We Already See So Much

September 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

Susan Sontag, “Walser’s Voice,” Preface, Selected Stories by Robert Walser

…In long as in short prose Walser is a miniaturist, promulgating the claims of the anti-heroic, the limited, the humble, the small — as if in response to his acute feeling for the interminable. Walser’s life illustrates the restlessness of one kind of depressive temperament: he had the depressive’s fascination with stasis, and with the way time distends, is consumed; and spent much of his life obsessively turning time into space: his walks. His work plays with the depressive’s appalled vision of endlessness: it is all voice—musing, conversing, rambling, running on. The important is redeemed as a species of the unimportant, wisdom as a kind of shy, valiant loquacity.

The moral core of Walser’s art is the refusal of power; of domination. I’m ordinary — that is, nobody — declares the characteristic Walser persona. In “Flower Days” (1911), Walser evokes the race of “odd people, who lack character,” who don’t want to do anything. The recurrent “I” of Walser’s prose is the opposite of the egotist’s: it is that of someone “drowning in obedience.” One knows about the repugnance Walser felt for success — the prodigious spread of failure that was his life. In “Kienast” (1917), Walser describes “a man who wanted nothing to do with anything.” This non-doer was, of course, a proud, stupendously productive writer, who secreted work, much of it written in his astonishing micro-script, without pause. What Walser says about inaction, renunciation of effort, effortlessness, is a program, an anti-romantic one, of the artist’s activity. In “A Little Ramble” (1914), he observes: “We don’t need to see anything out of the ordinary. We already see so much.”…

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Shawn Huelle, “Peripateticism in Robert Walser,” 3:AM Magazine 12 August 2014

Smallness plays a large role in Walser’s textual perambulations. In fact, W. G. Sebald refers to Walser as a “clairvoyant of the small.” This smallness can be made even smaller.

Walking, among other things, is also an act of self-effacement: while out on a walk, one begins to lose oneself in one’s surroundings. Walter Benjamin notices this in Walser’s writing: “Everything seems lost; a surge of words gushes forth in which each sentence only has the task of obliterating the previous one” (emphasis added).

…Or, as Walser himself puts it [The Walk, 1917]:

[The walker] must bring with him no sort of sentimentally sensitive self-love or quickness to take offense. Unselfish and unegoistic, he must let his careful eye wander and stroll where it will; only he must be continuously able in the contemplation and observation of things to efface himself. . . . If he does not, then he walks only half attentive, with only half his spirit, and that is worth nothing. . . . He must be able to bow down and sink into the deepest and smallest everyday thing, and it is probable that he can.

Unspeakable Trajectory

August 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

Samuel Beckett, Dream of Fair to Middling Women

The experience of my reader shall be between the phrases, in the silence, communicated by the intervals, not the terms, of the statement, between the flowers that cannot coexist, the antitheyical (nothing so simple as antithetical) seasons of words, his experience shall be the menace, the miracle, the memory, of an unspeakable trajectory.

Forever Not Now

August 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

Simon Critchley, Memory Theatre

This is the most difficult thing to endure. Not death, but dying. Death will happen. Yes. It is certain. Yes. But not now, and life cannot be consumed in the now. The now of nows. It is forever not now.

In Silence

August 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

William Faulkner, “William Faulkner, The Art of Fiction No. 12″ by Jean Stein, The Paris Review 12 (Spring 1956)

I prefer silence to sound, and the image produced by words occurs in silence. That is, the thunder and the music of the prose take place in silence.

Splendid Failure

August 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

William Faulkner, “William Faulkner, The Art of Fiction No. 12″ by Jean Stein, The Paris Review 12 (Spring 1956)

All of us [Faulkner and his contemporaries] failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. Of course he won’t, which is why this condition is healthy. Once he did it, once he matched the work to the image, the dream, nothing would remain but to cut his throat, jump off the other side of that pinnacle of perfection into suicide. I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.

Impossible to Describe

August 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

Parul Sehgal, “Drawing Words From the Well of Art,” The New York Times 22 August 2014

. . . The painting Mr. Lerner, 35, had come to see is Jules Bastien-Lepage’s “Joan of Arc,” which depicts Joan swooning as she hears the call to battle. It’s something of a famous failure, but Mr. Lerner loves its flaws: “I like paintings that depict what paintings can’t depict, like hearing voices.” He said that the “glitches in the pictorial matrix” in this otherwise naturalistic painting — the cartoonish angels, the way Joan’s left hand dissolves into the paint — inspired his new novel’s questions about how artists render phenomena that seem impossible to describe: the passage of time, the texture of consciousness.

“What interests me about fiction,” he said, “is, in part, its flickering edge between realism and where a tear in the fabric of a story lets in some other sort of light.”

The Outside

July 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

Tao Lin, “Actually, He’s Doing Pretty O.K.: Karl Ove Knausgaard Arrives in New York,” New York Observer 6 June 2014

Mr. Knausgaard said he wanted to write from “a perspective outside humanity.” He defined the sublime as “the perspective outside of humanity” and said, “It’s impossible to get there by language, because language is humanity — that’s inside, so how can you get outside? And in the book I want to get outside, all the time, and it’s impossible.

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