Friday, August 28, 2009

Jakob von Gunten

A hundred years ago (that would be 1909), Robert Walser published Jakob von Gunten. I think it's turning out to be one of my favorite books. Here are some sentences from it that I like (spoken by the title character, a teenage boy):

"Kraus has principles, he sits firmly in the saddle, he rides satisfaction, and that is a horse which people should not mount if they want to do some galloping. Since I have been at the Benjamenta Institute I have already contrived to become a mystery to myself."

"She showed me her charming garter and I caressed it with my lips. Ah, how silly one is. She kept standing up and fetching new things to drink. And so quickly. It was just that she wanted to earn a nice little sum of money from the silly boy. I know this perfectly well, but it was precisely this that I liked—her thinking me silly. Such a peculiar vice: to be secretly pleased to be allowed to observe that one is being slightly robbed."

"If there were no commandments, no duties in the world, I would die, starve, be crippled by boredom. I only have to be spurred on, compelled, regimented. It suits me entirely. Ultimately it is I who decides, only I. I provoke the frowning law to anger a little, afterwards I make the effort to pacify it."

I would quote longer passages if I could, in order to really give you a good idea of how funny and lovable this guy is, and of how his mind flows and flits from one thing to another. You should probably just drop everything you're doing right now and find a copy. I will undoubtedly be quoting more of it here as I go along.

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