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Parallel marginalia: Wölfli and Walser

Sam Goldenrule Jones writes and publishes several excellent blogs, including, Wandering with Robert Walser, “A project dedicated to Swiss author Robert Walser (1878-1956)”, a great writer I only recently discovered.

The fact that Walser was Swiss, ended up in an insane asylum, and wrote stories and articles in a fantastically small microscript handwriting, put me in mind of Adolf Wölfli. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of a famous Wölfli drawing (beating Warhol to Campbell’s Soup by four decades or so) with in image of Walser’s (described below) that I cribbed from Sam’s Flickr set of Walser images (apologies):

adolf wolfli robert walser composite

Here is Sam’s description of the Walser image:

An image of a notecard I purchased at the Museum Neuhaus in Biel, Switzerland, Walser’s birthplace. The legend says “Micrograme No. 147 (Autumn 1925); crayon, 20.5 x 13.2 cm (format original). Robert Walser-Archiv, Zurich. Copyright Carl Seelig-Siftung, Zurich. Museum Neuhaus, Biel. As I recall, the text consists of a review Walser wrote of the book that accompanied this publisher’s announcement.

These two images together remind me of a phrase that popped into my head the other day that is currently working its way through a Snarkbook and toward a drawing or painting: parallel marginalia.

Sam also turned me on to Words Without Borders, where he recently lead a “Walser month”, with a number of roundtable discussions. One in particular especially interests me, Walser and the Visual Arts, which currently only has Sam’s initial “brief list of works of art, music and film inspired by, or associated with, Walser”, but that alone ought to keep me far too busy being Walserbusy.

Ok, finally, a snippet of Walser, from one of my favorite stories, Kleist in Thun (a title also working its way through my “system”), where Walser imagines himself as the Prussian writer Heinrich von Kleist, during the spring and summer of 1802, in a villa on a small island in the Aar River near the town of Thun, Swizerland. Here is Walser delivering the weather report, the “emotional weather report” as Tom Waits later sang:

On rainy days it is terribly cold and void. The place shivers at him. The green shrubs whine and whimper and shed rain tears for some sun. Over the heads of the mountains drift monstrous dirty clouds like great impudent murderous hands over foreheads. The countryside seems to want to creep away and hide from this evil weather, to shrivel up. The lake is leaden and bleak, the language of the waves unkind. The storm wind, wailing like a weird admonition, can find no issue, crashes from one scarp to the next. It is dark here, and small, small. Everything is pressed right up against one’s nose. One would like to seize a sledgehammer and beat a way out of it all. Get away there, get away!

I love that about Walser, how everything in his prose is alive, sentient and full of its own desire, fellow-citizens with the protagonists and the other characters who people his places.

1 Comment so far

[...] Jurisich presents a side-by-side comparison between a Walser microscript page and a piece by Swiss artist Adolf Wölfli. Do check it [...]

Pingback by Wandering with Robert Walser » A retreat to Pittsburgh 07.03.08 @ 7:18 am

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