Walser often eschews proper names for evocative mini-descriptions: a cultured individual, the wife of the refined and mentally exceedingly proper person, the problematic character, a marvelously handsome young ethicist and his betrothed. He thus flattens his characters and blurs their features, focusing instead on their strange and often uncanny behavior.
it was Herman Hesse who said that if you can stomach Robert Walser's prose, you can't help but fall in love with it... He's guileless but not stupid, an admiring observer of the inconsequential. "We don't need to see anything out of the ordinary," he once wrote, "we already see so much."
[Walser] was, by all accounts, a natural, in both the sense of being able to write at great speed without ever needing to correct himself; and in the old-fashioned sense of being, or appearing to be, a bit simple. He saw himself as a kind of servant, not just in the sense of serving the city by describing it, but literally, too: he went to a college where they taught you how to be a butler.
[Walser's] light touch and disarmingly unsophisticated prose (particularly in early works such as Fritz Kochers Aufsätze, essays written from the perspective of a school boy on such topics as “Nature” and “Art”) conceal, but only ever partially, a melancholy restlessness, a lonely, erotic longing, and above all, a fierce pleasure in—and uncompromising dedication to—language.
Walser's obliquely autobiographical prose, which has been compared by critics with an odd assortment of modern artists ranging from Beckett, Kafka, and Stevie Smith to Paul Klee and Vincent van Gogh, also brings to mind the great sixteenth-century essayist Michel de Montaigne. Although the phlegmatic Frenchman is poles apart from the effervescent Swiss, in his own way each man infuses every page he writes with a sensibility that is, as one of Walser's figures says of himself, "alert to everything."
W.G. Sebald called Walser a “clairvoyant of the small”. He chose humble subjects: a walk in the park or a ride on an electric streetcar. These modest activities are elevated by his eye for fabulous images.
[Says Susan Bernofsky:] Robert Walser, one of high modernism’s quirkiest, most mischievous storytellers, wrote many of his manuscripts in a shrunken-down form that remains enigmatic even a century later. These narrow strips of paper covered with tiny, antlike markings ranging from one to two millimeters, came to light only after their author’s death in 1956. At first his literary executor, Carl Seelig, assumed that Walser had been writing secret code, a corollary of the schizophrenia with which he’d been diagnosed in 1929. Unsure what to make of these tiny texts, Seelig published a handful of them as enlarged facsimiles int he magazine Du with a note describing them as “undecipherable,” and then put them away for safekeeping.
he was one of the most important and interesting writers of the twentieth century, author of The Tanners, The Assistant, Jakob von Gunten, The Robber, and tons of short stories. He also worked as a bank clerk, a butler in a castle, and an inventor’s assistant—all jobs that greatly informed his writing. After being diagnosed with schizophrenia, Walser was hospitalized in 1933 and was institutionalized for the last twenty-three years of his life, during which time he wrote tons of “microscripts,” which were considered “undecipherable” until rather recently.
Robert Walser (1878-1956), who was Swiss, moved to Berlin in 1905, drawn by its “seductive gleam” and hoping to make his name as a writer, before sloping home again in 1913. He made money by contributing prose sketches to newspapers and magazines. There are 38 here, only three of them published in English before, and they are like flecks of precious metal.
In 1905, after two initial attempts, [Walser] left Switzerland to settle in Berlin, where he would remain until 1913, joining his brother Karl, a painter. As it happens, Robert arrived right in the midst of Karl's annus mirabilis, which saw the elder Walser produce cover illustrations for bestsellers, as well as designing theatre sets for Max Reinhardt.