“Every book that has been printed is a tomb for the poet, or is it not?” Robert Walser's lifetime books

Opening exhibition of the Robert Walser Centre on 18 September 2009 until 12 March 2012

Robert Walser's (1878-1956) life as a writer was marked in equal measure by successes and disappointments. As a hopeful young poet, he went to Berlin in 1905 and quickly made a name for himself with his novels and prose pieces, especially among critics and authors. The First World War, however, suddenly forced him back into the Swiss book market. Despite various publications in Swiss publishing houses, he was unable to achieve the success he had enjoyed in the past. After 1925, Robert Walser was no longer able to publish his texts, which appeared scattered in daily newspapers and magazines, in book form. After Walser's transfer from the Waldau in Bern to the Herisau Sanatorium and Nursing Home in 1933, his later guardian Carl Seelig took over the publication of further volumes. Of the 29 books published during Robert Walser's lifetime, 14 were published without the author's immediate involvement.

Walser's chequered career as a writer manifests itself in the publication history of his books, which is marked by disruptions. As a rule, they appear in different, sometimes luxurious editions. Robert Walser himself was a demanding author and had clear ideas about the look of his books. His brother Karl Walser, a renowned artist at the time, played a major role in the design of the volumes. Throughout his life, Robert Walser maintained an ambivalent relationship with his many publishers, which was not without its mutual disappointments.

By putting the books of his lifetime centre stage at the opening of the Robert Walser Centre, the aim is not only to showcase their bibliophilic dimension, but also to put an essential aspect of Walser's work up for debate anew.

Most of the exhibits originate from the Walser collection of Prof. Dr. Christoph Siegrist, Basel. Christoph Siegrist donated his collection to the Robert Walser Centre on the occasion of the opening in September 2009.