David's Reviews > Selected Stories

Selected Stories by Robert Walser
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's review
Jun 05, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: nyrb, much-ado-about-nothing

I just don't get Robert Walser. I want to. I really do. I mean, I've read a lot of the other reviews on this site (most of which should come with a mop and some wetnaps), and apparently anybody who ever reads this thing ascends immediately into the heavens with a pure, beatific light emanating from the nucleus of his soul while a thousand choirs erupt in a song so rapturous that its very vibrations elicit a cataclysmic orgasm in all its listeners. (In other words... I'll have what they're having.) So I sit there, reading this book, and... and... I don't know any other way to put it—I'm actually pressing my mind into it with an almost physical force. I can feel myself exerting all of my being—almost grunting, in fact—in a vain attempt to decipher that miraculous je ne sais quoi that makes everyone soil their trousers. Where is it? Where the fuck is it?! I start to panic—but no—I will not panic! This is all a practical joke, right? Allen Funt, come out from your hiding place... but not if you're dead, okay? I don't know how to concentrate on these words any harder and make them come alive. I feel as if my eyes are bulging out of my head like Barbara Bush's. I hope nobody's watching me. I mean... they've got to be kidding, right? The JFK conspiracy, and now this. The Walser conspiracy. It's not that Walser is even or especially bad; that would actually be interesting. It's just that he's almost nothing. A dandelion puff, scattered to the four winds—or how ever many winds there are. But here I am, still waiting for my orgasm. And waiting. Whom can I sue? I'm feeling litigious.
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Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

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Books Ring Mah Bell I love when you write reviews.
Carry on.

Jimmy You're concentrating too hard. Relax. It's in the tone of voice. If you can't hear that voice, then you're missing it. Also, you may want to try one of his novels first like Jakob von Gunten. Then again, he may just not be for you. Good luck!

David I read Jakob von Gunten first, Jimmy. And I didn't like it. I think Walser is a lost cause for me. My mind isn't Walserian. Or something.

Books Ring a Ling My Ding a Ling: thanks!

Jimmy Ah, well it's time to give up then :) It's OK, there are plenty of authors I don't get. There's no point in forcing it when there are so many other authors out there that you do get.

message 5: by Ademption (new) - added it

Ademption I'm shocked, SHOCKED that David doesn't like something declared popular by the literati. From whence could have come this contrarian stand?

Though, seriously, Walser is a bit annoying. He seems to have been only as contrarian as he was allowed to be, since he was nearly destitute, and quite the eccentric loner for most of his life. He seems focused on small joys that come from little items and interactions. What I find annoying is I think he would have been an interesting bitch if would actually have allowed himself to be catty, but this seems blocked and dependent on him having a modicum of security, which he lacked. Instead, he hints at cattiness, is a bit cowardly, and tries to hide in small joys, but then he gets a pass because he was so poor and loopy.

Maybe people like watching a poor, crazy man struggle to be happy against all odds and to transcend his brutal little station. Most people are ghouls.

I read most of this one, but didn't rate it, because I got put off from all the underdog-goes-for-a-walk vignettes, and resold it quickly.

David But this one isn't contrarianism! I wanted to like Walser. But he left me limp and loveless. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein: I couldn't find any there there.

message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Relax, David. I'm with you, and you know this. I've not read this, but I've tried other Walser, wanting so desperately, like you, to like him. It comes down to our feeling about NYRB: we want to like these books they publish, we really do, but could it be that many of the books they publish have gone out of print because maybe, just maybe, they weren't that good? I entertain that possibility.

message 8: by Ademption (new) - added it

Ademption Yes, concentrate on your breathing, David. Walser will help you get there, or he could just be mediocre. I found him so-so and irritating. After reading Jakob von Gunten, a few of the microscripts, and most of this one, I got out of bed with Walser and don't think about him, except when other people bring him up.

David but could it be that many of the books they publish have gone out of print because maybe, just maybe, they weren't that good? I entertain that possibility.

Yes! I often think that, Erik. NYRB Books like Rock Crystal, Blood on the Forge, and What's For Dinner? were probably better left to the claim of obscurity.

message 10: by Jason (new)

Jason I liked Walser when he was in Sha Na Na. Those guys were pretty dang talented!

David I think you mean Bowzer. He's a different NYRB author.

Chuck LoPresti I loved Rock Crystal and I love Walser. Your criticisms are fair and not baseless but I don't feel compelled to agree with you. I'd rather a good musician rather than a good guitarist any day for example.

Geoff "A dandelion puff, scattered to the four winds..."

That's exactly what he is, and I think one's level of appreciation is directly proportionate to their response to things that are dandelion puffs scattered to the four winds.

Eddie Watkins It just might be that you're not enough of a loner and a loser to get him. Live up to your loner/loser potential and Walser's world will open up to you.

David YOU TAKE THAT BACK, EDWARD WATKINS! I'm a total loser!

Proustitute, you've pinpointed exactly why not liking Walser has bothered me so much. He seems to belong to a 'set' of writers that I like (and that other people with similar taste seem to like). That's why I get this neurotic obsession that something in his writing must be hiding in plain sight. (Okay, it's not exactly an obsession, but a curiosity maybe.)

Chuck and Geoff, I'm not wired for Walser, but I'm glad you guys are. I'd hate to think he went to all the bother for nothing.

message 16: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Eddie wrote: "It just might be that you're not enough of a loner and a loser to get him. Live up to your loner/loser potential and Walser's world will open up to you."

I'm a big loser and loner and I didn't like the book either. I was bummed because Matthieu had been recommending Walser to me for years and I finally read him only to be disappointed.

Eddie Watkins Hmmmm... So being a loser and a loner isn't the key then I guess. It's impossible for me to know what I'd think of him if I were to read him for the first time today, but reading him for the first time when I was in my early 20's, when I was basically an aimless wanderer, was very important to me. He certainly doesn't provide conventional literary pleasures. In fact I think many of the pleasures he provides are not even literary but rather those of a certain pointless, playful and independent sensibility. I can't think of him without feeling some kind of kinship that has nothing to do with literature. Reading him as just a text I imagine could be very frustrating and unrewarding.

message 18: by Jimmy (last edited Jun 05, 2012 11:28AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jimmy I don't know what conventional literary pleasures are. For me Walser is like a master of tone. Even within a single sentence he will alternate between coyness, indignance, jubilation, and a slew of other tones (and incredibly complex mixtures of tones). This is a huge pleasure to me, not unlike looking at Rodin's sculptures and seeing that every surface of a face is rippling with a million turbulent details under the skin. It is important not to worry about realism in Walser either, but to enjoy that he captures some of those emotions in their purest form (though exaggerated) even in his constant vacillations. It also helps if you find him unbearably funny.

message 19: by Eddie (last edited Jun 05, 2012 11:32AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eddie Watkins Yes, that's one thing I like most about him too - how his writing maps out moment to moment the minute fluctuations of his emotions and of his mind. It has a butterfly or bird-like quality. But a butterfly or bird that often wears an ankle weight.

I guess "conventional literary pleasures" would be stuff like actually having a point in writing something, and to build up to that point so that the reader experiences things like anticipation, suspense, a deepening of involvement in the story, and payoffs. Walser kind of skitters across surfaces and evades and even actively avoids telling a story that incrementally deepens.

message 20: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben Winch When I first read these stories (as The Walk and Other Stories) I didn't get much out of them either, except the monumental 'Kleist in Thun'. It's only a few pages - maybe you could... give it another try? The rest of 'em grew on me slowly over years. And I'm not much of a fan of Jakob von Gunten either. But I'm with Eddie: it's a kinship thing, that goes beyond the words on the page. I'd suggest The Robber only I suspect it might send you over the edge. My prescription, then: 'Kleist in Thun' repeatedly until either the lightbulb goes off or you throw the book aside and forget about the guy. Could be Walser is a writer better appreciated when he sneaks up on you out of obscurity than when he has his name shouted by a whole cheer-squad of Goodreaders. Sorry about that.

message 21: by Matthieu (last edited Jun 06, 2012 10:14PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matthieu Kleist in Thun is one of the most beautiful stories ever written. I agree that it comes down to a kind of spiritual kinship [with Walser]; I find his wide-eyed, innocent, meandering style quite endearing, though it's (he's) obviously not for everyone. I think I'm partly to blame for this, as I really did champion him several years back... You can sue me, David. I'm a big boy. I can take it.

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