Monday 13 June 2016

Martin Walser, Robert Walser

I was looking for books to throw out (the bookshelves are once again full) and found a novella by Martin Walser that I bought in New York in the early eighties thinking this was Robert Walser, whom I'd lately heard of but only remembered the surname and a promise of something strange, which the Martin Walser book wasn't. I couldn't throw out a case of mistaken identity without giving it a second chance. Runaway Horse came out in English in 1980. The author's photo takes up the whole of the back cover; his glasses are very seventies. More recent photos show a truly phenomenal pair of eyebrows, beetling if not mossy.

I'm on the brink of recounting the novel's set-up: these people in that place with those key events as well as a circular ending. If I were on holiday I would look at them at a next-door table outside a café by a lake, which is where the story begins and ends, and never guess that the two men had been friends at school and now one of them taught philosophy and was reading Kierkegaard's diaries, while the other was an aggressively vital figment of his imagination. Or maybe I would. Sometimes you get it right. The mood-setting quote a page or two from the start of the novella is from Kierkegaard's Either/Or, and, like most prefaces, best read afterward.
From time to time one comes across novellas in which certain persons expound opposing philosophies. A preferred ending is for one of these persons to convince the other. Thus, instead of the philosophy having to speak for itself, the reader is favoured with the historical result that the other person has been convinced. I regard it as a blessing that in this respect these papers afford no enlightenment.
Is it disingenuous to be blessed by a lack of enlightenment? The other Walser, Robert, would not have been troubled by this kind of pancake. He would go for a walk and see what he saw.
A village was especially beautiful with humble dwellings set thickly under the white cliffs. I encountered a few carts, otherwise nothing, and I had seen some children on the highway. We don't need to see anything out of the ordinary. We already see so much.

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