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Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to In Search of Lost Time
Eric Karpeles
In Search of Lost Time
Marcel Proust, C.K. Scott Moncrieff, Andreas Mayor, Terence Kilmartin, D.J. Enright, Richard Howard
Within a Budding Grove (In Search of Lost Time, #2)
Marcel Proust, C.K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, D.J. Enright

The Robber

The Robber - Robert Walser, Susan Bernofsky If you are fond of pleasure postponed, of insertions, digressions, concealments—and who is not?—this maze will amaze you.- William H. GassGass’s comments about Walser’s The Robber are spot-on: the novel is certainly a maze, “an unsolvable riddle” as Walser describes the Robber’s beloved Edith’s lips. The last novel that Walser wrote, The Robber was long left untranslated because it was found in its microscript form, a miniaturized version of Kurrent script which Walser used for his manuscripts from about 1917 onward and which he would then transcribe into longhand German soon after. When his posthumous papers were found, no one knew what to make of these documents, some citing Walser’s twenty-six-year-long stay in mental hospitals as evidence for writing gibberish, secret code, etc. In her translator’s introduction to The Robber, Susan Bernofsky suggests that Walser never intended for the novel to be read because it was the only one he kept in microscript form: “When Walser wrote The Robber, he must have been fully aware, at least after the first few pages, that he would never be able to publish it. This would explain why he never prepared a clean copy of the manuscript for submission to publishers.”But why would The Robber have been so condemned by publishers, especially given that it shows Walser—who, despite not making much of a living from his writing was still famous in his heyday, praised by Robert Musil and envied and imitated by the likes of Kafka—at the height of his powers? Perhaps that is precisely why no publisher would have touched The Robber because its themes, while radical, are to be found in virtually all modernist novels: madness, artistry, dissections of class and gender, authorial interjections and insertions, etc. The Robber truly is a novel whose style mirrors its content, and vice versa, so that the reader is left in Walser’s wholly capable hands, forced into often bizarre, idiosyncratic rhythms in large stretches of prose that simultaneously lull and jar the reader. What is this novel about? The Robber is about everything and nothing; it is about the anxieties and trappings of class just as the class system is undergoing a destabilization after World War I; it is about an unnamed Robber and the author of the novel about said Robber, identities that often become conflated and intertwined throughout the text (“I have to be constantly on my guard not to confuse myself with him”). Above all, The Robber is about love and contradiction: it is an attempt to render in prose the ineffable emotional highs and lows that come with living, loving, and the many metaphoric acts of “robbery” of which we are all guilty. However, with that said, due to the diversionary tactics employed by Walser in this novel and the authorial interjections of his narrator, The Robber is also about the failure that meets anyone seeking truth or the depiction of truth in art. As the narrator even notes of his role: “I will make it my business to depict to you. One shouldn’t say depict, but rather present... It isn’t right for everything to be uncovered, illumined, otherwise what would the connoisseur have left to ponder?” And so The Robber is a continuous game of hide-and-seek, of revealing and occluding, of explicating and silencing.Walser is a genius at using his characters to serve as microcosms for society at large—e.g., Jakob von Gunten in the eponymous novel, the writer-narrator in The Walk, Joseph in The Assistant, and the fluid “I” in his tales and criticism, an “I” that is both Walser and not Walser. What he is also a genius at is presenting individuals’ flaws and strengths, balancing out each aspect of his characters’—and our own—identities. While the Robber is persecuted by his community, the portrait that Walser (or, more accurately, the “I” narrating the novel) paints of him is sympathetic: “Flaws are touching.” And while the narrator distinguishes himself as socially superior to the Robber—discussing “this postwar age all aglitter with plebeian sentiment”—it is clear that Walser is asking us to not judge these prejudices, but instead to learn how they are instilled in the first place in order to overcome them.The Robber is the work of a master, and one is literally left breathless coming away from the novel—from the sheer magic of Walser’s prose and, sadly, from the fact that this was his final performance.