02 December 2010
Two kinds of writers
From Rivka Galchen's review in Harper's Magazine of The Microscripts by Robert Walser, as reprinted in Powell's Books.
Let's lie and say there are only two kinds of writers I like, the caffeinated and the sleepy. Balzac exemplifies the caffeinated. He drank coffee to the point of a trembling hand -- something like thirty cups a day -- and then he'd masturbate to the very edge of orgasm, but not over, and that state -- agitated, excited to the point of near madness -- was Balzac's sweet spot, in terms of composing. Then there's the sleepy: De Quincey with his opium, Milton waking up his red-slippered daughters to take down verses that had come to him in a dream. We might also think of the method by which Benjamin Franklin purportedly came up with inventions: he'd deprive himself of sleep, then, exhausted, sit in an uncomfortable chair while holding a heavy metal ball in each hand so that when he'd nod off a hand would go limp and its ball would fall, making a sound that would wake him from his dreams. That was how he came up with his best ideas for inventions, basically asleep -- just not so asleep that he couldn't take down a few notes.
The caffeinated writer and the sleepy writer share the aspiration to be, essentially, not themselves. Which is to say that the creative method is that of vanishing, of disappearing from the drafting table. Robert Walser made of that method -- vanishing by whatever means -- a kind of art all unto itself. And the paradox is that by becoming so small, so quiet, so penciled, Walser became vast, indelible.