On Our Shelves Now
A unique and personal portrait of the beloved, legendary Swiss writer, finally in English
After a nervous breakdown in 1929, Robert Walser spent the remaining twenty-seven years of his life in mental asylums, closed off from the rest of the world in almost complete anonymity. While at the Herisau sanitarium, instead of writing, Walser practiced another favorite activity: walking. Starting in 1936, Carl Seelig, Walser’s friend and literary executor, visited and accompanied him on these walks, meticulously recording their conversations. As they strolled, Walser told stories, shared his daily experiences of the sanatorium, and expressed his opinions about books and art, writing and history. When Seelig asked why he no longer wrote, Walser famously replied: “I’m not here to write, I’m here to be mad.” Filled with lively anecdotes and details, Walks with Walser offers the fullest available account of this wonderful writer’s inner and outer life.
About the Author
Carl Seelig (1894–1962) was a Swiss editor and writer and Robert Walser’s friend, guardian, and literary executor. He was a selfless supporter of countless other writers, and was also Albert Einstein’s first biographer.
Anne Posten is a literary translator based in New York.
[Carl Seelig's] personal, firsthand account is the closest we will ever
have to a Walser memoir. The questions he poses to Walser, regarding his
personal and professional history and his literary and political
opinions, seem like those of an oral historian, and Walser, trusting his
companion, answers with presence of mind, inflecting the conversation
with his characteristic humor and unusual observations.
— Sarah Cowan
[A]n invaluable text for any serious reader of Walser...
To use a word much favoured by Walser himself, it’s delightful.
— Dorian Stuber
Now, with its translation by Anne Posten, English-language readers can witness, as if in real time, the blossoming of his friendship with the great Swiss author, a bond that would lead to a lifelong effort to keep Walser’s name before the public.
— Michael LaPointe
After a nervous breakdown in 1929, Walser spent the remaining 27 years of his life in mental asylums, going from outer exile to inner exile. Walking replaced writing for Walser, and from 1936 onward his friend Carl Seelig recorded their conversations while they walked in Switzerland. It’s an extraordinary book that prompted me to found my first museum in 1992: a migratory Robert Walser museum on the theme of the periphery.
— Hans-Ulrich Obrist
That Walser is not today among the forgotten writers we owe primarily to the fact that Carl Seelig took up his cause. Without Seelig’s accounts of the walks he took with Walser, without his preliminary work on the biography, without the selections from the work he published and the lengths he went to in securing the Nachlass—the writer’s millions of illegible ciphers—Walser’s rehabilitation could never have taken place, and his memory would in all probability have faded into oblivion.
— W. G. Sebald
Seelig kindly visited Walser and started keeping a record of his opinions, creating over the course of time an indispensable document for all those who love Walser’s surprising prose, which, silent as snowfall, cries out from the nothingness. Walser—as can be observed in Seelig’s book—lectured on beer and twilight.
— Enrique Vila-Matas
Walks with Walser is filled with Walser’s philosophy about leading a modest life, finding beauty in mundane things, and getting by with less.
— Moyra Davey
Robert Walser, who spent much of his adult life in Swiss mental hospitals, is now revered for his prose miniatures and his bizarre and haunting novel, Jakob von Gunten, set in a training school for servants. These reminiscences, by his literary executor, preserve Walser's conversation, especially about writers and writing, as well as Seelig's memories of his friend trudging along like 'a weary Sherpa' or suddenly calling for 'beer and twilight.'