Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator relates the intensity of Kleist’s emotional instability with remarkable coolness and ironic detachment. There is a playfulness in the framing of his narrative: He begins by trying to picture in his mind Kleist’s visit to Thun and ends with the almost frivolous remarks on tourists and a trade fair that deserves to be forgotten. In between, the grimness of Kleist’s agitation is greatly alleviated by the light touch with which the narrator tells his story. By mentioning casually at the end that he is a former clerk in a brewery, he tries to trivialize his role, yet his story is filled with poetic figures and betrays a high degree of literary consciousness.

Although the persistent use of the present tense and the occasional sentence of quoted monologue bring an immediacy to Kleist’s perceptions and experiences, the reader is constantly made aware of the narrator’s own voice. The vividness of his imagery and poetic language remain in the foreground as a reminder of the narrator’s loquacity in contrast to the silence of Kleist’s destroyed manuscripts. The narrator’s ironic distance from his subject undercuts the temptation to identify Walser with Kleist. Kleist would never have written and published a work of such poetic intensity on an incident so slight and lacking in dramatic conflict. Walser obviously delights in the sound and rhythm of his sentences and the brightness of his imagery. Nevertheless, the tragic consequences of the drive for self-expression are easily discernible beneath the alluring poetic surface of Walser’s text.