I knew the word kafkaesque before I ever read Kafka, and without wanting to, I already knew a lot, almost everything, about Kafka.
As a twelve-year-old I wanted The Castle, by Kafka. And so my mother took me to Schreiber’s bookshop in Olten, and explained my wish to the ancient Miss Schreiber. She looked at me and said sternly: “He’s too young.” I refused to accept any other book and grew stubborn. Sunk in my stubbornness, I withstood the great Kafka-wave of the Germanists nearly unharmed, and was quite grown-up by the time I finally started, with great pleasure, to read Kafka. I only read him when hardly anyone was talking about him anymore, and I found him witty, fun, cheeky, joyful. I did not discover the Kafka I’d always vaguely heard about—I found Kafka anything but kafkaesque.
This is now the way I’d like to read Walser, ten or twenty years after the great Walser-wave has crashed. Namely, when the last few readers have been driven away from his books, just as they have from Kafka’s.
With Walser, at least, I had more luck. I found him not in the bookstore or at the library, but at the market in Solothurn, at a shabby used-book stand: two books for one franc—Fritz Kocher’s Essays and The Walk—and after a few sentences I was convinced that this Walser wasn’t just anybody, but someone who belonged to real literature. Only, no one could confirm this for me. My German teacher, a cultured man, knew of no author called Walser. Walser was, in fact, in the library. The grouchy librarian was not happy to give him to me. But I had discovered an author all by myself—a wonderful experience, and an experience one can have only as a youth, far from any literary scene. I searched enthusiastically, and soon despairingly, for fellow readers—it took a few years to find the first one. And then the wave began—first as a niche product for a few kooks, like organic vegetables had once been, a little sworn brotherhood, then the intellectual supermarket. . .
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