Monday, 4 November 2013

I started rereading Robert Walser after recommending him to a friend. I had to revisit what I’d recommended and imagine him reading it, to reconstitute Walser as well as my friend. How did Walser’s relentless modesty, his will to disappear, fit my friend’s taste? Did I have any idea about him, my friend, at all? This is the kind of uncertainty I have battled with since I started keeping a diary. Reading and writing unsettle the world; you are reassured and you are undermined. Where you find yourself at the end is no concern of any book. You have been taken (for a ride), transported, let go, and then you’re your own. All universes are parallel.

In winter, reading takes on a muscular aspect. I reread The Robber, The Tanners, Jacob von Gunten, cut through with Anne Carson’s red doc. As I move from book to book, from writer to writer, wide awake with Anne Carson’s language, disquieted and ravished by Robert Walser’s self-effacement, I am exercised and, later, put to rest.

Robert Walser has been for some time a place of refuge. It’s good to be this far away from wherever you find yourself. When you find a writer who does it for you, you pick up on every connection. Walser has his people. WG Sebald, for example. Circa 1995 I gathered the local Walser men in the Wine Vault on the Western Road in Cork for Ian Breakwell who was researching a new film about audiences, prompted by Walser’s 'Response to a Request'. Later Bernd in the French Alps wondered how I’d come across Walser at all. One black beetle knows another, I said.

Robert Walser relates to my inner life as Proust does, and Beckett, and other writers I have read and taught and reread as one revisits or remembers friends; anchors and guarantors.

Anne Carson strides in on a beam of light, like an extraterrestrial. Autobigraphy of Red, red doc and Nay, rather. My observation at age eighteen that the books I didn’t understand were the ones I liked best, has come of age. When I can’t see through the language to observable or narrative coherence, when I cannot even see through a glass darkly, but only in uncertain winks and leaps, I feel at home.

Anne Carson has, as I do, some grandiose baggage. She has Greek, I have French, literature habits, none of which is conducive to cracking on with the story.