28+ quotes from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials) by W.G. Sebald

Quotes from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)

W.G. Sebald ·  415 pages

Rating: (10.7K votes)


“It seems to me then as if all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, just as when we have accepted an invitation we duly arrive in a certain house at a given time.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“We take almost all the decisive steps in our lives as a result of slight inner adjustments of which we are barely conscious.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“Only in the books written in earlier times did she sometimes think she found some faint idea of what it might be like to be alive.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“...the darkness does not lift but becomes yet heavier as I think how little we can hold in mind, how everything is constantly lapsing into oblivion with every extinguished life, how the world is, as it were, draining itself, in that the history of countless places and objects which themselves have no power or memory is never heard, never described or passed on.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“Someone, he added, ought to draw up a catalogue of types of buildings listed in order of size, and it would be immediately obvious that domestic buildings of less then normal size – the little cottage in the fields, the hermitage, lockkeepers's lodge, the pavilion for viewing the landscape, the children's bothy in the garden – are those that offer us at least a semblance of peace, whereas no one in his right mind could truthfully say that he liked a vast edifice such as the Palace of Justice in the old Gallows Hill in Brussels. At the most we gaze at it in wonder, a kind of wonder which itself is a form of dawning horror, for somehow we know by instinct that outsize buildings cast the shadow of their own destruction before them, and are designed from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“No one can explain exactly what happens within us when the doors behind which our childhood terrors lurk are flung open.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“How happily, said Austerlitz, have I sat over a book in the deepening twilight until I could no longer make out the words and my mind began to wander, and how secure have I felt seated at the desk in my house in the dark night, just watching the tip of my pencil in the lamplight following its shadow, as if of its own accord and with perfect fidelity, while that shadow moved regularly from left to right, line by line, over the ruled paper.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“It does not seem to me, Austerlitz added, that we understand the laws governing the return of the past, but I feel more and more as if time did not exist at all, only various spaces interlocking according to the rules of a higher form of stereometry, between which the living and the dead can move back and forth as they like, and the longer I think about it the more it seems to me that we who are still alive are unreal in the eyes of the dead, that only occasionally, in certain lights and atmospheric conditions, do we appear in their field of vision.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“I felt that the decrepit state of these once magnificent buildings, with their broken gutters, walls blackened by rainwater, crumbling plaster revealing the coarse masonry beneath it, windows boarded up or clad with corrugated iron, precisely reflected my own state of mind...”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“All my green places are lost to me, she once said, adding that only now did she truly understand how wonderful it is to stand by the rail of a river steamer without a care in the world.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“Had I realized at the time that for Austerlitz certain moments had no beginning or end, while on the other hand his whole life had sometimes seemed to him a blank point without duration, I would probably have waited more patiently.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“They were all as timeless as that moment of rescue, perpetuated but forever just occurring, these ornaments, utensils, and mementos stranded in the Terazín bazaar, objects that for reasons one could never know had outlived their former owners and survived the process of destruction, so that I could now see my own faint shadow image barely perceptible among them.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“Otherwise, all I remember of the denizens of the Nocturama is that several of them had strikingly large eyes, and the fixed inquiring gaze found in certain painters and philosophers who seek to penetrate the darkness which surrounds us purely by means of looking and thinking.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“...to this day there is something illusionistic and illusory about the relationship of time and space as we experience it in traveling, which is why whenever we come home from elsewhere we never feel quite sure if we have really been abroad.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“In my photographic work I was always especially entranced, said Austerlitz, by the moment when the shadows of reality, so to speak, emerge out of nothing on the exposed paper, as memories do in the middle of the night, darkening again if you try to cling to them, just like a photographic print left in the developing bath too long.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“It was only by following the course time prescribed that we could hasten through the gigantic spaces separating us from each other.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“Like a tightrope walker who has forgotten how to put one foot in front of the other, all I felt was the swaying of the precarious structure on which I stood, stricken with Terror at the realization that the ends of the balancing pole gleaming far out on the edges of my field of vision were no longer my guiding lights, as before, but malignant enticements to me to cast myself into the depths.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“I examined every detail under a magnifying glass without once finding the slightest clue. And in doing so I always felt the piercing inquiring gaze of the page boy who had come to demand his dues, who was waiting in the gray light of dawn on the empty field for me to accept the challenge and avert the misfortune lying ahead of him.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“From the outset my main concern was with the shape and the self-contained nature of discrete things, the curve of banisters on a staircase, the molding of a stone arch over a gateway, the tangled precision of the blades in a tussock of dried grass.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“I believe, said Austerlitz, they know they have lost their way, since if you do not put them out again carefully they will stay where they are, never moving, until the last breath is out of their bodies and indeed they will remain in the place where they came to grief even after death, held fast by the tiny claws that stiffened in their last agony, until a draft of air detaches them and blows them into a dusty corner.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“The trails of light which they [moths] seemed to leave behind them in all kinds of curlicues and streamers and spirals..., did not really exist, explained Alphonso, but were merely phantom tracks created by the sluggish reaction of the human eye ,appearing to see a certain afterglow in the place from which the insect itself, shining for only the fraction of a second in the lamplight, had already gone. It was such unreal phenomena, said Alphonso, the sudden incursion of unreality into the real world, certain effects of light in the landscape spread out before us, or in the eye of a beloved person, that kindled our deepest feelings, or at least what we took for them.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“I remember to this day how easily I could grasp what he called his tentative ideas when he talked about the architectural style of the capitalist era, a subject which he said had fascinated him since his own student days, speaking in particular of the compulsive sense of order and the tendency towards monumentalism evident in law courts and penal institutions, railway stations and stock exchanges, opera houses and lunatic asylums, and the dwelling built to rectangular grid patterns for the labor force.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“...I remembered the story Evan the cobbler had told me, about the two headstreams of Dwy Fawr and Dwy Fach which are said to flow right through the lake, far down in its dark depths, never mingling their waters with its own. The two rivers, according to Evan, said Austerlitz, were called after the only human beings not drowned but saved from the biblical deluge in the distant past.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“Op de voorgrond, dicht bij de rechterhand van het schilderij, is een dame ten val gekomen. Ze draagt en kanariegele jurk; de cavalier die zich bezorgd over haar heen buigt een rode, in het vale licht zeer opvallende broek. Als ik nu naar die rivier kijk, zei Austerlitz, en aan dat schilderij met zijn kleine figuurtjes denk, heb ik het gevoel dat het door Lucas van Valckenborch weergegeven ogenblik nooit voorbij is gegaan, dat de kanariegele dame pas zojuist is gevallen of bewusteloos geraakt, dat haar zwartfluwelen muts net pas naast haar hoofd is gerold, dat het kleine ongeluk waaraan de meeste beschouwers ongetwijfeld voorbijzien, telkens opnieuw gebeurt, dat het nooit meer ophoudt en door niets en niemand meer goed te maken valt.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“Und wer weiß, sagte Austerlitz, vielleicht träumen auch die Motten oder der Kopfsalat im Garten, wenn er zum Mond hinaufblickt in der Nacht.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“Thirty-six degrees, according to Alphonso, has always proved the best natural level, a kind of magic threshold, and it had sometimes occurred to him, Alphonso, said Austerlitz, that all mankind's misfortunes were connected with its departure at some point in time from that norm, and with the slightly feverish, overheated condition in which we constantly found ourselves.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“Unlike Elias, who always connected illness and death with tribulations, just punishment, and guilt, Evan told tales of the dead who had been struck down by fate untimely, who knew they had been cheated of what was due to them and tried to return to life. If you had an eye for them they were to be seen quite often, said Evan. At first glance they seemed to be normal people, but when you looked more closely their faces would blur or flicker slightly at the edges. And they were usually a little shorter than they had been in life, for the experience of death, said Evan, diminishes us, just as a piece of linen shrinks when you first wash it.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


“Our concern with history...is a concern with preformed images already imprinted in our brains, images at which we keep staring while the truth lies elsewhere, away from it all, somewhere as yet undiscovered.”
― W.G. Sebald, quote from Austerlitz (Penguin Essentials)


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About the author

W.G. Sebald
Born place: in Wertach, Germany
Born date May 18, 1944
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