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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Walser’

That Old Goat!

September 30, 2015 | by

Robert Walser’s scrupulous art of translation.

Robert Walser

Today is International Translation Day, an occasion of particular piety among the few who observe it. Translation, that glorious service to culture and human understanding!

There are failures, too, though. Some are of the sort that plague most any endeavor in this vale of tears: inadequacy, incompetence, ineptitude. A New Yorker cartoon, beloved in translator circles, shows someone approaching a horror-stricken writer and saying, “Do you not be happy with me as the translator of the book of you?” Read More »

Lost in This Masquerade, and Other News

September 25, 2015 | by

From the cover of Masquerade.

  • Our new issue features Ben Lerner interviewing Eileen Myles. If you’re of the try-before-you-buy mind-set, you can read a new, long excerpt: “There’s a whole female industry engaged in materially supporting the illusion that the artist doesn’t work directly on his legacy, his immediate success. He’s just a beautiful stoner boy or an intellectual … We should let the writing world and its ways of distributing awards be part of fiction. We should expose the very cultural apparatus that is affecting the reception of the book you’re reading. What’s dirty is that we’re not supposed to talk about how it has sex and reproduces.”
  • And if you’ve been seeing Myles’s name a lot lately, that’s because she is, after nineteen books, getting some belated recognition, especially from younger readers, who envy the way “she seems to have gotten away with precisely the kind of New York life that doesn’t seem possible anymore—living cheaply, maintaining only glancing alliances with major academic institutions, and earning a living by making art pretty much the way she wants. ‘It helps that I was queer, it helps that I grew up working class,’ she says. ‘I wasn’t afraid of being poor. I didn’t want to live in a big house. I’m the perfect size for poetry. I can move around.’ ”
  • In 1979, a puzzle book called Masquerade, by Kit Williams, landed on shelves in the UK. It went on to sell two million copies, and not because of good storytelling or any such hogwash—it promised to lead its most perceptive readers to buried treasure. “Within Masquerade’s covers were clues that pointed the way … an intricately worked golden hare, also made by Williams, in his typically perfect first attempt at goldsmithing. The prize was somewhere in England and the directions to find it encoded in the book, and that was all anyone knew … ” Not to get all clickbaity on you, but you’ll never believe what they found!
  • In a previously unpublished piece, Robert Walser imagines what the rules of seduction were in the days before heating, petroleum lamps, and railroads ruined the game: “Calling someone up on the telephone did not, at the time, occur to anyone, and even the most dignified and important persons in all the land received no telegrams. Upon the seas—this much he knew—sailing ships circulated. India and America were somewhere or other. At the theater, Italian actors put on works that were sometimes operas, sometimes dramas or comedies—he’d only seen one so far. He had no doubt already done a fair bit of kissing, for he was handsome, and the attractive have little difficulty initiating pleasant ensnarements … ”
  • Yogi Berra (pour one out) was renowned and ridiculed for his malapropisms—“You can observe a lot by watching,” “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded,” and the like—but let’s not send this man into the next life without acknowledging the full scope of his verbal talents. “Some of his best-known quotes go a long way to showing just how well language may be used … And many of them are not mistakes at all.”

Staff Picks: Actors, Bluesmen, Showgirls

February 27, 2015 | by


A still from Showgirls.

What’s so great about the new New York Times Magazine? Nicole already singled out the cover art. Dan linked to Gary Shteyngart’s “embedded” report on Russian TV. I like the tack of the whole thing, starting with the editorial letter. I like its transparency, its sense of humor, its confidence. I like the new typeface it unveils, the paper stock, too. (Finally, a newsmagazine that looks as good as New York!) Even the small decision to ghostwrite the “Lives” column shows head-thwacking common sense. (Writers will have to unburden themselves elsewhere.) Underneath these little changes, you can sense real thought about the strengths and limitations of a print weekly today. It’s no accident that the magazine has devoted serious articles to photography and a classic rock LP or that it includes a weekly poem. The editors are making the most of their medium, are paying attention to analogue media as such. That this week’s news features were informative, stylish, and timely comes as no surprise: the magazine has always published terrific features on a semiregular basis. But this week, the well added up to more than the sum of its parts. I’m eager to see how Jake Silverstein and his team follow it up tomorrow. —Lorin Stein

In 1907, Robert Walser wrote a squib in the form of a letter that responds to an actor’s request for theatrical advice. Walser prescribes a tour de force of anguish in which the actor must let out a lion-like roar from the top of the scenery; pull out tufts of (fake) hair, laying it “doucement on the earth”; pick his nose “intently”; produce a “fiery-green snake” from “your pain-warped mouth”; stick a knife in his eye and out through his throat (then light a cigarette “as if you were secretly amused about something”); and, for the big finish, be buried under the toppled scenery, with only a twitching arm visible before the curtain falls. All for the pleasure of the “bankers and spice traders” in the audience—you know, theatergoers. In 2010, Walser’s deadpan satire was translated by Paul North for Ugly Duckling and accompanied by illustrations by Friese Undine that play up the stilted, absurd, self-serious nature of the text, including a helpful quartet of portraits demonstrating proper nose picking. Walser is sarcastic but darkly, delightfully so; he’s mocking, but also, I’d imagine, partly earnest. It’s almost as though he’d written it while watching the Oscars. —Nicole Rudick
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This Week on the Daily

October 25, 2014 | by


Detail from Lovis Corinth, Porträt des Malers Benno Becker, 1892, oil on canvas, 34.3" × 36.2".

Colin Dickey visits the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, where he finds grinding glaciers, errant weather balloons, and a landscape haunted by the ghosts of explorers and adventurers …


Stephen Andrew Hiltner revisits Not The New York Times, a satirical newspaper George Plimpton helped assemble during a printers’ strike in 1978. “Among the items on the front page were an exposé on an exotic new drug (‘pronounced ko-kayne’ and ‘generally ingested nasally’) and Mayor Koch’s recipe for chicken curry.”


In the late fifties, Calvin Tomkins, a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker, moved his family from New York City to a town on the Hudson. J. C. Gabel talks to him about who he met there: a couple who’d been essential to the great art created by the Lost Generation in the Paris of the twenties, befriending everyone from Picasso to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who based Tender Is the Night on them …


The beautiful reversals in a sentence by Robert Walser remind his translator, Damion Searls, of the art of letterpress printing. “I’ve never gotten tired of replaying the transformations in my mind—positive, negative, positive, negative, mirrored, counting and recounting them … The dreamy dizziness felt like what art is.”


Sarah Burnes is a proud reader of YA: “When I read YA and children’s fiction, I feel knit together with the person I was and who I am, still, becoming.”


Benjamin Breen drops in at the University of Virginia’s Rare Book School, “a series of intensive courses that delve into every aspect of books as material objects … The Portuguese have an untranslatable word for the ineffable nostalgia of something that has passed away and perhaps never was: saudade. At Rare Book School, saudade for the world of print was in the air.”


Plus, Sadie Stein joins the sharing economy, or tries to; and Saint Hilarion has one hell of a time resisting temptation, at least according to two troublingly affecting paintings.



October 21, 2014 | by

On a sentence by Robert Walser.


Plantin letterpress type. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

It is worth remembering that there once was a time when every letter, number, and punctuation mark printed on paper started life as a sculpture. Someone had to make the letterforms by hand, in three dimensions; the individual characters could all look alike because they were all molten metal poured into the same mold (hence: font), but someone had to make the molds. The first time this hit home for me was when I thought about changing the type size in letterpress days: rather than pressing CTRL+> or CTRL+<, the whole font—every letter, capital and lowercase and italic and roman, every number and symbol—would have to be recarved, by hand, from scratch. Redesigned, too, since different proportions work better at different sizes. Tiny furniture’s got nothing on typefaces.

They’re sculptures, not drawings, because the angle and depth of the sides affect the look of the printed letter. These can be adequately controlled along the outline of a letter, but for the inner lines and negative spaces—the triangle in an A, the near-rectangles in a serifed E—it’s hard to gouge out the cavities precisely enough. So a D, for instance, would start out as a rod of steel whose tip is carved into a semicircle: a counterpunch, tempered to be harder than the steel of the punch. Pounding this into the flat end of another rod makes a semicircle-shaped hole. Carving around the hole makes a raised D, or rather a raised . Slamming that rod into another block of metal (softer than the steel, usually copper) makes a -shaped hole, the matrix. Pouring molten metal into that and letting it cool produces the piece of type. Then the letters are set into a stick, in reverse order; clamped together; and ink is rolled onto the surface before it is flipped again onto a sheet of paper, leaving a D-shaped black mark.

By my count, that’s five turnarounds: counterpunch, punch, matrix, piece of type, printed character. There’s a strange reversal in time, too, since every other kind of counterpunch (in boxing, in debate) reacts to the punch, while here it pre-exists the punch. I’ve never gotten tired of replaying the transformations in my mind—positive, negative, positive, negative, mirrored, counting and recounting them, following the fate of a raised waning half-moon to the empty space in a printed D. The dreamy dizziness felt like what art is. Read More »


The (Microscopic) Tracks of My Tears, and Other News

May 13, 2014 | by


Tears of grief, photo © Rose-Lynn Fisher, courtesy of the artist and Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, CA; image via Smithsonian Magazine

  • Up for auction: an edition of The Importance of Being Earnest, warmly inscribed by one Oscar Wilde himself to Major James Nelson, the prison governor who permitted Wilde access to books during his stint at Reading Gaol in May 1895. “A trivial recognition of a great and noble kindness,” the inscription reads.
  • All this month, New York’s Elizabeth Street Garden celebrates the life and work of Robert Walser. “Much of his work and philosophies rest on the quiet magic and personal fulfillment of walking; the urban experience is full of such walks, and this is often how people discover Elizabeth Street Garden.”
  • Was Andrew Wyeth so celebrated because he was so misunderstood, or did it work the other way around? His reputation seems ill-fitting, whether you consider him one of the great American painters of the last century, as many laymen and a few professionals do, or a kitsch monger and conman, as many more professionals and a few sniffy, wised-up laymen do.”
  • In a new project called “Topography of Tears,” the photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher puts dried human tears under the microscope. She collected more than one hundred tears: tears of joy, tears of grief, onion tears, basal tears …
  • Many of our nation’s ice-cream trucks—though not, fortunately, Mister Softee—are blaring a jingle based on one of the most racist songs in American history.