Clairvoyant of the Small The Life of Robert Walser Susan Bernofsky

Format:
Hardback
Publication date:
22 Jun 2021
ISBN:
9780300220643
Imprint:
Yale University Press
Dimensions:
392 pages: 235 x 156mm
Illustrations:
14 b-w + 4 color illus.
Sales territories:
World

The first English-language biography of one of the great literary talents of the twentieth century, written by his award-winning translator

“Bernofsky takes us into the heart of an artist’s life/work struggles, brilliantly illuminating Walser’s exquisite sensibility and uncompromising radical innovations, while deftly tracking how his life gradually came apart at the seams. A tragic and intimate portrait.”—Amy Sillman

“Robert Walser is the perfect pathetic poet: pithy, awkward, drinks too much, sibling rivalrous, ambitious, broke, and mentally ill. Was he proto queer or trans, this red headed writer who next to Gertrude Stein might be the most influential writer of our moment? Riveting and heart-breaking, this biography kept me drunk for days.”—Eileen Myles


The great Swiss-German modernist author Robert Walser lived eccentrically on the fringes of society, shocking his Berlin friends by enrolling in butler school and later developing an urban-nomad lifestyle in the Swiss capital, Bern, before checking himself into a psychiatric clinic. A connoisseur of power differentials, his pronounced interest in everything inconspicuous and modest—social outcasts and artists as well as the impoverished, marginalized, and forgotten—prompted W. G. Sebald to dub him “a clairvoyant of the small.” His revolutionary use of short prose forms had an enormous influence on Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin, Robert Musil, and many others.

He was long believed an outsider by conviction, but Susan Bernofsky presents a more nuanced view in this immaculately researched and beautifully written biography. Setting Walser in the context of early twentieth century European history, she provides illuminating analysis of his extraordinary life and work, bearing witness to his “extreme artistic delight.”

Susan Bernofsky is associate professor of writing at Columbia University School of the Arts and director of the literary translation program at Columbia’s MFA Writing Program. She has translated over twenty books.