THE TANNERS by robert walser


simon says!

not the burst of perfect and heart-crumpling song that was JAKOB VON GUNTEN, THE TANNERS is more a patchwork of monologues, but both share the same saint’s heart and the ability to lay out all the observable open secrets of our every day.

some writers, you enter their house in faith and give yourself up to in awe — despite some weaker establishing shots, the occasional hastiness (or more frequently here, the overlong lingering). the heart of the miracle is everywhere apparent nonetheless. and anyway, you were converted by their best moment — and that was more than enough… and THE TANNERS does compensate the faithful, not in least ways by being lovely autobiography — even predictive autobiography:

And he’d frozen to death here, without a doubt, and he must have been lying here on the path for a while… Sebastian must have sunk to the ground here with an immense, no longer endurable weariness… How noble a grave he chose for himself… What splendid peace: reposing and growing stiff beneath fir branches in the snow. You couldn’t have chosen anything better. People tend to inflict harm on the eccentric — and this is what you were — and then laugh at their pain. Give my greetings to the dear, silent dead beneath the earth and don’t get too badly scorched in the eternal fires of nonexistence. You are elsewhere (154-5).

other compensations include a defense of the poet’s otherwise failures: “And never be so swift to look in scorn upon someone who is failing or appears lethargic or inactive. How quickly his sunshine, his poems can arise from these long, dull dreams!” (109); the helplessness and foolishness of loving art too much: “No sensible man allows himself to be made a fool of by any one thing, tormented and tricked for so long” (78); the agonies of teaching: “But when I’m teaching, I think of other things, things more distant and greater than their little souls” (188); comments on religion: “Religion here has too little sky, it smells too little of the soil” (282); and on misfortune: “Let me tell you, I’m a friend of misfortune, a very intimate friend” (258).


& of possible further interest, another walser site which reveals some of the source material :

Between 1936 and 1955, Carl Seelig, who would become known as a biographer of Albert Einstein, took nearly fifty long walks with his friend the Swiss writer Robert Walser. Seelig would meet Walser at the train station at Herisau in eastern Switzerland or at the sanitarium where Walser had been since the early 1930s, diagnosed with schizophrenia. Seelig’s notes of their walks and conversations have appeared in German as Wanderungen mit Robert Walser and in French translation, but the book has never appeared in English.

seelig’s notes have been translated into english by bob skinner on this nice site with a good search feature, so that a search for “Geschwister Tanner” reveals the following anecdote:

Our conversation touched on Geschwister Tanner, of which Robert said: “I wrote it in Berlin in three or four weeks, essentially without corrections. Bruno Cassirer cut out a few sections he found boring, like the one where Simon found the clerk’s manuscript in the oven. That appeared later in the journal Marz, where Hermann Hesse was an editor. My praiseworthy medical director, Dr. Hinrichsen, who saw himself as an important writer, said once that the beginning was good, but the rest was impossible. He said it as though he would have gagged if he’d been forced to read the whole thing.” Robert laughed heartily at his own description.

pick it up at the library or buy it from the publisher.
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