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the Complete Review
the complete review - manual

Last Loosening

Walter Serner

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To purchase Last Loosening

Title: Last Loosening
Author: Walter Serner
Genre: Manual
Written: (1927) (Eng. 2020)
Length: 165 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Last Loosening - US
Last Loosening - UK
Last Loosening - Canada
Dernier relâchement - France
Letzte Lockerung - Deutschland
Manuale per aspiranti impostori - Italia
Manual para embaucadores - España
directly from: Twisted Spoon Press
  • A Handbook for the Con Artist & Those Aspiring to Become One
  • German title: Letzte Lockerung
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Mark Kanak

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealingly multifarious

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
London Rev. of Books . 22/10/2020 Hal Foster
Le Monde diplo. . 11/2019 William Irigoyen
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 20/11/2007 Jörg Drews
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 18/2/2021 Peter Richter

  From the Reviews:
  • "For Serner every social interaction, whether a quick conversation or a physical challenge, is a battle, and like his contemporary Carl Schmitt he assumes a Hobbesian worldview (.....) Last Loosening does move beyond Dada in certain respects. First, it signals a shift in attitude. Serner didn't endorse Dada's theatricality, and wanted to escape its slam-bang oscillation between boredom and outburst. (...) There's also a philosophical turn in Last Loosening, for Serner points to a conundrum that both stumped and stunted Dada, that negation can easily flip into affirmation" - Hal Foster, London Review of Books

  • "Comme les autres dadaïstes, Serner rêve d’un vent de liberté. Le langage, son principal vecteur, doit montrer l’exemple en s’affranchissant des règles anciennes. Mais l’apologie du cynisme, l’incitation à se donner en spectacle qui perce à chaque ligne ne sont qu’un jeu. Il ne durera pas. Dada est alors proche de l’extinction. Le temps des périls approche." - William Irigoyen, Le Monde diplomatique

  • "Wenn es Gott nicht gibt, ist alles erlaubt, heißt es bei Dostojewski angeblich, und das gibt einem dann eben eine große Lockerheit, die nihilistisch sein kann oder von einer geradezu halkyonischen Heiterkeit durchdrungen. Bei Serner ist sie beides." - Jörg Drews, Süddeutsche Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Last Loosening is presented in two parts, 'The Handbook of Principles' and 'The Handbook of Practices'. Given that an earlier version of the first part was originally published as Last Loosening: Dada Manifesto it should be clear that those hoping for, as the subtitle has it, a straightforward Handbook for the Con Artist & Those Aspiring to Become One might be in for something more and rather different than expected.
       Both parts begin with a 'Preparation'-prologue, suggesting the proper course of action in preparing to read the following; in each case, Serner offers a menu of fine dining to be enjoyed before perusal of the text (as well as, first, a lukewarm bath, for the first part). Only after enjoying the proper meal should one get down to reading, with a smoke and (for the first part) drink in hand. It is, not least, a clever way of dodging any disappointment on the part of the reader, as the author can then simply point out that the book was not read right -- since one must assume practically none of his readers could follow his instructions to a T (including, for example: "pausing for three minutes after each fragment to sip your drink and smoke"). (I, too, have to admit to failing the text -- defeated already by the first menu-item: none of the local restaurants ("excellent" or not) serve Portuguese oysters (or a 1921 Pfälzer -- a great year, by the way).)
       Both parts consist largely of numbered fragments, axioms, assertions, and pieces of advice; the ones in the first part (81 of them) mostly longer, the ones in the second (591) often very succinct. The first part offers a more general philosophy, a broader critique of the way things are and the wrong road they lead us down. If Dada-inspired, the expression, at least, here is largely clear and straightforward, only devolving into more of a babble in the last fragments (but pointing out also: "Ultimately, even the most idiotic babble is an opportunity").
       Serner is particularly critical of the state of the arts, and makes the Dadaistic argument of pushing beyond them. He maintains: "Art was a childhood disease" -- and that it's time to grow up. He's dismissive of the consensus, and how we've all been sucked into it:

58. Masterpieces (speak more quietly !) of world literature: such a vertiginous con you close your eyes (in youth), continue to spin, and ultimately (if wanting to avoid getting found out) are led to believe you've attained a viewpoint and can start working on yourself ... Art !!! The most infantile form of magic.
       He tears away some of the curtains -- pointing out:
Every person has always believed in much too much: you don't have to buy into anything at all.
       Among the failures of (then- (though also now ...)) contemporary fiction is that:
It is always the same sub-ass effort, a desire to elude embarrassment by giving it (stylized, ogodogodo) -- form. Atrocious word ! That is: to make out of life, which is improbable head to toe, something probable ! To place over this chaos of filth and mystery a redemptive heaven ! To fragrantly scent and bring order to this human dungheap !!! Fine thanks ...
       He does recognize the human condition:
Since we have no meaning (the void), we succumb to the delusion that we have meaning, or, the more agreeable case, to the delusion that we are not deluded. We are thus incurably demented ...
       So also:
Being unsuccessful is basically a given. Success ? A masterly mistake, more or less. Nothing's correct. (Not even this.) The more vehemently order is proposed, the more rapidly disorder ensues, ultimately displacing it.
       This first part, focused on principles, is the balder, angrier section of the work; the second part then, proposing practices, still follows much of the same philosophy but is also more playful, many of its pieces words of advice -- occasionally even quite sensible ones, and helpfully divided into sections with different foci ('Women'; 'Tricks'; 'Training', etc.). If partially tailored to the specifics of what we consider the conman, the gist here is that we're all walking cons -- fooling (or trying to) ourselves as well as others. He helpfully wants to open the eyes of those unaware of it -- as in pointing out:
422. Wherever you may be, always tell yourself the following: "Everything happening around me might also be an act." By doing this, you'll retain good health and do rather well in this world.
       And just in case readers miss what he means, he hammers it home in the very last of the numbered entries:
591. To be sure, the world wants to be deceived. And it becomes truly malevolent if you don't oblige.
       He points out that all that matters is perception (as Jackson Browne learned in 'Rosie': "That it's who you look like / Not who you are") -- albeit with a rather creepy example:
536. Never let yourself be seen with a girl who looks like she could be twelve years old; but don't worry about being seen with an actual twelve-year-old who looks like a seventeen-year-old. Pretense is always everything.
       There is quite a bit of general advice -- down to: "Always carry a few straight pins, safety pins, small nails, string, and a tube of all-purpose glue with you" (or also: "Have a secret pocket. Learn hypnosis. Suddenly close your eyes every so often"). There is even dietary advice -- "Avoid pasta completely, white bread, flour products, tea and beer, and all types of legumes", etc. --, not all of which is reconcilable with the menus Serner suggests for his readers at the beginnings of the two parts of the book .....
       Quite a bit then tends more towards the con -- deflecting or shifting attention in a variety of ways, for example:
226. If you are worried you might be suspected of something unsavory, stick your arm in a sling and say it got broken in a car accident. Everyone will feel sorry for you and drop all suspicion.
       Some of the advice is very coldly to the point:
344. If suddenly you no longer have the strength to lie, at least be cruel.
       And, indeed, Serner's darker worldview comes repeatedly to the fore -- including, nicely, in such bits as:
57. Whoever praises life as beautiful and people as good is either a feebleminded fool or someone you're going to have to keep an eye on for a long time.
       Only occasionally does he combine diagnosis with advice, but some of these are very good summings-up:
7. Nothing arouses suspicion more quickly than a non-bourgeois lifestyle without it being clear what advantage it brings. Spread the word that you are looking for a good auto-dealer, and the whole world will open its arms to you.
       He argues for caution -- both in carrying out any basic con, as well as in just living that bigger one, life itself, right down to the reminder to: "Never let a sudden surge of joy catch you off guard".
       If not exactly your traditional handbook or manual, Serner does offer a larger philosophy in Last Loosening -- though one that many, preferring illusion, might not (want to) be more receptive to. He suggests it is freeing to see the world, and act in it, this way -- insisting then also:
     In any case, you should apply what you have just read with the utmost precision, insofar as it parallels current practice. Not only will you be amazed by the success, you will be ... You will simply be !
       It certainly makes for an intriguing piece-of-its-times, cleverly conceived with its constant shifts (and, helpfully, often spiked with humor). The Twisted Spoon edition is, as all their volumes are, a lovely book as such, too -- and the extensive notes are helpful both with regards to references as well as parts of the translation.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 August 2021

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Last Loosening: Reviews: Walter Serner: Other books by Walter Serner under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German-writing author Walter Serner lived 1889 to 1942.

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© 2021 the complete review

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