Thursday, February 16, 2017

Jakob von Gunten by Robert Walser

mad, genius book.  Kafka-esque, for sure, if that can be said of a book that pre-dates him. outsider artist, too, but again, he was ahead of his term.  many juicy quotes follow, before I can decide on anything else to say.  but an extraordinary book to me.  like finding something you should have known was there, after endless years of looking.

One learns very little here, there is a shortage of teachers, and none of us boys of the Benjamenta Institute will come to anything, that is to say, we shall all be something very small and insubordinate later in life. The instruction we enjoy consists mainly in impressing patience and obedience upon ourselves, two qualities that promise little success, or none at all.  Inward successes.  But what does one get from such as these? Do inward acquisitions give one food to eat?

We are small, small all the way down to the scale to utter worthlessness.

Perhaps there is a very very commonplace person inside me. But perhaps I have aristocratic blood in my veins.  But one thing I do know for certain:  in later life I shall be a charming, utterly spherical zero.

When I see candles burning, I always feel that I am wealthy.

To be of service to somebody whom one does not know, and who has nothing to do with one, that is charming, it gives one a glimpse into divine and misty paradises. Even then: all people, or almost all, have something to do with one.

He is the most honest and efficient of us pupils, and efficiency and honesty are inexhaustible and immeasurable domains.  Nothing can excite me so deeply as the sight and smell of what is good and just.  You soon reach the end of feeling about vulgar and evil things, but to get wise to something good and noble is so difficult, and yet also so alluring.

Nothing pleases me more than to give a completely false image of myself to people for whom I have a place in my heart.

Such a peculiar vice: to be secretly pleased to be allowed to observe that one is being slightly robbed.

There's a shattering constant disjunct in his writing, a sort of careless stringing out of a pedestrian narrative with just the right amount of little bits of action to barely keep it moving, but this thin chain is abruptly and constantly elongagated by an enormous link in the chain where the speaker is talking in his inner voice, describing a music in his head with words:  his syntax chops sentence structure into its parts and then crudely puts the body back together again: same words with a significant difference in meaning trucked in by a little difference in order, emphasis, crux, emotion heightened and shortened.

And in fact: what sort of scoundrel would go, without any feeling for love and beauty, to places where only delight forgives what depravity has undertaken?

Therefore I love so deeply every kind of compulsion, because it allows me to take joy in what is illicit.

The mumbling of a grumbler is lovelier to me than the murmuring of a woodland stream...

A person can be utterly foolish and unknowing: as he long as he knows the way to adapt, to be flexible, and how to move about, he is still not lost, but will come through life better perhaps than someone who is clever and stuffed with knowledge.  The way:  yes, yes.

I see his beautiful soul in his face, and it is the soul that most deserves to be caressed.

Our schoolboy noses have the greatest spiritual similarity, they all seem to strive more or less aloft, to where insight into the confusion of life floats and glows.

And it only's too true: an open mouth is a yawning fact, the fact that its owner is dwelling with his few thoughts in some other place than the domain and pleasure-garden of attentiveness.

Writers are just windbags who only want to study, make pictures and observations.  To live is what matters, then the observation happens of its own accord.

"Are you asleep, Parson? All right, sleep, then, there's no harm in your sleeping. You only waste time teaching Scripture. Religion, you see, means nothing today. Sleep is more religious than all your religion. When one is asleep, one is perhaps closest to God.  What do you think?"

To the knives and forks clung the tears of enemies I destroyed, and the glasses sang with the sighs of many poor people, but the tear-stains only made me want to laugh, while the hopeless sighs sounded to me like music.

And from another Walser novel, from Geschwister Tanner, next on my list:

I'm staying here.  It's nice, just to stay.  Does nature go abroad? Do trees travel, to acquire greener leaves elsewhere, and then come back and show themselves off?




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