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Masquerade and Other Stories (Quartet Encounters) Paperback – 1 Nov 1993
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"This newly translated collection draws upon [Walser's] writing in Zurich, Berlin, Bern and elsewhere between 1899 and 1933. Reading the pieces, the artistry of a contemporary Swiss observer, Paul Klee, comes to mind. Walser's persona and vague human sketches and Klee's whimsical and fantastic images seem kin." -- New York Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Robert Walser has ripened in the literary realm and is now becoming an acquired taste, somewhat rarefied. A literary touch not unlike that of saffron. No, i lie, like air.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
throughout with pure poetry. This book is no exception. I urge any serious reader to get immersed
in Walser's magic.
+ Many of these pieces were written for the newspapers of the time--strange newspapers they must have been; at least the editorial policies of newspapers must have been a lot more eclectic back then. Or perhaps it's just a European thing. Or maybe the editors took Walser at face-value and missed the more disturbing aspect of his work behind the whimsical façade?
+ In any event, the superficial light-heartedness of much of Walser is belied by a depth of despair that eventually swallowed up the author himself into the insanity and asylum where he spent the last two decades of his life.
+ What does Walser do if he does "not even nothing," as Gass says? He walks. He wanders. He stops here and there for a bratwurst and a beer. He watches people. He admires landscapes. He dreams. He idles. And he writes about it.
+ If he writes about himself, he does it in the third-person, or at an ironic distance. He enjoys inserting himself into one of his texts as the author of the text that he is at that moment engaged in writing--and you in reading--often with a sly, self-deprecating humor, lamenting his many failures and rejection slips. He sometimes likes to remind us that the woman of whom we're reading is an invention formed by his pen and, like a cartoonist, he might suddenly decide--on nothing more than a whim--to draw a lion and have her devoured just like that. Or give her an extra breast. Or a beard. He doesn't take himself extraordinarily seriously...and he reminds us that we shouldn't either.
+ Apparently, such literary giants as Kafka and Hesse admired Walser and were influenced accordingly. And as much as we think of Kafka and Hesse as great innovators,
it may in fact be Walser who was greater and only now, after literature has caught up with him, can he be given his due, and appreciated accordingly. For in many respects, it is Walser who is more modern, or postmodern, let's say, contemporary, than Kafka even with all the weirdness and isolation of the latter.
+ For in Walser's world it's not so much alienation that is the problem, not, anyway, in the overt way it is in Kafka. But a superficiality that is all the more alienating for the veneer of conviviality and community that disguises the loneliness beneath it that we all share...but cannot share. The loneliness that dares not even speak its name.
+ In the end, Walser is more interesting not for what he says in these pieces, but for how he says it. For the form of his work, rather than the content. Many will therefore read one of his curious little "slice-of-life essays" and understandably say, "huh?" This is writing akin to the effect of the subtlest of Japanese haiku--nuanced, elliptical, often saying the exact opposite of what it appears to be saying in order to say it more powerfully, or to be able to say it at all.
+ Some things remain invisible when looked at directly; they can only be seen in one's peripheral vision. Walser's peripheral vision was 20/20.
But it is so wonderful. So alive. Despite reading omnivorously and obsessively for years, I haven't found anyone else who writes anything like Robert Walser.
Walser's work is gleefully improvisatory, deliberately sketchy. It disappears as you read it. He is strenuously humble. Haughtily humble. He never stops referring to himself and how minor he is.
There's a special Jane Bowles variety of relief I feel, reading Robert Walser. The relief of having absolutely no idea what sentence is coming next. The feeling that the writer does NOT have a perfect and fixed agenda that I must now march down without missing a scenic vista or semi-colon, as if I were a tourist/prisoner on some kind of militant buttoned-up bus tour.
I think Masquerade is my favorite, among the Robert Walser books now available. (If you can, buy whatever is available. The books go in and out of print.) However, if you're just discovering Walser, I recommend reading Selected Stories first, followed by Masquerade, and then try one of the novels -- Jakob von Gunten or The Tanners.
It's probably more useful to "taste" Walser, than to try to explain him. Thus, here are a few typical sentences you'll find inside Masquerade:
(p.71) "I came into the world on this or that day, was brought up in this or that place, went properly to school, am something or other, am called so and so, and don't think much."
(p.77) "She then offered the opinion that she was the embodiment of a long string of capricious notions. I said I would love all her notions, would even worship them."
(p.31) "The elegant woman is somewhat hesitant to bite into the caviar marvel; naturally I imagine it's me she's holding and no other, that's why she's not entirely in control of her biting powers. It's so easy and so enjoyable to fool oneself."
(p.154) "Being carefree is never permissible, only seeming to be."
(p.170) "One should, in my opinion, treat sinners with care. To be sure, depravity can not only be exceedingly moving, but even something splendid. I incidentally possess, at the moment, a great deal of social polish, which I point out expressly for the benefit of those incapable of believing it. What a smashing, springblossomishly unfolding tussle I tussle!"