Martin Corless-Smith
On Sublimity                     (page 2)

In the quote I have used, Sebald is describing an instant of watching out of a window as a passing vapour trail indicates the presence of a passenger jet, high over head, filled with its unknown population. It is so far removed from his own circumstance that all he has access to is the evidence of its having passed. It is something of a ghost. In a way this single trail, which reappears in his novel again a hundred and sixty three pages later, almost a ghost of a ghost at that stage, becomes one of many motifs that indicate the observer’s distance from the world of events. The world is held away from the observer, as if the very act of observation forces at once an irreparable separation that we now begin to notice almost as much as the thing we wanted to observe. It is as if all we can do is read ledgers and histories in an attempt to understand what has happened, even in our own lives. It is as if all that we have as proof of the soul’s travails is the words that are left us, the trails drawn in the skies as it were. But even these are presented to us as fragments only, glimpses and ghosts, buried remains and vapours.

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