Robert Walser: Walking

I’ve been reading a beautiful little book of Robert Walser’s occasional essays on paintings, translated for the most part by Susan Bernofsky and published by New Directions.


A copy of the painting in question is pasted to the page preceding each essay.


This short piece is about a reproduction of the Cranach painting Walser had on the wall of his room while working in a brewery. His landlady took it down from the wall and he wrote her a letter: “Do you consider it indecent? Then I most humbly request that you simply do not look at it.” From then on, he writes, his landlady was sweet to him, even asking him to give her his torn trousers to mend, “this landlady of mine, wife of the cantonal notary.”

Since Zarko Radakovic first introduced me to Walser’s “Der Spaziergang” / The Walk, Walser’s spirit has accompanied me on every walk I take. I see things differently because of his habits of observation and reflection.

On my walk this morning, the air refreshingly cool and still a little humid after last night’s gentle rain — the first in weeks — two things happened that will remain in my memory.

Stepping off the road onto a trail, I slipped past a purple-flowered thistle and brushed a prickly leaf with my arm. That quick pain, I thought, will be my most pointed, potent perception of the day.

An hour later, back on the street leading down to our house, I heard strains from what sounded like Italian opera . . . and someone was singing along with the recorded aria. The music was coming from a boombox at a building site. The tall, fit young man singing along in Italian was wearing a leather framer’s belt holding his hammer and other tools. He sang as he leaned over to measure a board, his voice strong and clear.


About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at
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6 Responses to Robert Walser: Walking

  1. Sarah says:

    Thank you, Scott. I’m going to order these books for Paul.


  2. roughghosts says:

    I’ve eyed this book a few times. I read The Walk, by the way, on a bitterly cold Christmas Day when I was alone—the first after my parents died.


  3. alex caldiero says:

    Ever since I got turned on to Walser’s masterpiece (in my opinion) “Microscripts” he has been a constant companion. He could not have arrived into my life at a better time. I was working in the same field and it was good to know i was in good company.— And his “Looking at Pictures” is a fine addition to Walser in English. I am proud of New Directions for producing a book whose beauty is usually reserved for more limited editions. Thanks, Scott, for sharing this.


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