Robert Walser (1878-1956) was born into a German speaking family in
Biel, Switzerland. He left school at fourteen and led a wandering,
precarious existence while writing his poems, novels, and vast
numbers of the "prose pieces" that became his hallmark. In 1933 he
was confined to a sanatorium, which marked the end of his writing
career. Among Walser's works available in English are Berlin
Stories and Jakob von Gunten (both available as NYRB
classics), Thirty Poems, The Walk, The
Tanners, Microscripts, The Assistant, The
Robber, Masquerade and Other Stories,
and Speaking to the Rose: Writings, 1912-1932.
Christopher Middleton (b. 1926) is a poet, essayist, and translator. He teaches Germanic languages and literature at the University of Texas at Austin and has translated numerous works, including Jakob von Gunten by Robert Walser.
"As a literary character, Jakob von Gunten is without precedent.
In the pleasure he takes in picking away at himself he has
something of Dostoevsky's Underground Man and, behind him, of the
Jean-Jacques Rousseau of theConfessions. But-as Walser's
first French translator, Marthe Robert, pointed out-there is in
Jakob, too, something of the hero of the traditional German folk
tale, of the lad who braves the castle of the giant and triumphs
against all odds. Franz Kafka, early in his career, admired
Walser's work (Max Brod records with what delight Kafka would read
Walser's humorous sketches aloud). Barnabas and Jeremias, Surveyor
K.'s demonically obstructive "assistants" in The Castle,
have Jakob as their prototype." -- J.M. Coetzee
Wonderful . . . eccentric.
- The New York Sun
The moral core of Walser's art is the refusal of power; of domination.... Walser's virtues are those of the most mature, most civilized art. He is a truly wonderful, heartbreaking writer.
- Susan Sontag
If he had a hundred thousand readers, the world would be a better place.
- Hermann Hesse