After a nervous breakdown in 1929, Robert Walser spent the remaining twenty-seven years of his life in mental asylums. In 1936, Carl Seelig — an admirer who became Walser’s friend and eventually his literary executor—began accompanying the great Swiss writer on his daily walks. As they strolled, Walser told stories, shared his daily experiences of the sanatorium, and expressed his opinions about books and art, writing and history. Filled with lively anecdotes and details, Walks With Walser offers the fullest available account of this wonderful writer’s inner and outer life.
A fascinating document that is both insightful and humane.
After a nervous breakdown in 1929, Walser spent the remaining 27 years of his life in mental asylums, going from outer exile to inner exile. Walking replaced writing for Walser, and from 1936 onward his friend Carl Seelig recorded their conversations while they walked in Switzerland. It’s an extraordinary book that prompted me to found my first museum in 1992: a migratory Robert Walser museum on the theme of the periphery.
—Hans-Ulrich Obrist Vulture
In this deft, clearly written translation, each walk is engagingly recounted–clouds, umbrella, kilometres covered, stops for beer, talk of literature and asylum life.
—Lydia Davis, The Times Literary Supplement
[Carl Seelig’s] personal, firsthand account is the closest we will ever have to a Walser memoir. The questions he poses to Walser, regarding his personal and professional history and his literary and political opinions, seem like those of an oral historian, and Walser, trusting his companion, answers with presence of mind, inflecting the conversation with his characteristic humor and unusual observations.
—Sarah Cowan, Bookforum
To use a word much favoured by Walser himself, it’s delightful.
—Dorian Stuber, Numero Cinq
Robert Walser, who spent much of his adult life in Swiss mental hospitals, is now revered for his prose miniatures and his bizarre and haunting novel, Jakob von Gunten, set in a training school for servants. These reminiscences, by his literary executor, preserve Walser’s conversation, especially about writers and writing, as well as Seelig’s memories of his friend trudging along like ‘a weary Sherpa’ or suddenly calling for ‘beer and twilight.’
—The Washington Post
Walks with Walser is filled with Walser’s philosophy about leading a modest life, finding beauty in mundane things, and getting by with less.
Seelig kindly visited Walser and started keeping a record of his opinions, creating over the course of time an indispensable document for all those who love Walser’s surprising prose, which, silent as snowfall, cries out from the nothingness. Walser—as can be observed in Seelig’s book—lectured on beer and twilight.
That Walser is not today among the forgotten writers we owe primarily to the fact that Carl Seelig took up his cause. Without Seelig’s accounts of the walks he took with Walser, without his preliminary work on the biography, without the selections from the work he published and the lengths he went to in securing the Nachlass—the writer’s millions of illegible ciphers—Walser’s rehabilitation could never have taken place, and his memory would in all probability have faded into oblivion.