For Walser the past is a ruin, something that can never be recovered. As Bernofsky once told me, the fundamental idea driving the microscript “A Kind of Cleopatra” is that real experience can only occur in the past: as in so much of late Walser, a fully felt life is something that can no longer be had. This does not, however, imply the notion that the best of days are long gone, for in such an equation the past remains a ruin, a fragment, a ghostly demarcation of something that was there but is no longer available. Its very lack of tangibility, in other words, is a failure of sorts, an idea that falls sort of an ideal. This feeling of being thrust into the future, therefore, is not progress, but a maelstrom, a terrible storm. The future provides no escape from the overwhelming presence of the present. So Walser is placed, as his readers often are, in a position of waiting, of uncertainty. Our backs face the ruins of the past, the ruins of what we have just read, but there is never any certainty that the future will provide relief. In this sense, Walser is a remarkably modern writer: he sublimates one of the primary concerns of the modern mind, that the future will be just as faulty and ruined as the past.
more from George Fragopoulos at The Quarterly Conversation here.