ZEEMAN: You collect photographs?
SEBALD: I do. I have for years. Anything that comes my way I put in a box but I also have a small cheap camera. Itís those implausible things that you come across, that, if you are not able to record them, nobody will believe you, so itís quite useful to have that tool.
ZEEMAN: A final point about the Ringe des Saturn story: this roaming through the countryside, which is at one and the same time roaming through the countryside and its history, it is as if it has this concentric movement of Saturnís rings. That is, of course, the idea but also it is as if it is a spiral movement.
SEBALD: Yes, downward.
ZEEMAN: Downward and to some sort of centre.
SEBALD: Yes, thatís right. It does have a spiralling swirl in it somewhere and I think that in most of my texts it becomes at least obliquely obvious that the dark centre behind it all is the German past between 1925 and 1950 which I came out of. I was born in 1944 in an idyllic place, untouched by the War, but, in looking back upon this year, I cannot abstract from the fact that I know what happened during this last year of the war particularly - the bombing of my native country, the deporting of people from Rhodes or Sicily, or God knows where, to the most ghastly places anybody could possibly imagine. The pervasiveness of that and the fact that it wasnít just something that happened in one or two places but that it happened almost throughout Europe, and the calamitous dimensions of it, are something that, even though I left Germany when I was twenty-one, I still have in my backpack and I just canít put it down. And it seems to me that the swirling movement of history moved towards that point and that somehow we have to acknowledge this.
ZEEMAN: But then connecting the past and the present, giving hack continuity to the stories, is that honouring the missed out part? Or is that a very bleak vision of our collective history.
SEBALD: Well, itís a fairly bleak vision of our collective history. There are saving graces here and there and one tries not to forget about them but, as a whole, it appears, if you look at it from a very long way away, as a phenomenon of evolution, that the way we have developed is one great aberration, some kind of calculating error in the evolutionary matrix ... somehow. And, of course, increasingly we know this and the great fires of the Second World War were only the first fires of the kinds of fires that are lit now. This is almost like an amoral perspective, when you think of the burning cities and the burning bodies of the 1940s, and then somehow link it up, as I quite often do, with the images of the burning forests of Borneo or of the Amazon. It would be false piety to look back upon 1940 to 1945 and say, "What horrible times these were!" Weíre still living in the middle of them, I feel.