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Quotes from Jakob von Gunten

I mentioned in the previous post how much I struggled with Robert Walser’s novel yet how beautiful the writing was. With more thought, I’m not sure if “beautiful” is the best descriptor. The beauty is not in the prose itself but in the reaction it can draw from you. This book is written similar to a diary, somewhat stream-of-consciousness; the abrupt transition from thought to thought is part of its power. It’s a loveliness that sneaks up on you.

All that said, here are some moments I sticky-noted in my NYRB edition. Much credit to the translator, Christopher Middleton.

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. (p. 23)

I hate the kind of person who pretends he understands everything and beamingly parades knowledge and wit. Sly and knowing people are to me an unspeakable abomination. (p. 41)

Seriously: people obeying orders usually look just like the people giving orders. (p. 58)

For some time past, the world has been revolving around money, not around history. All the ancient heroic virtues you unpack have lost their importance long ago, you know it yourself. (p. 60)

The masses are the slaves of today, and the individual is the slave of the vast mass-ideas . . . You must dream up beauty and goodness and justice. Tell me, do you know how to dream? (p. 69)

These are jokes, the world just likes jokes. I don’t, but it doesn’t matter, all this. I feel how little it concerns me, everything that’s called “the world,” and how grand and exciting what I privately call the world is to me. (p. 124)

To be robust means not spending time on thought but quickly and quietly entering into what has to be done. (p. 136)

Quick goodbyes are loveless, and long ones are unbearable (p. 142)

I am dying . . . of the emptiness of cautious and clever people . . . (p. 156)

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7 thoughts on “Quotes from Jakob von Gunten

  1. Cyberkitten says:

    “people obeying orders usually look just like the people giving orders”. (p. 58)

    Most especially helpful when they wear distinctive hat attire and carry flags [with their leader’s name on]……. [grin]

    “The masses are the slaves of today, and the individual is the slave of the vast mass-ideas…”

    I think a BIG problem today is viewing people primarily through any group identity, thereby ‘seeing’ them as a mass that can usually be dismissed or denigrated without resort to nuance or actual facts, rather than the real individuals with thoughts and minds of their own. Thinking of people as ‘slaves’ and ‘mindless’ or ‘brain-washed’ by ‘mass ideas’ makes ignoring them so much easier so those in power can do what they do and still sleep at night…. That was a bit ranty… Sorry… [grin]

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I agree… we need to view people as individuals first, always. And recognize their free will, and the individual responsibility that goes with that.

      To me this quote (with the encouragement to dream) hints at people tending to seek groups voluntarily, out of loneliness and isolation. To fit in, they sometimes sideline their better conscience (or from a Christian perspective, the fear of God). At some point if you get embedded deeply enough – whether it’s an ideology or social media – you start to feel like you’re losing control / becoming a slave. Of course your choices remain, but they become so much harder to make when your life revolves around the group.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I would agree about the dangers of ‘nouning’ people were it not for the fact that most seem very comfortable going with their respective herds. Granted, we’re not privy to what goes on in people’s heads — they could be far more dubious and confused than they allow their outside behavior to indicate. I always try to keep that XKCD comic in mind, of the people on the bus who are all privately dismissing the others as sheep, when they alone are independent thinkers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Probhakar Sarkar says:

    “I hate the kind of person who pretends he understands everything and beamingly parades knowledge and wit. Sly and knowing people are to me an unspeakable abomination. (p. 41)” this is me, I know everything 😛, I have two states of mind-1. I know everything 2. I am the dumbest person on this planet and it oscillates back and forth. Please don’t hate me, hate is a strong word ☹

    The masses are the slaves of today, and the individual is the slave of the vast mass-ideas . . . You must dream up beauty and goodness and justice. Tell me, do you know how to dream? (p. 69) — 🤯

    Like

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