Friday, November 22, 2019

The broad, noble idea of the walk

On a far-wandering walk a thousand usable thoughts occur to me, while shut in at home, I would lamentably wither and dry up. Walking is for me not only healthy, it is also of service — not only lovely, but also useful. A walk advances me professionally, but also provides me at the same time with amusement; it comforts, delights, and refreshes me, is a pleasure for me, but also has the peculiarity that it spurs me on and allures me to further creations, since it offers me as material numerous more or less significant objectivities upon which I can later work industriously at home. Every walk is filled with phenomena valuable to see and feel. A pleasant walk most often veritably teems with imageries, living poems, attractive objects, natural beauties, be they ever so small. The lore of nature and the lore of the country are revealed, charming and graceful, to the sense and eyes of the observant walker, who must of course walk not with downcast but with open, unclouded eyes, if he desires the lovely significance and the broad, noble idea of the walk to dawn on him.
The Walk, by Robert Walser, was not the kind of walk I wanted it to be. That is, it wasn't my walk. It wasn't my morning walk to the metro when I'm trying to formulate some thoughts on the book I'm reading, or the correspondence I shared; it wasn't my lunchtime meander around the office or around the office building where I try to find some new approach to a work problem; it wasn't my after-work stroll home from the metro when I blank my mind or when I replay or imagine conversations with lovers.

More manic than minimalist, The Walk is a high-detail view of very pedestrian things. Walser describes the streetscape and his encounters with the bookseller, the bank official, children, dogs, a beautiful woman, a mournful acquaintance, the tailor, the tax inspector. It's very florid but in a controlled way, without the exuberance of other writings. It rings less sincere. He holds himself apart from all people and things, like he's not really in his walk.

Susan Bernofsky writes in her introduction:
If Walser chose to tone down the first version's chattiness at certain key points, I believe it was for the sake of minimizing the divide between the writing protagonist and the walking protagonist.
When I write in my head while walking, things feel alive, but by the time I commit anything to paper, it's deadened a little. I haven't read the original translation of Walser's original text, but I feel like that's what happened here, he poked and prodded the life out of it.

To be sure, walking is a part of writing (or, for some writers, sitting and staring, or cleaning their desk). I wonder if by trying to minimize the divide, he only made it more obvious.
But one realizes to be sure to satiety that he loves to walk as well as he loves to write; the latter of course perhaps just a shade less than the former.
Quarterly Conversation
The Rumpus
Three Percent

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