Virtuoso Servitude and (De)Mobilization in Robert Walser, W. G. Sebald, and the Brothers Quay

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Abstract

This article proposes a parallel reading of Robert Walser's novel Jakob von Gunten (1909) and W.G. Sebald's “Ambros Adelwarth” from the collection Die Ausgewanderten (1992), set off against an excursus on the 1995 filmic adaptation of Walser's text by the Quay Brothers, Institute Benjamenta. It focuses on the relevance in Walser of virtuoso forms of servitude as practices of demobilization and desertion at a time when teleological mobility and speed became increasingly synonymous with military mobilization. Walser's counter-movement to the spirit of impending war is taken up in “Ambros Adelwarth,” yet in a more literal articulation of demobilization and desertion; this text also spells out the undercurrent of rigidity, dysfunction and mortification that runs through Jakob von Gunten. Close intertextual readings are framed by Paolo Virno's concept of “servile virtuosity,” as well as other theoretical considerations of movement and modernity. This essay both extends the growing research on intertextuality in W.G. Sebald towards an author whose impact on the latter has received comparatively little attention, and aims to contribute to the recent focus in German Studies on what one may term psycho-physicality, clustered around theoretical reconsiderations of posture and gesture.

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