Martin Walser

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Martin Walser 1927–

West German novelist, dramatist, essayist, and short story writer.

Although Walser has not achieved significant international recognition, in Germany his literary stature is considerable. In 1981 he received the Georg-Büchner prize—a prize awarded to authors who have made meaningful contributions to the contemporary culture of Germany.

Walser's early plays, notably Eiche und Angora (1962; The Rabbit Race), and novels show his concern with the post-World War II German society. He is highly critical of the German tendency to forget the past, and of the effect the postwar "economic miracle" is having on contemporary life.

His more recent works, including Ein fliehendes pferd (1978; Runaway Horse) and Das Schwanenhaus (1980; The Swan Villa), while still retaining critical commentary on German society, have expanded in thematic content to include Walser's growing preoccupation with the difficulty of differentiating between truth and fiction, memory and reality, and language and experience.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 57-60 and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 8.)

T. C. Worsley

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German writer Martin Walser, takes a sharply satirical view of the mentality of his people [in his play "The Rabbit Race"].

The first half is a pretty broad swipe at the home-front Nazis as the war ends in 1945. Their chief anxiety is to find a formula by which they can save both their own town and their own skins from the advance of the Allies.

However, in the second half the town's simpleton emerges as the chief figure of the play. His Communism had earned him a spell in a concentration camp under the Nazis and there he had been both indoctrinated with the party philosophy, and unmanned in a medical experiment, for which he had volunteered.

Now that peace reigns in 1950 and the Nazis have returned to civilian life, this simpleton had become the town's pet….

But the town pet suddenly becomes the town pest when, at a local ceremony celebrating the peaceful spirit of the new Germany, he makes the unpardonable gaffe of spouting Nazi philosophies and praising the Führer. He is hustled off hastily to the asylum.

It takes the psychiatrists 10 years to undoctrinate him. By the time he comes out it is 1960 and the wretched creature fails to fit in once again, for now it is he who is talking pacifism while the rest of his country is busy rearming. And it's the asylum again for him.

T. C. Worsley, "Satire on Germans Given at Edinburgh," in The New York Times (© 1963 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 23, 1963, p. 39.

Clifford Hanley

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In The Rabbit Race Martin Walser has constructed a pageant of German hypocrisy during and after the Nazi era. (p. 231)

Mr. Walser … has something strong and genuine to say; he … might say it with more force in fewer words. It does occur to me that the heavy hammer-blows in which the Message is battered home may be a matter of national rhythm, and that this play, designed to rend the complacency of German audiences, might well have needed its grim ponderous pace in that context. But to a British audience—or any non-German audience—which takes so much of that particular Message for granted (we too are complacent in this) the lesson hardly needs so many verses. (p. 232)

Clifford Hanley, "Big Deals," in The Spectator (© 1963 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 211, No. 7052, August 23, 1963, pp. 231-32.∗

The Times Literary Supplement

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In his earlier novels, short stories and plays Herr Martin Walser was preoccupied with social criticism, though the vehemence of that criticism sometimes suggested that his real quarrel was not so much with the west Germany of the Wirtschaftswunder , or indeed with any specific...

(This entire section contains 457 words.)

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social and economic set-up, as with the depravity and conformism of anybody, anywhere, who was prepared to play the power game. His novelsEhen in Philippsburg [Marriage in Philippsburg] (1957) and Halbzeit [Half Time] (1960) were powerful and brilliant in parts, but they were less satisfactory as works of art than some of the short stories in his first book, Ein Flugzeug über dem Haus [1955].

In many respects Herr Walser's new novel [Das Einhorn (The Unicorn)] is even more ambitious than its two predecessors. The hero and narrator, Anselm Kristlein, has been taken over from Halbzeit, just as Beumann has been taken over from Ehen in Philippsburg; but the main emphasis has been shifted from social satire to a number of themes that are closer to Herr Walser's dominant concerns….

The analysis of love, of different varieties of love, is only one of the themes that hold this book together. The unicorn of the title is symbolic not only of the erotically questing male, but also of the outsider—among other things. Kristlein's exploration of love is organically related to his social status and his ambitions as a writer. Since he is at once writing a book and presenting the raw material for the book, another principal theme is the discrepancy between truth and fiction, experience and memory. It is this discrepancy that defeats Kristlein, but gives Herr Walser ample scope for a critique both of love and of fiction. His sketches of the Wirtschaftswunder and its accompanying Kulturwunder are more devastating than ever in this larger context…. Though Herr Walser has found a distinct manner in this book, at once rich and vigorous, expressive and ironic, some of his verbalizing does tend to obscure the narrative line….

Das Einhorn is by far the most successful of Herr Walser's major works to date, because all his remarkable gifts have been applied to a structure large and intricate enough to accommodate them…. Kristlein's final self-estrangement has to do with his failure to make the past and the present coalesce; and this failure suggests the need for a further development not only in his personal relations but also in the novel's analysis of love and, incidentally, of memory. Herr Walser has written a passionately truthful account of certain stages of love, but Kristlein's reticences about his married life mark its limits and its limitations.

"Varieties of Love," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1966; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3367, September 8, 1966, p. 800.

Rudolf Walter Leonhardt

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After the tightly constructed Ehen in Philippsburg and the amorphous, arbitrary Halbzeit, Das Einhorn comes as a happy combination of freedom and self-control. (p. 54)

Walser's "Unicorn" can be seen as a challenge to the Proustian attempt to regain the past through recollection: a dismal way to have again what was lost, Anselm Kristlein, the hero, muses in mockery of himself. Memory is the electricity of the brain, it is accidental, it is—nothing.

Anselm Kristlein, whom some readers will remember as the traveling salesman of "Half-Time," is lying in bed and remembering. This is what the book is about. What happens then—and a great deal does happen—must always be referred back to Anselm Kristlein in bed: a bedtime story, if you like….

The story originates from the commission by a Swiss lady publisher to aspiring-writer Kristlein to delineate precisely the act of love, and so rescue love from the clutches of the sexologists. His assignment is to depict love as it really is, without, however, losing its special quality. The lady believes in this special quality; Kristlein does not.

So Anselm begins—with his memories…. And although we learn a great deal about life in high society, about panel shows, about new impediments to writing the truth—love has not appeared…. (pp. 54-5)

Then an event occurs which shatters the comfortable, ironic pose of the intellectual, and so destroys his ability to record and analyze while remaining detached. Kristlein meets Orli…. Studies of sex procedure will not help here; neither will clinical observation. Nor will Orli be encompassed by irony, no matter how subtle. A new level of expressiveness is required and a troubling question is brought up: can the inadequacy of language in the face of reality be demonstrated without the suspicion arising that the fault is not in the narrator-demonstrator, but in the writer himself?

Walser's style, which is the result of the kind of storyteller he is, also creates difficulties. Walser's way of depicting a situation is to bombard it with words. Many of these words were obviously put down because one brought the next one to mind. Therefore, he is continually being advised to edit himself more strictly….

I think that this is at least partly a misunderstanding. Walser would not be Walser if he let himself be prodded into the kind of spare writing characteristic of a Max Frisch novel. He is not mainly concerned with "hitting the mark" with words; he is more interested in the desire and torment that accompany both hitting and missing. (pp. 55-6)

Walser tries to use language that falls somewhere between the writing of Hermann Hesse and Henry Miller to tell about love. Obviously he is not going to succeed all the time.

But his Anselm Kristlein does not merely admit failure, he is in despair over it, and this seems a little exaggerated. He is really not doing as badly as all that. The climax of the story is only possible because the narrator cannot be content with the range of expression of his own language….

"The Unicorn" is not the kind of book, as with Dickens or Balzac, that mirrors and exposes the society from which it comes. Reality here is both broader and narrower than this—as in the works of Sterne, Joyce and Proust. This book is about the reality of consciousness, of the pain that is in remembering and in forgetting, of the attempt to regain what is hopelessly lost. (p. 56)

Rudolf Walter Leonhardt, in a review of "Das Einhorn" (originally published under a different title in Die Zeit, 1966), in Atlas, the Magazine of the World Press (© 1967 copyright by The World Press Company), Vol. 13, No. 1, January, 1967, pp. 54-6.

Donald F. Nelson

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Martin Walser is a curious example of a contemporary novelist who, despite more than a decade of prolific writing, has failed to gain appreciable recognition from Germany's literary critics…. There are two aspects of Walser's work that appear to disturb critics most: his apparent lack of concern for plot and for integration of detail into a unified whole, and his failure to present anything like a constructive alternative to the hypercritical and devastating picture he paints of postwar German society. With regard to the latter, it is true that Walser has not arrived at a synthesis of satire and the vision of a positive moral philosophy which has contributed in large measure to Heinrich Böll's success. But a criticism leveled at the lack of architecture in Walser's works which, from the point of view of traditional poetic theory, is their most vulnerable aspect, fails to do justice to the author, inasmuch as it overlooks the real literary merit of the work: the unity of style and subject….

[Walser] shapes language into an apt idiom for his principal theme—the breakdown of social communication and the depersonalization of human behavior—and also for the undifferentiated character of the world he depicts. My focus is on the way language is used to express a particular quality of experience and perception. My observations are restricted to two prose works: Die Ehen in Philippsburg and Halbzeit. The breakdown of social communication, the depersonalization, leveling and stereotyping of human behavior, the increasing emphasis on the artifact—the most crucial aspects of our contemporary cultural crisis as Walser perceives it—are given symbolic representation in the details of his language use. (p. 204)

The breakdown of genuine communication in society involves a crisis of language. In his attitude toward language Walser is an adamant realist…. All of his attacks on contemporary language stem from the conviction that language has degenerated into a vast repertoire of formulas…. In short, language no longer corresponds to reality or to truth. This iconoclastic attitude toward conventional language occasionally finds expression bordering on nihilism. (p. 205)

In Walser's first novel, Die Ehen in Philippsburg (1957), the neophyte hero pays for his acceptance and integration into society by forfeiting both his individuality and his freedom. The protagonist, Hans Beumann, is in many ways a twentieth-century Parzival who succeeds in his struggle to be accepted by carefully observing and appropriating, through mimicry, the social behavior of the cocktail party set…. [The novel] is a satirical and scathing condemnation of postwar German society with its stereotyped language and behavior. Here the problems of communication and depersonalization are no longer treated on the abstract level of parable, as in the early collection of stories, Flugzeug über dem Haus (1955); they are presented as symptoms of a cultural crisis. Now the problem is not primarily a lack of communication with a mute or apathetic environment reminiscent of Kafka, but rather that communication has become impersonal and stereotyped, devitalized by the ready-made phrase, just as human behavior has become depersonalized, undifferentiated, and stereotyped by mimicry and by set forms of gesture in social intercourse. A general social and cultural leveling is the result.

This depersonalization and leveling finds expression in certain recurrent linguistic traits: 1) the frequent use of an inanimate or impersonal subject in place of an animate or personal one; very often this takes the form of a pars pro toto in which a part of the body stands for the person; 2) the use of anaphoric or repetitive constructions; and 3) the preponderance of indirect discourse over direct discourse. The recurrence of these traits underscores the impersonality of communication and the depersonalization of the individual in a society that is distinctly object-oriented, stressing the artifacts of its culture to the virtual exclusion of all human and personal values. (pp. 205-06)

It is not insignificant that indirect discourse or the absence of dialogue prevails over long tracts of Walser's prose. To cite one statistic: the entire novel consists roughly of 11,000 lines, of which only 450 or somewhat less than five percent are dialogue. This is all the more conspicuous in a novel in which social gatherings have such a large share in the plot. It is as though indirect discourse were the ironic insinuation that in an object-oriented society what people actually say is of no importance. In a world in which, in addition to the stereotyping of gesture and external appearance, speech has become largely standardized jargon and a genuine dialogue of mutual exchange and edification is virtually nonexistent, the functionality of direct discourse becomes restricted. When direct discourse does occur, it takes on the nature of a tiny island of dialogue surrounded by a vast ocean of impersonal and undifferentiated communication. Rather than exploiting dialogue as a means of revealing human inanities and foibles, Walser concentrates on externals, on physiognomy and gesture, which he analyzes with extreme and merciless precision. (p. 207)

[Mimicry] plays a central role in Walser's world. In the biological sense mimicry is the superficial resemblance which certain animals exhibit to other animals or to the natural objects of their environment, thereby securing concealment or protection. Applied to Walser's social world, mimicry means an expedient adjustment to the exigencies of the situation by wearing the prescribed face, by executing the prescribed gesture, and by saying the prescribed ready-made phrase. Mimicry is thus a most powerful force in causing a depersonalization and standardization of social communication and social behavior. In mimicry the individual simulates the form of his surroundings with the result that the world becomes undifferentiated in character. Hans Beumann, in his process of adaptation, develops into the adroit mimic and liar, deceiving his fiancée, Anne Volkmann, by pursuing extramural amorous adventures that brand him as a future adulterer. These acquired characteristics in a predominantly mimetic environment along with his forfeiture of individuality and freedom are the price he must pay for his ultimate acceptance into the social clique.

Halbzeit (1960) is the organic outgrowth of and sequel to Die Ehen in Philippsburg, both in plot and ideas. The hero, Anselm Kristlein, is an experienced and established Hans Beumann. He has become the inveterate mimic whose rise from traveling salesman to professional adman culminates in his becoming the "chosen one" to travel to New York, the Mecca of the admen. Here he is to learn the art of creating psychological obsolescence in commercial products for the purpose of creating new and artificial needs for the consumer. (pp. 210-11)

In Halbzeit the world of commercial advertising is the immense conditioning apparatus, manipulator, and leveler of human thought, language, and behavior. No other single force, Walser asserts, not even politics, has had such an impact on language as have business and public relations. This gigantic empire which holds such unprecedented sway over communication is the chief fashioner and dictator of the style of life in the postwar German society of the "economic miracle." Germany, Walser insinuates, has merely passed from the totalitarian dictatorship of National Socialism to the dictatorship of public relations philosophy and tactics. In fact, in Halbzeit many former high-ranking Nazis are participants in a huge advertising campaign aimed at brainwashing and conquering the consumer and making the incredible credible by adroit propaganda. The deep ramifications and unhappy consequences of this new style of life, its impact on communication and social behavior—this is what Walser strives to portray in his mammoth epic.

In Halbzeit the world unrolls before us like a perpetual series of television commercials and magazine ads. For a better appreciation of this technique we might imagine ourselves, for example, viewing television and witnessing on the screen nothing more than one commercial after another without interruption, or glancing through a magazine and finding nothing but advertisements on every page. Two things would become strikingly obvious to the critical observer: first, the disconnected, fragmentary, and stereotyped nature of the world depicted and of the communication taking place in it, and second, the exaggerated emphasis on the object. Television commercials and magazine advertisements tend generally to stress the object, the artifact. Parts of the body assume exaggerated importance. Camera close-ups focus attention on a particular part of the body: the hair, eyes, teeth, hands, and legs. The ironic paradox of the advertisement is that while it pretends to endow the object (human or artifact) with individuality and distinction, it actually makes a stereotype of it. The subject is depersonalized and transformed into an object. This is often the perspective from which Kristlein perceives the human objects in his environment…. (pp. 211-12)

So far-reaching and all-pervasive are the effects of commercialism as the dictator of the contemporary style of life that in Halbzeit all naturalness and genuineness of emotion and gesture have vanished. To a far more radical degree than Hans Beumann, Anselm Kristlein is dependent on mimicry in adapting himself to society and to life. Mimicry has become second nature to him, having evolved to the stage where it is the expression of the instinct for self-preservation. In one reference after another to a facial expression or to a mood Walser stresses their artificial and rehearsed character, usually by means of a verb which either denotes or implies artifice…. (pp. 212-13)

The competitiveness of the struggle for survival in the economic jungle is transferred to the social plane in the episode in which Walser depicts a grand social reception at the sumptuous villa of Herr Frantzke, the advertising magnate. Kristlein fully realizes that here amidst the pomp, luxury, and outward civility the Darwinian theory of natural selection and survival of the fittest is operative. (p. 213)

Walser is averse to all poetic embellishment in his description of the external world of inanimate objects. (p. 214)

In terms of language use and syntax, Walser's style is the correlate of the world he portrays: a world devoid of articulation, individuality, and substance. But it is not merely description which perpetually remains arrested in surface detail. In his intensive and burrowing psychological analysis Walser probes the very depths of a mimetic world in which truth is never on the surface of things, but is inward and concealed. (p. 215)

Donald F. Nelson, "The Depersonalized World of Martin Walser," in The German Quarterly (copyright © 1969 by the American Association of Teachers of German), Vol. XLII, No. 1, January, 1969, pp. 204-16.

Gertrud Bauer Pickar

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Walser's first novel, Ehen in Philippsburg, is often dismissed as the work of a novice and generally passed over in discussions of his other novels, Halbzeit and Das Einhorn. The reason for its exclusion is the apparent lack of similarity of this initial novel to his later works: it is narrated continually in the third person singular; there is no interplay of fictional levels which in subsequent novels is related to the use of the first person; the portrayal of character and plot lacks the complexity and ambiguity of the later works. Closer examination, however, reveals that features which are dominant in the other two novels are prefigured in Philippsburg. This work contains tentative indications of techniques which are to become characteristic of the following novels and incorporates devices which later reappear in variant forms.

This is true of the literary features related to narrative perspective to be discussed here: first, the use of fictional levels; second, the narration in first, second, and third person; third, the multiple personality, and fourth, the formularization of time. These features of Walser's three novels will be considered in this study, and an attempt will be made to evaluate the impact of their individual development upon the form and nature of the works.

Although Philippsburg, as noted above, lacks an interplay of fictional levels, it does exhibit narrative complexity. A changing perspective is created as each of the succeeding central figures becomes the focal point of the narrative. Parts one and four are told from Beumann's point of view, the second from Benrath's, the third from Alwin's. Each of these figures is observed, his exterior behavior is described, and his thoughts and feelings are revealed. However, despite the fact that the segments are narrated from the three different perspectives provided by the chief participants, continuity is maintained. The chronological sequence is preserved throughout and the stories of the different protagonists dovetail. Since no qualitative changes are induced by the shifting of focus, no discrepancies occur in the depiction of character and personality.

As in Philippsburg, the variation of narrative perspective in Halbzeit is related to the basic structure of the work. Here, however, it does not reflect a change in the lead person, as in the first novel, but stems rather from Anselm Kristlein's dual role. Anselm is both protagonist and ostensible narrator. His activities as protagonist provide the thematic content of the work. His account of the work's composition and his creative motivation is superimposed upon the narrative and furnishes the frame. Together they constitute a double perspective for viewing the events and experiences presented in the novel.

In the recollection of events of the past in Halbzeit, Anselm Kristlein as a fictional figure and Anselm as the presumptive narrator merge and function as one individual; in the presentation of the events of the fictional present, which comprises the narrative proper, the two Anselms often separate. This precipitates an alternation in narrative person and emphasizes the inherent duality of the novel's perspective.

The inclusion of Alissa's diary entries of the years preceding the opening of the novel provides a significant contrast to the detailed account of Anselm's day which it follows. It differs markedly in time span and in style and tone of formulation and places his day in a broadened context. More significantly, its depiction of the Anselm-Alissa relationship from her point of view echoes the multiperspective structural format of Philippsburg. The diary, however, offers the only variation of this kind in Halbzeit, and it marks the last appearance in Walser's novels of this device which was so extensively employed in his first one.

The use of hypothetical elements, on the other hand, has a quite different development. The often startling imagery which characterizes the presentation of Beumann's thoughts in Philippsburg prefigures the broader narrative breadth which the hypothetical is given in Halbzeit.

Anselm's flight of fancy, the frequent hypothetical incidents, and the projected scenes constitute a fictitious level, and one which is secondary to that of the main plot development. Besides providing stylistic variation, these products of the imagination, originating in the consciousness of the protagonist and revealed by the narrator, contrast with the fictional levels of the events of Anselm's life, related in the narrative. (pp. 48-9)

The complexity of the interdependence of these fictional planes is evident in the manifestations of the key relationship in Halbzeit—that of Anselm and Melitta…. There is an inherent difference between the Melitta of Anselm's experiences depicted in the novel and the Melitta of Anselm's memories and dreams who plays so large a role in the consciousness of the narrating Anselm. As the novel progresses, these discrepancies become increasingly apparent and lend narrative tension to the work. The inevitable confrontation between the two images of Melitta terminates this tension and precipitates the speedy resolution of the narrative threads.

Until the closing chapters of Halbzeit, the divergence in nature between the imaginary, or literary, realities created by the consciousness of the narrating Anselm and the events and incidents in which he is depicted as protagonist subliminally accompany the development of the novel. In Einhorn, such disparities have become basic to theme, material, and structure. This work is formulated upon the interplay of three fictional levels—constituted by the present, the remembered past, and the fictitious, the last of which encompasses both the fantasies and those writings supposedly authored by the character Anselm.

The period of time which the narrator spends in bed and which he presumably utilizes for the composition of his novel constitutes the present time of the work. This established temporal perspective is maintained throughout. It furnishes a basis from which to view and appraise the other events and time experiences and serves as an anchorage point from which the narrator retreats into the past. It provides both a contrast for his memories and fantasies and a justification for his discourses on the nature of memory. The past, presented as it is recalled by the narrator, its events recorded in chronological order, constitutes the second level. It is used both to illuminate the present and to contrast with Anselm's endeavors at reconstituting both past and present in his writings. These writings and the fantasies of the narrating ego insert the fictitious into the novel and comprise the third fictional level of the work. The three levels, however, do not remain static in their relationship to one another…. The depiction of an event as a conscious literary exercise of Anselm's disrupts the established pattern of narration and indicates a new development, one which is continued as the novel progresses.

What is overt in the case of the summer party is covert in the Orli-story which unfolds in the second half of the book. In this story, the experiences of Anselm the protagonist, his memories, and his fantasies as narrator are often indistinguishable from one another. The Orli-story is both contrasted and blended with the elements of the frame and its depiction of Anselm's self-imposed confinement and marriage. At one point, Anselm as narrator playfully concludes the Orli-episodes with the confrontation of Orli and Birga, his wife, and then reveals this as a fantasy. The Orli-story is concluded several chapters later, precipitating the conclusion of the work, just as the resolution of the Melitta-Erlebnis brought Halbzeit to its end. The fact that the period of time encompassed by the narrated past begins to approach that of the fictional present tends to sustain the fusion of fictional levels accomplished during the resolution of the Orli-episode. The delineation of these levels is never clearly reestablished. Their realities have become relativized and ambiguous and the entire work takes on a highly subjective coloration.

A similar tendency is evident in the treatment of the narrative person. In Walser's first novel the angle of perspective remains the same, although the point of reference changes; in Halbzeit and Einhorn the orientation remains that of Anselm, but the perspective is doubled. Thus the distinct segments of Philippsburg, each devoted to a lead figure and related consistently in the third person, have been replaced by a narrative in the first person singular which modulates into the third person.

The obvious basis for this structural feature rests in the dual role of Anselm Kristlein. As both the novel's protagonist and its ostensible narrator, he appears in both third and first person. His activities provide the thematic content of the novel, and his account of his creative endeavors and their motivation supplies its structural format. The alternation in narrative person is thus an integral element of the work. It is involved in the organizational basis for the novel and furnishes stylistic interest as well, occurring as it does at times even within a single sentence…. (pp. 50-2)

The casual shifting from first to third person and its association with the double function of Anselm are secondary features in Halbzeit. They become primary elements of Einhorn and contribute to the format of the work, supporting Anselm's roles as presumptive author and protagonist in the work and as fictional figure in the incorporated writings of Anselm and Melanie, his would-be publisher. Here, too, the trend toward increased fictionalization and toward a fusing of previously defined areas is evident…. As the novel proceeds, the distinction in the use of person becomes blurred and is occasionally suspended. Switches in person are frequent. The first person slips into the third, the third into the first. (pp. 52-3)

Though the basis for the change in person is provided by the identification of the narrator with the novel's protagonist, its use within the novel is closely allied to that of the multiple personality, a structural and thematic feature which is recurrent in Walser's works and discussed in his theoretical writings as well….

The multiple personality first enters into the novel series tentatively through the imagery of Philippsburg. Hans Beumann speaks of setting up a translator within himself to express his opinions in socially acceptable forms …; he describes himself as having ten orchestras within his head which he, as sole conductor, must bring into harmony….

In Halbzeit the feature of the multipersonality is further expanded. Anselm as narrator frequently records his inner conversations with himself. He even provides one specific aspect of his personality with independent name and character and introduces this figment of his imagination into the story of Galileo Cleverlein. Anselm uses him to rationalize his behavior and invests him with more "realistic" or calculating thinking—or as Anselm prefers to view it, with more scientific vocabulary. Their relationship is clearly delineated in their verbal exchanges and furnishes a number of humorous interludes. (p. 53)

The multiple personality assumes major proportions in Einhorn. It is related both thematically to the various roles of Anselm and stylistically to the changing perspective. Its existential basis in Walser's view of the complexity of personality is revealed in numerous discussions and in imagery and phrases. (p. 54)

The development [of the multiple personality] … is internally related to the use of person and contributes to the progression in narrative complexity which marks the novels. Its effect supports their increasing subjectivity, a tendency also evident in the treatment of time.

Though the time span of the three works varies but little—all the novels cover less than a year—a clearly recognizable progression in the use of narrated time begins with Ehen in Philippsburg. A straightforward narrative in chronological sequence, it exhibits the least complex presentation of the time experience. The changes in perspective do not interfere with the chronology maintained throughout the entire novel as a single and continuous unit…. The only interruptions in the narrative flow are the excursuses into Klaff's writings and diary—a technique which Walser explores and exploits at length in Halbzeit and Einhorn.

In Halbzeit, the narration opens with Anselm's awakening and closes with his falling asleep. His release from the hospital at the outset and again at the end of the novel reenforces the previously evoked suggestion of the natural demarcation of birth and death. The events of the months, so encompassed, which are portrayed in the work, are presented in chronological sequence, as in Philippsburg. However, the progression of time is strikingly irregular. It is slowed into a depiction of the stream of consciousness and contains gaps, such as the weeks spent in America. Additional material drawn from beyond the temporal bounds of the narrative span is included…. The frame frequently intrudes into the narration, interrupting the temporal representation of the narrative…. The time flow is also suspended by flights of fancy and slowed down for detailed presentation of supplementary material…. However, neither these digressions nor the numerous hypothetical incidents and projected scenes or conversations interfere with the continuity of the story nor affect the impression of a chronological presentation.

In the last novel, time is no longer construed as a gentle flow in which the present slips into the past and the future into the present in an uninterrupted continuum, as it was portrayed in Philippsburg and to a lesser extent in Halbzeit. The three months of Einhorn assume a static nature; the incidents of the novel are not primarily spaced in time, nor developed or contrasted in a chronology, but are separated and related by the fictional level they present. Although there is a chronology within each of these levels in Einhorn, the interaction between them is so extensive that the chronology loses its significance. The interplay of the time strata implicit in these levels—the immediate present of the narrator's confinement to bed, the past as he recalls it, and the extratemporal events of his imagination and writings—becomes secondary. As a consequence, time loses its dominance as a structural feature and becomes an aspect of the novel's conceptual scheme. It has been internalized.

In a sense, the development evident in each of the narrative aspects discussed above is one of internalization. The structural aspects of the novels have become increasingly complex, perhaps also increasingly artificial, or at least increasingly focused upon the literary aspects of the work rather than upon textual ones. Time, figures, and events have been internalized by the literary work, relativized by their depiction and reconstruction, and subjectivized by the personalized narration. (pp. 54-6)

At the conclusion of Einhorn, the narrator's consciousness of the world, of events, persons, and emotions has replaced those events or persons as the substance of the novel. The novel is concerned with the narrator's view of the world he presents. Its events and figures become mixed and ultimately fused with his own formulations….

Most appropriately Walser's latest narrative work … is entitled Fiction. Although it is not the anticipated novel which was to conclude the Kristlein series, it does develop the tendency toward the abstract and emphasizes the fictional and even fictitious basis of a literary work. (p. 56)

Gertrud Bauer Pickar, "Narrative Perspective in the Novels of Martin Walser" (originally a paper presented at the Irvine MLA German 5 Conference in April, 1970), in The German Quarterly (copyright © 1971 by the American Association of Teachers of German), Vol. XLIV, No. 1, January, 1971, pp. 48-57.

Diether H. Haenicke

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Martin Walser's … novels mirror German society of the fifties and early sixties. Marriage in Philippsburg (1957) is a conventionally narrated novel depicting the social climb of a young man into the "high society" of a small German city. Half Time (1960) and The Unicorn (1966) are more cutting in their critique of the conditions in prosperous postwar Germany. In style essentially more complicated, they show Walser's obvious effort to pattern his hero, at least to some extent, after himself. Both novels have the same protagonist, Anselm Kristlein, who in Half Time, thanks to his gift of articulation, reaches the position of public relations manager for a large concern and obtains entry into the upper echelon of society. Here Walser especially attacks verbal clichés, as well as the hollowness of the roles most people play. In Unicorn Kristlein has become a writer commissioned by a woman publisher to write a work of non-fiction on love. Walser's critique of social conditions continues in this novel and focuses, in the form of a parody, on the bureaucratic aspects of literary life. He describes the futile attempt to write a factual book about love. Walser's novels tend to be structurally somewhat weak; his great literary talent is to be found in the realm of detailed description. (p. 393)

Diether H. Haenicke, "Literature Since 1933," in The Challenge of German Literature, edited by Horst S. Daemmrich and Diether H. Haenicke (reprinted by permission of the Wayne State University Press; © 1971 by Wayne State University Press), Wayne State University Press, 1971, pp. 350-404.∗

The Times Literary Supplement

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Josef Georg Gallistl [the protagonist of Die Gallistl'sche Krankheit] will doubtless attain a certain fame as the literary representation of the runner doomed to bring up the tail in the West German rat-race. His account of his "disease" is a triumph for Martin Walser's gifts as a humorist: a very amusing, rather sad book about the competitiveness that has run wild in West German society since 1945, and the opposing urge to transcend it and get together, which has had all too little opportunity of expressing itself in the conditions of the Federal Republic.

G. is the seventh and least member of a group of friends living in Wiesbaden. His professional character remains uncertain to the last; but the others are an architect (A.), a bank manager (B.), a chemist (C.), a writer (D.), a cor anglais-player (E.), and a television executive (F.). They are bound to each other by sturdy mutual dislike, and by the need of each to assure himself of his social identity. Their pecking order follows the alphabet, so that G. is full of envy and hatred of the others, as impotent to impress or please them as he is to hold down a job, or get his writing published in the world at large.

Weighed down by the completeness of his failure, G. begins to withdraw, and in doing so observes that a baulked craving for success bedevils the lives of A., B., C., D., E. and F. no less than his own. "Gallistl's disease", he finds, is endemic. For a while he refuses to have any further truck with society, shuts himself up in his room, and, like Kafka's salesman-insect, is fed by benevolent relatives and friends who place portions of food for him on the windowsill.

Up to this point Die Gallistl'sche Krankheit has a personally felt, immediate quality. The final section, which describes the disease's cure, is perhaps inevitably less compelling….

It is doubtful whether G. is really converted to communism. In fact we are left with the impression that Gallistl turns to the communists primarily because they are there, because he likes them, and because he has had to break with his other friends in any case. Martin Walser has painted his portrait with a pragmatic honesty that allows both his humour and his humanity to flourish.

"G and Co," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1972; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3661, April 28, 1972, p. 465.

The Times Literary Supplement

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Der Sturz is the third novel in a trilogy centred on the figure of Anselm Kristlein. It is full of allusions to the earlier Halbzeit and to a lesser extent, Das Einhorn; and both characters and events are very like those of the previous novels. The big difference is that Der Sturz is pervaded by a strong odour of decay and putrefaction….

In many respects, this novel is complementary to Halbzeit. There, Kristlein was a climber struggling to reach the pinnacle of fashionable society, here he is seen slithering down the same social slope he had previously ascended. The important thing is to know whether, as Walser claims, Kristlein's fate can be blamed on the social conditions prevailing in the Federal Republic. German reviewers of Der Sturz have varied between accepting Walser's own thesis and claiming that the root of Kristlein's problems is not social but purely individual….

These reservations need not, however, invalidate Der Sturz as a book about the fortunes of the individual in West German society. The two themes Walser identifies, the burden of having to earn money and the total dependence of the employee, are valid ones. The book is most successful in its juxtaposition of the fate of the employee, who waits, usually in vain, for some kind of recognition from those above him, and the life of the successful, who are compensated at every turn by a sense of freedom and well-being.

Walser's skills as a writer have seldom been in dispute, and Der Sturz is marvellously resourceful and varied in style. What is more controversial is the subject-matter of his novels. Seen as a whole, this trilogy probably has no equal as a portrayal of the society created by postwar prosperity in West Germany. What is peculiar to Walser's work is that, unlike Günter Grass or Heinrich Böll, he describes this society largely in terms of the present, with little reference to the Nazi past. One may dispute his interpretation of the Federal Republic as a society where the dominating factors of the free market economy and the social forces it unleashes lead the individual into a permanent Darwinian struggle for survival, but the world he creates is unmistakably that of modern Germany.

"Rotting Away," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1973; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3735, October 5, 1973, p. 1156.

G. B. Pickar

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The dramas and radio plays of Martin Walser range in nature from the epic Eiche und Angora to the conversational Zimmerschlacht…. Though they differ in the degree of political commitment and social criticism they embody and display striking diversity in subject, format and mood, they frequently share a common feature: the use of symbols as a structural element. In each case, the symbols are thoroughly integrated into the thematic framework of the drama and provide a supporting structure for its presentation.

Key images are frequently indicated by the title, as Walser's drama Eiche und Angora illustrates. In this drama, the words 'Eiche' and 'Angora' refer to concrete elements in the work with specific and important roles and reflect two of the themes fundamental to the drama's conceptual design….

In his choice of the oak ['Eiche'], Walser employs accepted connotations to facilitate the understanding of thematic content and to project his drama's message, and the characters themselves indicate an awareness of the traditional role of the oak as the embodiment of the Germanic. (p. 186)

The idea of racism anticipated in the references to oak and forest is more fully presented in references to the Angora rabbits, the second element of the title. Unlike the oak, the validity and the ramifications of the Angora rabbits as a symbol are dependent upon their employment within the drama and are gradually developed within that work. Bred and raised as a superior breed, the Angoras represent racial superiority and racial purity and, by inference, inject this subject repeatedly into the conversations….

There is intentional irony in the concern for race with which Walser imbues Alois for Alois himself, quite unknowingly, has been the victim of the racial policies of the Nazis. (p. 187)

The connotative use of the Angora rabbits, however, is not limited to this aspect. They represent the foreign, the exotic, the non-Germanic as well as the racially pure, providing thus a double counterpart to the Germanic oak. Depending upon the need or mood of the moment, Alois's rabbits serve both as model and as scapegoat, just as he, too, is exploited or rejected…. [In the scene where Alois hangs the pelts of his slain rabbit on the oak tree], which for all intents and purposes concludes the drama, Teutonic oak and Angora rabbit are visually joined as objects. Yet the gap between them has been neither bridged nor narrowed. The images, so thoroughly integrated into the thematic texture of the play and so essential to its structure, remain as clear evidence of the unresolved problems they project.

Der Schwarze Schwan, a sequel to Eiche und Angora and the second work in Walser's intended trilogy on the recent history of Germany, similarly revolves around a key image expressed in the title. Originating with the answer which a SS officer gave the boy Rudi when he asked what the initials stood for, Schwarzer Schwan symbolizes the problem which ultimately drives Rudi to suicide. The swan, symbol for narcissistic reflection, is black, just as Rudi's image of himself is darkened by his fear of his own potential for evil. This association, and the identity problem which it precipitates, is the central theme of the drama. (pp. 187-88)

The entire work is composed around the ramifications of the symbol black. Its associations with the questions of guilt, evil, and death unite the drama's themes and motifs; its uses join past, present, and future into a single consciousness; its identification with the swan provides the thematic orientation for the work.

In a similar conscious manner, Walser constructed Zimmerschlacht around the dual implication of the title, the war of the sexes staged within the bounds of the drawing room and the two encounters with the mouse which Trude, the wife, imbues with all the characteristics of a battle.

The episodes with the mouse exemplify the basic problem—the marital struggle—and illuminate it, revealing the irreconcilable differences in the natures of the two individuals involved. (p. 189)

Just as in Der Schwarze Schwan, colour is employed in Zimmerschlacht to support the thematic development of the work and provide a structural bond. Red, as the colour of blood, of battle, and of passion, connects the marital struggle and its basis in Felix's inadequacies as a man, with the incidents involving the mouse….

Walser's other dramatic work of marital conflict, Ein grenzenloser Nachmittag, is constructed around a ping-pong game. As the 'Hörspiel' opens, a couple is playing ping-pong and the game is continued during the radio play. The thuds of the ball being hit resound behind the conversation, setting the mood and providing the pattern for the verbal exchange. The game is not only discussed by the couple, Eduard and Gisa, but also constitutes a concrete representation of their existence. (p. 190)

In these works, symbols act as bonding agents for the component parts and contribute to the unified development of character, plot, and situation. They are linked to the dominant themes of each work and integrated into their development, serving both to emphasize and promote the inherent thematic intent. Since they are developed in each work in a fashion unique to it, the plays and 'Hörspiele' appear consciously constructed around essential symbols which are repeated or redefined, contributing a distinctive quality to Walser's dramatic writing. (p. 191)

G. B. Pickar, "Symbols As Structural Elements in the Dramatic Works of Martin Walser," in Modern Languages, Vol. LIV, No. 4, December, 1973, pp. 186-91.

Stuart Parkes

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The dramatist who has possibly been most aware of the legacy of Brecht is Martin Walser—at least in his early plays. Parallel with these plays, he evolved a theory of the theatre, which was a clear response to Brecht. Whilst respecting Brecht's achievement, he no longer considered Brecht's methods as suitable for portraying the changed social and political situation, pointing out, for instance, that Mother Courage would probably not offend most armaments manufacturers. Walser formulated what he called 'Realismus X', a realism that would avoid Brechtian parables without just being a reproduction of external reality. A mixture of symbolism and realism would reveal what lay hidden beneath the surface of reality. After Der Abstecher [The Detour], which tends towards the theatre of the absurd, Walser sought to apply his theories in what he called a German chronicle, of which, however, only two of the three planned parts were completed.

The first play Eiche und Angora (The Rabbit Race …) seeks to compare different reactions to the changes in German society that took place between 1945 and 1960…. It is through these events that Walser seeks to show the development of German society, in particular the continuing power of the bourgeoisie. He is also at pains to show that character is largely a product of circumstance, that adaptability is a prime human quality. The Nazi is no longer a daemonic figure but, in many ways, similar to the majority of other people. This is the originality of Walser's conception, different as it is from those of Zuckmayer and Hochhuth. Unfortunately the play suffers a little from repetitiveness and from an uncomfortable mixture of tragic and comic elements, particularly in the presentation of the permanent victim of social change, Alois, through whom Walser seeks to show the passivity of the German working class.

The second play in the planned trilogy Der Schwarze Schwan (The Black Swan …) extends Walser's view of Nazism. If the Nazi is often little different from the rest, it follows that not being involved in Nazi crimes may often be more a matter of circumstance than of character. This is what plagues Rudi Goothein, a boy too young to have been involved with Nazism, especially when he learns of his father's crimes. As he tries to confront his father with the past, he cannot escape the question of what he would have done in the same circumstances. Since the play also specifically questions society's attitude to the whole Nazi past, in particular its refusal to accept any responsibility, it is a most uncomfortable work. It is only regrettable that the Hamlet-like plot—Rudi finally commits suicide—rather disintegrates before the end of the play.

Walser's most interesting attempts to write a new kind of socially relevant play cannot, therefore, be judged as entirely successful. More recently he has formulated a new idea of the theatre, plays which should concentrate not on plot but on revealing individual consciousness. After Die Zimmerschlacht (Home Front …), often compared with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, whose private theme appears a reaction against the political nature of the previous plays, he attempted this in Ein Kinderspiel (Child's Play …). The play shows a brother and sister seeking to come to terms with the influence of their capitalist father. Their success gives the play a political element; it reflects Walser's enthusiasm for the student rebellion of the late sixties. It is too soon to say, though, whether he has found a new outlet for his considerable talents. (pp. 137-38)

Stuart Parkes, "West German Drama Since the War," in The German Theatre: A Symposium, edited by Ronald Hayman (© Oswald Wolff (Publishers) Ltd. 1975), Wolff, 1975, pp. 129-50.∗

Ulf Zimmermann

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The case of Franz Horn and the chronically clenched teeth that are its symptom result, as Walser demonstrates in this bestselling novel [Jenseits der Liebe], from a compounding of pressures: the pressure to succeed in the economic-miracle society (familiar from his Kristlein trilogy) and the psychological pressures—the sense of self-doubt, inferiority and guilt—of failing within that society.

Horn, an average man of forty-four, has spent seventeen years working, suppressing everything else for the success of a denture company. But recently his usefulness to the firm has begun to decline…. Yet even as he now willfully neglects his business obligations, he acquiesces—with almost malicious relish—in his society's values and thus convinces himself of his monstrous worthlessness.

Kafka connoisseur that he is, Walser has Horn reach this conviction via truly Kafkaesque casuistry. Moreover, from the very beginning—strikingly like Gregor Samsa's awakening, with Franz Horn waking up to find his teeth clenched beyond his control—to Horn's final view of himself as monstrous, the novel appears a contemporary "Metamorphosis." But Horn's fate may be worse: he seems condemned to live on, isolated and superfluous, beyond love. Perhaps such literary similarities are all too predominant, given too the dental motif shared with Grass's Local Anaesthetic. And perhaps the dehumanizing effects, the artificialities of this society and the impotence of its individual member are all too familiar as well. Yet Walser's own style, his penetrating empathy and engaging wit make it a fresh demonstration as convincing as it is enjoyable.

Ulf Zimmermann, in a review of "Jenseits der Liebe," in World Literature Today (copyright 1977 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 51, No. 2, Spring, 1977, p. 271.

Gerald A. Fetz

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Martin Walser, like many in his generation of German writers, concerned himself in his early works primarily with the problem of confronting and attempting to come to terms with the immediate German past. By confronting his readers with that unpleasant and unfortunate past, he attempted to cure the sudden case of amnesia which was an all too common reaction among Germans to that past. In all of his subsequent works as well one finds Walser to be a writer with a keen sense for society's—particularly West Germany's—illusions, problems, weaknesses and injustices. His main characters are rarely granted a great deal of sympathy, and he is especially critical of those who abuse power and of those who are either so blind or so subservient that such abuse becomes not only possible, but virtually inevitable. Walser is a writer who is committed to progressive social change, but, unlike Brecht, for example, he is a writer with no specific program to bring about such changes. That fact lends a note of pessimism, even resignation, to Walser's works, but it also, perhaps, is what makes him a realist.

Walser's eighth and latest play, Das Sauspiel (which, when literally but inadequately translated, is The Swinegame), was written five years after his seventh play, Ein Kinderspiel. The time between these two plays is significant since Das Sauspiel displays a distinct shift in style, a new theme (it is the first historical play by Walser to deal with the not-so-recent past), and a development in political thinking which leads Walser toward a more definite political stance than in his previous works. (p. 249)

Walser was originally asked by the city of Nuremberg to write a play to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the Reformation's success there, but when it became clear that the play would be critical of the city's proud "humanistic tradition," the request was withdrawn. Walser, however, was intrigued with what he found during his research and completed the play. (p. 250)

Walser's Sauspiel is … firmly based on a considerable amount of historical research, necessary because Walser wants to make substantive, accurate statements about history, about revolution, and about the Reformation in Nuremberg…. Das Sauspiel is not, however, a documentary play in the tradition of Peter Weiss, Rolf Hochhuth, or Heinar Kipphardt, but much of the historical material in the play—songs, statistics, statements by individual characters—is taken directly from primary sources, and the essential events, actions and character portrayals, if not every minute detail in the play, are historically verifiable.

Das Sauspiel carries the subtitle Szenen aus dem 16, Jahrhundert (Scenes from the 16th Century) and it is just that: a series of twenty-three loosely connected scenes, including both prologue and epilogue, in which dramatic development, when it exists at all, is subordinate to the sovereignty of the individual scenes. The indebtedness to Brecht is found not only in the open, epic structure, which includes several songs, but also in the fact that it is clearly a Lehrstück (Learning Play). (pp. 250-51)

Das Sauspiel is an intriguing history play, bold and provocative. It is also stageworthy drama, colorful, witty, musical, and, at times, comical. And although it differs in style, choice of theme and in overall execution from other contemporary German history plays, Das Sauspiel can be viewed as representative in many ways of this revitalized dramatic genre. (p. 260)

Gerald A. Fetz, "Martin Walser's 'Sauspiel' and the Contemporary German History Play," in Comparative Drama (© copyright 1978, by the Editors of Comparative Drama), Vol. 12, No. 3, Fall, 1978, pp. 249-65.

K. S. Parkes

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Martin Walser has often been accused by his detractors of writing novels without form and plays without plot. It is therefore surprising that he should now for the first time write a novella [Ein fliehendes Pferd], the genre which, as all students of German literature know, demands a single narrative marked by an extraordinary incident. The extraordinary incident is that the staid middle-aged schoolmaster Helmut Halm causes his old school and university friend Klaus Buch to fall from his yacht and apparently drown during a sailing trip on Lake Constance….

The story … contrasts two attitudes to middle age. Yet both men, like the horse of the title, are seeking to escape. Helmut is clearly afraid of the demands of life, while Klaus's youthfulness is only a fasçade that covers up a deep insecurity…. There is none of Walser's sometimes strident criticism of West German society in this work. At the same time, the events do reflect the pressures of life in what he sees as an over-competitive society.

K. S. Parkes, "Competition Corner," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1978; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3994, October 20, 1978, p. 1236.

Ulf Zimmermann

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The fleeing horse, the Boccaccian falcon of Walser's Novelle, is the expressive image for the frantic blind rush of escape in which the … two main characters [of Ein fliehendes Pferd] are caught up. Middle-aged when they meet again, the school acquaintances Helmut Halm and Klaus Buch have spent the years seeking to elude the constricting forces of contemporary society, though in entirely opposite ways. Halm has withdrawn into himself, building a fortress of fat, as he sees it, from within which he can anticipate the perfect inertia of death. Buch meanwhile has entered a high-speed race for life in his hyperactive pursuit of health and youth.

More or less enviously, each man admires the other's seeming success—Buch Halm's apparent calm intellectual acceptance of life, and Halm Buch's energetic physical engagement in it. It is at this point of opposition that one of the many elements of parody comes to bring the Novelle to its traditional turning point. Just as Halm has been very taken with Buch's young (second) wife, his own wife has of course become somewhat infatuated with Buch. But unlike Goethe's, these elective affinities do not come to reaction—precisely because of Halm's awareness of them….

[The] book ends essentially where it began—with a repetition of its first sentence.

So things stay the same: the society which forces the individual to live only on the run, and the individual who can find no alternative routes in that society. By showing this so pointedly in these two individual cases, Walser's book seems all the more insistent on the necessity of social change.

Ulf Zimmermann, in a review of "Ein fliehendes Pferd," in World Literature Today (copyright 1979 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 53, No. 2, Spring, 1979, p. 281.

Noel L. Thomas

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Perhaps all writers of German fiction should be compelled to write Novellen. Or perhaps only after a period of apprenticeship in the Novelle should German authors be allowed a sortie into the realm of the novel. Martin Walser seems to have got the procedure the wrong way round. After almost twenty years in the wilderness of the novel Martin Walser has at long last produced a Novelle of almost classical dimensions [Ein fliehendes Pferd]….

In the novel Das Einhorn … the unicorn runs away with the author, though in accordance with tradition it does find refuge in a number of ladies; in Ein fliehendes Pferd the author (or at least one of the characters) captures the horse. Das Einhorn is a tremendous imaginative extravaganza and the reader is enormously impressed and fascinated by the author's fertile inventiveness and linguistic élan. Yet the gulf between reality and fantasy is on occasions so great that the reader sometimes finds himself wandering, stunned, in a no-man's land, bereft of orientation. The characters to whom the narrator, Anselm Kristlein, introduces us are characters around whom he weaves a web of amorous adventure, though they do exist, in terms of the novel, on the fringe of his fantasy or they are characters, such as Orli, who are merely creatures of his fertile exuberance. The narrative does not rivet the attention of the reader. All is subordinate to the dictatorship of the imagination. Die Gallistl'sche Krankheit … is referred to by its author as a novel, yet has the length of a Novelle and is much easier to encompass. However, the main character and narrator is more alienated from society, more isolated and more readily inclined to plunge into the abyss of subjectivity than Anselm. Hence those characters who do occur in the novel are more phantom-like than Anselm's companions. Nor does a plot provide any compensation for a surfeit of subjectivity, though a voice does appear, calls Gallistl back from the brink and reintegrates the fragments of his atomised soul. Die Gallistl'sche Krankheit is a smaller 'baggy monster' than Das Einhorn, if one may use Henry James' definition of the novel.

Ein fliehendes Pferd is a pluralistic society: plot, characters, imagery, imagination, and 'philosophy' are all perfectly healthy institutions, complement and constrain each other and hence prevent the dictatorship of the imagination or of subjectivity. Furthermore there is a constitution as provided by the framework of the Novelle and Walser faithfully adheres to the conventions of the establishment. (p. 168)

As a story it grips the attention of the reader and the narrative is presented in a concentrated form, which avoids repetition and irrelevant detail. Those who wish to indulge in the game of hide and seek which is referred to in academic terms as defining the Novelle will find all the elements they require: the 'unerhörte Begebenheit', the concise narrative technique, the symbolism and its accompanying ramifications, and the 'Wendepunkt' are all there for those who seek. Furthermore the book is exceptionally stimulating from both the psychological and the social point of view…. It may be safely assumed that Walser wishes to say something meaningful about the social—and political—reality of West Germany and that he seeks to ascribe a representative significance to the confrontation between the two men. At no point in the Novelle, however, is the political scene within the Federal Republic mentioned nor are any political principles expounded. Yet in Ein fliehendes Pferd Martin Walser shows the interplay between psychological and sociological factors and makes indirect inferences about the political environment which affects the psychological and social context…. Ein fliehendes Pferd may be offered for consumption as one author's particular representation of the West German situation, a representation which, expressed in terms of the individual, is gripping, subtle, open-ended, stimulating and humorous. (p. 171)

Noel L. Thomas, "Martin Walser Rides Again: 'Ein fliehendes Pferd'," in Modern Languages, Vol. LX, No. 3, September, 1979, pp. 168-71.

C. D. Innes

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Like Dürrenmatt, Walser took Brecht's parables as his starting point, but instead of analysing social structures in general terms to convince an audience of the need for political action (Brecht) or to challenge them to imagine a more rational world (Dürrenmatt), his aim is to create a state of self-awareness through recognition. Reality is defined by perception, not by objective fact, and in his novels details of everyday life are presented through the protagonists' vision, existing only as components of a stream of consciousness. This worm's eye or key-hole perspective, accumulating minutae to portray the mentality of a representative figure—ironically named Kristlein, petty Christ, in Half Time (Halbzeit) and The Unicorn (Das Einhorn)—is not possible on the stage, and in his plays Walser replaces it with an openly symbolic world. In Rabbit Race this is deliberately crude. The oak around which the action takes place stands for typically Prussian virtues. Inhabited by crows and a solitary nightingale (the castrasted Alois), Germany is a Choral Society. The ground defended in 1945 is an area of historic graves. These are all clichés from the popular imagination, and the extreme naturalism of the setting parodies the fake idyllicism of German Gemütlichkeit—real trees and bushes on a hillock, which in the original Berlin production was built on a revolve and turned to show different vistas as the characters moved through the wood in obvious imitation of Reinhardt's classic trompe l'oeil staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream…. Every time the word 'nature' was mentioned the twittering of birds was heard, and the whole play was presented as a folk-song, culminating in set-pieces like the artificial sweetness in a castrato rendition of 'Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh'. These popular images are contrasted throughout with the characters' actions to reveal their emptiness. Instead of imitating the symbolic qualities of the oak in the confusion of the final stages of the war, the Nazi officials allow Alois, whom they have just condemned to death for treason, to tie them up around it so that they can save themselves by claiming to be prisoners of the Allies if the SS arrive, or of the SS if the Allies win. The German Götterdämmerung is reduced to a shabby farce; the German audience's imaginary world is discredited. (p. 126)

In The Black Swan Walser's techniques are less open to misunderstanding. Instead of the structural contrasts of Rabbit Race, where the attitudes of the 1960s are juxtaposed with those of 1945 and 1950, the same characters being shown reversing their principles twice—a double negative implying that the German present is no different to the fascism which officially no longer exists—in this play the past is seen indirectly by its distorting effect on personalities. Again the setting is metaphoric, but here the symbolism is an expression of the characters' neuroses, and the atmosphere evoked by descriptions of the oppressive air like wet clothes, spiders' webs or soot, is a psychological one…. The protagonist, a youth who bears the same name as his father, Rudi Goothein, once a doctor in a concentration camp, is obsessed by guilt feelings for his father's crimes. In a reverse transference he claims responsibility for these atrocities, committed before he was born, is taken for treatment to one of his father's former colleagues, Liberé, who now runs a psychiatric clinic, and finally commits suicide under a tree pruned in the seven-branched shape of a Jewish candelabra. The play is based on Hamlet, and it is never clear whether Rudi is actually deluded or simulating madness to force the older generation to assume responsibility for their past, which is the psychiatrist's diagnosis…. (pp. 128-29)

On the surface The Black Swan appears a psychological case-history; but there is no exploration of personal motives, Rudi's identification with his father is left unexplained, and the actions of the characters are determined by symbolic relationships rather than being expressions of their personalities. Walser intends his figures to be representative as well as individualised—hence their ironic names, Goothein being literally 'good death', while Liberé, a false name for a false freedom, is really called Leibnitz, which is intended to indicate that fascism had its roots in acceptable philosophers and must thus be seen as part of the mainstream of German development, not an abberation.

Similarly while the plot concerns an individual's suicide, the structure is a paradigm of all the possible reactions to guilt. Rudi takes on himself the guilt that his father refuses to face. Liberé acknowledges his responsibility to himself but leads a life of pretence to avoid the consequences of his past, while his daughter Irm, the Ophelia-figure to Rudi's Hamlet, demonstrates the extreme psychological effects of adaptability. She has persuaded herself to believe the lie that they were in India during the war, only to find that her escapism still contains the elements of concentration camps. Her imagination has simply transposed the chimneys of Auschwitz into Indian burning ghats, and her fascination with these self-imposed 'memories' of Suttee symbolises her retreat from reality. At times the two levels fail to merge, as in the suggestion that Irm's state results from being raped by her teacher as a child. Quite apart from being too obvious a political reference, this lacks conviction, having apparently left no discernible traces in her personality or attitude to sex. But the intention of this double vision is clearly to challenge the audience's self-awareness, a game of truth which is perhaps too overtly spelt out: the present can only be meaningful if the past is acknowledged and if one is conscious of one's own potentialities. (pp. 129-30)

Walser developed his theory of a new form of theatrical realism while writing these plays…. Rejecting 'newspaper realism' and 'discussion theatre' as superficial, he defined theatre as 'the place where society's consciousness is presented for analysis, noting and testing its developments'. In Walser's special use of the term, realism ('Realismus X') is an internal revelation of something unperceived. Anything accepted has already become a cliché, a substitute for perception which disguises the true relationship of people to their social environment. Established intellectual viewpoints and the stylistic forms that express them being automatically 'idealistic,' falsifying experience, drama must be anti-ideological, continually dealing with new concepts of reality…. Walser's focus, then, is on the spectator's state of awareness rather than external events, and the structure of his drama is intended to affect this state, not to reflect preconceived notions about 'reality'.

The practical implications of this can be seen in Rabbit Race and The Black Swan. Both are deliberately artificial in style, 'imaginary fables' designed to express contemporary consciousness by contrasting the present with memory of the immediate past, an exaggeratedly unpleasant picture that the spectator 'gradually recognises … as far more relevant to him than he had suspected. A topical spark has detonated.' This immediacy is also present in the details of the fable. Since the subject of these plays is modes of vision, their conditioning and manipulation, any distancing in the form of a Brechtian emigration to a fantasy world would only confuse. Being subjective, perspectives that alter with the personal experience of different spectators, the material of this type of drama cannot be represented directly in the fate of a conventional protagonist, and the model form that Walser has developed is in many ways an adequate stylistic solution. It both provides a structure, unrelated to plot or naturalistic considerations, which catches states of consciousness at the only point they become visible, in transition, and allows the use of symbolic characters, which show these states of consciousness in all their major variations. At the same time the necessity for the audience to identify with the symbols limits the relevance of this type of drama. Dürrenmatt's Güllen stands for all the western world, Walser's oak has a specifically German reference. His approach, when he outlines it in general terms, seems to have a wide validity … but as examples of this approach his plays are narrow in scope, and the themes are non-transferable, while a technique that actually succeeds in discomposing its spectators … is hardly designed to attract a wide public. So it is unfortunate, but unsurprising, that Walser's plays are almost unknown outside and, however respected, seldom performed inside Germany. (pp. 130-32)

C.D. Innes, "Models," in his Modern German Drama: A Study in Form (© Cambridge University Press 1979), Cambridge University Press, 1979, pp. 101-32.∗

Ulf Zimmermann

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"Seelenarbeit" is the self-help the doctor prescribes for Xaver Zürn's stomach pains, which for lack of physical causes he must diagnose as psychosomatic. For Zürn's symptoms, much like Franz Horn's "lockjaw" in Jenseits der Liebe …, result from the pressures of conforming his self to the role precast for him by those Fates of the modern world, socioeconomic forces….

Though he has retained only the buildings of the old family farm, leaving his brother the land, Zürn is at bottom still a farmer, unhappy with any ties but those to the land. Yet now he finds himself perennially moving about, chauffeuring a rich industrialist and Mozart fanatic around the European economic community. (p. 97)

The ending, like much of the story, has something of the air of resignation, that proverbially quiet desperation, so palpably fixed in that earlier case of the world's ineluctable role-casting power, Max Frisch's Stiller. Yet just as there, in Seelenarbeit too, that air is made less oppressive by a generous admixture of wrily humorous elements: along with the comically laconic side of Zürn's portrait, there are numerous satiric cameos such as those of his two daughters, who complement one another in their "hip" extremes. And though the whole may seem less sharply critical than some earlier Walser, his sparklingly fresh and crisply ironic style remains at its bracing best. (p. 98)

Ulf Zimmermann in a review of "Seelenarbeit," in World Literature Today (copyright 1980 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 54, No. 1, Winter, 1980, pp. 97-8.

G. P. Butler

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Runaway Horse ends as it began: in answer to Sabina's question "What really happened …?", Helmut starts to tell the tale we have just read. It is told very cleverly, a far richer, subtler, wittier story than any brief synopsis can hope to show. Its appeal derives not only from Walser's singular ability to state and suggest what people think and feel, not only from the memorably elusive character of "HH" and his particular predicament suddenly one summer, but also from the sadness it engenders. To be afforded "no enlightenment" makes a nice change; to be left to reflect on why the Halms and the Buchs have become who they are, and on what lies ahead of them, makes for melancholy—unless you can disown them altogether.

G. P. Butler, "The Secrets of H H," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1980; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4035, July 25, 1980, p. 836.

John Neves

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Gone are the days when Martin Walser had fundamental doubts about West German society, and gingerly explored the claims of communism to offer a better life for the common man. So much is clear from his latest novel [Das Schwanenhaus], a humorous account of the professional and family tribulations of a reasonably well-to-do estate agent. In spite of the fact that his tribulations include the pregnancy of one of his unmarried daughters and an unnerving capacity for running up large debts, the sense of social stability and bourgeois good-living is such that the atmosphere of the book is a kind of late twentieth-century Biedermeier.

It is once again the story of a man barely able to cope with the demands of either his job or of his family, floundering through life, dependent on the indulgence of colleagues and the support of his wife. But in this case the hero's inadequacy is scarcely painful, and is accompanied by many material compensations. In fact he is not really the failure who played the central role in Walser's earlier novels, the failure who was at the same time a rebel against materialism and the leistungsprinzip, but an easy-going fellow who knows how to appreciate his niche in life.

As a result Das Schwanenhaus has much less to say that is of relevance to the human condition in general. It lacks the poignancy of humorous writing in which there is an underlying theme of tragedy. Readers of Walser's earlier novels will remember Gallistl's despair at being eternally the last in the pecking order of his friends in Die Gallistl'sche Krankheit, and Franz Horn's sense of permanent inferiority as a salesman in Jenseits der Liebe, as being both very funny and very sad, and at the same time indicative of something rotten in the social order….

Das Schwanenhaus reflects the more cautious and socially less concerned atmosphere of the late 1970s….

[The protagonist, Dr. Gottlieb Zürn,] has no problems. But he is still worried by the fact that real success eludes him. Real success would be embodied in getting the Schwanenhaus commission. The Schwanenhaus is a country house in jugendstil worth about 2,000,000 marks, the sole agency for which would boost both his status in the estate agents' fraternity and his finances. Needless to say, he fails to get the commission, partly because at one point, in the manner of Walserian heroes, he is seized by a combination of fright and irrational rebellion against the exigencies of his way of life, and refuses to keep an appointment with the owner of the Schwanenhaus….

In fact Zürn, in spite of his yearning for success, has difficulty in coping with life at all. There is no question of his offering any leadership to his family…. Such security as he enjoys, both in his private and his professional life, he owes to his wife. Nevertheless it is adequate to keep his head above water. He is never in danger of going under. And that is the weakness of Das Schwanenhaus. It is at heart an idyll, an idyll of bumbling incompetence perhaps, but nevertheless redolent with inner and outer contentment. And that is why it is not as amusing or thought-provoking as some of its predecessors.

John Neves, "Bumbling towards Content," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1980; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4044, October 3, 1980, p. 1108.

Inge Judd

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For several decades, German novelist Walser has formed his dark notions of contemporary German society into novels of quiet sarcasm…. [The Swan Villa] satirizes a group of real estate brokers in Southern Germany. The beautiful natural surroundings, the wealth, the worldly opportunities of all protagonists stand in contrast to a progressive deterioration of environment and soul…. In spite of a colorful story line and much emoting, none of the characters ever amounts to more than an array of desperate attitudes and uncoordinated hunches. The reader becomes informed and remains untouched.

Inge Judd, in a review of "The Swan Villa," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, October 1, 1982; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1982 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 107, No. 17, October 1, 1982, p. 1897.

Ernst Pawel

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Gottlieb Zürn, the hero of this brief but brilliant novel ["The Swan Villa"], is a product of the German economic miracle, a lawyer who switched to real estate and rode the postwar boom to moderate affluence. Having done his bit to help develop the once grassy slopes of Lake Constance into high-rise condominiums, now in midlife he feels depressingly underdeveloped himself, obsolete and disposable, a banal character trapped in a banal dilemma. All Martin Walser does, in limpid prose and with the sure touch of a compassionate surgeon, is to bare the man's heart and trace the pathways of his pain. But in the process he evokes a life in our time, distinct from any other and yet subject to the same laws of supply and excessive demand that govern the lives of the multinational middle class throughout today's global village….

Mr. Walser, though awarded the Group 47 Prize in 1955, proved wayward and disconcerting from the start. For one thing, he had no ties to the nostalgic radicalism of the 20's that still infected so many of his contemporaries. For another, he came to literature via Kafka, on whom he wrote a first-rate dissertation in 1951 after completing his studies in history and German literature. The Kafka influence is all too obvious in his early stories, but it may have helped to inspire the uncompromising clarity and attention to detail with which he later began to probe the nexus between private agony and public nightmare. He was among the first to look beyond the "undigested past" of the Nazi era and at present-day Germany—a postindustrial society more closely linked in spirit to the New World than to the ruins and memories of the Old. (p. 11)

One of Mr. Walser's major achievements is that he faced the reality of the present before other writers did, and struggled to articulate it in his fiction.

His first attempts to tackle social themes inspired some witty, literate but essentially conventional satire. "Marriage in Phillipsburg," his first novel,… depicts the greed, stupidity and moral imbecility of the Wirtschaftswunderkinder—the parasitical profiteers of the economic miracle—with a cold if rather trendy indignation. But in the works that followed—"Halftime," "The Unicorn" and "Runaway Horse"—Mr. Walser moved beyond these limited perspectives toward a far more integrated vision. His protagonists, middlemen all, whether selling soap, real estate, high-powered prose or their own brains, are committed to the Sisyphean task of stimulating progress by creating ever more insatiable demands for ever more superfluous products. At the same time they are profoundly vulnerable human beings with cruel flashes of self-awareness who far transcend their symbolic role.

Striking a proper balance between these parallel visions of society and of the individual trapped in it, keeping both in equally sharp focus while tracing the intricate relationship between them, takes sophistication and literary skills of the highest order. In "The Swan Villa,"… Mr. Walser has come closer than ever to meeting the challenge. (pp. 11, 19)

[His language is] as starkly functional as his subject….

This book has grace, style and wisdom. It should be read. (p. 19)

Ernst Pawel, "The Empty Success of Herr Zürn," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1982 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 10, 1982, pp. 11, 19.

Marion Glastonbury

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Martin Walser's protagonist [in The Swan Villa] is an estate agent, and the eponymous Swan Villa an exquisite property on the shores of Lake Constance, admired in childhood and now up for sale. Which of the rival dealers will be favoured with an exclusive listing? Gottlieb is haunted by the beauty of the frescoes and stained glass, by the prospect of the commission, by the memory of his bankrupt parents, by the urge to impress clients, patrons and competitors, and by the wish to see his four wayward daughters safely provided for….

Harassed by conflicting impulses, he envies his wife's calm consistency of purpose and resents her with an intensity that is the obverse of gratitude, a measure of his own dependence on her. As Gottlieb hangs upon the outcome of business strategy and market forces, alternating between ambition and self-abasement, a solid picture of a society in crisis emerges from the turmoil of his thoughts. The Swan Villa embodies with rare percipience and topicality a complex living relationship between love and money.

Marion Glastonbury, "Charmed Circle," in New Statesman (© 1983 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 105, No. 2712, March 11, 1983, p. 27.∗


Walser, Martin (Vol. 183)