I had read W. G. Sebald’s Vertigo in a copy that was missing four or six pages, in the first part of it, about Stendhal. The hole was in one of the most interesting parts of the whole book, and I was curious to know what I had lost. Today I got another copy out of the library, and it had all its pages, and I reread the Stendhal section, and was surprised to find that I seemed to recognize all of it. I couldn’t tell what was missing. Everything I saw I seemed to have seen before. I’m not sure what to make of that. Maybe: Sebald is a continuous, viscous substance, that reforms itself over any gaps that appear in him? Is there such a thing as counter-vertigo, the sensation of not changing position, while things about you are objectively moving? It was uncanny.
There are three, maybe more, but at least three, kinds of rereading: I read something at two different times in life, both times leaving myself open to what the thing has to tell me. I learn how I have changed, I learn how the thing is layered, I learn how the times have changed, or pressures formerly on me are missing. I reread something to see what I have missed, as in the case of Vertigo, something doesn’t add up, I look to fill in a gap or make up for something. And also I reread because I am looking for a specific thing or trying to answer a specific question, and then my question changes, and I go back with something else in mind and change the weight I throw on the parts of the thing I see. It is a question of angles, the different ways of seeing the one object, that somehow don’t interfere with each other, or exist on separate planes.
When I was in college, I really enjoyed reading Nietzsche, and then I read him again in the years afterwards, and then just the last couple months I have tried rereading him again. Only now, I have to question what it was I saw in him before. Whatever it was, it seems to me, it is pretty far buried, beneath the pseudo-science, the quick reductionism, the sloppy, authority-based thinking, and the disrespect for the reader. I’m still plugging away at him, and I’m now reading Zarathustra, which I am finding more palatable, sort of a self-help dressed up in opera costume. There’s an interpretation of it I can swallow, though it doesn’t preserve much of his self-importance, or the importance others found in him – these being the two perspectives I think that I fell most in line with, on readings one and two.
Somehow in the relaxation of my standards, I have rediscovered, or allowed myself to remember, what I found or put there, the first time I visited. At a certain point in my life, early in the history of my independent mind, I had realized I couldn’t believe in the god of my father; but I was afraid of causing trouble for myself, and I put aside my failure to believe. I had a number of methods for doing this, none of them fully efficacious. I had to alternate between them, and work at the subject of god from many different angles, to lay it to rest each time I was forced to confront it.
And that multiplicity complicated my thinking and left me alienated from the truth as I saw it and tried not to see it. And it made me dishonest and hypersensitive, and intolerant of fundamental disagreement or dispute, I couldn’t allow that people weren’t victims of a mutual understanding, that there was something they could believe together. And on some level, I saw in Nietzsche a kind of honesty and fearlessness, more important a trust in his own thoughts, thoughts and wild chains of thought that I had had and not let myself possess, that I found very freeing; and then the parts of his thinking I was finding so disagreeable now, those parts I could use my customary self-hypnosis and dishonesty on those to make myself the real object of criticism, for not giving him that space where he could differ with me. Something like being afraid to render a judgment. The fear of being wrong, or of being unable to convince another, keeps you from ever being right, or having your own conviction. The world may be fundamentally multiple, or it might not, but even if it is, the multiplicity fundamentally depends on each part of the multiple being itself what it is, and no other.
I still have trouble reconciling multiple points of view. There’s something that still makes my head spin, only I have the powerful desire not to learn where I think the ground might be. I watched the movie Judgment at Nuremberg this afternoon. I’ve read three books over the last year having to do with Nazi trials: Rebecca West’s Train of Powder, literary-journalistic pieces about the trials together with accounts of other trials in England and the United States; a historical book about the origin of the War Crimes Tribunal in negotiations between and within the great powers and governments in exile and how they came to be in the form and with the aims and under the jurisdictions that they did and had; and then Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, which covers a similar trial with constant reference to the Nuremberg trials.
All in all the cumulative effect on me has been to make me feel that I know something of what happened even though I can recall very few details of any single account. It’s like I triangulated a location by looking at a map, out my window, and at a reflection in a sheet of glass, with months between the sightings. But yet I have a feeling of familiarity, I feel ready to judge these works against one another and against reality without having any idea what the reality was. And with that confidence, I can somehow see the characteristics of each of these works more clearly than I did when each was before me, one at a time, separately, in their place in the pile of things I have read and watched in the last year; yet somehow a documented, scholarly account and an impressionistic-journalistic one and a philosophical-polemical one are all on the same level with the dramatized, schematized film version, which seems to me to be as reliable and thought-provoking and fair as any of them, although none of them are even quite about the same thing.