FULLwas hanging tidily and properly in its place, people knew that for the time being no one else would be allowed to climb and clamber aboard because the gondola or pleasure palace rolling along on its wheels was already packed suffocatingly full, a regrettable circumstance that was announced in no uncertain terms by the warning placard: "Stop! Whosoever they may be, this line they shall not cross!" At times however, despite the rejecting, dismissive plaque, there would be a crowd pressing forward, expressing the impetuous desire to climb up and be carried off. And then someone, such as the chamberlain on duty, would say in a courteous voice: "Folks, we're full up," or he would say: "No shoving, please. It won't do any good," or perhaps it would occur to him to say: "With the greatest pleasure, ladies and gentlemen, would I invite you to climb aboard and take your seats, but it is my harsh duty to draw your attention to the fact that the car is already stuffed to the cracks with passengers. I do beg your pardon for having to deny you access and entry." Sallies and attacks on one side, rebuffs and refusals on the other, the vessel continues to sail calmly and gaily through all the metropolitan traffic, which almost resembles an ocean. Once again some hasty hothead is about to leap aboard, and once again an imperturbable "Full!" resounds in the daredevil's ears, whereupon he is obliged to remove his foot cautiously from the footboard once more.
translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky
"Full" is taken from Berlin Stories by Robert Walser, forthcoming in late 2011, translated and with an introduction by Susan Bernofsky, New York Review Books Classics.
The German original is used by permission of Suhrkamp Verlag.
Robert Walser (1878–1956)—the great Swiss-German writer admired by Franz Kafka, Robert Musil, and Walter Benjamin—wrote as many as eight novels (four have survived) and thousands of the short prose texts that became his trademark. Called "a clairvoyant of the small" by W. G. Sebald, Walser drafted many of his works on small slips of found paper in a pencil script so tiny that when a trove of manuscripts was discovered after his death, it was believed initially that he had been writing in secret code. Berlin Stories, a collection of his early short fiction translated by Susan Bernofsky, is forthcoming from New York Review Books Classics.
Susan Bernofsky has translated seventeen books, including six by Robert Walser as well as novels by Jenny Erpenbeck, Yoko Tawada, Hermann Hesse, and others. She received the 2006 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize as well as awards and fellowships from the NEH, NEA, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Lannan Foundation. She is currently serving as Chair of the PEN Translation Committee and teaching in the MFA program at Queens College of the City University of New York. She also blogs about translation at this website. Her most recent translation of Walser is Microscripts (Christine Burgin/New Directions, 2010).