A Robert Walser Christmas

I’ve fallen behind with blogging on Translationista this fall because of my involvement with Occupy Wall Street (about which you can find me guest-blogging these days at Occupy | Decolonize | Liberate), but I did want to drop in and say a few things this Christmas Day, on the 55th anniversary of Robert Walser’s death. This time last year I was celebrating Walser’s work with the Robert Walser Society of Western Massachusetts, a Walser fan club made up largely of young poets associated with Flying Object, a store, press and literature think tank in Hadley, Massachusetts. The Society commemorates Walser’s death each year with a series of readings and a walk through the woods – a lovely ritual. This year I am celebrating more quietly, by feeling happy and excited about the latest of my posthumous collaborations with Walser, Berlin Stories, which will officially be published in late January. My advance author’s copy just arrived, and it is beautiful. This slim collection of stories (the selection was made by Jochen Greven, Walser’s long-time German editor) consists primarily of work Walser wrote in Berlin about Berlin, along with a handful of stories written later in which Walser looks back on the seven years he spent in the German capital early in his career. He moved to Berlin to become a writer, just as young American writers still move to New York (or at least Brooklyn), and these stories are vibrant with the youthful enthusiasm with which he wrote his first three novels and participated in the life of the metropolis.

Berlin Stories also reprints two stories translated by Christopher Middleton and one by Harriet Watts, as well as several translated by someone I hesitate to call me since I was still in my early 20s when Masquerade and Other Stories first appeared. I couldn’t resist revising my own work, so anyone who’s curious to know what sorts of translation decisions I made then and regret now will find various examples thereof.

For those in NYC, a launch party for the book will be held in early February, and I am hoping to have a prominent cultural historian with special expertise in the culture of technology join me in presenting Walser’s book, since so many of these stories are devoted to technological advances at the turn of the twentieth century and the mark they made on daily life. Watch this space for details.

And I’m feeling grateful to Francine Prose – whose most recent novel, My New American Life, I really loved when I read it last year. In the New York Times earlier this week, she cited my translation of Robert Walser’s Microscripts as her favorite book to give as a gift. It’s true that this volume – which contains art-quality full-size facsimiles of some of the tiny manuscripts on which Walser composed his late work – is a beautiful object as well as containing some of his strangest and most challenging work. Berlin Stories and Microscripts bookend Walser’s literary career, making them a great pair of collections to have on your bookshelf. Of course, I’m not exactly impartial…

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