Ramble


[Serafini via Giornale Nuovo]

Silence threatens, but never for long.

I have been cherishing the words of the simple Robber -- this charlatan who has caused so many petticoats to flutter dangerously after him -- this gentle man who so wishes to love his fair Edith, his beautiful Wanda, his saucy Selma -- the Robber, Robert Walser's Robber.

I have the Robber to thank for some truly choice phrases (for he is a master of choice phrases, though they be so expertly concealed and sly). (But is it the Robber? Or is this sometimes-stern, sometimes-generous narrator the true author of such gleaming, precious phrases?)

How to conjoin these disjunctions? he asks.

Then he says -- Oh, how great is the pleasure of women when they see that one finds them beautiful. Many people give this far too little thought.

And there is this wise utterance -- It's easy for us to project our own failings onto our fellow citizens, who, however, when you stop to consider, aren't there for this purpose alone.

And he can be so poetic! She fell silent, and in this moment had something of the aura of one of Durer's female figures, a sort of night-bird shyness, a flying-over-in-the-seas-in-the-dark, a soft inner whimpering.

He is so wise, so witty, this Robber. Constant perambulations & peregrinations. Just like Walser himself, or so I'm told. Layers and layers which seem so close to order and structure, but which are in fact kaleidoscopically chaotic. He introduces scenes, characters, objects, ruminations, only to move past them and remind of them, but never speak of them. It seems at times like a slow process of telling by eradication. Humorous and confused.

The Robber is a great wanderer, through ideas, through loves, through lives, through boarding-houses, places, people. The writing, too, wanders -- a footbath is introduced, lingered over in no real detail, and forgotten -- new things are always being promised -- we dwell here on Edith, there on Wanda -- sometimes there are condemnations, sometimes excuses, sometimes we turn our head gently to one side and think slyly that of all people to be excused, this Robber is the one. There is much empty talk, or so it seems, the talk circles back on itself, back-tracking, double-tracking, confusing by means of too much detail and too little detail all at once.

Then there is the narratival commentary -- silly phrase for such lovely, natural, inexcusable intrusions. Of course the narrator would have something to say about this extraordinary character, the Robber, the narrator shouldn't just sit back and tell detached stories! He'll of course tell us much about where the story is going, and what it is doing, but the narrator cannot be at fault if sometimes the extraordinary quality of this tale, of this person, the Robber, calls for tangents -- for peregrinations and perambulations! The narrator is outstandingly courageous -- he must, after all, construct here a commonsensical book from which nothing at all can be learned. Even the Robber is ghostly pale from all his writing, for you can imagine how valiantly he’s been assisting me in the composition of this book.

He is extraordinary, this Robber, and even more so this narrator! After all, what cheek has he to jump into this story, or rather, to withhold so much information from us, the poor readers of this tale, that we cannot even tell when he is winking at us, or when he is demanding the utmost seriousness. When should I be grave and shake my head at the Robber's errorful ways? When should I chuckle and nudge him in the ribs with my familiar elbow? It's inexcusable really, how badly he treats us! And then that conclusion! What nerve to say that it's all a huge gloss! Do we not deserve the true story of the Robber? What about the footbath? What about Edith's green hat? What of the affair in the church? No, this is what he delivers:

And now, to conclude the book, a resume. The whole thing seems to me, let me say, like one great huge gloss, ridiculous and unfathomable. A little watercolor painting from the brush of a youthful painter scarcely out of boyhood gave rise to all these cultural lines. Let us rejoice over this triumph of art. Today, ladies and gentlemen, I nearly admire myself. I find myself enchanting. In the future, you, too, will again believe in me more swiftly and strongly. To doubt this would lack all sense of humor. I now state, just as at the outset of this booksellerish and literary undertaking, that a person who has no money is a wretch.


And so he goes on -- on and on with his beautiful and polished sentences (they really are quite good, I mean just listen -- His spirit had become an Italy full of pines -- rapturous!). And he diminished the poor Robber, calls him a noodle -- a noodle! I say again that this narrator has some cheek, some nerve. But at least he learns to recognize that it is good to play the fool, good to wander and perambulate and that those beloved simple folk -- the darling little lambs of the world -- despite their dubious simplicity, they are the universal nonchalance and the conscience of all mankind.