Academic journal article German Quarterly

Gestalten der Stille. Untersuchungen zur Prosa Robert Walsers

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Gestalten der Stille. Untersuchungen zur Prosa Robert Walsers

Article excerpt

Kiessling-Sonntag, Jochem. Gestalten der Stille. Untersuchungen zur Prosa Robert Walsers. Bielefeld: Aisthesis Verlag, 1997. 289pp. DM 58.00 paperback.

To write about Robert Walser is to write about someone who goes for a walk while you are writing about him. The Ph.D. thesis by Jochem Kiessling-Sonntag tries to catch Walser on his walk, but he has already moved on. So he has to follow him again and again. In the end Kief3ling-Sonntag is the hare and Walser the hedgehog. This, in brief, is the impression gained from reading his book.

His main concern is to look into the use of silence (Stifle) as a theme in Walser's works from the beginnings, through his Berlin and Biel periods, to the texts from his time in Bern. At first glance the book seems clearly structured. Kie]3ling-Sonntag studies Walser's main texts: "Greifensee" and "Fritz Kochers Aufsatze" for his early years, "Geschwister Tanner" and "Kleist in Thun" for his time in Berlin, "Der Spaziergang" and "Naturstudie" for the Biel period, and "Der Herbst" and "Der Einsame" for his years in Bern. He constantly refers to older studies and makes the point that "Stifle" changes from a more or less religious mood, through a sceptical phase, to an equilibrium in Walser's late prose. So why didn't he manage to catch the hedgehog?.

There are methodological reasons and a general undecideness as to what exactly his main question is. Does he want to know whether silence is the main theme, a motif running through Walser's texts, an idea determining the structure of his texts, a dialectical response to the acceleration of the modern way of life, an opinion by the author and/or the narrator, or the view of his characters? All this is mentioned, but nothing is carried through to its conclusion. From chapter to chapter and even within the chapters Kiessling-Sonntag changes the perspective. All too often he is therefore forced to switch between thematic readings of Walser's works, analysing the influence of Buchner or Goethe, a psychological portrait of the author, and a general theory of modernisation (especially Max Weber). Implicitly, Kiessling-Sonntag suggests taking Walser's characters as expressions of his psychological situation as an author under the pressure of the speeding up of the modern world. …

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