Writing at the Roche Limit: Order and Entropy in W. G. Sebald's Die Ringe des Saturn



This essay argues that W. G. Sebald's Die Ringe des Saturn is centered thematically and structurally around a dynamic system in which entropy and order, dispersion and coalescence, operate in a delicate balance. Sebald alludes to just such a balanced system in the reference to the physical-astronomical concept of the Roche limit contained in one of his epigraphs to this text. Just as the Roche limit designates a boundary at which two powerful gravitational forces hold each other in check, Sebald's text is structured around an equilibrium between decomposition and (re-)organization. The more positive, constructive aspects of this text have often been overlooked due to Sebald's critique of traditional rationalist principles of order. His narrative, however, presents alternative ordering strategies, such as repetition, periodicity, co-incidence (understood literally), and convergence as counter-measures to decline and fragmentation. This reading thus calls more broadly for a revision of the widely held view of Sebald's text as a manifestation of nihilism or cultural pessimism.