The great Swiss-German modernist author Robert Walser lived eccentrically on the fringes of society, shocking his Berlin friends by enrolling in butler school and later developing an urban-nomad lifestyle in the Swiss capital, Bern, before checking himself into a psychiatric clinic. Setting Walser in the context of early twentieth century European history, Susan Bernofsky provides illuminating analysis of his extraordinary life and work.
Ms. Bernofsky wants to peer behind the smiling naïf to better glimpse the lonely, erratic artist beset by poverty and oppressed by failure who would spend the final 28 years of his life institutionalized, writing almost nothing at all ... For a figure as quirky as Walser, Clairvoyant of the Small can be surprisingly hidebound, dwelling mostly in dry historical records, but it improves in the final period of Walser’s life, when the archives thin out.
In her new biography Clairvoyant of the Small, translator Susan Bernofsky admits that little is known about Walser’s final decades (certainly a great deal was going on outside the oblivion of Walserworld at this time), but when he was publishing he was known and admired ... Bernofsky is deeply fond of Walser ... he loves his syntactical and semantic complexity, his impulsive aleatory connections, his permeating irony, his verbal opulence, his neologistic compounds, his relativizing adverbs, his empowering way of rejecting power ... Clairvoyant of the Small [...] accumulates with details of no great import, such as a lengthy list of Walser’s known addresses ... An unwaveringly committed fan, Bernofsky is often tempted to float above some of her subject’s more unsettling behavior.
Translator Bernofsky [...] teases out misperceptions about 'unwaveringly devoted' Swiss author Robert Walser (1878–1956) in this masterful biography ... With skillful and lucid readings of Walser’s work, Bernofsky succeeds in creating a portrait of Walser ... This balanced and meticulous account shines a bright light on a misunderstood and influential writer.