robert walser and the microtexts; coming soon

The Microscripts by Robert Walser May 2010

“Robert Walser wrote many of his manuscripts in a highly enigmatic, shrunken-down form. These narrow strips of paper (many of them written during his hospitalization in the Waldau sanatorium) covered with tiny ant-like markings only a millimeter or two high, came to light only after the author’s death in 1956. At first considered a secret code, the microscripts were eventually discovered to be a radically miniaturized form of a German script: a whole story could fit on the back of a business card. Selected from the six-volume German transcriptions from the original microscripts, these 25 short pieces are gathered in this gorgeously illustrated co-publication with the Christine Burgin Gallery. each microscript is reproduced in full color in its original form: the detached cover of a trashy crime novel, a disappointing letter, a receipt of payment.”

Taken from the very great New Directions’ site here.

One microtext, The Prodigal Son, is online here.

These texts have been translated by Susan Bernofsky, who is also still working on her Life of RW…

Otherwise, with so much now available of Walser’s it might be easy to have overlooked Speaking to the Rose Writings 1912-32, published by Bison Books [here]. Most of these 50 ‘microtexts’ were previously unpublished and have been translated by Christopher Middleton.

Here is JM Coetzee on two of Walser’s novels in the NYRB 2000.

Here is Benjamin Kunkel’s recent New Yorker profile 2007.

Here is a very dedicated and newsy site.

More, later, hopefully…

04.09. from bourse to dhow in 1039 seconds

Sir Thomas Gresham introduced the idea of a bourse -or exchange- to London from Antwerp and bequeathed the City an eponymous College; site of Tower 42 [old Nat West Tower]. Founded in 1597 it was teaching astronomy at the same time as Johannes Kepler’s astronomical speculation helped generate his mother’s trial for witchcraft.

Alexander Kluge* described how ‘KEPLER SAVES HIS MOTHER, THE WITCH’ in The Devil’s Blind Spot [pp14-5]. Kluge’s definition of this perceptual sleight is; “Between the Devil’s attempt to test the witch’s or half-witch’s devotion to evil, and the temptation to show his omnipotence, there exists a tiny gap, a little blind spot.” [pp12-14] Within the old City walls there are many potent sites like this, which I conjured with on regular night walks during 2007-08 in particular…

Gresham’s tomb, with its peculiar grasshopper-like spirits captured in the black marble, looms at the narrative pivot of a novel that I began -on the the day of the crash, September 08, by chance- in the newly acquired fruit store. The scene where these little spirits cause a terrifying argument takes place in the massive belly of a half -built teak dhow, baking on mudflats on the edge of the Arabian Sea.

In April I began to send 1039 seconds to a handful or so readers for comment while I put it aside over summer before attempting final drafts. For it to work the novel must establish a particular measure -that of walking with a young child in and around Stockholm as well as walking in 45 degree heat on the edge of desert- as it weaves between a refuge in a Viking bay on the Baltic and an ancient pirate’s port on the Arabian sea. Such a measure is conventionally considered ‘slow’, especially early in a novel, but real readers are not bound by convention -are you?

1039 seconds ‘speeds up’ as it’s sucked into the turbulence of our times; ‘the world as it is’. There’s even a clue in the title which is the time it takes for the narrator’s explicitly happy world to explode with changes that never stop. Still, I’m relieved by the reports of avid reading volunteered over coming weeks and their celebratory use of the word “unusual”. Quietly, I’m ‘sure’ that once this post-apocalyptic world -rendered recognisably personal and unfolding in the present rather than a convenient future- has established itself, sheer unpredictability ignites the remaining chapters.

And so it seems, but more of this later…

On April 1st 09 Ian Tomlinson died after being attacked on film by uniformed policemen over-reacting to G20 protests taking place around Gresham’s bourse; the Royal Exchange opposite the Bank of England. I took this photograph of a memorial set up for him in the shadows of another of Gresham’s grasshoppers [high above his bourse, to the left here] by friends and admirers in the immediate aftermath.

AK’s writing is scattergun, worth it for the hits. AK’s own site is here. His English-language publishers, the very great New Directions, have a page for Cinema Stories from 2007 here but nothing for The Devils Blind Spot from 2004. OCTOBER 46 [Fall 1988] was dedicated to AK, and contains a notable interview with him. Otherwise check his interview of Thomas Demand, published fully here, which is excellent. The great Ubuweb have a selection of his short films here. There is a huge box set of films here. Etc.