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)