Tuesday, December 29, 2009

stencil #016 - robert walser

ANZ Bank, Elm St Northcote

Robert Walser circa 1905 . . . around the time that he wrote his first, semi-autobiographical novel, The Tanners

Better late than never, although I had hoped to do this stencil on 25th as a commemoration to Walser who died of a heart attack in the snow on Christmas day in 1956 . . . a death prophetically foretold in The Tanners when Simon Tanner discovers the poet, Sebastian, dead in the snow under a starry sky:

". . . he'd frozen to death here . . . and he must have been lying here on the path for a while. The snow displayed no footprints; it was conceivable he'd been here for a considerable length of time . . . Night had fallen. Stars were sparkling . . . 'How noble a grave he chose for himself. His resting place lies amid splendid green snow-covered firs. I shall not report this to anyone. Nature gazes down upon her dead man, the stars are quietly singing at his head and the night birds are squawkingthis is the best music for a person who no longer feels or hears.'"  

In his novel, Doctor Pasavento, an homage to Walser, Enrique Vila-Matas describes Simon's words as an "auto-elegy anticipated".

I thoroughly recommend The Tanners. Simon Tanner is wonderfully subversive and often very funny, and I found myself drawn to and rereading the sections with the poet, Sebastian. At one point, Simon’s older brother, Kaspar, berates Sebastian for devoting his life to writing poems, referring to it as “not work, it’s just a hiding-place for the idle.” The narrator explains that “[Kaspar] had no understanding whatever for tragic individuals, or rather, he understood them all too easily, all too well, and therefore had no respect for them.” Later, Hedwig, Simon and Kaspar’s sister, defends Sebastian:  

“And never be so swift to look in scorn upon someone who is failing or appears lethargic or inactive. How quickly his sunshine, his poems can arise from these long, dull dreams!” 

Walser understands tragic individuals. He sees ambition in the unambitious. Read him for his quiet defence of dreamers.

Monica Carter's thoughts on the book are closest to mine.

And always have time for Kubla Khan's thoughts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

very cool. walser is amazing.