Mareike Schildmann

Poetik der Kindheit
Literatur und Wissen bei Robert Walser
[Poetics of Childhood. Literature and Knowledge in Robert Walser]

Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen 2019, 504 pages
ISBN 978-3-8353-3487-8

“Actually, I have never been a child, and that’s why I firmly believe that something childhood-like will always be a part of me.”

This insight from Walser’s diary novel Jakob von Gunten establishes the program of a literary work whose unconventional aesthetic has repeatedly led to accusations of it being childish and naïve.

In the light of a constellation in the history of knowledge around 1900 in which the child becomes the essential medium for the anthropological, political, and cultural modes of self-understanding, Mareike Schildmann reconstructs the use of a poetics of childhood in Walser’s work. In the space between the project in human science of an exploration into the “soul of the child,” an exploration promoted by new disciplines such as developmental psychology, experimental pedagogics, and psychiatry, and the contemporary reform movements’ empathetic concern for its liberation, the discursive and aesthetic alignments of a new overarching interest in the child are gradually unfolded. Thus, this study undertakes a repositioning of Walser’s work within the modern culture of knowledge and its institutions that were formed around 1900 in the context of a broad social task for education. At the same time, it sheds new light on the poetological signature of Walser’s writing scene and its notorious gestures of diminution.


“Schildmann’s book has many strengths. Her unpacking of the critically important theme of childhood in Robert Walser’s writings significantly broadens our understanding of his prose and furthers the project of historical and cultural condextualization begun by Utz and others.”
Charles Vannette, Monatshefte 114.1 (2022)

Media Response

01 Apr 2022
Poetik der Kindheit. Literatur und Wissen bei Robert Walser

Review by Charles Vannette, in: Monatshefte 114.1 (2022), 153–155

22 Dec 2020
“Ich war eigentlich nie Kind”

Review by Sarah Möller, in: figurationen no. 01/20, 106–109

04 Mar 2020
Unkindliche Kinder, kindliche Erwachsene

Review by Rafael Arto-Haumacher, in:, 04 Mar 2020