Term of Graduation

Spring 1966

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in German


World Languages and Literatures




Robert Walser -- 1878-1956 -- Criticism and interpretation, Identity (Philosophical concept)



Physical Description

1 online resource (i, 116 leaves)


Except for literary historians and Germanists, Robert Walser (1878-1956), the Swiss poet, was known until recently only to a small circle of readers.

The reason why Robert Walser was “rediscovered” a few years ago and is being read again, is that theme, content and style of his novels – they can be counted on one hand – as well as the several hundred short stories and about four dozen poems , touch upon a constantly more or less urgent problem: man’s ontological inquiry. The unassuming manner of Walser’s fragments and vignettes fascinates and elates the system-weary reader; yet, his lack of assumption is not synonymous with idle chatter. Rather, the absence of presumptuousness is based on the realization that absolutes, whether intellectual, emotional or physical are meaningless. Thus they are incompatible with the “Lebensgefühl” of Walser’s literary protagonist, who suspects essence in the loss of identity of self.

It has been said of Robert Walser that he was the first writer to explore the domain of the absurd in a novel. This at the beginning of the 20th century. Walser, quite likely, would be too modest to claim literary avant-garde.

The absurdity of uncertainness creates a perspective and attitude which characterize Walser’s literary figures, perspective and attitude similar to the terminal mood at the end of an era, familiar from the writings of Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka and Georg Heym. The mood Walser portrays distinguishes itself insofar that he builds no cosmic or philosophical systems, because he abhorred the finite limits of man’s intellect. Where Kafka’s intellect ad absurdum metamorphoses into the madness of the incapable insect, Walser’s realization transforms into a gay carelessness; a careless superficiality that has healing quality, since it exhausts itself in the service to humanity and revels without point of reference in an existence without system. Nature serves as the poetic spring for the delightful game of the intellect.

This paper examines the dilemma of identity in two ontological main categories and eight social-philosophical motives. Interpretation of a short story and reference to the entire works of Robert Walser served as the vehicle in this attempt.


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