Traces of Robert Walser 1

This post combines several from my archives with some additional cover scans. See the companion post Traces of Robert Walser 2, which focuses on archival photographs.

9/18/2007 post:
Here's a scan of the first English-language edition of Robert Walser's Jakob von Gunten, my favorite novel. Christopher Middleton's excellent translation was published in 1969 by The University of Texas Press (Middleton taught there).

I just splurged on this edition. The copy looks like it was hermetically sealed for 40 years, it's super fine and I'm now jealous of myself.

The guy who sold it to me pointed out this New Yorker review (by Benjamin Kunkel of n +1) of a new translation of Walser's novel The Assistant.

More Walser posts to come.

3/18/2009 post:
I finally tracked down this 1957 Calder paperback edition with a monkey cover by John Sewell (this page leads me to assume he was Calder's in-house designer).

This edition includes only four stories—The Walk, Frau Wilke, Kleist in Thun, and The Monkey—all of them later gathered into the Selected Stories and the British counterpart The Walk and Other Stories. The Calder hardcover, i.e. why I wanted the paperback:

The Masquerade and Other Stories, translated by Susan Bernofsky (John Hopkins, 1990). "Written between 1899 and 1933, these 64 sketches, scenes, stories, and wanderings through landscapes and dreamscapes are characterized by startling, skewed comparisons, warpings of syntax, vagaries of perspective, and a delight in contradiction."

William Gass, from the foreword: "If Kafka's neutrality widens our eyes with horror and surprise, Walser's depictions, always working within what is socially given, are equally revealing. The effect is complex, and wholly his own... If I read him aright, Walser became a post-modernist well before the fashion."

Cover painting by Walser's brother Karl, depicting Robert as Karl Moor, 1894

The Robber, translated by Susan Bernofsky (Univ. of Nebraska, 2000).

William Gass blurb: "The Robber, a large novel writ small—in microscript—didn't reach print in it original German until 1972. Now, to the great benefit of all of us who haven't microscopes, comes Susan Bernofsky's triumphant translation of this extraordinary novel, one of the true wonders of the European fictional world. If you are fond of pleasure postponed, of insertions, digressions, concealments—and who is not?—this maze will amaze you. This translation has caught it all: you will scratch your head; you will laugh out loud."

Don't miss Helen Mirra's index for this book.

Here's a passage from The Assistant which I feel like typing at 1:30 AM on a Friday morning. The hero Joseph remembers being reprimanded at his old job:

"If there was something he didn't understand, there was nothing dishonorable about that, but if he feigned understanding where there was none, that was outright theft. There was no other name for it, the supervisor said, and Joseph should be thoroughly ashamed of himself. Oh then, what a thunderous heart-pounding he had felt. It was as if a black wave were devouring his entire being. His own soul, which had always appeared to him anything but wicked, was now constricting him on all sides. He was trembling so violently that the numbers he was writing came out looking monstrously unfamiliar, distorted and huge. But an hour later he was again in such good spirits. He strolled to the post office, it was lovely weather, and walking along like that, he had the sudden impression that everything was kissing him. The small, sweet leaves all seemed to be fluttering toward him in a caressing, colorful drove. The people walking by, all of them perfectly ordinary, looked so beautiful he would have liked to fling his arms around them. He peered contentedly into all the gardens, and up at the sky. The fresh white clouds were so beautiful and pure. And then the lush, sweet blue. Joseph hadn't forgotten the unpleasantness that had just transpired, he carried it with him, still with a sense of shame, but it had been transformed into something both carefree and wretched, both unchanging and touched by fate. He was still trembling a little and thought: 'Must I be drubbed with humiliations before I can take true pleasure in God's world?'"

It's my life.

6/5/2008 post:
The online magazine Words Without Borders is featuring Robert Walser's The Assistant in their June 2008 bookclub. Here's the main link. The discussion will be lead by Sam Jones, a hero for his great Wandering With Walser site, and many translators will be involved in the discussion (including Walser's incredible translator and prime advocate Susan Bernofsky).

I just started the book and I'm happy to be back with my old friend.

The Tanners, trans. Susan Bernofsky

Having just read the last few pages, I'm going to start at the beginning immediately.

The Microscripts

Publisher's description:

Robert Walser wrote many of his manuscripts in a highly enigmatic, reduced form. These narrow strips of paper, covered with tiny antlike pencil markings a millimeter high, came to light only after the author's death in 1956. At first misconstrued as secret code, the microscripts were eventually found to be a form of German script so radically miniaturized that an entire story might fit on the back of a business card.

Selected from the six-volume German original, these twenty-five short pieces address schnapps, rotten husbands, small-town life, elegant jaunts, the radio, swine (and how none of us can deny being one), jealousy, and marriage proposals. This is the first English translation of Walser's work to be accompanied by facsimiles of the original microscripts and the original German texts.

Speaking to the Rose, Writings 1912–1932, trans. Christopher Middleton

A collection of fifty translations of short prose pieces from the middle to later years of Walser's work.

Answer to an Inquiry, translated by Paul North with art by Friese Undine, Ugly Duckling Presse

Artist's book which seems like it won't be around forever

Fragments of Imaginary Landscapes: Joan Nelson and Robert Walser. A desirable 48- page catalog of an exhibit of Joan Nelson's miniature paintings alongside Walser's short texts.

Vintage, 1983

1/29/2008 post:
Many US readers were introduced to Walser via these Vintage paperbacks (both 1983). Although maybe not too many people, because the mark on the top edge of my copy of Selected Stories looks like a remainder mark.

From the bio on the back of this edition: "He was found that afternoon by some children and their dog, lying on his back, hand on heart, on a snow-covered field of the Rosenberg."

I just found this brochure for the Herisau museum which contains info about Walser. Go here and open the PDF at the bottom of the page.

Vintage, 1983

FSG hardcover, 1982. The FSG hardcover and paperback feature the same cover: lettering on top images of Walser's microscript.

1/29/2008 post:
These two titles are still around, so keep your eyes open. They are indispensable for the Walser enthusiast: Robert Walser issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction and Robert Walser Rediscovered

George Avery's Inquiry and Testament, the first book-length work on Walser in English (orig. via James Tweedie)

A hard-to-find publication, Robert Walser and the Visual Arts (ed. Tamara S. Evans, CUNY, Pro Helvetia Swiss Lectureship 9, 1996):

Contents (with page numbers):
Introduction Tamara S. Evans 7
"Small is Beautiful": The Aesthetic Implications of Walser's Pencil Method Werner Morlang 11
Robert Walser: Writing Painting Tamara S. Evans 23
Robert Walser and Vincent van Gogh Mark Harman 36
Panel Discussion Carin Kuoni, Daniel Faust, John Miller, Eileen Myles, Joan Nelson, Hans-Ulrich Obrist 53
Towards a Promenadology and about Peripheries Hans-Ulrich Obrist 63
Elements of Style in Walser's Late Prose Susan Bernofsky 80
"When a Nose Meets a Glass of Champagne": Odd Love Stories from the Microscripts of Robert Walser, Kaja Antonowicz 90
Already Written: Representation, Retellings, and Resistance in Robert Walser's Short Prose, George C. Avery 104
A Painter's Life Robert Walser Translated by Christopher Middleton 120
Robert Walser in English: A Bibliography 136
About the Authors 141

And another tip from James Tweedie, an academic book from a German publisher, though the text is in English.

Provocation from the Periphery: Robert Walser Re-examined by Valerie Heffernan (Verlag Königshausen & Neumann, 2006). Here it is on google books.

Read Tom Whalen on Walser. It turns out Stephen Spender's Great German Short Stories introduced Tom Whalen to Robert Walser! Tom Whalen turned Susan Bernofsky onto Walser, and the rest is history. The Spender anthology really is special. Get it.

Whalen notes, "In Switzerland, school children are taught Walser." I remember a young woman from Brazil telling me Pessoa is read in high-school classrooms. She didn't understand why that would blow my mind.

From my post Endangered Species?, but I wanted to group it here too. First US paperback, Univ. of Texas press

Something to look forward to (Jan 2012 pub. date): Berlin Stories