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Robert Walser: Unmoored

Schizophrenia, Cognition, and the Text


Charles Vannette

Pathology. Psychosis. Schizophrenia.

These words often prove inseparable from the life and work of Robert Walser, who retreated to the sanatoria of Switzerland with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. In so doing, he came to embody our romantic image of the outsider, perhaps more fully than any other German-language writer of the twentieth century.

This book takes Walser’s 1929 diagnosis as its point of departure and provides a cognitive study of the author’s writing. Clinical models of schizophrenic cognition from phenomenological psychology guide the analysis, and the book illustrates that underneath Walser’s literary production there is a cognitive process that is marked by the psychological concepts of hyperreflexivity and a loss of common sense. The book addresses four primary elements of Walser’s writing, including his flâneur texts, his singular prose, moments of stasis and epiphany in his writing, and the sense of psychological jeopardy that appears repeatedly in his work. This study proposes a new aetiology for Walser’s prose, one rooted in uncommon cognition. At the same time, it offers a bridge between two trends in Walser scholarship: one which has focused on his hospitalization and diagnosis of schizophrenia, and another that has stressed his unique literary style.

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Works Cited


* – Asterisks mark English footnote translations that are produced by the author, as no existing published translation is available. Wherever possible, published translations are utilized.

BG – Aus dem Bleistiftgebiet, Robert Walser

SW – Sämtliche Werke in Einzalausgaben, Robert Walser

Walser, Robert. The Assistant. Translated by Susan Bernofsky, New Directions, 2007.

——. Aus dem Bleistiftgebiet, edited by Bernhard Echte and Werner Morlang, Suhrkamp, 1985.

——. Berlin Stories, edited by Jochen Greven. Translated by Susan Bernofsky, et al., Review Books, 2006.

——. Briefe, edited by Jörg Schäfer and Robert Mächler, Verlag Helmut Kossodo, 1975.

——. Feuer, edited by Bernhard Echte, Suhrkamp, 2003.

——. Jakob von Gunten. Translated by Christopher Middleton, U of Texas Press, 1969.

——. Masquerade and Other Stories. Translated by Susan Bernofsky, Johns Hopkins UP, 1990.

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