Diplomatic letter from Burra-Buriyash of Babylon to Naphurareya (Akhenaten) (r. 1352-1336 BC), the heretic pharaoh who founded a new capital at Tell El-Amarna: clay cuneiform tablet, front; written in complicated Babylonian; corners are broken. Length: 5.25 inches. Width: 2.75 inches. From The Amarna Letters, 14th c. BC, found at Tell El-Amarna, Upper Egypt (Middle East Department, British Museum)
Approximately ten years ago I began to first shyly and reverentially sketch out in pencil everything I produced, which naturally imparted a sluggishness and slowness to the writing process that assumed practically colossal proportions. This pencil system, which is inseparable from a logically consistent, office-like copying system, has caused me real torments, but this torment taught me patience, such that I now have mastered the art of being patient [. . .]
This pencil method has great meaning for me. The writer of these lines experienced a time when he hideously, frightfully hated his pen, I can’t begin to tell you how sick of it he was; he became an outright idiot the moment he made the least use of it; and to free himself from this pen malaise he began to pencil-sketch, to scribble, fiddle about. With the aid of my pencil I was better able to play, to write; it seemed this revived my writerly enthusiasm. I can assure you (this all began in Berlin) I suffered a real breakdown in my hand on account of the pen, a sort of cramp from whose clutches I slowly, laboriously freed myself by means of the pencil. A swoon, a cramp, a stupor -- these are always both physical and mental. So I experienced a period of disruption that was mirrored, as it were, in my handwriting and its disintegration, and when I copied out the texts from this pencil assignment, I learned again, like a little boy, to write.
Robert Walser to editor Max Rychner, 1927
The Microscripts by Robert Walser: photo by Ourit, 7 February 2012
Usually I first put on a prose piece jacket, a sort of writer’s smock, before venturing to begin with composition; but I’m in a rush right now, and besides, this is just a tiny little piece, a silly trifle featuring beer coasters as round as plates [. . .]
I know that you are namelessly grateful to me for these few lines. Oh these slice-of-bread affairs! Godful! I feel as if I could continue this report on into all incredulity . . . What else does the infinite consist of other than the incalculability of little dots? When she was handing him a piece of bread like that, she didn't even look at him but rather continued reading her newspaper undisturbed. She gave it to him utterly mechanically. That's what was so wonderful about it, the part that cannot be surpassed, the way she gave him the bread utterly, utterly mechanically. The mechanicalness of the gesture is what was so beautiful about it. I have also written this prose piece, I must confess, utterly mechanically, and I hope it will please you for this reason. I wish it pleases you so much it will make you tremble, that it will be, for you, in certain respects, a horrific piece of writing. I did not even groom myself properly in order to write it. This alone should suffice to prevent its being anything other than a masterpiece or masterworklet.
Robert Walser: from Usually I first put on a prose piece jacket: Microscript 190, in Microscripts, translated from the German with an introduction by Susan Bernofsky, New Directions, 2010
Robert Walser Microscript #1. A Walser manuscript page. Bernhard Echte gave me a copy of this page when I visited the Walser archive in Zurich. Echte and Werner Morlang spent many years transcribing these pages into readable German: image by Sam Jones, 17 January 2006
Robert Walser Microscript #1 (closeup): image by Sam Jones, 17 January 2006
Robert Walser Microscript #2. 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." As I recall, the text consists of a review Walser wrote of the book that accompanied this publisher's announcement: image by Sam Jones, 17 January 2006 (Robert Walser-Archiv, Zurich/Museum Neuhaus, Biel)
Robert Walser Microscript #2 (closeup): image by Sam Jones, 17 January 2006 (Museum Neuhaus, Biel)
Diplomatic letter from Burra-Buriyash of Babylon to Naphurareya (Akhenaten) (r. 1352-1336 BC), the heretic pharaoh who founded a new capital at Tell El-Amarna: clay cuneiform tablet, back; written in complicated Babylonian; corners are broken. Length: 5.25 inches. Width: 2.75 inches. From The Amarna Letters, 14th c. BC, found at Tell El-Amarna, Upper Egypt (Middle East Department, British Museum)