“My name is Simon, and as of yet I’ve done nothing at all!”


You probably won’t think anything strange in this parlance from Robert Walser’s The Tanners:

“What is the name of this unhappy wretch?” the woman asked.

“Kaspar Tanner.”

“What? Tanner? That’s your name. So he’s your brother, even though you called him your friend just now.”

What’s strange about it is that the lady, whom I believe doesn’t have a name, already knew Simon’s last name, his surname, Tanner. The reader can only assume that things have happened offstage, behind the curtain of words. When Simon introduced himself to the lady, he said “My name is Simon, and as of yet I’ve done nothing at all!” He didn’t say Simon Tanner. Not even has it been disclosed to the reader that Simon’s surname is Tanner, unless of course the reader were to assume this from the novel’s title, The Tanners.

But how much has happened behind the words? I’m guessing quite a lot if something like this is kept from us, a notable thing since it is the first time the reader learns for certain that Simon is a Tanner. The protagonist and book merge.

As a reader, I feel like I’ve been told everything there is to possibly know about Robert Walser’s timeless work. I feel like a true confidante at the very least. But sometimes I even feel like I’m god of this world. I’m in it everywhere.

The closest we’ll ever get to understanding the ideation of God, The First mover, is when reading a timeless work. It’s true. Whenever a book lets you discover That Thing, readers all around the world unite to hoist it up to the rarefied heights of Greatness, so that it shall never perish or forsake us.

Think of the grocery store, think of each item in it. There are more of some items. Some items are widespread. And some of these items have also endured. They have been around, some of them, for decades.

Well, there are books that have been around for centuries. Books that people have decided to keep around, accompany them on this lifelong journey. These loyal friends are iterations of a world that is contained and very accessible (most of the time) and they let us feel like god, like Omniscience. We are everywhere the world is, we know everything there is to possibly know. This is what it feels like to be The Originator.

Infinity and beyond, these compañeros we’ve elected to keep around with us are actually doors that open straight onto and into whatever existed before it all started. The Tanners is one such door that has only been around for decades, but I think it will someday be a question of centuries. Or will it?

How distant will Robert Walser’s story be 100 years from now? How distant will it be 700 years from now? How distant will it be 1,001 years from now? In this sense, time is very much a measure of distance. Maybe it won’t be around that long a time, maybe the endurance needed for such longevity isn’t there. I don’t know.

But what’s more curious than that is how slyly Robert Walser lets the reader know they are not god of this world. There is stuff, important stuff, that happens beneath you, out of reach, stuff blind to your eyes. It is only Robert Walser who is god of this world. It is only Robert Walser who gets close to understanding the ideation of Our Mother. This selfishness–for what else could it be called?–will probably unveil itself as the Achilles’ heel of The Tanners.

Only time will tell.

May 20, 2011 3:19 pm

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