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The Microscriptsby Robert Walser
"If Emily Dickinson made cathedrals of em dashes and capital letters and the angle of winter light, Walser accomplishes the feat with, well, ladies' feet and trousers, and little emotive words like joy, uncapitalized....Let's say literature is not your religion, but it once was, and you're the kind of apostate who sits in church pews every day; Walser, then, like Dickinson, is your prophet: reluctant, nearly inaudible, having made efforts to hide in the belly of an old New England house, or a sanatorium." Rivka Galchen, Harper's Magazine (Read the entire Harper's review)
Synopses & Reviews
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 German 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 25 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.
“One of the profoundest products of modern literature.” Walter Benjamin
“Incredibly interesting and beautiful.” John Ashbery
“[These] painstakingly transcribed texts brought to light some of Walser’s most beautiful and haunting writing . . . . The incredible shrinking writer is a major 20th-century prose artist who, for all that the modern world seems to have passed him by, fulfills the modern criterion: he sounds like nobody else.” The New Yorker
W. G. Sebald called Robert Walser “a clairvoyant of the small,” and nowhere is the phrase more apt than in his “microscripts.”
About the Author
Robert Walser (1878–1956) was born in Switzerland. He left school at fourteen and led a wandering and precarious existence working as a bank clerk, a butler in a castle, and an inventor's assistant while producing essays, stories, and novels. In 1933 he abandoned writing and entered a sanatorium—where he remained for the rest of his life. "I am not here to write," Walser said, "but to be mad."Susan Bernofsky is the acclaimed translator of Hermann Hesse, Robert Walser, and Jenny Erpenbeck, and the recipient of many awards, including the Helen and Kurt Wolff Prize and the Hermann Hesse Translation Prize. She teaches literary translation at Columbia University and lives in New York.Walter Benjamin was a German-Jewish Marxist literary critic, essayist, translator, and philosopher. He was at times associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory and is the author of Illuminations, The Arcades Project, and The Origin of German Tragic Drama.
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