... the inward self is the only self which really exists.Walser’s The Walk is anything but a light, jolly stroll: it’s a trek uphill through spiraling landscapes, before the reader realizes that Walser has begun an abrupt, downward descent. The closing pages of The Walk are utterly heart-rending.
This is a novella about everything and nothing. The narrator, a writer, leaves his “writing room, or room of phantoms” to take a walk through the town and the countryside. Along the way, he meets many different people from various walks of life: a postal worker; a tailor; a bookseller; a young woman singing; dogs; children; “the giant” Tomzack; a woman with whom he dines; and several others. It’s no wonder that W. G. Sebald has called Walser “a clairvoyant of the small” as each of these interactions—and the bizarre, often archaic, speech acts we witness (e.g., after seeing a sign for lodgings, the narrator goes on for three pages to give the reader the sign’s strange subtext)—tells us more about both the narrator’s psychological state of mind as well as the world in which he feels so displaced.
In many ways, The Walk can be read as a parable of a changing world where natural scenes are giving way to increasingly industrialized ones; it can also be read as a commentary on how insular a writer’s world is, and how the sense of sequestration and loneliness carry over into social interactions and also inform prejudices rooted in aesthetic judgments rather than firsthand observations. One can see how Walser’s prose is indebted to pastoral influence of the nineteenth century while also forging new ground stylistically in his modernist musings, causing a strange chorus of dissonant tones to run throughout The Walk—a dissonance that works quite well here, if the reader is patient, knowing he or she is in masterful hands. As Walser’s narrator/alter ego exlaims here: “I am a solid technician!” And so he is.