I came into the world under the sign of Saturn—

Saturn is the planet of melancholy, about which Walter Benjamin writes: “I came into the world under the sign of Saturn – the star of the slowest revolution, the planet of detours and delays.” W. G. Sebald’s prose poetics seems to be driven by this motion, which is more than a simple state of being: it is a way of perceiving the world as well as a way of writing, perpetual transition, walk, halt, deviation from the road, getting lost and — finding the way back.

Judit PieldnerA Melancholy Journey through Landscapes of Transience

Andrew Wyeth: Farm Pond (study for the “Brown Swiss”). 1957 

Melancholy is a difficult subject to write about, because it is sometimes viewed in a scientific way (identified with clinical depression) and at other times in a poetic way. In the work of Sebald melancholy is an aesthetic phenomenon, visible in both theme and style. Just listen to this:

Everything round about rots, decays and sink into the ground. There are only two seasons: the white winter and the green winter. For nine months the ice-cold air sweeps down from the Arctic sea. The thermometer plunges to unbelievable depths and one is surrounded by a limitless darkness. During the green winter it rain week in week out. The mud creeps over the threshold, rigor mortis is temporarily lifted and a few signs of life, in the form of an all-pervasive marasmus, begin to manifest themselves. In the white winter everything is dead, in the green winter everything is dying.

(The Rings of Saturn: 105)

Andrew Wyeth: Brown Swiss (1957)

“The melancholy can be black as suicide, gray as depression, white as emptiness and blue as mood. It may appear as fear, boredom, longing, fatigue, emptiness, anxiety, or a forced search for pleasure. However, there is always a lack or loss that lies beneath.”

― Karin Johannisson, Melankoliska rum: Om ångest, leda och sårbarhet i förfluten tid och nutid

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Rio says:

    Because I have always lived in a place with seasons, and sometimes in places where winter is very severe, I like to think my sensibilities are more subtle than the garish mono seasoners. I don’t know if it’s really true. As I get older, my perception is changing. Perhaps awareness really is the only condition. 🙂

    1. Sigrun says:

      Apropos sensibilities:
      “Dunwich, with its towers and many thousand souls, has dissolved into water, sand and thin air. If you look out from the cliff-top across the sea towards where the town must have been, you can sense the immense power of emptiness. Perhaps it was for this reason that Dunwich became a place of pilgrimage for melancholy poets in the Victorian age. Algernon Charles Swinburne, for instance, went there on several occasions in the 1870s with his companion Theodore Watts-Dunton, whenever the excitement of London literary life threatened to overtax his nerves, which had been hypersensitive since his early childhood. He had achieved legendary fame as a young man, and many a time he had been sent into such impassioned paroxysms by the dazzling conversations on art in the Pre-Raphalite salons, or by the mental strain of composing his own verse and tragedies, overflowing with wonderful poetic bombast, that he could no longer control his own voice and limbs.”
      (The Rings of Saturn: 159)

  2. Terrific choice of paintings for this particular post’s insights.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.