Rolf Amsler’s experience of Hans and his work

Hans Werner Lüscher was my mother’s second husband. In 1949 my mother divorced my father and decided to emigrate to the USA to join Hans, a friend of her youth. Hans and my mother got married the same year in Los Angeles.

I first met Hans in 1956 when, at the conclusion of a business assignment in India, I visited Hans and my mother in Los Angeles. I got to know Hans as a skinny, middle aged little man, very friendly but slightly queer and always somewhat aloof in his thoughts.

We went camping and hiking in Sequoia and this is when I first learned about Hans’s skills as photographer and his special relationship with Sequoia National Park. He knew all the groves and meadows and could point out changes that had taken place over the years.

Emily Dickinson was hardly a subject at that time, at least I do not have a recollection of any in-depth discussion. Of much more interest to me were Hans’s accounts of his travels in Canada.
In later years, whenever an assignment abroad permitted, I visited Hans and my mother, on which occasions Hans began to tell me, still with little details, of his work on Dickinson. He would obscurely refer to his discoveries, but never in sufficient detail so that I would have really understood.

He was more communicative in writing, in later years, when I had declared my interest in his Dickinson work. He let me in on some poems and on their meaning in Dickinson’s secret language. In 1981 he sent me copies of his translations of Dickinson poems into German, and suggested that I should try to find a publisher in Europe. Yet I had only a very general idea of his discovery and had never seen the details of his work. He did, however, mention in his letters his correspondence with possible publishers such as Little Brown and particularly Harvard University, as well as with the Berlin publisher Karl Henssel. In 1968 he sent me for safe keeping a booklet containing the entire correspondence with these three publishers.

In 1989 Hans and my mother sold their house in Los Angeles and moved to Redding, California. I visited them again in the summer of 1991 and found Hans very weak and ill. This was when he told me of his decision to bequeath his complete literary and philosophical work to me, with the wish and hope that I would succeed in bringing to publication at least his work on Emily Dickinson’s secret language and particularly also his German translations. Shortly after my departure to Switzerland, on June 22nd, he passed away. During a further visit to Redding the following year I sifted through Hans’s estate and sorted out everything that had to do with his work on Dickinson, his day books, and his philosophical work. It was then that I realized that Hans had completely ruined his work on the Sequoia National Park, to such an extent that it had lost all value.

Working through a lifetime of personal papers

I transferred the whole documentation to Switzerland, where I then started the tedious work of locating, cataloging, and organizing the material. I had to my hand piles of hand- and typewritten philosophical papers, day books, manuscripts, stories, photographs, and negatives, and then all the material on his work on Emily Dickinson, mostly neatly bound into bundles and books, besides piles of manuscripts representing his preliminary work, and finally his translations into German. I soon realized that the question of publication would be a very difficult one, not only because of the sheer mass of material but also because of the quality of the subject itself. Emily Dickinson, the famous American Poet—and sex? How would a puritanical American audience react? I was not literate in English, nor were Dickinson’s poems familiar to me. Worse, English was not my mother tongue, and whatever English I knew was Business English. I started transcribing some of the material with the help of my computer, as it was clear to me that whatever publication could be envisaged, it had first to be transcribed. This task has occupied me for the best part of twenty years or more.