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I’m here to be mad

Christopher Benfey: Robert Walser, 10 May 2018

Walks with Robert Walser 
by Carl Seelig, translated by Anne Posten.
New Directions, 127 pp., £11.99, May 2017, 978 0 8112 2139 9
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Girlfriends, Ghosts and Other Stories 
by Robert Walser, translated by Tom Whalen, Nicole Köngeter and Annette Wiesner.
NYRB, 181 pp., £9.99, October 2016, 978 1 68137 016 3
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... Best known​ for his short prose sketches, the idiosyncratic Swiss writer Robert Walser (1878-1956) liked to call himself a ‘craftsman novelist’, cobbling together ‘a long, plotless, realistic story’. He insisted that his varied sketches – prose poems, portraits of friends and strangers, detailed accounts of walks through the city or countryside, stray bits of literary or art criticism, oddball fantasies – were actually fragments of a single work, which ‘might be described as a variously sliced up or torn apart book of myself ...

Perfect and Serene Oddity

Michael Hofmann: The Strangeness of Robert Walser, 16 November 2006

Speaking to the Rose: Writings, 1912-32 
by Robert Walser, translated and edited by Christopher Middleton.
Nebraska, 128 pp., £9.99, November 2005, 0 8032 9833 1
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... So irregular, appealing and – if one may say – so pitiable a figure is the Swiss writer Robert Walser (1878-1956) that he comfortably resists summary description. Even his biographer, Robert Mächler, begins by warning himself, via a feisty sentence of his subject’s: ‘No one is entitled to behave towards me as if they knew me ...

There Goes Valzer

László Krasznahorkai, translated by George Szirtes: A Story, 20 March 2014

... My name​ is Róbert Valzer and I like walking, not that I have anything to do with the famous Robert Walser, nor do I think it strange that walking should be my favourite hobby. I call it a hobby but I accept – or rather I am prepared to entertain the fact – that where I live in this Central European country I am considered to be too unstable to be regarded as a normal person and that my hobby is not to be compared with other people’s hobbies ...

Agent Bait

Christopher Tayler: Nell Zink, 2 March 2017

by Nell Zink.
Fourth Estate, 288 pp., £14.99, October 2016, 978 0 00 817917 5
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Private Novelist 
by Nell Zink.
Ecco, 336 pp., $15.99, October 2016, 978 0 06 245830 8
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... belatedness with regard to her favourite writers – they include Dostoevsky, Platonov, Kafka and Robert Walser – and a firm grasp of all the aesthetic and intellectual-historical explanations of Why One Can’t Write Like Tolstoy Any More. ‘This story will be composed in bad English,’ one of the two novellas in Private Novelist begins, ‘the ...

At the Orangerie

Michael Hofmann: Marc and Macke, 20 June 2019

... and Macke are shown looking in the direction of Cézanne, Matisse, Gauguin, Rousseau, Sonia and Robert Delaunay. It wasn’t so much about France as it was about making oneself modern – which, at least up until the Second World War, was impossible without France. Nationalist painters and critics attacked Marc, Macke and their followers for selling Germany ...

Under the Flight Path

August Kleinzahler: Christopher Middleton, 19 May 2016

... trip. Perhaps it was always unlikely that someone whose models were Hölderlin, Mallarmé, Tzara, Robert Walser and Gottfried Benn would win prizes, honours or even a sizeable readership in Britain or the US. And his poetry has a prickliness about it, as did the poet: a quality of neither asking nor needing to be liked. In any event he would have been ...

Behind the Gas Lamp

Julian Barnes: Félix Fénéon, 4 October 2007

Novels in Three Lines 
by Félix Fénéon, translated by Luc Sante.
NYRB, 171 pp., £7.99, August 2007, 978 1 59017 230 8
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... aspire only to silence.’ A reply on a par with that of his near contemporary, the Swiss writer Robert Walser, who was once visited in the lunatic asylum to which he had retreated by a friend who asked how his work was coming along. ‘I’m not here to write,’ Walser replied, ‘but to be mad.’ Fénéon’s ...

Dead Ends

Christopher Tayler: ‘Not a Novel’, 7 October 2021

Not a Novel: Collected Writings and Reflections 
by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Kurt Beals.
Granta, 208 pp., £14.99, November 2020, 978 1 78378 609 1
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... of The Old Child – which seems at first to be playing rather bookishly with motifs from Robert Walser and Thomas Mann – is also explained, though even after she has been unmasked as an adult, the central character doesn’t disclose her motives.As Erpenbeck tells us, these false childhoods can be interpreted in various ways. The old child ...


Hal Foster: Dead to the World, 29 July 2021

Absentees: On Variously Missing Persons 
by Daniel Heller-Roazen.
Zone, 320 pp., £28, April, 978 1 942130 47 5
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... State Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair, then quickly painted over by order of its commissioner, Robert Moses, might disagree on that last point.‘Myth and literature have imagined what can be neither known nor decided’ in law, so Heller-Roazen often resorts to fiction. Law drops the missing person once his case is closed by return or death, but myth and ...

The Dining-Room Table

Lucie Elven: Anne Serre sheds her armour, 21 April 2022

The Fool and Other Moral Tales 
by Anne Serre, translated by Mark Hutchinson.
Les Fugitives, 228 pp., £10.99, June 2021, 978 1 8380141 5 5
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The Beginners 
by Anne Serre, translated by Mark Hutchinson.
New Directions, 128 pp., $14.95, July 2021, 978 0 8112 3031 5
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... most a few pages long, takes its first line from another writer (Arthur Conan Doyle, Marie NDiaye, Robert Walser). In the course of this repurposing, Serre seems to shed her fabulist narratorial armour. Good things happen: a mother becomes unrecognisable – more affectionate and practical and chicken-roasting – overnight; a therapist turns out to be a ...


John Kerrigan, 2 April 1987

The Faber Book of Contemporary American Poetry 
edited by Helen Vendler.
Faber, 440 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 571 13945 0
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Selected Poems 
by John Ashbery.
Carcanet, 348 pp., £16.95, April 1986, 0 85635 666 2
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The Poetry Book Society Anthology 1986/87 
edited by Jonathan Barker.
Hutchinson, 94 pp., £4.95, November 1986, 0 09 165961 2
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Two Horse Wagon Going By 
by Christopher Middleton.
Carcanet, 143 pp., £5.95, October 1986, 0 85635 661 1
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... Vendler to distort major figures helps her discriminate among lesser planets. Her inclusion of Robert Hayden, for example, is bold and welcome. Moreover, her promise to present writers ‘whole’ has more chance of being fulfilled with subsidiary figures. When Eliot judged anthologies less just to major than minor poets, he was, as often, lending his ...

Before I Began

Christopher Tayler: Coetzee Makes a Leap, 4 June 2020

The Death of Jesus 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Harvill Secker, 208 pp., £18.99, January, 978 1 78730 211 2
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... discussions of Don Quixote, and the cryptic allusions to the gospels, there are faint echoes of Robert Walser, W.G. Sebald and others, and nods to Kleist’s essay ‘On the Marionette Theatre’, to Wittgenstein and Heidegger, and to the Spanish poet Rafael Alberti. ‘There is no such thing as a llave universal,’ Simón is told when he gets the ...

Love Stories

Edmund White, 4 November 1993

To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life: A Novel 
by Hervé Guibert, translated by Linda Coverdale.
Quartet, 246 pp., £12.95, November 1991, 9780704370005
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The Man in the Red Hat 
by Hervé Guibert, translated by James Kirkup.
Quartet, 111 pp., £12.95, May 1993, 0 7043 7046 8
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The Compassion Protocol 
by Hervé Guibert, translated by James Kirkup.
Quartet, 202 pp., £13.95, October 1993, 9780704370593
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... Lubies d’ Arthur but similarly imagined, Des aveugles is about a young blind couple, Josette and Robert, who live in an institution for the blind. When another blind man, Taillegeur, falls in love with Josette, he sets up an elaborate series of obstacles designed to kill Robert, but ...

Desperately Seeking Susan

Terry Castle: Remembering Susan Sontag, 17 March 2005

... of her career: the Autodidact of all Autodidacts. The quizzing was relentless. Had I read Robert Walser? (Ooooh errrg blush, ahem, little cough, um: No, I’m ashamed to say . . .) Had I read Thomas Bernhard? (Yes! – Yes, I have! ‘Wittgenstein’s Nephew’! Yay! Yippee! Wow! Phew! – dodged the bullet that time!) It seemed, for a while at ...

On Putting Things Off

Robert Hanks, 10 September 2015

... along with all the ‘writers of the no’, writers who turned their backs on writing, Rimbaud and Walser among them – is not in the same game as me. Or if we are in the same game, I’m not playing it right. I don’t turn my back on writing. I don’t say no. I say yes and fail to follow through. I sit suspended between preferring not to and not preferring ...

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