ZUNDEL’S EXIT by Markus Werner, translated by Michael Hofmann, reviewed at the Nation


Zündel's Exit by Markus Werner

Zündel’s Exit arrives in an English translation for the first time since its appearance in Austria thirty years ago. Its author—a Swiss student of philosophy and psychology, born in 1944 and responsible for more than a half-dozen books, most of which have been unavailable to English readers—is hardly known in this country, making Michael Hofmann’s translation of this sly, confounding work a welcome contribution. Markus Werner finds company among an elect and heroic group of voluptuaries, but of a special kind; like Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet, or Beckett’s Murphy, or the high-pitched monodrama of the impasse we get in Buster Keaton, Zündel’s Exit gorges on the limit point of madness, of fidgeting hands and heads and hearts punished by the sclerosis of cramped conditions. Solitude supplies one way out, although the route to the promised land is split: the terrors of the abyss can be allayed by redefining the terms of one’s relationship to the world (think of the eponymous and reflective hero of Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, for example, whose mind is only as swift as its talent for turning any city block into a repository of fantastic historical associations); or they can be inventoried, enumerated and thus made unexceptional (paperwork, highway signposts, operating instructions, sucking stones in a coat pocket). Werner’s fractured creation, Konrad Zündel, composited here from diary scraps and a few piecemeal memories of the book’s narrator, looks, at least initially, like an epicure of this latter category of solitude. But the book is too appetitive, too obsessive, to stop at the unexceptional. Zündel’s Exit, the slammed door of a kinked consciousness, is nourished by a stubborn feat of mental alchemy.

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