Saturn’s Moons – Apocalypse 2013
In the final pages of W.G. Sebald’s Vertigo the narrator takes a train out of London while reading Samuel Pepys account of the Great Fire of London, which occurred in 1666. In his fatigue, the voice of the narrator and Pepys become one.
Is this the end of time? A muffled, fearful, thudding sound, moving, like waves, throughout the air. The powder house exploded. We flee onto the water. The glare around us everywhere, and yonder, before the darkened skies, in one great arc the jagged wall of fire. And, the day after, a silent rain of ashes, westward, as far as Windsor Park.
And thus ends Vertigo. Or so I thought.
Reading “Echoes from the Past: A Conversation with Piet de Moor,” in Saturn’s Moons: W.G. Sebald – A Handbook, my eyes froze upon reading a question that de Moor asked Sebald about the end of Vertigo: “Does that end with the apocalypse that you have taking place in 2013?”
2013? Vertigo was first published in German in 1990. Had Sebald intended the final scene of the book to happen twenty three years into the future?
Of course [Sebald replied], I don’t know what 2013 will bring, but whether we shall carry on for that long, either individually or collectively, is uncertain. Even so, it is amazing that we still learnt at school that the world is eternal and that we are all very secure within the balance of Nature. Less than half a century later, this comforting certainty has simply vanished; one day we shall be presented with the bill. Since reaching that insight, we have been under enormous psychic pressure. I believe that because of this the last foundation stone of our secure existence in this world has been removed. The theocratic supports fell away much earlier. After that, we could find solace on the notion that we, as mortal individuals, depend on a greater process that ends in a comforting form. But now, even transcendence can no longer be taken for granted either.
The editors of Saturn’s Moons kindly placed a footnote here that cleared up my confusion.
In the German original, and Dutch (and most other) translations, Schwindel. Gefühle. ends with the lines ‘ – 2013 – | Ende’. This is omitted in the English translation.
Sebald’s use of the year 2013 brings a numerical rhyme to three of the four sections of Vertigo. As de Moor notes, the sections describing the Italian trips of Stendhal and Kafka take place in 1813 and 1913 respectively.
I suppose the mystery of the missing 2013 lurks in various places in the Sebald literature, but this was the first time it grabbed my attention.