ignis fatuus

An idiosyncrasy peculiar to the herring is that, when dead, it begins to glow; this property, which resembles phosphorescence and is yet altogether different, peaks a few days after death and then ebbs away as the fish decays. For a long time no one could account for this glowing of the lifeless herring, and indeed I believe that it still remains unexplained. Around 1870, when projects for the total illumination of our cities were everywhere afoot, two English scientists with the apt names of Herrington and Lightbown investigated the unusual phenomenon in the hope that the luminous substance exuded by dead herrings would lead to a formula for an organic source of light that had the capacity to regenerate itself. The failure of this eccentric undertaking, as I read some time ago in a history of artificial light, constituted no more than a negligible setback in the relentless conquest of darkness.
[W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn]

ignis fatuus

2 thoughts on “ignis fatuus

  1. Jim Earl says:

    Sir.
    Sebald is a perfect candidate for inclusion in the Everyman’s Library series, were they smart enough to seize on him as a prospect. I envision a compendium of his four works of fiction, Vertigo, The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, and Austerlitz. Each in their own way singular, but similar and well played off one another. In an essay on Walser, Sebald called him “an author who almost always wrote the same thing and yet never repeated himself.” The same could be said of Sebald. He is quite brilliant and far and away a favourite author of mine.
    Your Everyman’s Library list is a valuable tool as I, like you, accumulate them specifically.

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