Is there anything really patternless?

Martin Walser and his new novel : He’s doing a little too well

There should be a framework for this “unleashed” writing “on the edge of formlessness”, as the Rowohlt Verlag Martin Walser's new book published this Thursday announced. On the cover you can see it glowing gold, but nothing is framed but an “empty, patternless wall”. This in turn represents one of the leitmotifs of this book: the place of longing of the writer Walser, the first-person narrator, if you want, who for his part wants to free himself from everything, who wants to be “inconceivable” like “the cloud that floats” or at least "A blooming meadow". Under this gold-colored frame on the cover stands the cryptic title “Instead of something or The Last Rank”, where Rank, which is explained at the beginning with the help of Grimm's dictionary, means twist, twist. Under the title there is another framework, a generic one in the form of the word "novel".

Now this term has become quite broad, as all possible narrative productions are called a novel, from autobiographies to non-fiction books. In the case of this book, however, one wonders what that is all about? Especially since Walser, since his debut novel “Ehen in Philippsburg” in 1957, had the greatest successes for decades as a primarily genuine narrator and novelist and, for example, his three autobiographical Messmer books were without genre. “Instead of something or The Last Rank” you have to read, above all, as a supplement to the Walser diaries “Life and Writing”, perhaps even more so than the fourth Messmer book.

Escape the stimulating climate of having to be right

It is less aphoristic, less sententious than this, of course, but it also largely gathers the thoughts and current moods of the writer, who will turn 90 on March 24th, including the visualization of past battles, opponents and enmities. Also including significant, sometimes funny dreams like the one in which Walser sits with Jean-Paul Sartre at a train station in Utrecht and stares at a Pepsi-Cola advertisement. To put it in one sentence from Walser's book “Messmer's Thoughts”, published in 1985: “The best thing has to be to bring something out of yourself without needing a lot from the outside.”

It certainly doesn't need to be if someone starts right at the beginning with the words: “I'm feeling a little too good” - which can at least be experienced again in the next few weeks. Walser will then tour the republic with his book until the birthday celebrations (there will be the book premiere in Munich on Thursday evening, and on January 26th he will be in Berlin at the LCB). What, however, is a little different when reading, despite all the unleashing and freedom. He may have escaped the stimulating climate of having to be right, as Walser has liked to emphasize in recent years. But there are still certain compulsions to justify oneself, one's own life. Fittingly, in “Instead of something or The Last Rank” there is talk of perhaps bettering deleting the “to” in the opening sentence.

Sometimes only one sentence per chapter

In his new book, Martin Walser revolves around his thoughts, feelings and experiences, and it doesn't matter that his first-person narrator is sometimes called Otto, sometimes Bert, sometimes Erstrecht or being mistaken for Ferdinand. Or the perspective changes frequently and the narrator addresses himself in the second person singular or jumps into the third: "Until now, avoided what is called conscience." This is how the 13th of 51 chapters, which usually cover a few pages, sometimes only begins consist of a single sentence or a poem. "To do this, I have to be so far away from myself that I can call myself ER." And: "He has always thought and done what he shouldn't have done and thought."

If you want, you can now remember Walser's controversial Paulskirche speech from 1998. And when discussing hostilities, one can think of Marcel Reich-Ranicki when it says, for example: “He always reprimanded, criticized or insulted in the name and interest of the whole, or justice, or humanity or democracy.” Or Frank Schirrmacher, the "feuilleton violent", and his settlement with Walser because of the novel "Death of a Critic", which Schirrmacher had described as a "document of hatred" (here the text of the feuilleton violent is called "The German Disaster" and Adorno's saying about real life that there cannot be in the wrong one is the cause of the argument).

Yes, Walser is constantly working on his topics: his insatiable desire for love and women, his supposed defeats, the “diminutive experience” when he was met with outrage. And his defense against it. Because he followed his conscience but never felt certainty: "How can there be freedom in a world of words in which there is certainty ... Certainty is exactly what a word shouldn't be: It is a word as a straitjacket." Because he distrusts truths: “Lies bring as much truth into the world as truth does. I finally wanted to contribute to the glory of falsehood. ”Because he was brought up from childhood to meet expectations, but acted contrary to that upbringing.

Not much new under the Walser sun

Of course, it's often about writing, about revealing concealment. Because, against “saying something”, he always “defended himself with all imaginable ideas, in general with imaginations”, especially successfully, as Walser claims. It was similar with relationships with women: "I wanted to try," says a Monika, who is of course not Monika, "to make her so indistinct by writing that she can no longer wander around in me."

In “Instead of something or The Last Rank” the whole Walser is shown again; a writer who may really "sum up and take stock", as his publisher knows, although that is not his style. However, who does not like to let much new shine under the Walser sun. As Walser has long reported in his own “nothing is true without its opposite” dialectic: of his joy in approving, his peacefulness that embraces everything and everyone, his irrationality (which he would so much like to rehabilitate), his attempts to escape using his imaginations Justification fatigue, his reluctance to deliver meaning and so on. In the end, he describes “happiness” - empty, patternless wall facing, a longing for the incomprehensible - “that I didn't want to get lost”. This book is telling evidence of that.

Martin Walser: Instead of something or the last rank. Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek 2017. 171 pages, 16, 95 €.

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