Robert Walser

Swiss writer Robert Walser (1878-1956) worked as a bank clerk, a butler in a castle, and an inventor’s assistant, and produced nine novels and more than a thousand stories. He stopped writing in 1933 when he was hospitalized for mental illness, declaring, “I am not here to write, but to be mad.”

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.”

W.G. Sebald called Robert Walser “a clairvoyant of the small,” and nowhere is the phrase more apt than in his “microscripts.”

“The incredible shrinking writer is a major twentieth-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.” — Benjamin Kunkel, The New Yorker

“One of the profoundest products of modern literature.” – Walter Benjamin

Translated by Susan Bernofsky.  Contributions by Walter Benjamin.

Prize-winning translator Susan Bernofsky has translated numerous works by Robert Walser including The Microscripts, The Tanners, and The Assistant. She is currently at work on a biography of Robert Walser

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.

Robert Walser - Microscripts
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