Robert Walser

Update: »Spazieren muß ich unbedingt«. Robert Walser und die Kultur des Gehens (sic) – Spaziergangstagung to mark the 100th anniversary of the publication of Der Spaziergang, plus a teutonically comprehensive bibliography, wonderful!

Robert Walser (1878-1956; Wikipedia) lived for many years in Bern and is the author of Der Spaziergang (The Walk). As a German graduate this is already enough for a burgeoning obsession, and it seems I am not alone.

US translator Susan Bernofsky, aka Translationista (interview | another), is currently working on a Walser biography and has produced several recent translations, including Microscripts (publisher’s page), Berlin Stories (article | another) and a new translation of The Walk (review | another | same?). Other translations are available, and no doubt a whole heap of secondary literature.

It being Berchtoldstag (2 January) the Robert Walser Zentrum (Facebook | Twitter) was geschlossen when I was in Bern, although the lights were on. Undaunted, we kept coming across traces during the rest of our trip, not least the Thomas Schütte exhibition in Basel, advertised by his head of Walser’s wife:

Accompanying events included Bruno Ganz reading Walser (see 2012 video), and we also spotted a conference in the ZPK and an exhibition on his years in Biel. The Zentrum’s website includes a chronology, presentations and a links collection. It has hosted at least two walks, led by Werner Morlang in September 2012 (found on Facebook), and regularly shares Walser related links, for example The wisdom and stupidity of the child in Robert Walser’s “Fritz Kocher’s essays”: take one.

Walser responses

Published by New Directions in a limited edition in 2013, A little ramble: in the spirit of Robert Walser was initiated by gallerist Donald Young, who invited a group of artists to respond to Walser’s writing – see article in Time Out Chicago. The artists, who included Tacita Dean and Mark Wallinger, created artworks and chose stories and excerpts from Walser’s conversations with Carl Seelig (see postscript below). Reviews on Goodreads and in The Quarterly Conversation, which also reviews Jelinek on/with Walser.

Other responses include Traces of Robert Walser 1 (annotated scans of book covers) and Traces 2 (archival photos), plus Dickinson/Walser pencil sketches (see article). Of particular interest are Helen Mirra’s index – the index as experimental writing? analogue text analysis? – and the Robert Walser Pfad (PDF) in Herisau, Switzerland’s first literary path.

Sam Jones’ Wandering with Robert Walser keeps popping up, a tribute started on the 50th anniversary of Walser’s death. It’s no longer live, but all is not lost thanks to the Wayback Machine – time sink alert! See also his introduction to Robert Walser and Robert Walser in Berlin map.

A bit cheeky maybe to put them here, but Sebald’s tribute (see Robert Walser, my constant companion | Sebald’s Walser | Heimat and exile Sebald’s place in the country) and Coetzee on The genius of Robert Walser (2000) need to be done. A piece by Michael Hofman (2006) also feels worthy of due attention, and crossing the pond here’s a Guardian article, plus the programme | Facebook for Festival Robert Walser (Newcastle, 2012).

I didn’t study Walser as part of my degree and I can’t remember if I ever read any, so here’s hoping my copy of The Walk (Middleton translation) arrives soon – John Self’s reviews are tantalising. After that, maybe I’l try something in the original, or even på dansk. Checking reveals 19 hits including Spadsereturen (a 1966 translation). With 192 hits auf deutsch, incl Mikrogramme, and 36 in English, plus a number of Project Gutenberg manuscripts, I’m not going to be short of reading.

In this age of blogging and the short form, Walser’s experimental, high-modernist short prose appeared aesthetically visionary, and now there were visual artists as well as writers obsessed with his work. (Susan Bernofsky)

Updates: there is no shortage of pieces about Walser, however I found the sections in Connecting their visions: tracing the lines between Martín Ramírez and Robert Walser quite moving. A particular kind of solitude, an exhibition inspired by his writings, is being held in a garden in New York until 1 June. Other novelties include a bestiarium, Der kleine Tierpark and an essay on Peripateticism in Robert Walser, New for Xmas 2015: Looking at pictures (extracts: Gdn | Paris Review etc).

Postscript: Walks with Walser, trans. Anne Posten, published May 2017 it seems there is no English translation of Carl Seelig’s Vandringer (1957), although Bob Skinner (Wayback Machine) and Sam Jones (Wayback Machine) published versions online which have vanished into the Internet ether. But there is a 1978  film by Percy Adlon on Carl and Robert, Der Vormund und sein Dichter. Carl also wrote a biography of another Bern resident, Albert Einstein.

In Walking the lines Mark Mason channels Robert Walser:

Still plenty of wandering to do. Plenty of wondering as well: what will X be like, what will I find at Y? That’s the joy of this. They don’t have to be exciting places, they simply have to new.


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