"Walser’s entire work, including his ambiguous silence of twenty-eight years, is a commentary on the vanity of all initiative, the vanity of life itself. Perhaps that is why he only wanted to be a walking nobody. Someone has compared Walser to a long-distance runner who is on the verge of reaching the longed-for finishing-line and stops in surprise, looks round at masters and fellow disciples, and abandons the race, that is to say remains in what is familiar, in an aesthetics of bewilderment. Walser reminds me of Pique mal, a curious sprinter, a cyclist in the sixties who suffered from mood swings and would sometimes forget to finish a race.
Robert Walser loved vanity, the fire of summer, women’s ankle boots, houses illumined by the sun, flags fluttering in the wind. But the vanity he loved had nothing to do with the drive for personal success, rather it was the sort that is a tender display of what is minimal, what is fleeting. Walser could not have been further from the heady heights, where power and prestige dominate: “Were a wave to lift me and carry me to the heights, where power and prestige are predominant, 1 would destroy the circumstances that have favoured me and hurl myself downwards, to the vile, insignificant darkness. Only in the lower regions am I able to breathe.”
Walser wanted to be a walking nobody and what he most desired was to be forgotten. He realised that every writer must be forgotten almost as soon as he has stopped writing, because the page has been lost, has literally flown away, has entered a context of different situations and sentiments, answers questions put by other men, which its author could not even have imagined.
Vanity and fame are ridiculous. Seneca claimed that fame is horrible because it depends on the judgement of many. But this is not exactly what made Walser desire to be forgotten. More than horrible, worldly fame and vanity were, to him, completely absurd. This was because fame, for example, seems to assume that there is a proprietorial relationship between a name and a text that now has an existence, yet which that pallid name can surely no longer influence.
Walser wanted to be a walking nobody, and the vanity he loved was like that of Fernando Pessoa, who once, on throwing a chocolate silver-foil wrapper to the ground, said that, in doing so, he had thrown away life."
—from Enrique Vila-Matas, Bartleby & Co.