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Robert Walser

Early twentieth-century Swiss novelist

Born in Switzerland in 1878, Robert Walser worked as a bank clerk, a butler in a castle and an inventor's assistant while beginning what was to become a prodigious literary career. Between 1899 and his forced hospitalization in 1933 with a now much-disputed diagnosis of schizophrenia, Walser produced as many as seven novels and more than a thousand short stories and prose pieces. Though he enjoyed limited popular success during his lifetime, his contemporary admirers included Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse, Robert Musil and Walter Benjamin. Today he is acknowledged as one of the most important and original literary voices of the twentieth century, his work the subject of essays by W.G. Sebald, J.M. Coetzee, William Gass and Susan Sontag. Describing his own work, Walser wrote: "My prose pieces are, to my mind, nothing more nor less than parts of a long, plotless, realistic story. For me, the sketches I produce now and then are shortish or longish chapters of a novel. The novel I am writing is always the same one, and it might be described as a variously sliced-up or torn-apart book of myself." In the latter years of his career, Walser struggled with a paralyzing writer's cramp that he combated by composing his texts in a miniscule pencil script written on small slips of paper that he carefully cut to size. This handwriting was so small that his guardian Carl Seelig mistook it for a sort of secret code. After his death in 1956 while out on a solitary walk, a collection of these papers were found among his belongings and preserved, but many years passed before they were transcribed and published.


Fairy Tales

Theater by Robert Walser

translated by James Reidel and Daniele Pantano
with a contribution by Reto Sorg

Fairy Tales gathers the unconventional verse dramolettes by the Swiss writer Robert Walser. Narrated in Walser's inimitable, playful language, these theatrical pieces overturn traditional notions of the fairy tale, transforming the Brothers Grimm into metatheater, even metareflections.

Snow White forgives the evil queen for trying to kill her. Cinderella doubts her prince and enjoys being hated by her stepsisters; The Fairy Tale itself is a character who encourages her to stay within the confines of the story. Sleeping Beauty, the royal family, and its retainers are not happy about being woken up their sleep by an absurd, unpretentious Walser-like hero. Mary and Joseph are taken aback by what lies in store for their baby Jesus.



A Little Ramble

Fiction by Robert Walser

translated by Christopher Middleton and Susan Bernofsky

 A Christine Burgin co-publication

A Little Ramble: In the Spirit of Robert Walser is a project initiated by the gallerist Donald Young, who saw in Walser an exemplary figure through whom connections between art and literature could be discussed anew. He invited a group of artists to respond to Walser’s writing. A Little Ramble is a result of that collaboration.The artists have chosen stories by Robert Walser as well as excerpts from Walks with Robert Walser, conversations with the writer recorded by his guardian Carl Seelig. Much of this material appears in English for the first time. Accompanying these pieces are over fifty color artworks created specifically for this project, a preface by Donald Young, and an afterword by Lynne Cooke.

Original art by Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Thomas Schütte, Moyra Davey, Tacita Dean, Mark Wallinger, Rodney Graham, Rosemarie Trockel, and Josiah McElheny

Image credit: Thomas Schütte Walser’s Drawing from A Little Ramble.

Rodney Graham Sunday Sun from A Little Ramble



Microscripts

Fiction by Robert Walser

translated by Susan Bernofsky
with a contribution by Walter Benjamin

A Chirstine Burgin co-publication
Now in paperback, with newly translated, additional microscripts and full-color paintings by Maira Kalman.

Robert Walser wrote many of his manuscripts in a highly enigmatic, shrunken-down form. These narrow strips of paper (many of them written during his hospitalization in the Waldau sanatorium) covered with tiny ant-like markings only a millimeter or two high, came to light only after the author’s death in 1956. At first considered a secret code, the microscripts were eventually discovered to be a radically miniaturized form of a Germanic script: a whole story could fit on the back of a business card. Selected from the six-volume German transcriptions from the original microscripts, these twenty-five short pieces are gathered in this gorgeously illustrated co-publication with the Christine Burgin Gallery. Each microscript is reproduced in full color in its original form: the detached cover of a trashy crime novel, a disappointing letter, a receipt of payment. Sometimes Walser used the pages of small tear-off calendars (but only after cutting them lengthwise and filling up each half with text). Schnapps, rotten husbands, small town life, the radio, pigs (and how none of us can deny being one), jealousy, Van Gogh and marriage proposals are some of Walser’s subjects. These texts take strength from Walser’s motto: "To be small and to stay small."



Thirty Poems

Poetry by Robert Walser

translated by Christopher Middleton
with a contribution by Christopher Middleton

A Christine Burgin co-publication

In a small, exquisite clothbound format resembling the early Swiss and German editions of Walser’s work, Thirty Poems collects famed translator Christopher Middleton’s favorite poems from the more than five hundred Walser wrote. The illustrations range from an early poem in perfect copperplate handwriting, to one from a 1927 Czech-German newspaper, to a microscript.



The Walk

by Robert Walser

translated by Susan Bernofsky and Christopher Middleton
with a contribution by Susan Bernofsky

A pseudo-biographical "stroll" through town and countryside rife with philosophic musings, The Walk has been hailed as the masterpiece of Walser’s short prose. Walking features heavily in his writing, but nowhere else is it as elegantly considered. Without walking, "I would be dead," Walser explains, "and my profession, which I love passionately, would be destroyed. Because it is on walks that the lore of nature and the lore of the country are revealed, charming and graceful, to the sense and eyes of the observant walker." The Walk was the first piece of Walser’s work to appear in English, and the only one translated before his death. However, Walser heavily revised his most famous novella, altering nearly every sentence, rendering the baroque tone of his tale into something more spare. An introduction by translator Susan Bernofsky explains the history of The Walk, and the difference between its two versions.



The Tanners

Fiction by Robert Walser

translated by Susan Bernofsky

The Tanners, Robert Walser’s amazing 1907 novel of twenty chapters, is now presented in English for the very first time, by the award-winning translator Susan Bernofsky. Three brothers and a sister comprise the Tanner family — Simon, Kaspar, Klaus, and Hedwig: their wanderings, meetings, separations, quarrels, romances, employment and lack of employment over the course of a year or two are the threads from which Walser weaves his airy, strange and brightly gorgeous fabric. “Walser’s lightness is lighter than light,” as Tom Whalen said in Bookforum: “buoyant up to and beyond belief, terrifyingly light.” Robert Walser — admired greatly by Kafka, Musil, and Walter Benjamin — is a radiantly original author. He has been acclaimed “unforgettable, heart-rending” (J.M. Coetzee), “a bewitched genius” (Newsweek), and “a major, truly wonderful, heart-breaking writer” (Susan Sontag). Considering Walser’s “perfect and serene oddity,” Michael Hofmann in The London Review of Books remarked on the “Buster Keaton-like indomitably sad cheerfulness [that is] most hilariously disturbing.” The Los Angeles Times called him “the dreamy confectionary snowflake of German language fiction. He also might be the single most underrated writer of the 20th century... The gait of his language is quieter than a kitten’s.” “A clairvoyant of the small” W. G. Sebald calls Robert Walser, one of his favorite writers in the world, in his acutely beautiful, personal, and long introduction, studded with his signature use of photographs.



The Assistant

Fiction by Robert Walser

translated by Susan Bernofsky

Robert Walser is an overwhelmingly original author with many ardent fans: J.M. Coetzee ("dazzling"), Guy Davenport ("a very special kind of whimsical-serious-deep writer"), and Hermann Hesse ("If he had a hundred thousand readers, the world would be a better place"). Charged with compassion, and an utterly unique radiance of vision, Walser is as Susan Sontag exclaimed "a truly wonderful, heart-breaking writer." The Assistant is his breathtaking 1908 novel, translated by award-winning translator Susan Bernofsky. Joseph, hired to become an inventor’s new assistant, arrives one rainy Monday morning at Technical Engineer Karl Tobler’s splendid hilltop villa: he is at once pleased and terribly worried, a state soon followed by even stickier psychological complexities. He enjoys the beautiful view over Lake Zurich, in the company of the proud wife, Frau Tobler, and the delicious savory meals. But does he deserve any of these pleasures? The Assistant chronicles Joseph’s inner life of cascading emotions as he attempts, both frantically and light-heartedly, to help the Tobler household, even as it slides toward financial ruin. Tobler demands of Joseph, "Do you have your wits about you?!" And Joseph’s wits are in fact all around him, trembling like leaves in the breeze—he is full of exuberance and despair, all the raptures and panics of a person "drowning in obedience."