“To be small and to stay small.” — motto of Robert Walser, creator of The Microscripts
New discovery this morning: Robert Walser, who was so fixated on writing small that he apparently began boiling the written word down into an “eccentric shorthand” — a code of his own invention — which compressed stories and poems down into very small scraps of paper and items like calendar pages and postcards.
More art than prose, the Microscripts collection is available on Amazon.com
Apparently he fit a complete novel, “The Robber,” into 24 pages of paper — which Benjamin Kunkel calls “a beautiful, unsummarizable work every bit as self-reflexive as anything produced by the metafictionists of the sixties and seventies.” Wikipedia suggests he would radically remix popular texts, absorbing influences from serious literature as well as from formula fiction and retelling the plots of pulp novels in a way that rendered the original unrecognizable.
There is an Eastern minimalism at work in his somewhat schizophrenic writing. “I am,” Walser once wrote, “to put it frankly, a Chinese; that is to say, a person who deems everything small and modest to be beautiful and pleasing, and to whom all that is big and exacting is fearsome and horrid.”
A short biography appeared in the New Yorker last May — see the “Scribe of the Small” — which concludes by suggesting Walser wrote this way as a means toward combatting writer’s block:
Bernofsky reveals that Walser developed the tiny print as a means of evading writer’s block. In a 1927 letter to a Swiss editor, Walser claimed that his writing was overcome with “a swoon, a cramp, a stupor” that was both “physical and mental” and brought on by the use of a pen; adopting his strange “pencil method” enabled him to “play,” to “scribble, fiddle about.”
A longer bio, “Still Small Voice” by Benjamin Kunkel was published in The New Yorker in 2007. As Kunkel eloquently put it: “Walser’s life and work played out as a relentless diminuendo…” I was struck by this idea and reminded of Matheson’s Incredible Shrinking Man.
Doing a little more research I found The Incredible Shrinking Man research project — and I have to run to work now, but I have to read more about that later… I think they might actually be serious about their plan to shrink people to save the world from the hazards of population explosion.