A Cartography of Cognition: Urban Sketches by Robert Walser

Charles M. Vannette


This article applies cognitive theories from phenomenological psychiatry in a reading of two of Robert Walser’s Berlin stories; “Guten Tag, Riesin!” and “Der Park.” Walser’s flâneurs narrate a city whose topography is defined by distanced, clichéd, and two-dimensional images, in which an emphasis on the singularity of observed objects dissolves the context of the city street. This process of decontextualization creates a new city space that lacks the restrictions of distance or direction. The narrators’ unique mode of observation produces a curiously denaturalized and undefined city, in which spatial associations between objects dissolve. Yet beneath the surface of the observed city lies a hidden and unnamable significance. Cognitive theories serve to better explain this simultaneity of superficiality and depth in the text, in which the narrators’ dissecting observation becomes a transformative gaze by which they seek to pull back on the city’s surface and to uncover the slumbering secrets below. (CV)

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