Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Le Promeneur Solitaire

In the characteristic style and prose for which Sebald has won many devotees in the English knowing world, there is another addition, an essay called Le Promeneur Solitaire on the writer Robert Walser. It is what Sebald says "a remembrance". The essay is also a part of the collection called A Place in the Country; I haven't read that yet but am reading Walser's The Tanners and the essay in question in an introduction to Walser. Sebald starts in his usual way and then meanders into melancholy and reflection. A brief introductory few life events, the writer's childhood and early life in Berne and then we find Sebald compare Walser to his own grandfather, both extremely fond of walking. In fact both died in the same year, part of that strange Sebaldian collection of facts and coincidences that seem outrightly too coincidental for comfort.

Interpersed as his writings are with photos, Sebald does his usual jumps in memory, reflecting from Benjamin and Carl Seelig, the man responsible for Walser's reputation as a writer at present. Sebald then frighteningly mentions another coincidence; he finds it really strange that he should come across the word Trauerlaufbahn, a word he says "I believed, when i wrote it down in one of my own works, to be an invention entirely my own". However, it had already been coined by Walser in his work The Robber. This incident, "has the persistent feeling of being beckoned to from the other side", meaning Walser. Sebald then writes about the comical dimension of Walserian fiction, the long sentences and the often done comparison with Gogol.

One of the strange methods that Walser had of writing secretly were his Bleistiftsgebeit, which some have viewed as a sign of his mental deterioration. To Sebald, these elusive texts are not a sign of a psychotic state but a reflection of absolute integrity, a work most daring, a self portrait and a self examination. This pencil system is the preparation of a life underground, these microscripts a sign of inner emigration. The subsequent events of Walser's life are described in the way that only Sebald could, with a repetitive sonorous pattern, allusions and reflections and yet never allowing his fondness for Walser overcome that objective appraisal that few are as capable of as Sebald.

The essay ends with a quote from Nabokov's Speak, Memory and while reading this essay and immediately afterwards, I felt that calm and glad acceptance, that unvoiced thankfulness towards those gods or demons that lead us to the books we read, for I am fond of Sebald and Walser and Nabokov and to find all the three merging in the same essay and on the same page seemed a Sebaldian kind of coincidence. I discovered Walser nearly two years ago and have read his longer works. I personally do not find Walser in the same tradition as Gogol for Gogol's style is outrageously cheeky and borders on the farcical while Walser's prose, generally described as august and dreamy, is quite honestly, simply not from this world.

Walser's prose has a hypnotic quality, that once it seizes you, a sense of calm dread prevails, the convoluted and complexity and sometimes Gogolian nature of the spoken sentences leaves the taste of burning sunsets on your skin, a feeling of having experienced the most unforgettable and yet the most fulfilling defeat and sadness; as if defeat in itself is so rewarding, so Walserian. Walser's prose makes one want to extinguish all lamps, turn out all lights and to love the very silence that one dreads. The sin of not reading Walser, the pain of reading Walser. And this essay, this very Sebaldian saturnine attempt, this gloriously poignant tribute to a great writer from a great writer.


James said...

Thank you, very good and very true, insightful post. You should read the short pieces (of Walser), "Selected Stories" for a start. Wonderful.

Kubla Khan said...

James, hi.

thanks for visiting. i have only read Walser's longer fiction but am planning to read his short stories if i can. thanks anyway.

Roxana said...

i am very grateful to you for this post, as i am reading Walser right now, The Assistant. and it doesn't speak to me, but now after reading you, i see that i have to be more persistent. what did you read?
actually i had discovered him through this magnificent film, Institute Benjamenta


which is an adaptation after Jakob von Gunten and i have wanted to read him ever since. if you haven't seen the film, you should, it is a dreamy, surreal experience which is unforgettable.