There are no photographs, to my knowledge, of Robert Walser wearing glasses. One might conclude from this that the luminous Swiss writer, who died at the age of 78 in 1956, was either possessed of a certain vanity or else blessed with exceptional eyesight.
If you take a stroll through New Directions’ new volume of Walser’s microscripts, prodigiously packaged with paintings by Maira Kalman and photos of the original text, you might lean toward the latter. Beset by hand cramps in his middle years, Walser developed a new method for writing in which he penciled his irresistibly sly sketches and prose pieces in minute German lettering on any blank surface within reach: calendar pages, business cards, honorarium notices. Counterintuitively, the arduous technique liberated the author to compose, in his own words, “more dreamily, peacefully, cozily, contemplatively.” Like the yogi meditating his way to cosmic consciousness, he hoped the discipline would lead him to “a peculiar form of happiness.”