Reading on Coincidence: Robert Walser

It’s one thing or the other. Robert Walser is either fashionable in Brazil right now or I am an intersection of coincidences. Two friends, who I’m almost certain don’t know each other, have been reading him recently. One emailed me of one of his, Walser’s, prose pieces just before the new year; another was seen last week in a square with a newly published prose collection in his bag. Two friends, at least, are reading Walser.

The newly published part may be the key, but chance and coincidence have always influenced my reading habits (maybe more on that and William Gerhardie some other time), especially when the coincident writer is one who has been in the known-but-unread, admired-by-the-admired orbit for more than ten years. I studied German at university, but Walser—Robert, there is another, unrelated Martin—barely came up. Perhaps because he’s Swiss and German departments inevitably (?) concentrate on literature from Germany, rather than literature in German; but I may be being unfair and he may have been on a reading list that I ignored to read as much of Kafka as I could. But Kafka—like Susan Sontag, like Hermann Hesse, like W. G. Sebald, like J. M. Coetzee in this essay, perhaps like even more writers I was reading at the time—was an admirer of Walser, so perhaps the coincidence was there already and could or should have been seen sooner. But coincidence cannot be ignored forever. So I did pick up a slim volume from the Rio’s Goethe Institut library. So I did read it. Read more of this post

The Fondation Beyeler

By Rob Packer

I was in Switzerland for work earlier this month. After a few days in Lugano and Zürich—and a few hours on a train between the two, wishing the train would stop and I could kick off the dress shoes, change the suit for something more comfortable and run off up a mountain—I spent a couple of days at the end of the trip staying with some very good friends in Basel.

I’d barely been to Switzerland before and Basel has always seemed the most enigmatic of the country’s larger cities next to Zürich with its banks and Geneva with its international organizations. Those two even have archetypal Swiss locations perched at their lakeheads, while Basel europeanly straddles the Rhine, which no Germanist can cross without feeling a historical shudder or literary frisson—mine was Heinrich Heine’s satirical conversation with Father Rhine, where Old Man River complains of having been “politically compromised” by Nikolaus Becker’s “Rheinlied”, later infamously put to music as “Die Wacht am Rhein”. But that is in Cologne where the Rhine is more bombastic, while hardly anyone ever talks about Basel: in fact, I’ve probably only ever had a conversation about the place with five or six people—one an architect, two who live there and the rest from the art world.

Read more of this post

%d bloggers like this: