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This review is taken from PN Review 33, Volume 10 Number 1, September - October 1983.

WALSER ON HIS OWN TERMS Robert Walser, Selected Stories, translated by Christopher Middleton and others, with a foreword by Susan Sontag (Carcanet) £6.95

Of the writers contemporary with Kafka who have been labelled 'Kafkaesque' there are three who, on anything other than a first reading, seem unduly diminished by the description: Alfred Kubin (1877-1959), Bruno Schulz (1892-1942) and Robert Walser (18781956). Kubin, an associate of Kafka's, was primarily a painter and draughtsman whose forte was a blend of fantasy and realism. His solitary novel, aptly titled The Other Side (1907), describes phantasmagoric experiences in that highly-charged, but oddly matter-of-fact, manner which makes comparison with Kafka almost inevitable. Yet Kubin, who admitted to having written the book 'in an extraordinary state of mind literally comparable to intoxication', is very much his own man, as his paintings show. Kafka appears, from his Diaries, to have been rather irritated by the extravagances of Kubin the man and as a writer Kubin is certainly more erratic and self-indulgent. Bruno Schulz, who translated Kafka's The Trial into Polish, published no novels, although the manuscript of one, with the title The Messiah, is presumed to have disappeared, like its author, in the Nazi atrocities in Poland. Schulz is, as some believe Kafka to be, at his best in the medium of the short story, or vignette, or novella, although like Kubin he seems to lack the discipline which was Kafka's watchword and affliction. Robert Walser, arguably the most gifted of these precursors and contemporaries, wrote six novels (of which three survive) and nine books of short prose fictions of a most idiosyncratic and, as his sanity failed him, ...


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