Monica Carter's Reviews > Microscripts

Microscripts by Robert Walser
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Mar 17, 2011

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It amuses me to believe that readers are, as it were, writers' chaperones; but even the most rigorous thinker may well have arrived perhaps at the surely capital insight that these lines of mine are autumnally fading--with which, in point of fact, their purpose has been fulfilled.

Swiss writer Robert Walser's Microscripts is as much art as it is object of art. A companion publishing effort of New Directions and the Christine Burgin Gallery, it is a facsimile of the objects that Walser wrote on and the corresponding texts that were culled from a six volume transcription of his original manuscript. This manuscript is a compilation of the work that he wrote on receipts, small scraps of papers, paperback covers and other ephemera during his 23 year stint at Waldau sanatorium. This in itself would be a monumental task but factor in his writing style--a miniature version of the old Germanic Kurrent script (close to lines and dashes that letters) that he used to replace his fluid cursive. This tiny pencil version script was used supposedly in response to a cramping in his end from his original form of writing. After switching to this new microscopic pencil style, his prose became nearly indecipherable, as Susan Bernofsky (Walser translator and biograpaher extraordinaire), notes in this passage:

These lines crept across the page in a fuzz of majuscules and miniscules like lengths of the gray wool Walser used to darn his ancient socks. Flourish and difference gave way to sameness and regularity. there was something unambitious, reassuringly safe about this new form of writing."

This book is beautiful as object with its thick, smooth, ivory pages and its facsimile renditions of the things he wrote on, but it is also filled with his fictions, stories, and vignettes. It is not meant to be devoured as a whole necessarily, but each fragment to be examined thoughtfully and thought of as a representation of the artist in evolution. It is completely different from his earlier work, The Assistant and The Tanners, because it is not a novel and wasn't intended to be. These are experimentations of a writer which in part could be seen as a result of his new physical style of writing. He waxes about goodness (or lack of) in humanity, schnapps and walks in nature. There are homages, like this excerpt from "The Train Station (II)":

All manner of things both known and unknown are parading by. I myself am sometimes well-known, sometimes a stranger. Often entire associations go marching respect-inducingly through the main hall, a space that exemplifies the Machine Age and embodies something international. It's almost romantic to think that in all these countries, be it in the sunlit daytime or at night, trains are indefatigably crossing back and forth. What a far-reaching network of civilization and culture this implies. Organizations that have been created and institutions that have been called into existence cannot simply be shrugged off. Everything I achieve and accomplish brings with it obligations. My activity is superior to me.

It's lovely when a parting takes place at a train station or else a reunion transpires and occurs.

His trademark wit is noticeable in this excerpt from his snarky fable, "The Prodigal Son", about the idea of the prodigal son:

I shall now come to speak of the famous biblical prodigal son, who sank with a beggarliness that knew no peer into the most pitiable remorsefulness, which would make him appear to deserve the designation "Glunggi" in every respect. This whimsical honorific refers to a milksop or oversensitive sissy, to whom apologies are of great concern. Glunggis are short on moxie. When they make a mistake, they sincerely regret it. At night these creatures emit highly resonant sighs. The prodigal son may well represent a prize example of his species, for he is depraved, and moreover considers himself depraved, thereby achieving the utmost pinnacle of Glungginess.

This work of Walser's is curious and wonderful. Kudos to New Directions and Susan Bernofsky for single-handedly re-birthing the work of Robert Walser and presenting it to the English speaking audience. For fans of Walser, this is a must-have, a collector's item. For fans of wordplay, literature as object and the sarcastic, rebellious nature of a writer against the ego of humanity, this is a must-read. Walter Benjamin (who wrote the Afterword) said it best, "This chaste, artful clumsiness in all linguistic matters is heir to a tradition of folly. If Polonius, the model of all windbags, is a juggler, than Walser is a Bacchus who wreathes himself in linguistic garlands that then trip him up."

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