The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Robert Walser’


November 5, 2015 | by

Albert Bierstadt, The Burning Ship, ca. 1871.

How riveted I was by the illustration entitled The Burning Ship! Is a sinking frigate not phenomenal?

If, by the way, velvet footstools and the like can be whacked free of dust and brushed on Sundays, then authorial activity must be permitted as well.

Do I not feel, when I am exercising my intellect, exactly as if I were sitting in church? Drafting a prose piece puts me in a devotional frame of mind.

How terrifying a ship on fire is. Gazing at the picture, I said to myself: The mariners find themselves faced with the necessity of fleeing the fire; but they have nowhere to escape to but the water, and soon enough they’ll be trying to escape from that as well; yet they have no choice but to take refuge in it. Beautifully spread out, the water lies there like a meadow; not the tiniest wave disturbs this mirror that conceals unfathomable depths. The mirror’s expansiveness poses a threat to the ones in peril, those desirous of rescue. Beneath the water, unknown mountain chains extend. This fact is surely known to the better educated among the mariners, and this precise knowledge makes them feel significantly more forsaken than those who enjoy perfect ignorance in this regard. Education, though reliable and helpful, is also treacherous. Read More »

Come Here, Beloved
 New Fresh Beautiful Tale of a Painter

November 4, 2015 | by

Gustav Klimt, Die Freundinnen (The Girlfriends) (detail), 1916.

Come here, beloved new fresh beautiful tale of a painter, let me pacify you. I should like to bring up certain sensitivities with you. I do expect to elicit indignation. The painter’s wife wore wondrously pretty little knickers and had the most enchanting wrists and kneecaps. Her limbs were of a shimmering smoothness, slenderness, and purity, and now this marvel of a painterly spouse encountered the lady of a manor. “Oh, my dear girl,” said the lady, “won’t you please show me your assuredly darling sweet knickers?” The wifey instantly responded to this request, displaying her knickers, whereupon the tiller of the soil took it upon herself to reciprocate, displaying in her turn that which had been carefully hidden. The two exhibitrixes and assuagers of curiosity threw themselves with expressions of delight upon each others’ breasts. The lady of the manor said to the painter’s wife: “Do introduce me to your husband so that he can paint me in all my manor-lady splendor.” As the painter, whose name was Zahler, beheld these two knickerbocktrixes knickering in his direction, it dawned on him at once that a commission might be forthcoming. The gran’dame threw herself imposingly upon a velvet armchair that, with its presence, adorned the painter’s studio. “Your so amiable wife,” said she, “will frequently be found in my vicinity, and you, my dear portraitist, will frequently be moved to sigh a bit on this account, to calm yourself.” At once the painter set to work, valiantly swabbing away, and one can certainly declare his picture of the manor lady eminently successful with regard to color and form. A knickers anthem rang out jubilantly in the agricultural soul. The painter patiently embraced the sound. And the charming specimen of painterly wifeliness smiled.

This piece appears in Robert Walser’s Looking at Pictures, out this month from Christine Burgin / New Directions. Walser wrote it in October or November 1924; it was unpublished in his lifetime. Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky.

The New Museum will host a celebration of Robert Walser on November 12.

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
Read More »

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.