Academic journal article Chicago Review

A Note on Robert Walser and the Robber (1925)

Academic journal article Chicago Review

A Note on Robert Walser and the Robber (1925)

Article excerpt

Robert Walser (1878--1956), the Swiss-German master of high modernist prose, was once so well known that Robert Musil, reviewing Franz Kafka's first book of stories, described Kafka as a "special case of the Walser type." Kafka was among Walser's contemporary admirers, as were Hermann Hesse and Walter Benjamin. Walser's quirkily modernist sensibility has since endeared him to contemporary writers and thinkers as various as Martin Walser (no relation), Susan Sontag, William H. Gass, and Max Frisch.

Walser wrote as many as nine novels (all but four of which are lost), several short dramatic works, poems, and thousands of pages worth of "Prosastucke" or "prose pieces," a feuilletonistic hybrid of story and essay in which he experimented with the fractured narrative, sudden leaps and shifts of perspective, and mutations of standard German vocabulary and syntax that have made his work so influential on later generations of authors writing in German.

Of Walser's four extant novels, Jakob von Gunten and The Robber are generally considered the most important--the former an example of his strongest early work, the latter displaying the increased stylistic complexity that characterized the later years of his career. Though generally comic in tone, The Robber is at the same time a highly serious study of the modern fragmented self and the role of the writer in society.

The Robber is something of a hybrid between love story, tragedy and farce. The title character, who may or may not be identical to the first-person narrator ("I" and "he" tend to get mixed up at points), is seen bungling his way through a number of comically traumatic adventures. …

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