The places W.G. Sebald writes about—according to cultural geographer John Wylie—are not just ‘a surface crust’, but are ‘set in restless motion’, more properly described as events which ceaselessly become ‘the past itself’. In Sebald’s work, space and time intersect, and the dead—who are not as faithfully departed as they should be—linger; they exist on the same plane as the living, so that access to a space can give uncanny access to the past. This continuance of place and persons is both a mental and physical phenomenon, reflecting the way space and time are coalesced in the universe propagated by Einstein’s Special and General theories of Relativity; it is what imbues Sebaldian landscapes with depth and significance, with spectrality and hauntedness. In my own creative work I have been exploring the continuance of place in Western Australia and West Yorkshire. Both places echo with uncomfortable pasts; they are, respectively, postcolonial and post-industrial. These pasts resonate in the present, demonstrating restless motion and turning that-which-seems solid into something uncanny. In this paper I will present a reading of the places I know, by way of Einstein and Sebald. I will consider how Relativity and restlessness can affect and reflect the ceaseless motion of the spaces we inhabit. I will dwell on how the past is sensed, often through its material remnants, and will ask how life writing might eke out what continues to come from before.
Relativity and the past in writing about place