • Description of the place and weatheriness

Paragraph 9


  • Before 1890 (and going home) Konrad signs up for the Congo trip
  • He writes a letter to his aunt; description of unchanging coast
  • The travelling; then description of the Congo

Colonialism and The Opening of the Congo

  • King Leopold’s reach for the Congo
  • Leopold becomes (1885) ruler of the Congo; ruthless and greedy trade/slavery begins
  • Disease and death for the labourers (Congolese slaves) 5,000,000 deaths in 10 years, but increase in share prices

Paragraph 10


  • Konrad’s arrival and travelling across land
  • Description of Matadi
  • Description of slave labour (as per Marlow from Heart of Darkness)
  • Death, continued work, massive workloads
  • Konrad’s further journey – despicable Harou (companion)
  • Konrad’s guilt, and on the Roi des Belges
  • Konrad’s sickness (body and spirit), and writing
  • Konrad leaves the Congo, reaches Ostend (same port used by Kafka’s uncle, Loewy, a few days later)
  • Loewy and Panama, then at Matadi, then awarded Gold Medal by Leopold
  • Konrad arrives in Belgium – sees the Congolese secret in everybody

Sebald’s recollection

  • *No paragraph change – narrator interjection*
  • Dec 1964 – Sebald in Brussels
  • Billiard player
  • Hotel Bois de la Cambre and its African trophies
  • Ugliness of the Lion Monument on site of the Battle of Waterloo
  • Emptiness of Waterloo, then Napoleonic costumed parade
  • Waterloo Panorama – observations of the fields and the fake replication
  • Waterloo mural – falsification of perspective
  • Meditation on truth of battle and the mountain of death
  • At Brighton – told of two copses of trees (Wellington and three-cornered hat)
  • Listens to recount of battle in Flemish (only understand minute bits)

Waterloo survivor’s retelling

  • Observation of the field, injuries, etc


  • In Waterloo, watched a hunched pensioner (she would have been born at the time the Congo railway was completed)

Paragraph 11


  • Awareness of Casement to Congo problem in 1903
  • Casement’s report against the horrors and inhumanity of the Congo
  • Leopold invites Casement to Brussels to placate him
  • Casement praised for work but nothing done
  • Casement transferred to South America
  • Casement exposes similar horrors in Peru, Columbia and Brazil
  • Casement’s new report pisses off London
  • Casement next brings up the “Irish problem”
  • Description of the Irish problem
  • Casement raises up the Irish against the British
  • Casement tries and fails to rally Germany to help
  • Casement arrested, advises the uprising of his failure but they go ahead
  • Uprising fails and Casement tried (Black Diary brought up – homosexual slur used against him)
  • Plausibility of Black Diary called into question

Sebald’s observation

  • 1994 – Diaries proved to be in Casement’s hand
  • Sebald suggests Casement’s homosexuality lent him sensitivity to all this horror


  • Casement tried, found guilty and hanged

Sebald’s observation

  • 1965 – Casement’s bones unburied from lime pit in Pentonville prison

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