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A typically beautiful piece by James Wood, this time a memoiristic essay on music, home, exile, and W. G. Sebald:

When I left this country 18 years ago, I didn’t know how strangely departure would obliterate return: how could I have done? It’s one of time’s lessons, and can only be learned temporally. What is peculiar, even a little bitter, about living for so many years away from the country of my birth, is the slow revelation that I made a large choice a long time ago that did not resemble a large choice at the time; that it has taken years for me to see this; and that this process of retrospective comprehension in fact constitutes a life – is indeed how life is lived. Freud has a wonderful word, ‘afterwardness’, which I need to borrow, even at the cost of kidnapping it from its very different context. To think about home and the departure from home, about not going home and no longer feeling able to go home, is to be filled with a remarkable sense of ‘afterwardness’: it is too late to do anything about it now, and too late to know what should have been done. And that may be all right.

Mark Ford on the "daemonic" nature of T. S. Eliot's poetry:

From the outset, Eliot’s work fused satire and mysticism; his denunciations of society depend for their authority on his conviction that the religious vision of his great hero, Dante, offered a securer means of interpreting and judging culture and experience than the formulae and rituals of liberal democracy.

Francine Prose on the salutary aspects of negative reviews:

For me, writing a negative review feels like being the child in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Few of us remember how the tale ends: The child cries out that the emperor is naked, which the emperor knows, but the procession continues anyway, “stiffer than ever.” This might cast some doubt on the efficacy — the point — of the negative review, but it also casts some light on the child in the story, who isn’t necessarily trying to expose the dishonest weavers or the hypocritical courtiers or oblige the emperor to get dressed. He just can’t help telling what he believes is the truth.

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It's a striking piece by James Wood.

Or suppose I am looking down our Boston street, in dead summer. I see a familiar life: [...] and I feel … nothing: some recognition, but no comprehension, no real connection, no past, despite all the years I have lived there – just a tugging distance from it all.

A couple of years ago I was discussing funeral arrangements with a relative, and asked him whether, if or when the time came, he might want to be buried in the village where he lives. He looked at me as if I was out of my mind and answered: "No, of course not. Why would I want that? I have no connection to this place." The place in question is a village where he has been living for 35 years.

 

Sebald may be my favorite writer from the last 30 years or so, and while I generally do not appreciate James Wood, I have always found his championship of Sebald to be enlightening.