Bernofsky Publishes New Robert Walser Translation

November 9, 2015

Professor Susan Bernofsky has translated seven books by Swiss-German modernist writer Robert Walser, an enigmatic literary figure whose notoriety in the United States has grown thanks, in large part, to Bernofsky’s commitment to his work.
She has now teamed up with fellow acclaimed translators Lydia Davis and Christopher Middleton to produce an English-language version of Walser’s Looking at Pictures, a collection of his art essays, which was published by New Directions on November 9.
Kirkus Reviews writes that Looking at Pictures is “a brief collection of writings about art that are actually about the difficulty—even the impossibility—of writing about art… Allusive and elusive, these essays by the acclaimed Swiss author often concern themselves with anything other than the art they purportedly analyze.”  
A reviewer for Publishers Weekly writes: “Walser’s prose often does not directly review the painting at hand, but this technique shows the expansiveness and richness of Walser’s mind: when Walser meditates on Manet’sOlympia, he imagines the subject of the painting asking him to tell her a story. Walser then crafts stories about writers within the story, effectively shifting the focus of the painting back to himself as the viewer. The total assemblage and variety of pieces in this slim volume of feuilletons serves as an artistic manifesto for one of the 20th century’s most important writers and contributes to the recently revived interest in Walser’s work.”
The Guardian published an excerpt of the book, including Bernofsky’s translation of Diaz’s Forest, Walser’s essay about Narcisse Diaz de la Peña’s painting The Forest Clearing (1875).
On Thursday, November 12, the New Museum will host a celebration of Robert Walser and the publication of Looking at Pictures. There will be readings from artists and writers, including Bernofsky, Moyra Davey, Nathaniel Otting andJosiah McElheny, who is a mentor in the Visual Arts program. The event will be held in the museum’s Sky Room at 7 pm.

Bernofsky, who directs the literary translation program at the School of the Arts, has also translated work by Herman Hesse, Franz Kafka and, most recently, Jenny Erpenbeck. Her many prizes and awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship this year, as well as the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize and the Hermann Hesse Translation Prize. She blogs about translation at