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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Recent Reads: Shakespeare, Vintage Horror, and Modernism

This past long weekend, having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I settled down in my big blue chair for a mini readathon. I’m dreadfully behind on the 100-book Goodreads goal, so my nefarious scheme is to read a bunch of short works to try to catch up.

The Wife (Kristin Lavransdatter #2) by Sigrid Undset

Now, this is one I actually finished a couple weeks ago, but I owe y’all an update. Without going into spoilers, I did like The Wife a great deal better than The Wreath (book 1). We get the whole fallout of Kristin’s “happily ever after” which, as it turns out, is happily ever disaster. (Ok, it’s not all bad, but it almost is.) I appreciated the realism. I didn’t love the sensationalism, which seems to be a trademark of the book (think the TV series Poldark or Downton Abbey). It’s a decent middle book, and I’m still curious how the trilogy ends, though not champing at the bit to read the last book yet.

Jakob von Gunten by Robert Walser

This is a novel, a Kafka precursor, I wanted very much to love but honestly didn’t. I’ll fully admit I wasn’t in the happiest frame of mind while reading it, so there maybe some personal bias seeping in. But I found Jakob to be a deeply unsettling, sinister story, much more than Kafka even. The writing is more accessible; there were some beautiful passages, too, even some that moved me to tears—I will probably do a follow-up post of favorite quotes. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend it personally, but it’s worth a try (your mileage may vary). I would probably still read more by Walser since I like this kind of writing for itself.

Sonnets by Shakespeare

I have a poor track record with Will… I’ve only read a handful of his plays and the only one I enjoyed was Hamlet. I actually bought this book mainly out of politeness (I hate going into a small bookshop and not buying anything to support the place). All that aside—I really got into the sonnets! Of course, we all know the very famous ones like “Love is not love” and “Shall I compare thee,” but I found some I’d never heard before that touched me deeply. There were two on time I liked very much and some on love and loss that were quite powerful. I think my favorite is 87.

Prufrock and Other Observations by T.S. ELIOT

I read this on good ol’ Wikisource. I’m glad I haven’t bought any Eliot yet because I was underwhelmed by this collection and even “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” failed to amaze. I enjoy his style and he has some good rhymes and imagery. I just found these poems to be rather forgettable, if I’m being honest. “Portrait of a Lady” was probably the best.

The Willows by Algernon Blackwood

Wikisource again. I specifically marked this one as “list for 2021,” so read it, I did. It was a bit overwrought in parts, but I found it sufficiently creepy, when read at night. I enjoyed the premise—two guys canoeing down the Danube, the “sensible” one and the “imaginative” one. Pretty soon they start seeing some weird stuff. It reminded me a lot of Malicroix by Henri Bosco (another review I failed to give you, I’m sorry). But like Malicroix, it tried to be a bit more than it could live up to. Still a fun read, though.

“The Call of Cthulhu” by H.P. Lovecraft

Wikisource again (again)! Amazingly, this was my first time reading Lovecraft. It won’t be my last, but I’ve been extremely spoiled by the horror stories of Arthur Conan Doyle and H.G. Wells. By comparison, “Cthulhu” seemed to be too much tell and not enough show. I liked that it was a compilation of notes of other people, but somehow Lovecraft’s version of this isn’t as interesting as Doyle’s or even Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He told me many times how Cosmic, Cyclopean, and Bad things were, but I wasn’t feeling it, even at the end. Still, I do love old sci-fi/horror, so I will read more of his stories to get my fix.

In fact—if you have any sci-fi/horror to recommend from this general time period (late Victorian to 1920s), do let me know!

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