Sunday, May 31, 2020

"Touching but meaningless" or "meaningless but touching" – in search of a phrase from W. G. Sebald

After coincidences, I quote W. G. Sebald – "touching but meaningless" – or was it "meaningless but touching"? And where did Sebald say that? This morning, a search for the German, "bedeutungslos aber berührend", led me to a blog post by Pierre Joris – with the "Austerlitz" quotation in a comment I myself had written! Anthea Bell translated this as "entirely insignificant in itself but nonetheless [...] curiously moving", so I could now start saying "insignificant but moving". But while both "insignificant" and "meaningless" work for me, I prefer how "touching" makes the experience of coincidence a matter of sensation, of the sense of touch. These distinctions are themselves perhaps "insignificant" but still "touching". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 May)


Im Verlauf meiner weiteren Beschäftigung mit den Skizzenbüchern und dem Leben Turners bin ich dann auf die an sich völlig bedeutungslose, mich aber nichtsdestoweniger eigenartig berührende Tatsache gestoßen, dass er, Turner, im Jahr 1798, auf einer Landfahrt durch Wales, auch an der Mündung des Mawddach gewesen ist und dass er zu jener Zeit genauso alt war wie ich bei dem Begräbnis von Cutiau. (W. G. Sebald, "Austerlitz")


During my subsequent studies of Turner's life and his sketchbooks I discovered the fact, entirely insignificant in itself but nonetheless one I found curiously moving, that in 1798 he, Turner, had himself visited the estuary of the Mawddach on a journey through Wales, and that at the time he was exactly the same age as I was at the funeral in Cutiau. (translation by Anthea Bell)

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