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Looking at Pictures
     

Looking at Pictures

by Robert Walser, Susan Bernofsky (Translator), Lydia Davis (Translator), Christopher Middleton (Translator)
 
A special side of Robert Walser: his essays on art
A beautiful and elegant collection, with gorgeous full-color art reproductions, Looking at Pictures presents a little-known side of the eccentric Swiss genius: his great writings on art. His essays consider Van Gogh, Cezanne, Rembrandt, Cranach, Watteau, Fragonard, Brueghel and his own brother Karl and also

Overview

A special side of Robert Walser: his essays on art
A beautiful and elegant collection, with gorgeous full-color art reproductions, Looking at Pictures presents a little-known side of the eccentric Swiss genius: his great writings on art. His essays consider Van Gogh, Cezanne, Rembrandt, Cranach, Watteau, Fragonard, Brueghel and his own brother Karl and also discuss general topics such as the character of the artist and of the dilettante as well as the differences between painters and poets. Every piece is marked by Walser’s unique eye, his delicate sensitivity, and his very particular sensibilities—and all are touched by his magic screwball wit.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
07/27/2015
In this illuminating collection of short writings on paintings, Swiss author Walser’s rich brand of prose takes center stage. Walser’s older brother, Karl, was a famous artist who deeply influenced Walser’s life and appreciation of the visual arts. The first and most substantive essay in the collection looks at several line drawings by Karl Walser and reimagines the circumstances of their creation and the subjects they depict. Other essays in the book, most of which were written in the 1920s, consider the works of famous artists such as Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Fragonard, Cézanne, and Manet. Walser’s prose often does not directly review the painting at hand, but this technique shows the expansiveness and richness of Walser’s mind: when Walser meditates on Manet’s Olympia, he imagines the subject of the painting asking him to tell her a story. Walser then crafts stories about writers within the story, effectively shifting the focus of the painting back to himself as the viewer. The total assemblage and variety of pieces in this slim volume of feuilletons serves as an artistic manifesto for one of the 20th century’s most important writers and contributes to the recently revived interest in Walser’s work. Illus. (Oct.)
John Kelsey - Artforum
“"Written between 1902 and 1930 and, with two exceptions, previously untranslated, the pieces gathered here elaborate a nervous, slapstick sort of hack journalism that set the stage for a fabulously experimental modernist writing situation whose fans included Kafka, Musil, and Benjamin."”
Randy Kennedy - The New York Times
“This jeweled box of a book... float[s], wonderfully, somewhere in a land between short story and criticism.”
Susan Sontag
“"A Paul Klee in prose, a good-humoured, sweet Beckett, Walser is a truly wonderful, heartbreaking writer."”
Lydia Davis
“"Bold and idiosyncratic."”
Benjamin Kunkel - The New Yorker
“"Walser achieved a remarkable tone, in which perfect assurance and perfect ambiguity combine."”
Ben Lerner
“"Singular—genius."”
Nicholas Lazard - The Guardian
“"Everyone who reads Walser falls in love with him."”
Kirkus Reviews
2015-07-15
A brief collection of writings about art that are actually about the difficulty—even the impossibility—of writing about art. "Sometimes things of beauty are inadequately perceived," Walser (1878-1956) understates in "The Van Gogh Picture," before concluding about his initial attempt to write about that picture, "the content of this essay has now escaped me, for which reason the desire came over me to renew it, which has now been done," leaving readers knowing less about the Van Gogh in question than about the flights of the writer's fancy. The novelist and poet was, the introduction explains, much influenced by his artist brother, the subject of "Scene from the Life of the Painter Karl Stauffer-Bern," in which a footnote says that Karl had "a scandalous affair with his patron." The piece deals with that relationship in the form of dialogue between the two, while the opening piece of the collection, "A Painter," is an interior monologue about a similar attraction between painter and patron. While functioning less like a critical essay than a fictional short story, it nonetheless deems the poet's art a lesser one than the painter's and ponders the impossibility of love and art coexisting. "Love wants nothing to do with art, at least the sort of love I feel," insists the narrator, who will abandon his lover rather than his art. "Love is a form of squandering, art of saving." While this story is fully realized, many of the pieces are much shorter, a page or two, and read more like fragments, or, as the author terms one, a "tiny, infinitesimally small little essaylet." A biography of Walser by Bernofsky, the primary translator here, is slated to follow. Allusive and elusive, these essays by the acclaimed Swiss author often concern themselves with anything other than the art they purportedly analyze.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780811224246
Publisher:
New Directions Publishing Corporation
Publication date:
11/09/2015
Pages:
144
Sales rank:
343,099
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Robert Walser (1878–1956) was born in Switzerland. He left school at fourteen and led a wandering and precarious existence working as a bank clerk, a butler in a castle, and an inventor's assistant while producing essays, stories, and novels. In 1933 he abandoned writing and entered a sanatorium—where he remained for the rest of his life. "I am not here to write," Walser said, "but to be mad."

Susan Bernofsky is the acclaimed translator of Hermann Hesse, Robert Walser, and Jenny Erpenbeck, and the recipient of many awards, including the Helen and Kurt Wolff Prize and the Hermann Hesse Translation Prize. She teaches literary translation at Columbia University and lives in New York.

Lydia Davis is a finalist for the 2013 Man Booker International Prize.

Distinguished poet and translator Christopher Middleton lives in Austin, Texas. His awards include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the Schegel-Tieck Translation Prize.

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