GRJ initiates will know that Swiss-German novelist and short-story writer Robert Walser is a kind of patron saint for this blog. (See past posts here.) For several months, I’ve been contemplating good ways I might mark the 50th anniversary of his death, which occurred on a snowy Christmas Day in 1956. I thought perhaps the good folks over at the Goethe Institute Chicago, those tireless advocates of German-language lit, would be doing something in his honor. After all, Walser-related readings, lectures, and exhibitions are happening in 18 European cities, and the local Goethe chapters are sometimes involved. Alas, they can’t do everything, I suppose. And they aren’t.
One small, fairly practical thing I considered was to compile a list of the many Walser-inspired works of art that have been created, which include stories, paintings, poetry, plays, films, chamber music, operas, and other forms. (Walser was – is – a great favorite among artists of all kinds.) I may still do that. More interesting and also more preposterous was my idea to organize some kind Flickr-based tribute, in which people would post their creative variations on those uncanny, melancholy, morbid final photographs. That, I will not be doing. But don’t let me stop you.
Anyhow, here’s where I ended up: between now and Christmas, I and another Walser admirer who shall reveal himself shortly are going to cooperate, tag-team style, in a translation-of-slash-commentary-on Carl Seelig’s brief and charming memoir, Wanderungen mit Robert Walser. You’ve heard of NaNoWriMo; this is more like NaTraMo. Actually, more like NaTryMo. This thing is a little quixotic to say the least. My only instruction in German has come through regular attendence at Cassell’s New Compact German-English University. Our source text is the 1977 Suhrkamp edition, fetched by these two hands from the Harold Washington branch of the Chicago Public Library.
Seelig’s book consists of 47 short chapters. Each chapter recounts one of Seelig’s visits with Walser over a twenty-year period from June 1936 to December 1956. My rendering of the
first half of the first chapter is here.