1. I admit that this is actually a neologism of my own design, but “German-speaking” simply seems too clunky. Furthermore, I fail to see why we should deny Germans the same distinction as Anglophones and Francophones, particularly when such an elegant and logical solution is available.

2. For those interested in Kafka’s humor, David Foster Wallace’s essay “Some Remarks on Kafka’s Funniness From Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed” as found in the collection “Consider the Lobster” is worth reading. Or read Kafka. That probably would also work.

3. It’s interesting to note that, at least after having resided there for several years, Walser’s confinement in the sanitarium seemed to be of a mostly voluntary nature. Following his breakdown Walser’s mental health seemed to improve greatly, and on repeated occasions he refused to leave the sanitarium. This leads to the question of whether, somehow, Walser actually enjoyed being a mental patient, with the incessant routine of long country walks and psychological examinations. For those interested in Walser’s life, there is an upcoming biography by Susan Bernofsky which is highly anticipated.

4. See Ekphrasis: “a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art,” a word which I was elated to learn in the process of writing this review, especially considering that my own artistic interests touch upon this theme.

5. See Van Gogh, Beethoven, Schubert, Hemingway, et al.

6. Contrast this quote with the one in the m.t. above. I find that Walser’s commentary (while writing as himself) at this point reinforces the assertion that the preceding quote is meant as light and humorous mockery.

7. TANGENTIALLY RELATED INTERPOLATION (which need not be read if you just want to know about “Looking at Pictures”): This raises some interesting questions. What exactly is the role of a translator? How much liberty may they take in their work? Often translations seems exceptionally clunky and cumbersome (particularly when translated from heavily inflected languages, such as Latin or Russian), which can produce both an irritating and humorous effect. This is not the case with Bernofsky’s “Looking at Pictures,” as it is presented in luminous, incandescent 19th-century prose (which, I confess, is not an aesthetic which appeals to me, but that isn’t because it is not beautiful — rather, it is too beautiful).[7a]
But it is probably worthwhile to ask why “Pictures” is translated into this Victorianesque prose. My knowledge of German is not sufficient to explore this thoroughly, but I still feel the need to wonder; did Bernofsky translate in this manner because Walser’s early 20th-century Swiss German was somehow similar in aesthetic temperament to 19th-century English, or was she simply imitating contemporaneous English prose style? Was Bernofsky imitating German to English translations of Walser’s era, or was the decision perhaps based solely on a personal affinity for Victorian English? In what ways did Bernofsky adhere to the syntactic format of the original, and how did she approach idiom? Flipping through the only other similarly dated German to English book I have lying readily at hand — some Kafka translated by Willa and Edwin Muir — the prose style is considerably different, to my mind resembling more some of the plainer passages of Joyce’s “Dubliners” than any Victorian author. For those interested, the author Tim Parks — aided by his own experience as a translator of Italian — recently addressed many of these issues with eloquence and clarity of thought in a three-essay series published in the New York Review of Books earlier this year. Additionally, a few years ago the New Yorker published Joan Acocella’s review of the Tolkien translation of “Beowulf,” which touches upon some of these same problems (particularly those pertaining to poetry translation) about halfway through. Bernofsky herself co-edited a book titled “In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means” which might shed some light on the matter, but until such a time as I read it (as I do intend), I will have to settle for posing unanswered questions.

7a. Observe, for example, this sentence, picked at random: “This morning I breakfasted sumptuously and with delight, but one ought not to utter statements like this in an era when delicate persons have the most indelicate heaps of cares piled upon their shoulders.” Is it beautiful? Of course. Witty? Undoubtedly. But it’s also overwrought and rather ridiculous sounding. Or perhaps that’s just the impression it makes on me.