Patience (After Sebald) has a soundtrack by The Caretaker, whose 2011 album An Empty Bliss Beyond This World was inspired by a study on Alzheimer's disease and featured foggily looping, layered samples from old 78s. Sebald's book The Rings of Saturn, upon which the documentary is based, has a similar preoccupation with memory, time, and the fog of narrative experience. As Sebald walks around East Anglia, two pervading atmospheres engulf and are engulfed in turn; the comminuted and the combusting. Comminuted substances - ash, spume, dust, vapour, mist - the world's particles and fragments, are the extending metaphors of this part-memoir-history-fiction. Here, as with the London fog in Dickens' Bleak House, the loss of the visible is accompanied by a certain loss of understanding, an estrangement of sense. Sebald reminds us, structurally as well as literally, that it is precisely sense that we seek, often post-hoc, in the uncharted gathering that is recovering: a netted comprehension that ties one thing to another, us to ourselves and to others. Something solid to fall upon. And yet behind the rapidity and rabidity of industrialisation is modernity's central religion of combustion, "the hidden principle behind every artefact we create." That which burns, consumes. Burning is both holy and ungodly, occupying a fine atmospheric line between creation and destruction. Heat, light, machines. The reduction of substance to a near nothingness. Ashes and dust. Man's destruction of man is suspended through this book like a fog, which - true to form - never offers itself as distinct or comprehensible, but leaves us with the sense that our Promethean gift may be ultimately Pyrrhic.
From The Rings of Saturn; an English Pilgrimage:
... [Browne] remarks in a passage of the "Pseudodoxia Epidemica" that I can no longer find that in Holland of his time it was customary, in a home where there had been a death, to drape black mourning ribbons over all the mirrors and canvasses depicting landscapes or people or the fruits of the fields, so that the soul, as it left the body, would not be distracted on its final journey, either by a reflection of itself or by a last glimpse of the land now being lost forever.
Singly, in groups and in straggling lines, people tottered across the country, and the merest breath of air might suffice to topple them and leave them lying by the wayside forever. Simply raising a hand, closing an eyelid, or exhaling one's last breath might take, it sometimes seemed, half a century. And as time dissolved, so too did all other relations. Parents exchanged children because they could not bear to watch the dying torment of their own. Towns and villages were surrounded by deserts of dust, over which trembling mirages of river valleys and forested lakes often appeared. Sometimes at first light, when the rustling of leaves dry on the branch penetrated their shallow sleep, people imagined, for a fraction of a second in which wishful thinking was stronger than what they knew to be the case, that it had started to rain. Though the capital and its environs were spared the worst consequences of the drought, when the ill tidings arrived from the south, the Dowager Empress had a daily blood sacrifice offered in her temple to the god of silk, at the hour when the evening star rose, lest the silkworms want for fresh green leaves. Of all living creatures, these curious insects alone aroused a strong affection in her.