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Jakob von Gunten (New York Review Books Classics)

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The Swiss writer Robert Walser is one of the quiet geniuses of twentieth-century literature. Largely self-taught and altogether indifferent to worldly success, Walser wrote a range of short stories, essays, as well as four novels, of which Jakob von Gunten is widely recognized as the finest. The book is a young man's inquisitive and irreverent account of life in what turns The Swiss writer Robert Walser is one of the quiet geniuses of twentieth-century literature. Largely self-taught and altogether indifferent to worldly success, Walser wrote a range of short stories, essays, as well as four novels, of which Jakob von Gunten is widely recognized as the finest. The book is a young man's inquisitive and irreverent account of life in what turns out to be the most uncanny of schools. It is the work of an outsider artist, a writer of uncompromising originality and disconcerting humor, whose beautiful sentences have the simplicity and strangeness of a painting by Henri Rousseau.


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The Swiss writer Robert Walser is one of the quiet geniuses of twentieth-century literature. Largely self-taught and altogether indifferent to worldly success, Walser wrote a range of short stories, essays, as well as four novels, of which Jakob von Gunten is widely recognized as the finest. The book is a young man's inquisitive and irreverent account of life in what turns The Swiss writer Robert Walser is one of the quiet geniuses of twentieth-century literature. Largely self-taught and altogether indifferent to worldly success, Walser wrote a range of short stories, essays, as well as four novels, of which Jakob von Gunten is widely recognized as the finest. The book is a young man's inquisitive and irreverent account of life in what turns out to be the most uncanny of schools. It is the work of an outsider artist, a writer of uncompromising originality and disconcerting humor, whose beautiful sentences have the simplicity and strangeness of a painting by Henri Rousseau.

30 review for Jakob von Gunten (New York Review Books Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Gaurav

    Jakob von Gunten Robert Walser Jakob von Gunten dissects the remote and vulnerable regions of human brain, the dramatic tensions between the fluctuating demons of inner self and the savage realities of outer world carves out an enigmatic reality which pierces your heart and thrusts yourself through the crests and troughs of an assorted compendium of human emotions. Written during a period which transformed German fiction, when refined, compact elementary forms of prose were taking shape, when pros Jakob von Gunten Robert Walser Jakob von Gunten dissects the remote and vulnerable regions of human brain, the dramatic tensions between the fluctuating demons of inner self and the savage realities of outer world carves out an enigmatic reality which pierces your heart and thrusts yourself through the crests and troughs of an assorted compendium of human emotions. Written during a period which transformed German fiction, when refined, compact elementary forms of prose were taking shape, when prose was becoming more analytic, Jakob von Gunten could be said as an exemplary achievement in that sense; in fact could be named an analytic soliloquy. The prose of Robert Walser has got something very primal in nature, it reveals the naivete of an expressionist artists whose soliloquy unites the gleam of imagination and reality. Jakob, an ambiguous creature has noble faith in simple ideas but the idea of 'God' deludes him. A pedantic, didactic, sanctimonious upstart, Jakob strangely combines arrogance and humility; an un-sleeping accurate dreamer who banters drowsing map of his routine activities. The book consists of his reflections on the education he receives in the school—an education in humility. The humility taught by the Benjamentas is not of the religious variety. Their graduates aspire to be serving men or butlers, not saints. Jakob is not like other pupils, his consciousness forbids him to surrender himself to the follies carried out in Benjamenta, for him the lessons in humility have a deep personal resonance. One learns very little here, observes young Jakob von Gunten after his first day at the Benjamenta Institute, where he has enrolled himself as a student. The teachers lie around like dead men. There is only one textbook, What is the Aim of Benjamenta’s Boys’ School?, and only one lesson, How Should a Boy Behave? All the teaching is done by Fräulein Lisa Benjamenta, sister of the principal. Herr Benjamenta himself sits in his office and counts his money, like an ogre in a fairy tale. In fact, the school is a bit of a swindle. Walser's design of improvisation assumes its impression on Jakob's sensibility, his passion for surprise, paradoxes remains in a constant flux of fact and fantasy. The bourgeois runaway from elite lifestyle wants to become zero- to start from all the way down. As suggested by Sartre in Being and Nothingess - one has to get rid of his projections to reach to the core of being where from the true existence of a person emanates. Though Walser and Jakob has much in common but the book can't be mistaken for a self-portrait. Jakob von Gunten could be said as a new creation, if not then its parody for sure, in the German wave of blending self and nobility -German Idealism- to venture social and cultural reforms. He is highly self-critical perhaps to the extent of Dostoyevsky' s character in The Underground Man and Confessions of Rousseau. One may get awestruck to note the discretion with which the pomposity of maturity and intellectualism are annihilated but without savageness. It would not be appropriate to keep Walser in the breath of literature in which we put Kafka, Sartre, Nietzsche and others since Walser has not been an 'intellectual' author- once it was said for him that he is 'comic Kafka'. Jakob says:- I value the way in which I open a door..... The generations of men losing the joy of life with all their treatises and understandings and knowledge.....I like running down stairs. What a lot of talk! The prose is an escapade built around idea of tales full of surprise, adventure and paradoxes; probably a mischievous blocking of dramatic thrust, also a parody of epic breath. Walser's prose is a dance rather than a walk through words, small dialogue nuances in Jakob's monologues vibrate back and forth. The use of different vocabulary for different characters creates a distinct effect which seems to form vivid experience of nonrepresentational art. Kraus's vocabulary embodies an impression which seems to shape out his character of humility, servitude. Kraus to Jakob:- You, you've got yourself pregnant with silly ideas. What a notion. Do something! Work, then you won't notice anything. You snooper. Snooping around for opinions and thoughts. Go away. I'm beginning to hate the sight of you. The reader constantly finds him/ herself in an ever-churning vortex of reality and imagination, you sometimes wonder whether Jakob himself is disturbing the holy brane of space and time to carve out something which can be taken for reality or it’s one of his fantastical follies emanating from the profundity of his brain. When he arrives in Benjamenta, he gets fascinated with the idea that there is a mystery at the heart of the institute, the mystery which, when one traverses through the deep cervices of it, may introduce oneself to the elementary realities of life. But once Jakob penetrates in to the conundrum, he finds a mere goldfish; however, an initiation seeds an enchantment before this, perhaps in Jakob’s mental space if not in physical space. The book demands constant attention of the reader, for sometimes it may occur as highly condensed interior monologue and during other, it may simple be a mystical tale created out of contradiction and juxtaposition of words. It’s not like those creations of art which you may like or dislike instantly in entirety. One may get caught up with a strange feeling of irresoluteness about the book, it may take time to sink in.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    As I was reading through Jakob von Gunten I wondered what genre it belonged to. Was it some kind of memoir? Was it a coming of age story? Was it a love story? Was it perhaps something totally new, a genre I'd never met before? Or was it rather something utterly ancient, as ancient as the stories of the Old Testament. Ancient, yes, that was the predominant feeling I was left with at the end, though the writing has nothing biblical about it whatsoever being extremely lighthearted and jolly in tone As I was reading through Jakob von Gunten I wondered what genre it belonged to. Was it some kind of memoir? Was it a coming of age story? Was it a love story? Was it perhaps something totally new, a genre I'd never met before? Or was it rather something utterly ancient, as ancient as the stories of the Old Testament. Ancient, yes, that was the predominant feeling I was left with at the end, though the writing has nothing biblical about it whatsoever being extremely lighthearted and jolly in tone which is one of the many paradoxes of this short novel. In fact Jacob, the narrator, speaks constantly in paradoxes: he tells of a school where no learning takes place, and of a feared principal who is really rather meek. Jacob sees beauty in the oddest of places, even in the idiosyncrasies of headboy Kraus: I do like people who get angry. Kraus gets angry on the slightest pretext. That is so beautiful, so noble. The sinner must always be faced with the person outraged, or else something would be missing. The mumbling of a grumbler is lovelier to me than the murmuring of a woodland stream. Jacob expounds on the virtues of compliance to rules in one breath while telling us that he loves running on the stairs in the next: To be supposed not to do something is so alluring sometimes that one can’t help doing it. Therefore I love so deeply every compulsion, because it allows me to take joy in what is illicit. If there were no commandments, no duties in the world, I would die, starve, be crippled by boredom. I provoke the frowning law to anger a little, afterwards I make the effort to pacify it. Although it was written more than one hundred years ago, each word, each sentence in this slim book, has the freshness of new snow, though perhaps new snow on which a happy dog has left a yellow stain, because Jacob’s sparkling words are always sprinkled with little ironies. Sly and knowing people are to me an unspeakable abomination. How nice Peter is, in precisely this point. His being tall, so tall that he could crack in two, is good, but even better is the goodness of heart which keeps whispering to him that he is a cavalier and has the looks of a noble rake. The entire book is a parade of seeming contradictions. Nothing can excite me so deeply as the sight and smell of what is good and just, Jacob tells us before revealing that: nothing pleases me more than to give a completely false image of myself to people for whom I have made a place in my heart…Thus for example, I imagine that it would be unspeakably lovely to die with the terrible knowledge that I have offended whomsoever I love the most and have filled them with bad opinions of me. Nobody will understand that, or only someone who can sense tremblings of beauty in defiance. Those tremblings of beauty in defiance reminded me of the biblical story of Lucifer before the Fall, whose heart, according to Ezekiel was lifted up because of thy beauty but who had become corrupted by reason of thy brightness. I imagined Jacob as a latter-day Lucifer, shining very brightly among his duller fellows. But unlike Lucifer, he succeeds in seducing the Father figure of his world completley and causes him to lose his bearings so that instead of rejecting Jacob and casting him out, he 'casts out' all the 'good' pupils/angels instead, even the rule-abiding and very fundamentalist Archangel, Kraus. So the story made me think about what the Judeo/Christian/Islamic world would be like if we’d never had a Lucifer figure to demonise, and if the deity had presented itself as just as human and weak as the rest of us... Image: (view spoiler)[ William Blake's Lucifer before the Fall (hide spoiler)]

  3. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    Imagine the school scenes from Gormenghast rewritten by Kafka and you'll have a good idea of the atmosphere of Jakob von Gunten, a short and stodgy philosophical fable of a very Germanic kind. It's easy to see why Kafka and Hesse were such fans; I wasn't quite so convinced, although I can understand why so many people love it. The novel consists of a journal written by the title character, who has enrolled in a school for servants (based on Walser's own experience at a valet school in Berlin). Th Imagine the school scenes from Gormenghast rewritten by Kafka and you'll have a good idea of the atmosphere of Jakob von Gunten, a short and stodgy philosophical fable of a very Germanic kind. It's easy to see why Kafka and Hesse were such fans; I wasn't quite so convinced, although I can understand why so many people love it. The novel consists of a journal written by the title character, who has enrolled in a school for servants (based on Walser's own experience at a valet school in Berlin). The Benjamenta Institute is a closed world, with its own bizarre rules, a remote Principal, a mysterious Instructress – it's all dusty classrooms and intimations of impending disaster. In this constrained setting, Jakob conducts his own explorations of the interior world – probing his mind, examining his relationships with other people, and recording everything in a breathless, childlike narrative. The microcosmic environment and the introspective narrator combine to produce a sort of parable about the importance of fully immersing yourself in everyday existence. I pay attention, and that makes life more beautiful, for if we don't have to pay attention there really is no life. However, this theme doesn't come without a certain ‘nativist’, anti-intellectual strain that I found a little disingenuous, however appealing. Jakob hates ‘the kind of person who pretends he understands everything and beamingly parades knowledge and wit’; what he likes is simplicity, people who simply do, without analysing. This is an awkward message for a writer to pull off, because a writer is precisely someone who reflects on and analyses their experiences. (And indeed for Jakob, 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.’) Of course, Jakob himself has to embody exactly what he says he hates, otherwise he wouldn't be able to narrate a book. So he's intelligent and thoughtful, but he's not happy about it. I despise my capacity for thinking. I value only experiences, and these, as a rule, are quite independent of all thinking and comparing. Thus I value the way in which I open a door. There is more hidden life in opening a door than in asking a question. A really beautiful phrase – but the idea behind it, though attractive, with a little reflection seems obviously wrong. I say ‘obviously’ because if it were true, there would be no need to write books like this in the first place. If this book has any value at all, then that value can only be conveyed through means that the book itself disparages. It has to be said as well that Christopher Middleton's translation (in the NYRB edition) seems rather heavy-handed and, well, infelicitous at times. We have sentences such as, ‘Schacht likes to offend against the rules and I, to be candid, unfortunately no less,’ which can only go through your head in a thick German accent. (Oops, I mean Swiss.) On the other hand, Middleton's introduction reads a bit awkwardly too, so maybe that's just the way he speaks. Walser once said, ‘God is the opposite of Rodin.’ I don't know what he meant but I like it, and I didn't want to end this review without mentioning it somewhere. This book is similarly cryptic, provocative and anti-artistic. I wouldn't recommend it exactly, but if I saw you reading it in Starbucks I'd nod sagely and offer to buy you another pumpkin latte.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mevsim Yenice

    Jakob ile tanıştığıma çok memnunum. Kolay kolay aklımdan çıkmayacak, hatta bazen bir rüya sonrası, bazen karmaşık düşüncelerle kendimi yıprattığım ve hemen ardından kendimi rahatlatmak için tüm varlığımı, iyilikleri, kötülükleri red edeceğim bir günün herhangi bir anında onu anımsayacağımı biliyorum. Metin bana öyle garip ve gelgitli şeyler hissettirdi ki anlatması sahiden zor. Bambaşka metinlerin de içine attı farkında olmadan okurken. En güzel kısım da sanırım oydu. Jakob'un okuldaki arkadaşla Jakob ile tanıştığıma çok memnunum. Kolay kolay aklımdan çıkmayacak, hatta bazen bir rüya sonrası, bazen karmaşık düşüncelerle kendimi yıprattığım ve hemen ardından kendimi rahatlatmak için tüm varlığımı, iyilikleri, kötülükleri red edeceğim bir günün herhangi bir anında onu anımsayacağımı biliyorum. Metin bana öyle garip ve gelgitli şeyler hissettirdi ki anlatması sahiden zor. Bambaşka metinlerin de içine attı farkında olmadan okurken. En güzel kısım da sanırım oydu. Jakob'un okuldaki arkadaşlarını kategorilendirme ve sembolize etme yönüyle Thomas Mann'ın Büyülü Dağ'ını hatırlattı mesela. Bir süre şunu düşündüm: karakterlerden biri olan Kraus büyüyüp karşımıza Ishiguro'nun Günden Kalanlar'ındaki baş uşak olarak çıkacak. Ve sonlara doğru Jakob efendi şovuna devam ederken, mantar yiyip de zehirlenmiş gibi zehir zeka zihninin düşüncelerini taramalı tüfek gibi bize savururken şunu düşündüm, bu çocuk büyüyünce Dostoyevski'nin Yeraltından Notları'nda bize meydan okuyacak. Uzun lafın kısası, Jakob anlatılacak bir karakter değil, kendisiyle tanışmak istiyorsanız, kitabı okumanız gerekecek. "Artık hiçbir şey düşünmek istemiyorum. Tanrı'yı da mı? Hayır! Tanrı benimle olacak. O'nu düşünmeme ne gerek var ki? Tanrı zaten düşüncesiz insanlarla düşüp kalkar."

  5. 4 out of 5

    Proustitute

    How does one begin to write even an on-the-fly review of such a novel, one that should be experienced as a series of deceptively simple vignettes in the young life of the titular character and be relished as Walser carries one along with Jakob's singular voice? Jakob von Gunten is also a difficult novel from which to quote given how the reader manages to catch small glimpses of how the narrative voice will develop and evolve, something that this reviewer would not wish to ruin for any future rea How does one begin to write even an on-the-fly review of such a novel, one that should be experienced as a series of deceptively simple vignettes in the young life of the titular character and be relished as Walser carries one along with Jakob's singular voice? Jakob von Gunten is also a difficult novel from which to quote given how the reader manages to catch small glimpses of how the narrative voice will develop and evolve, something that this reviewer would not wish to ruin for any future reader of this very precious book. Walser really is a master at the microcosmic: the Benjamenta Institute—where Jakob installs himself to learn (or not learn) the ways of the world—truly is the world. Just as The Walk and The Assistant offer microcosmic and often claustrophobic scenes that suggest their application to society and culture at large, so, too, does Jakob von Gunten. In all of these works—which, to date, are the only works by Walser I've had the chance to read—Walser gives us searing and incisive psychological portraits of his protagonists; at the same time, Walser is superbly nonjudgmental in presenting both their virtues and their vices. His humanism and compassion is evident, as well as an overarching concern with morality, class divisions, the function of dreams and fantasies in forging a creative and cosmopolitan place in society, and the ways in which industrialization and urbanization (always in the background in Walser's work, but a prevalent motif all the same) cause individuals to lose some sense of a shared, common history. Jakob's voice is that of a child and yet he is also emphatically not a child. Instead, Walser suggests that there is no distinction to be made between childhood and adulthood; in so doing, he also breaks down other dualistic and dichotomous categories, causing Jakob's precarious, playful, perverse, and inquisitive questioning of the world in which he lives to become the questions that we all pose when faced with change of any sort. (And despite the quick nature of this review, it seems Modern World Lit has decided to feature it. MWL is a great resource: check it out if you don't already know about it.)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Quite an oddity; it took me a while to decide whether I liked it or not; it’s quite abstract and the protagonist isn’t someone that I would immediately warm to. The novel is written in the first person. Jakob is from a good family, with money and possibly titled who decides to go to the big city (Berlin) and join a school for servants (much as Walser did) called the Benjamenta Institute. The only teaching members we meet are the Principal and his sister. The book is in diary form and consists of Quite an oddity; it took me a while to decide whether I liked it or not; it’s quite abstract and the protagonist isn’t someone that I would immediately warm to. The novel is written in the first person. Jakob is from a good family, with money and possibly titled who decides to go to the big city (Berlin) and join a school for servants (much as Walser did) called the Benjamenta Institute. The only teaching members we meet are the Principal and his sister. The book is in diary form and consists of Jakob’s reflections and his philosophy; and also something of the philosophy of being a servant and being invisible with appropriate humility. Jakob is highly self-critical (sometimes irritatingly so) and there were times I was reminded of Uriah Heep. Walser’s influences are not easy to pin down. His intensely self critical nature has been compared to Rousseau in the Confessions and to a Dostoyevskian character. One of his translators has argued that Jakob has some similarities to characters in German folk tales (Brothers Grimm); the hero who braves the castle and wins the day against the odds. But victory is bittersweet because at the end Jakob is still back in the real world. Kafka was a fan and it is easy to see why and to see shades of The Castle in particular. Jakob’s odd combination of humility and arrogance and his philosophy sometimes feel unsettling and contradictory; there are clear Nietzschean references and yet Walser is also analysing the middle class/bourgeois psyche which will have such an influence on German history in the early twentieth century. The elevation of the banal and the ultimate discovery by Jakob that at the heart it is all hollow and meaningless; the mysterious inner chambers are not all they seem; neither are the Benjamenta’s. The foreshadowing of Nazism in characters like Kraus is startling; as is the amused tolerance of those in authority; there is a level of madness about it, but it is so simple, at times amusing; but also sad given Walser’s later descent into madness. Pretty much nothing happens on the surface, but Jakob has a hard time living with himself. A later poem by Walser sums it up; I would wish it on no one to be me. Only I am capable of bearing myself. To know so much, to have seen so much, and To say nothing, just about nothing

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bilal Y.

    Bayanlar baylar, eğer müsaade ederseniz, sizleri Jakob Von Gunten ile tanıştırmak istiyorum. Bir çocuk, bir öğrenci Jakob. Onun hakkında çok şey söylenebilir ama kısa keseceğim. İnsana ait çok şeyi kendinde barındırmış. Onun iyiliğini, kötülüğünü, tembelliğini, şımarıklığını, küstahlığını, kibrini uzun uzun anlatabilirim ama buna gerek yok. Bunun yerine onu ele veren kendi cümlelerinden bir kaçını ve onunla nasıl tanış olduğumuzdan bahsedeceğim. Ondan ilk defa bahsedildiğini bana ayrıksı bir okum Bayanlar baylar, eğer müsaade ederseniz, sizleri Jakob Von Gunten ile tanıştırmak istiyorum. Bir çocuk, bir öğrenci Jakob. Onun hakkında çok şey söylenebilir ama kısa keseceğim. İnsana ait çok şeyi kendinde barındırmış. Onun iyiliğini, kötülüğünü, tembelliğini, şımarıklığını, küstahlığını, kibrini uzun uzun anlatabilirim ama buna gerek yok. Bunun yerine onu ele veren kendi cümlelerinden bir kaçını ve onunla nasıl tanış olduğumuzdan bahsedeceğim. Ondan ilk defa bahsedildiğini bana ayrıksı bir okuma listesi sunan Enrique Vila-Matas'ın Bartleby ve Şürekası adlı eserinden duymuştum. Şürekanın bir numaralı ismi olan Jakob, Vila-Matas'In da esin kaynaklarının başında yer almış... İşte Jakob'un cümleleri: "Her şeye rağmen biz küçük insanlar bir şeyiz." "Bir şey yapmak zorunda olmamak bazen öyle çekici geliyor ki insana, kendinizi buna teslim etmekten başka bir şey gelmez elinizden." "Kendimize olan inancımız alçakgönüllülüğümüzdür." "Saygıya değer bulunmayan insanlar her şeyi ciddiye alır ya da hafife alır ve sululuğa vurur." "Dünya üzerinde on binlerce kafa boşuna çalışıyor" "Gelecekteki tüm başarılardan nefret ediyorum."

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jaguar Kitap

    Yeni edisyonuyla çok yakında Jaguar'da...

  9. 4 out of 5

    RACA

    "Burada herkesin acelesi var, çünkü insanların aklı fikri çabalayıp bir şeylere ulaşmak üzere ilerlemenin ne kadar güzel olduğunda. Hayatın hızlı bir ritmi var. Yaralar derinleşiyor ve ağrılar ağırlaşıyor, çünkü burada sevinç her yerdekinden fazla ve uzun yaşanıyor." Jaguar Kitap 💚

  10. 5 out of 5

    sigurd

    Jakob von Gunten è uno di quei libri la cui capacità di suggerire interpretazioni è infinita. è il romanzo preferito di Kafka, che lo leggeva ridendo di gusto ai suoi amici, e uno dei più misteriosi libri che abbia mai letto. la storia è quella di un giovane discendente di una famiglia aristocratica che arriva in un istituto dove si insegna l'umiltà e la sottomissione. solo chi riuscirà a sottomettersi nel maggior grado di purezza, a essere uno "zero rotondo come una palla" riuscirà ad adempiere Jakob von Gunten è uno di quei libri la cui capacità di suggerire interpretazioni è infinita. è il romanzo preferito di Kafka, che lo leggeva ridendo di gusto ai suoi amici, e uno dei più misteriosi libri che abbia mai letto. la storia è quella di un giovane discendente di una famiglia aristocratica che arriva in un istituto dove si insegna l'umiltà e la sottomissione. solo chi riuscirà a sottomettersi nel maggior grado di purezza, a essere uno "zero rotondo come una palla" riuscirà ad adempiere perfettamente i dettami dell'istituto Benjamenta. ad essere soppresso però è l'insegnamento stesso, gli insegnanti dormono o sono morti, la mistificazione è in agguato, il sentore è quello di una truffa ben architettata. Si entra nell'istituto Benjamenta con un certo sospetto, e si rimane perché qualcosa di ineffabile ha catturato chi vi è entrato, in un sonno che dura la vita intera. non è quello che si dice un romanzo di formazione, ma di iniziazione. non è nemmeno un romanzo, ma un diario dove si racconta la battaglia tra la coscienza di Jakob Von Gunten e i soprusi della realtà, quel "lestofante che ti ruba cose di cui non sa che farsene". In tutta l'opera di Walser ricorrono alcuni oggetti che si fanno simboli della sua esistenza e della sua prosa. lapis, spilli, zolfanelli, cenere. "se soffiamo sulla cenere", dice in un passo tratto da un altro suo libro "non c'è assolutamente nulla in essa che opponga resistenza per non volarsene via in un baleno. La cenere rappresenta in sé l'umiltà, l'insignificante, l'assenza di valore. e, ciò che è ancora più bello, essa stessa pervasa dalla condizione di non valere nulla. si pul essere più inconsistenti, più deboli, più inetti della cenere? è davvero difficile. è priva di carattere, e dal legno di qualsiasi essenza è ancora più lontana di quanto non sia lo scoramento dall'euforia. dove vi è cenere, non vi è in fondo proprio nulla. metti il piede sulla cenere, e quasi non ti accorgerai di aver calcato qualcosa." Robert Walser non possedeva nulla, non un tetto né nulla. persino la carta su cui scriveva con il lapis le opere con la sua micrografia era di seconda mano. questa rinuncia ai beni materiali e progressivamente a ciascun rapporto umano, questo starsene rintanato in un angolo immerso in chissà quale fantasticheria, l'essere morto in una passeggiata d'inverno, vergine, il suo corpo goffo e ingombrante steso e fotografato sopra la neve, le scarpe grosse e quasi ridicole nella loro goffaggine, questa sua rinuncia al mondo, questo suo rasentare fino al limite della follia la condizione bartlebyana, lo zero assoluto, il volo del cacciatore gracco nelle regioni silenziose, fredde ed arcane dell'esistenza, fa di lui più che un uomo una apparizione. una apparizione che non ha lasciato nessuna impronta sulla cenere. L'anelito di Robert Walser era quello di penetrare il mistero, farsene carico, violare alcuni codici di quel mondo impenetrabile e trasmetterceli in qualche modo. il rebus della sua vita e della sua opera non è stato ancora decifrato.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    Jakob Von Gunten is a metaphor of learning in the school of life… “We pupils all know, one as well as the next, that timidity is a punishable offence. Whoever stutters and shows fear is exposed to the scorn of our Fraulein, but we must be small, and we must know, know precisely, that we are nothing big. The law which commands, the discipline which compels, and the many unmerciful rules which give us a direction and give us good taste: that is the big thing, not us pupils. Well, everyone feels thi Jakob Von Gunten is a metaphor of learning in the school of life… “We pupils all know, one as well as the next, that timidity is a punishable offence. Whoever stutters and shows fear is exposed to the scorn of our Fraulein, but we must be small, and we must know, know precisely, that we are nothing big. The law which commands, the discipline which compels, and the many unmerciful rules which give us a direction and give us good taste: that is the big thing, not us pupils. Well, everyone feels this, even I do, that we are small, poor dependent dwarfs, obliged to be continuously obedient.” Jakob aspires to be a servant… “To me, for instance, wearing a uniform is very pleasant because I never did know, before, what clothes to put on. But in this, too, I am a mystery to myself for the time being. Perhaps there is a very very commonplace person inside me. But perhaps I have aristocratic blood in my veins. I don't know. But one thing I do know for certain: in later life I shall be a charming, utterly spherical zero. As an old man I shall have to serve young and confident and badly educated ruffians, or I shall be a beggar, or I shall perish.” But he also wishes to be rich… “When I see candles burning, I always feel that I am wealthy.” And he dreams of vices… “Then Virtue came in, a female figure of overwhelming beauty for anyone not frozen rigid, and weeping. I took her on my knee and fooled around with her. When I had robbed her of her unspeakable treasure, the Ideal, I chased her out with derision…” Jakob Von Gunten is an allegory of living a life.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mohammad Hrabal

    والزر نویسنده‌ی محبوب کافکا، هسه و توخولسکی بوده است. من نتوانستم خیلی با کتابش ارتباط برقرار کنم و لذت ببرم. ******************************************************************************** بین ما انسان‌های مدرن و مغرور و درب و داغان هم برده‌های زیادی وجود دارد. شاید هم همه‌ی ما انسان‌های امروزی چیزی مثل برده‌ها هستیم؛ تحت انقیاد یک اندیشه‌ی جهانی عصبی و خشن که تازیانه‌اش را در هوا تکان می‌دهد. ص 96 کتاب حس می‌کنم این چیزی که اسمش را دنیا گذاشته‌اند، ربطش به من چقدر کم است و آنچه که من نامش را دن والزر نویسنده‌ی محبوب کافکا، هسه و توخولسکی بوده است. من نتوانستم خیلی با کتابش ارتباط برقرار کنم و لذت ببرم. ******************************************************************************** بین ما انسان‌های مدرن و مغرور و درب و داغان هم برده‌های زیادی وجود دارد. شاید هم همه‌ی ما انسان‌های امروزی چیزی مثل برده‌ها هستیم؛ تحت انقیاد یک اندیشه‌ی جهانی عصبی و خشن که تازیانه‌اش را در هوا تکان می‌دهد. ص 96 کتاب حس می‌کنم این چیزی که اسمش را دنیا گذاشته‌اند، ربطش به من چقدر کم است و آنچه که من نامش را دنیا می‌گذارم، چقدر به نظرم سترگ و جذاب می‌آید. ص 147 کتاب

  13. 4 out of 5

    ·Karen·

    I would wish it on no one to be me. Only I am capable of bearing myself. To know so much, to have seen so much, and To say nothing, just about nothing. Written by Robert Walser, as quoted by J.M. Coetzee in The Genius of Robert Walser ----------------------------------------------------- Those dates there at the top of this review tell me that I took an inexplicable two and a half weeks to read this novella of a mere 164 pages. At the back of my edition I find a schematic overview of Walser's biograph I would wish it on no one to be me. Only I am capable of bearing myself. To know so much, to have seen so much, and To say nothing, just about nothing. Written by Robert Walser, as quoted by J.M. Coetzee in The Genius of Robert Walser ----------------------------------------------------- Those dates there at the top of this review tell me that I took an inexplicable two and a half weeks to read this novella of a mere 164 pages. At the back of my edition I find a schematic overview of Walser's biography. You know the style: a date, and where he was in that year. 1892-95: apprenticeship in the Biel branch of the Berner Kantonalbank. 22nd October 1894: death of his mother. Dreams of a career as an actor. 1895:April-August in Basel. Living with relatives. Employed as secretary with a haulier and a bank. From September: in Stuttgart. Living with his brother in a single man's hostel. Working for the publishing company Cotta. End of his hopes of a Thespian career. 1896: until the end of September in Stuttgart. Returned to Switzerland on foot I have to check to see: as the crow flies, taking his destination as Zürich, that is just over 100 miles, on roads and pathways closer to 140. Probably around a week? How could it possibly take me longer to read 164 pages than for him to walk 140 miles? ---------------------------------------------- Walking: the firm ground, eaten up by the rhythm of pacing feet. The smell of wet grass, the sound of cows tearing green stalks, rain on your face, the wind in your ears. Jakob von Gunten offers the opposite of such pleasures. Apart from being inside a claustrophobic institution, one that purports to be a training school for valets, but offers no instruction, employs teachers who are asleep, or dead, or only appear to be dead, or have turned to stone, (in any case the pupils can get nothing from them), apart from the feeling that life here is arrested, that this is a kind of ante-room to life, a state of infinite waiting, apart from all that there is no firm narrative ground underfoot, quagmires erupt, the passing landscape bleaches out at the corner of my eye and turns into the stuff of nightmare. Jakob von Gunten is one of the most unsettling narrators I have ever come across. He is a nothing, one of the large, round attractive (attractive?) zeros ('eine reizende, kugelrunde Null') that the Institut Benjamenta is so keen to produce, a master of self-effacement, he has no ties of any kind with family, or social class, or friends, or work colleagues. He apparently exists only in his relationships with the other inmates of the institute: and his relations with them are characterised by a disconcerting mix of condescension and admiration, along with the odd swirl of inappropriate intimacy. Schacht for example: Jakob likes talking to Schacht. He seems to understand everything you say to him, and he himself, from time to time, says something significant. And then he complains quite often, Jakob loves that in a conversation, because it gives him the opportunity to look at him and feel deep, heartfelt sympathy with him - and this is where it shifts, where the ground begins to move, because the German word Mitleid can also mean pity, and Schacht, when you look at him, has something pitiable about him even when he is not complaining. Schacht has soul. And because Jakob can masquerade as a sympathetic listener, Schacht even betrays his shameful secret: he has a disease, the sort of disreputable disease that he hopes Jakob will be discreet about, and indeed Jakob promises him, on his word of honour, that he will keep silent on this matter, 'to reassure him'. And then asks him to show him the diseased part. Or Kraus. Kraus is not a quick learner. But he will make a very good servant, he has the right air of humility and acquiescence, unmatched, incomparable. He is bound to be employed by the best sort, a Countess at the least. If it weren't for his unsightly spots. Really, very unfortunate. Poor Kraus! Mich zum Beispiel würden die Punkte, die ihn verunzieren, nicht im mindesten hindern, ihn zu küssen, wenn es darauf ankäme. For my part, those spots that spoil his looks would not prevent me from kissing him, if it was necessary. Under what circumstances would it be necessary, I wonder? --------------------------------------------- Jakob does go out. To watch with equanimity how the Polish waitress swindles him out of his only cash, to walk in the anonymous crowds of nameless nothings that turns, for him, into a grim (Grimm) fairy tale world of dwarves and monsters, trams like boxes of people, omnibuses like huge insects. The inhumanity of the masses. 1909: an early witness to the alienating effect of city life. He visits his brother. Yes, he has a brother. But his world is alien too. Jakob mimics the behaviour of society: with not a little talent. How mean is that? ------------------------------------------- I had to take a break from this nightmare. There seemed to be no destination for this journey, and I was teetering, swaying, insecure. It is impossible to read: is this irony, or sarcasm? Is Jakob breathtakingly impudent, or is he worryingly compliant? Sometimes, there is a glimpse of true nobility of the soul. Or is he saying that nobility of the soul is a sham? Hard to tell. ----------------------------------------- That tone: of cheerful acquiescence in an unacceptable destiny. Self-regulation. Self-denial. Self-annihilation. And yet forcing, imposing himself on others. Forcing the director of the institute to take on some kind of authority. Feeding off others, a parasite that ultimately will kill its host. It opened chasms of horror within. --------------------------------------- We are the hollow men. We are the stuffed men. But Jakob maintains that they vibrate. ----------------------------------------

  14. 4 out of 5

    Deniz Balcı

    Çok garip bir roman 'Jakob von Gunten'. Okuru ters köşelerde döndürüp duran ironilerin dans ettiği bir anlatı. Karakterimiz Jakob'un kutsi amacında kendini gösteren bu ironi (yoksa ironi değil mi) bir süre sonra olayların akışına da sirayet ediyor. Hakkında bir şeyler söylemenin zor olduğu ama içinde bir sürü cümlenin özenle çizildiği ve saklandığı bir kitap olduğundan; kitabı anlatmak yerine -fikirsel bir metin istiyorsanız şayet- direkt okumanızı tavsiye ederim. Umarım seversiniz. Benim kafam Çok garip bir roman 'Jakob von Gunten'. Okuru ters köşelerde döndürüp duran ironilerin dans ettiği bir anlatı. Karakterimiz Jakob'un kutsi amacında kendini gösteren bu ironi (yoksa ironi değil mi) bir süre sonra olayların akışına da sirayet ediyor. Hakkında bir şeyler söylemenin zor olduğu ama içinde bir sürü cümlenin özenle çizildiği ve saklandığı bir kitap olduğundan; kitabı anlatmak yerine -fikirsel bir metin istiyorsanız şayet- direkt okumanızı tavsiye ederim. Umarım seversiniz. Benim kafam biraz karışık zira:) Aldığı zamanın hakkını veren bir okuma mutlaka ama kişisel zevklerinize çok hitap etmeyebilir. İyi okumalar. 7/10

  15. 5 out of 5

    David

    I really, really hated this book. Jakob von Gunten (the character) is the most dull, fey, irritating, and obtuse example of a first-person narrator I have yet encountered in my literary sojourns. I wanted to track him down and to bludgeon him to death.

  16. 4 out of 5

    knig

    Chris Middleton does such a proficient job in my introduction honing in on the mysterium, journal element, and subtle ribbing tone of Jakob, that for a moment I think I am left with nothing to say. Luckily,I am not one to succumb to silence even in those circumstances : or, to be perfectly precise, I seem to always have something to say even when I don’t. For better or worse. This entire novel, then, is a study of contrast, and undercurrent. Seeming levity of tone belies a violent clash of dicho Chris Middleton does such a proficient job in my introduction honing in on the mysterium, journal element, and subtle ribbing tone of Jakob, that for a moment I think I am left with nothing to say. Luckily,I am not one to succumb to silence even in those circumstances : or, to be perfectly precise, I seem to always have something to say even when I don’t. For better or worse. This entire novel, then, is a study of contrast, and undercurrent. Seeming levity of tone belies a violent clash of dichotomous life forces: starting from Jakob himself, who embodies a relentless pursuit of ‘experiences’: : an outward momentum which accelerates unchecked, couples with a seemingly dissonant imperative of repressing the same, dulling and quashing all sense data, and finishing with the non too subtle juxtaposition between quotidian and otherworldly in place names (e.g. the monotonous and heterogenous atmosphere of the Benjamenta Institute for servants vs. the sumptuous, mysterious world of the ‘inner chambers’). And everything in between. Which in this case, is : a quintessential nothing. Jakob, having no plot, and unencumbered with background details, presents as an albedo scene: sparce on props, against which the klieglight carves out in microscopic details the dynamics of life through a narrative of character study. Jakob is a duality juxtaposed in bilateral relations with other characters where yet another geodesic poses more duality; this time in the pair off between Jakob and another character. Thus are the scenes in this novel enacted: in a sequence of Siamese links between Jakob and AN Other. Jakob and Kraus. Jakob and hisbrother. Jakob and Herr Benjamenta. Jakob and fraulein Benjamenta: a rotational pairing of opposites, diametrically opposed. Throughout this Jakob is by no means a constant: a quintessential ‘everyman’, he subtly adapts to each pairings idiosyncrasies to fulfil the role of subservient or ‘lord it’. Thus in the unholy triefecta between the Cocteau an siblings and himself, he slithers between sub and dom with remarkable dexterity. Walser explores ‘coupledom’ thus as a technique to illustrate the multi-layers of the human condition: each pairing speaks to life’s permutations: whether friendship, love (homoerotic love), duty, or even death. Each relationship is a refractory thread which opens up a new window of waltenshuung. How does this feel? Like the universe has been stretched out from pole to pole, wrenched out of its non euclydic slumber and prostrated, belly up, on the examining table for the mother of all post-mortems. If there is mysterium, it is unabashedly eviscerated and the contents strewn out for our ‘gaze’: no less mysterious, but a hell of a lot more accessible. How is this done? Through torrents of undercurrents. Nothing but nothing is explicit: yet the accretion of sequence after sequence creates a cumulative atmosphere of uninhibited wondrousness and marble cake layers of richness, potent in sensuality and promises.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Hakan

    jakob von gunten: hayata atılmak üzere olan bir genç. kendi seçimleriyle, kendi düşünceleriyle kendini kurmaya, kendine bir gelecek yaratmaya çalışıyor. sürekli gözlüyor, gözlemliyor, inceliyor, hayatın-insanın meselelerini önce farkediş tespit-teşhis, ardından soruna direnme ve mücadele, sonra kabullenme ve en son bu ikilemden kurtuluş olarak yeni bir söz söyleme çabası, yeni bir yol, yeni bir arayış. sürekli düşünüyor, düşünce üretiyor. düşünce ve hayal. düşüncelerinden, hayallerinden geleceği jakob von gunten: hayata atılmak üzere olan bir genç. kendi seçimleriyle, kendi düşünceleriyle kendini kurmaya, kendine bir gelecek yaratmaya çalışıyor. sürekli gözlüyor, gözlemliyor, inceliyor, hayatın-insanın meselelerini önce farkediş tespit-teşhis, ardından soruna direnme ve mücadele, sonra kabullenme ve en son bu ikilemden kurtuluş olarak yeni bir söz söyleme çabası, yeni bir yol, yeni bir arayış. sürekli düşünüyor, düşünce üretiyor. düşünce ve hayal. düşüncelerinden, hayallerinden geleceğini kurmaya çalışıyor. kurulmuş geleceğinden, kurulduğunu gördüğü geleceğinden kaçıyor daha doğrusu. ve walser: belki büyük romancı-edebiyatçı değil ama çağının büyük romancıların hiçbirinde olmayan bir duyarlılığa sahip. gören, bilen, eleştiren, değiştirmeye çalışan, hem bunun düşüncesini hem ruhunu taşıyan, hem büyük çabayı hem kaçınılmaz yenilgiyi içinde barındıran. sonunda kendini zehirlemiş duyarlılığıyla, kendini kendine kapatmış walser ama büyük yazarlara, iyi okurlara eşsiz bir miras bırakmış.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Esra M.

    İşte edebiyatın bize hediye ettiği unutulmayacak bir karakter daha: Jakob Von Gunten! Babasının soyluluğu ve kusursuzluğundan kaçarak uşak yetiştiren Benjamenta Ensitüsü’ne kayıt olmasıyla başlıyor hikaye. Daha doğrusu biz o zaman tanık olmaya başlıyoruz olanlara çünkü bilmediğimiz bir zamanda tohumlar atılıyor Jakob’un içine, düşünüp tartıyor sonunda uzaklaşmak istiyor ailesinden. Ne var ki gittiği yer de ona uygun değil. Ailesinin yaşantısı, sokaklarda bir o yana bir bu yana hızlıca koşturan i İşte edebiyatın bize hediye ettiği unutulmayacak bir karakter daha: Jakob Von Gunten! Babasının soyluluğu ve kusursuzluğundan kaçarak uşak yetiştiren Benjamenta Ensitüsü’ne kayıt olmasıyla başlıyor hikaye. Daha doğrusu biz o zaman tanık olmaya başlıyoruz olanlara çünkü bilmediğimiz bir zamanda tohumlar atılıyor Jakob’un içine, düşünüp tartıyor sonunda uzaklaşmak istiyor ailesinden. Ne var ki gittiği yer de ona uygun değil. Ailesinin yaşantısı, sokaklarda bir o yana bir bu yana hızlıca koşturan insanlar ya da enstitü yaşamı hepsi uzak ondan. Kalıbı,zorunlulukları, itaati olmayan bir yaşam onun istediği. Arayışla başlıyor kitap, sorgulama ve başkaldırıya dönüşüyor. Tüm bunların sonunda ise kendi seçtiği yolda devam ediyor hayatına kahramanımız. Altını çizdiğim pek çok cümle, sakinliğe övgü düzdüğü anlarda kalben aynı şeyleri hissettiğim pek çok an oldu. Jakob beni yanına aldı ve bana da sorgulattı herseyi. Son sayfada tadı damağımda kaldı.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jack Tripper

    Here's the cover of the 1983 Vintage Books trade paperback I have (154 pages). Full review to come. Here's the cover of the 1983 Vintage Books trade paperback I have (154 pages). Full review to come.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Guille

    No es la primera vez que la literatura de Walser fue profética para él mismo, en "Los hermanos Tanner" narró su propia muerte. También aquí encontraremos otro ejemplo de ello. Si es verdad lo que se cuenta de él, parece que fue el propio Robert Walser quien pidió su internamiento en el manicomio de Waldau para escapar del mundo y con la esperanza de enloquecer del todo y para siempre. Pues bien, Jakob Von Gunten, tras romper las ataduras familiares, ingresa libremente en el Instituto Benjamenta c No es la primera vez que la literatura de Walser fue profética para él mismo, en "Los hermanos Tanner" narró su propia muerte. También aquí encontraremos otro ejemplo de ello. Si es verdad lo que se cuenta de él, parece que fue el propio Robert Walser quien pidió su internamiento en el manicomio de Waldau para escapar del mundo y con la esperanza de enloquecer del todo y para siempre. Pues bien, Jakob Von Gunten, tras romper las ataduras familiares, ingresa libremente en el Instituto Benjamenta con la intención de aprender a renunciar a sí mismo, para aprender a “vencer el orgullo y la arrogancia que aún lo animan parcialmente”, para internalizar la subordinación como valor supremo, para, en definitiva, fundirse con el mundo y desaparecer del todo y para siempre. Por supuesto, no es esta curiosa capacidad profética lo más destacado de la obra de Walser. “Jakob von Gunten” nos expone con una hermosa sencillez los grandes problemas, esos que son indescifrables, imposibles de "resolver" sin apelar a la paradoja, a cierto grado de ambigüedad y hasta de oscuridad en esos márgenes difusos que solo se encuentran en la realidad fantástica, donde los volúmenes adoptan formas volubles al ojo del espectador, de cada espectador. De ahí el extraño escenario en el que nos sitúa Walser y los extraños personajes que aquí encontramos y que conforman un espacio profundamente sugerente, repleto de ideas, metáforas y simbología acerca de todo aquello “que se niega a ser oído”. Por ello, no es fácil concretar el significado de esta obra. Mi admirado Vila-Matas, entusiasta y apóstol confeso de la obra de Walser, la definió como “la historia del aprendizaje del procedimiento para que seamos elementos nulos e insignificantes para el poder”. Sin pretender enmendarle la plana, tengo que decir que esas formas volubles a las que aludo más arriba tomaron para mí unos perfiles bien distintos. “¡Fuera pensamientos!”, suplica Jakob. “¡Ah, todos esos pensamientos y extraños deseos, esta búsqueda, este tender las manos hacia algún significado!”, se lamenta. Alejarnos de la reflexión y abrazar la efusión, escapar de la individualidad, de los deseos, de las aspiraciones y hacerse nada en la nada. Esta es la quimérica intención con la que Jakob ingresa en el Instituto Benjamenta y el quimérico objetivo de la educación que en él se imparte. No es, por tanto, la intención, al menos no la principal a mi modo de ver, hacer crítica de los sistemas educativos, bien sean los impuestos por el poder en general bien sea el imperante en su época. El sistema educativo de este especialísimo instituto, cuya enseñanza consiste básicamente en inculcar a los alumnos la paciencia y la obediencia, es el apropiado para el objetivo perseguido. El Instituto Benjamenta es el medio; el fracaso es el fin. ¿Por qué tan peculiar personaje abriga tan peculiar deseo? ¿Angustia existencial? ¿La vida le parece superficial e intrascendente o un lugar inhóspito e inhabitable donde solo encontraremos frustración y decepción? En ambos casos la sensación que Jakob nos trasmite es la misma: somos soldados de Napoleón camino de Moscú. ¿O será simple cobardía? ¿Pudiera ser que Jakob fuera incapaz de enfrentarse a un mundo cambiante que ya no se rige por las leyes y modos aristocráticos que le son propios? ¿O quizás sencillamente es que tiene miedo de no estar a la altura de lo que su alcurnia le exige? ¿Incluso es posible que la razón se encuentre en un espacio más prosaico aun, esto es, que Walser nos quiera embromar de mala manera y el ingreso de Jakob se deba únicamente a la decisión adolescente de huir de su familia tras agredir a un profesor de su anterior colegio, el profesor de historia, el respetable doctor Merz? ¿Sabemos a qué atenernos tras esa contradictoria afirmación, esa paradójica confesión que nos realiza en los primeros pasajes de la novela: “Nada deseo con más franqueza que la insinceridad, y nunca soy mejor persona que cuando finjo que soy malo”? ¿No deberíamos dudar de todo lo que en su diario escribe este extraño ser procedente de una familia aristocrática que pretende convencernos de su propósito y de la conveniencia de vivir como un sirviente? ¿No es esta una decisión altamente contradictoria con el placer que extrae de la trasgresión de la ley; con su fuerte tendencia a la provocación desde la irreverencia del descreído; con el gusto con el que arremete sarcásticamente contra todo y contra todos en el instituto (con una…no, dos gloriosas excepciones); con el irónico escepticismo con el que atiende a los consejos de su hermano, el importante, el adaptado, el que sabe que “no hay nada, absolutamente nada digno de desearse”, que “todo está podrido” y que, sin embargo, aconseja el anhelo apasionado? ¿Quién es realmente este ser que afirma no querer ser amado ni deseado, que dice no reconocer verdades, no encontrar significados y que, no obstante, desde “este creer-saber y este nunca-saber-nada-sin-embargo” nos dice que quiere vivir “sea como sea”? ¿Qué elegir, la seriedad o la bufonada? O quizás, como criaturas degradadas, ¿no deberíamos tomarnos la novela (y la vida misma) “en serio, pero también a la ligera, casi frívolamente”? ¿Es el final de la novela la respuesta a esta pregunta? ¿Así es como tenemos que interpretar el suceso que le acontece a Fräulein Lisa Benjamenta, símbolo de lo puro, de lo serio, de lo trágico? ¿Es ese el significado de la decisión que toma Jakob acerca de Herr Benjamenta, protagonista de las escenas más esperpénticas del relato? Las formas volubles se tornan en este final más juguetonas que nunca, pero merece la pena el juego: disfrútenlo.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dimitri

    Franz Kafka amava molto le opere dello scrittore svizzero Robert Walser. Rideva di gusto quando le leggeva ad alta voce ai suoi amici. “Jakob von Gunten”, uscito nel 1909, era uno dei suoi romanzi preferiti. E’ un condensato di saggezza e ironia, un piccolo gioiello ricco di pensieri sull’inutilità di questi stessi pensieri. “A che servono a un uomo i pensieri e le idee, se ha la sensazione di non saper cosa farsene?” L’enigmatico Jakob racconta in prima persona, in forma di diario, il suo period Franz Kafka amava molto le opere dello scrittore svizzero Robert Walser. Rideva di gusto quando le leggeva ad alta voce ai suoi amici. “Jakob von Gunten”, uscito nel 1909, era uno dei suoi romanzi preferiti. E’ un condensato di saggezza e ironia, un piccolo gioiello ricco di pensieri sull’inutilità di questi stessi pensieri. “A che servono a un uomo i pensieri e le idee, se ha la sensazione di non saper cosa farsene?” L’enigmatico Jakob racconta in prima persona, in forma di diario, il suo periodo passato all’interno dell’Istituto Benjamenta. Perché il rampollo di una famiglia aristocratica decide di mollare tutto e rinchiudersi in una scuola che insegna solamente ad essere dei perfetti servitori? “C’è un profumo, una forza anche nel rinunciare a qualche cosa. Non poter fare una cosa è come farla doppiamente in un qualche altro modo”. Con il tema della rinuncia e del servizio agli altri sempre in primo piano, il giovane osserva se stesso, i suoi compagni, il direttore della scuola, i maestri (in particolare la triste signorina Lisa). Quando esce dall’austero ambiente dell’Istituto, lo fa soprattutto perché invitato nella casa del fratello maggiore, che vive invece nell’alta società. L’occasione è ghiotta per guardare con immensa ironia questa ristretta cerchia di persone benestanti, “gentili per disperazione, amabili per ansietà, dominati da un inequivocabile senso di stanchezza; ma sono poi contenti?” Jakob invece non è mai triste, perché sarà un servitore: “arrossirò di felicità come l’ultimo degli idioti a ogni grazie che mi sarà gettato a fior di labbra”. Un narratore a cui ci si affeziona, di poche parole con gli altri ma un fiume in piena quando scrive il suo diario. Il ragazzo è un tipo originale (“Mi è caro il frastuono e il movimento incessante della metropoli. Ciò che perpetuamente scorre, costringe a una moralità”), saggio, contraddittorio e autoironico (“Non c’è dubbio che si debba pensare, e molto. Ma conformarsi è più elegante”) . Un futuro automa ubbidiente ma ora un alunno anche sfrontato, che addirittura rischia di venire strozzato dal misterioso direttore. Come misterioso è tutto l’Istituto Benjamenta, con i suoi corridoi bui, le stanze silenziose, dove il tempo trascorre “sotto l’effetto di un sogno, di una favola senza senso eppure piena di significati”. E poi c’è il mistero degli appartamenti in cui si ritirano alla sera il direttore e sua sorella, la signorina Lisa. “Pensavo che là, dietro quella porta da cui sempre esce ed entra la signorina, ci fosse un visibilio di stanze e di sale, come in un castello”. Scoprirà Jakob cosa c’è dietro quella porta? Questa ambientazione e questa atmosfera di attesa, fatta anche di sogni e di visioni, ricordano Kafka e soprattutto il suo romanzo “Il castello”. Capisco allora perché “Jakob von Gunten” piacesse tanto all’autore praghese, che almeno un sorriso l’avrà fatto leggendo una frase come questa: “Se uno scrittore venisse a visitarci e a studiare la nostra prestanza e pochezza, lo farebbe morir dal ridere. No no, rimanga pure a casa questo signor scrittore. Tutti perditempo, costoro che vogliono solo studiare, dipingere e allineare osservazioni. Basta vivere, e si ha da osservare a volontà”.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kimley

    I've been thinking a lot about institutions/institutional living lately due to having recently finished two books back-to-back where the primary action takes place in one. The other book being Leonora Carrington's The Hearing Trumpet which had a certain resonance with this book despite being significantly different. Neither has quite the traditional take on institutions, a word that, for me, tends to conjure up images of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Both books have an inter I've been thinking a lot about institutions/institutional living lately due to having recently finished two books back-to-back where the primary action takes place in one. The other book being Leonora Carrington's The Hearing Trumpet which had a certain resonance with this book despite being significantly different. Neither has quite the traditional take on institutions, a word that, for me, tends to conjure up images of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Both books have an interesting twist on who's got the power and who submits. As a young man Walser enrolled himself in a servant training school similar to the one in this book and he lived his last years in a mental institution though speculation seems to be that he wasn't actually mentally unstable to such a degree that would warrant this. Clearly he was intrigued by institutional life and perhaps (hopefully in his later years) it brought him some solace. I do think there's a certain attraction to institutions. For all their rules and regulations and daily routines, there's also something freeing and comforting in that. You can disconnect completely and live a rich internal existence (which, let's face it, is what most writers do already anyway minus the actual institutional enforcement.) However, we can all instantly see the inherent flaws in this. The complete shutting down of an outward life is never a good thing. Our hero Jakob, a precocious middle-class teenager who runs away from the comforts of home and submits himself to the Benjamenta Institute to learn to be a servant, goes back and forth himself on his preference for being the master or the servant. He finds himself attracted to the formal routine and even romantic mystery behind being told what to do and yet he also can be very manipulative of the brother and sister who run the institute, who themselves become attached to Jakob and get confused as to whether they are in control or not. And lest you think that you can live above this bifurcated notion of life, we see Jakob spending time with his older brother, a somewhat successful artist who socializes in a circle that appears to float above these notions of class struggle and relish the equality in a bohemian lifestyle. And yet Jakob quickly sees that the same machinations are in place here as well. With Jakob, both sides to every coin are revealed to the point where it can almost become unnerving. He's constantly stepping back and putting a cold spotlight on things but then he also jumps right in and gets involved to a very messy degree. The two sides frequently blur. "Yet everything does provoke one to question and compare and remember. Certainly one must think, one must even think a great deal. But to comply, that is much more refined, much more than thinking. If one thinks, one resists, and that is always so ugly and ruinous to things." Not only is it impossible to live an ideal life but it's impossible to even define an ideal life. Should we attempt to exert some control on life or submit to its ebb and flow? It's Jakob's (unconscious?) understanding of this ineffability of life that spurs him onward.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dagio_maya

    “Ubbidiamo senza riflettere” (1909)- Jacob Von Gunten è un giovane di nobili origini che scappa di casa e si iscrivere all'Istituto Benjamenta, una scuola preparatoria per domestici. ”Qui s’impara ben poco, c’è mancanza di insegnanti, e noi ragazzi dell’Istituto Benjamenta non riusciremo a nulla, in altre parole, nella nostra vita futura saremo tutti qualcosa di molto piccolo e subordinato. L’insegnamento che ci viene impartito consiste sostanzialmente nell'inculcarci pazienza e ubbidienza: due qu “Ubbidiamo senza riflettere” (1909)- Jacob Von Gunten è un giovane di nobili origini che scappa di casa e si iscrivere all'Istituto Benjamenta, una scuola preparatoria per domestici. ”Qui s’impara ben poco, c’è mancanza di insegnanti, e noi ragazzi dell’Istituto Benjamenta non riusciremo a nulla, in altre parole, nella nostra vita futura saremo tutti qualcosa di molto piccolo e subordinato. L’insegnamento che ci viene impartito consiste sostanzialmente nell'inculcarci pazienza e ubbidienza: due qualità che promettono poco o nessun successo. Successi interiori, magari sì: ma che vantaggio potremo trarne? A chi danno da mangiare le conquiste spirituali?” Comincia così il diario di Jacob che descrive le vuote giornate all'Istituto. L'assenza di apprendimento, malgrado le apparenze, è tuttavia una formazione: gli allievi qui imparano a non essere. Come ben dice Roberto Calasso nella postfazione: ”Invece di formare una personalità, come si direbbe in gergo pedagogico, l’Istituto la disfa e la dissocia. Qui l’ostacolo che gli allievi devono superare è la coscienza stessa. Perciò si esercitano alla ripetizione vuota, alla obbedienza mimetica: seguono qualunque ordine esterno per sottrarsi alla coazione a pensare. Tendono a ridursi a zero (...)”. Sono arrivata a questo libro leggendo “Bartleby e compagnia”di Vila-Matas. “Jacob Von Gunten”- e la vita stessa di Walser- sono indicati come massimo esempio di appartenenza a la cosiddetta compagna di Bartleby. Sempre Calasso: ”L’obbedienza di Walser, come la disobbedienza di Bartleby, presuppone una totale rescissione. Una mancanza originaria li sottrae all’ecumene dei comunicanti — e quella mancanza è la loro ricchezza. Sovrani, nulla fanno per porle un rimedio e neppure per commentarla. Copiano, trascrivono lettere che li traversano come una lastra trasparente. Non enunciano nulla di proprio, non vogliono modificazioni. « Non mi sviluppo », dice Jakob nell’Istituto; « Non voglio cambiamenti », dice Bartleby. Nella loro affinità si scopre l’equivalenza fra il silenzio e un certo uso ornamentale della parola” . Robert Walser fece i mestieri più disparati ma tra un lavoro e l'altro andava a fare il copista a quella che lui chiamava: «Camera di scrittura per disoccupati»(sic!). Nella sua biografia si rileva un desiderio di essere un sottoposto colui che si sottomette all'obbedienza. Ciò, tuttavia, è solo in apparenza discrepante dall'essenza del protagonista Bartleby. Si tratta, infatti, di due comportamenti che portati all'estremo si ritrovano nel loro annullamento. Walser così si sottrae fino a farsi rinchiudere in un manicomio dove rinuncia al mondo ed alla scrittura che si relega su fogliettini stropicciati e con una grafia minutissima ed incomprensibile in un ultimo atto di sottrazione dal mondo.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nickolas the Kid

    Η ιστορία ενός κοινωνικού επαναστάτη, του Γιάκομπ Φον Γκούντεν, ο οποίος αποφασίζει να "απαρνηθεί" την ευγενική του καταγωγή και τα πλούτη του και να εγγραφεί στο Ινστιτούτο Μπενζαμέντα. Ένα Ινστιτούτο με περίεργους οικότροφους αλλά και ακόμα πιο περίεργους καθηγητές και ιδιοκτήτες. Εκεί όντας μαθητευόμενος θα αναθεωρήσει κάποιες από τις βασικές του αρχές αλλά και παράλληλα θα βυθιστεί σε έναν περίεργο κόσμο όπου το όνειρο μπλέκεται με την πραγματικότητα.... Σε πρώτο πρόσωπο η γραφή του Βάλζερ κά Η ιστορία ενός κοινωνικού επαναστάτη, του Γιάκομπ Φον Γκούντεν, ο οποίος αποφασίζει να "απαρνηθεί" την ευγενική του καταγωγή και τα πλούτη του και να εγγραφεί στο Ινστιτούτο Μπενζαμέντα. Ένα Ινστιτούτο με περίεργους οικότροφους αλλά και ακόμα πιο περίεργους καθηγητές και ιδιοκτήτες. Εκεί όντας μαθητευόμενος θα αναθεωρήσει κάποιες από τις βασικές του αρχές αλλά και παράλληλα θα βυθιστεί σε έναν περίεργο κόσμο όπου το όνειρο μπλέκεται με την πραγματικότητα.... Σε πρώτο πρόσωπο η γραφή του Βάλζερ κάνει το όλο κείμενο να μοιάζει με προσωπική εξομολόγηση του συγγραφέα για τα προσωπικά του αδιέξοδα αλλά και μια αναζήτηση του ορισμού της ελευθερίας. Πολλές εύστοχες σκέψεις είναι διάσπαρτες μέσα στο βιβλίο αλλά στο σύνολο του μου άφησε μια αίσθηση ότι έλλειπε κάποια συνοχή... Εν τέλει μου άρεσε όμως μιας και οι επιρροές από αγαπημένα μου είδη λογοτεχνίας όπως τα παραμύθια αλλά και η αλλόκοτη ατμόσφαιρα του Ινστιτούτου ήταν στοιχεία που στην λογοτεχνία δεν μπορούν να με αφήσουν αδιάφορο. θα ήθελα να διαβάσω κάτι ακόμα από τον συγκεκριμένο συγγραφέα για να μπορέσω να σχηματίσω μια πιο ολοκληρωμένη άποψη αλλά και να εμβαθύνω στους στοχασμούς και τις αλληγορίες του! 3,5/5

  25. 4 out of 5

    Stephen P

    When I see a painting in a gallery or museum I avoid at all costs the name of the artist until I have experienced and been impacted by the work itself. It is a task in self discipline not to peek at the plate where the artist’s name is engraved waiting to create swathes of widening black bordered edges, its brushed strokes leaving my preconceived ideas, my self imposed biases, concerning the artist, the genre, the…the…shrinking and distorting of the painting out of its context, paling beyond rec When I see a painting in a gallery or museum I avoid at all costs the name of the artist until I have experienced and been impacted by the work itself. It is a task in self discipline not to peek at the plate where the artist’s name is engraved waiting to create swathes of widening black bordered edges, its brushed strokes leaving my preconceived ideas, my self imposed biases, concerning the artist, the genre, the…the…shrinking and distorting of the painting out of its context, paling beyond recognition. Jacob Von Guten was the perfect example of this in my reading. This Walser novel instead of the bemused walk, the perfectly distanced ironic smile I came to love and revere in his other books, I found, as his translator Christopher Middleton in his introduction pointed out, that Walser’s writing switched to an inner exploration of consciousness and beyond. In this case an ongoing inner dialogue in first person diary form of a precocious teen stuck in an odd school where little to nothing is taught except to perfect the art of obeying. The pages turn with his inner life filled with paradoxes, conflicts, and acute observations. Although not new Walser brings the setup to life. The problem is that expecting one thing and getting another kept me disappointed but turning the pages with the expectations that the my first Walser would appear. I readied myself to greet him with open tears, a warm hug, food and drink. But by page 70 of this 176 page book I have broken camp and am heading home. I know, I quit. I am waiting for the authorities at any moment to come rapping at my door. I tap at the keyboard quietely. Quieter. Shhh. There now. I must let you know that this novel seems to me, might have been, might be, if I wasn’t biased by my grand preconceptions of Walser, a fine work. So, I don’t want to discourage anyone, as a matter of fact I would like to encourage others to cleanse away their preconceptions of Walser’s other works; The Walk, Collected Stories, etc. and read Jacob Von Guten. Wait a second there’s the rap on the door…I have no pride. I’ll open the book. Look like I am still reading. No, right side up. There we go. Sirs, what can I do for you?

  26. 4 out of 5

    André Nuno

    "Mas eu também prezo muito a tristeza, tem muito, muito valor. A tristeza educa."

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alan

    Jakob runs away from his alderman father’s house to enroll in a school for servants, and indeed, the author had enrolled in a school for servants at the Castle Dambrau, Silesia, Poland. Walser then moved to Berlin where he wrote this and two other novels. Walser’s brother was a theater scene-painter in Berlin, and Jakob’s brother is an artist who circulates in higher society. The author grew up bilingual because his Biel, Switzerland, bordered both French and German cantons. Walser’s percipience Jakob runs away from his alderman father’s house to enroll in a school for servants, and indeed, the author had enrolled in a school for servants at the Castle Dambrau, Silesia, Poland. Walser then moved to Berlin where he wrote this and two other novels. Walser’s brother was a theater scene-painter in Berlin, and Jakob’s brother is an artist who circulates in higher society. The author grew up bilingual because his Biel, Switzerland, bordered both French and German cantons. Walser’s percipience mixes playfulness with pain. “Anyone who chatters is a deceiver…this talking about everything that enters his head makes him a common fellow and a bad one”(83). ( Trumpster off-script, especially his hug-the-flag one at CPAC, 2iii19.) Or again, apply “A person who sets a high value on himself is never safe from discouragements and humiliations”(98)—explains the Prez’s always feeling humiliated, as do MBS and Erdogan and Putin? Walser-Jacob describes success, "Rings glittered on [my] fingers…and I had a belly with flabby… fleshy dignity hanging down it. I felt so completely that I could give commands and let fly with moods…an insatiable appetite…Oh, oh how I reveled in having pulled the ground from under the feet of fellow-men”(92). This brings to mind Our Fatboy Prez. One of Jakob’s fellow students is Beanpole Peter, tall like a stick of wood, which contrasts with laughter. “Laughter is the opposite, it’s something that strikes matches inside you. Matches giggle, exactly like repressed laughter”(110). Here’s the best writing on laughter since Bergson, who emphasized social resonance as opposed to solo, individualist laughter. Repressing increases pleasure, “When inside me I’m bursting with laughter, …all this hissing gunpowder”(111). “Rules do gild existence, they silver it…make it delectable” like the “forbidden delectable laugh.” (My Humanities Chair and I were once at a serious concentric conference on expanding the Humanities, and found something hilarious, we suppressed our giggles for ten minutes until the break.) Kraus, fellow student, is physically hampered, but always working, doorman at the Institute named for Herr Benjamenta; Kraus also does tasks for Herr and his sister the Fraulein who does most of the instruction though there are specialty teachers usually sleeping. Three of the other students are Schacht, always defeated, Schilinsky from Poland and Fuchs, who “is crosswise, Fuchs is askew”(43). So Jakob relaxes when Fuchs leaves, he “couldn’t deal with him”(98). Compare this Swiss author to N’Orleans’ JK Toole in "Confederacy of Dunces"; unlike modern poets, neither novelist advertises his madness—Walser in fact spent twenty-seven years in an Asylum, the Herisau Sanatarium. He was well known for his long walks, sometimes in a three-piece suit, attested by the photos we have. Toole famously committed suicide when unable to publish his masterwork, as indeed Walser entered the sanatarium suicidal from inability to support himself despite three admired novels and dozens of short stories, as well as poems. Some recent modern poets boast about their suicidal insanity—Plath, Sexton, Hart Crane, maybe Berryman, Esenin. Caught between “Victorian” Swiss mores and modernity with sexuality (like Joyce’s Dubliners about the same date, though Irish refusal to publish delayed it five years), Walser makes fleeting allusions to sex such as at the bar with sofas (bordello?) where a woman plies the teen Jakob with drink and invites him to “Say Hello,” “And so I did what they call Saying Hello in such places, that is, she explained it to me, laughing and joking, and then I did it. A moment later I found myself on the evening street, cleaned out, down to the last penny” (25-6). And in his all-male school, he describes Tremala, the oldest. “He stood quietly behind me and reached with his disgusting hand…for my intimate member, with the intention of doing me a loathsome favor, almost like tickling an animal”(35). Von Gunten ends in a thorough and dramatic manner, though I shall not add a spoiler. Suffice it to say that Kraus the handicapped and dutiful turns out to be eloquent, to lead the boys in chapel songs which the Fraulein had taught them, usefully.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Fact100

    Metaforları ve alt metin zenginliğiyle birçok farklı yoruma açık bir eser. Çok iyi bir kurgu karakteri olan Jakob'un kısmen/tamamen kurgu olabilecek günlüğü aracılığıyla bize ulaşan tespit ve tahlilleri basit görünümlerinin altında bilinçaltına ve topluma yönelik ilginç yorumlarla dolu. Jacob vasıtasıyla yazar, çoğu şeyi anlatının dışında veya kenarında bırakarak daha düş(ün)sel, genel itibarıyla gerçekdışı bir ortam yaratıyor. Yazarın tarzındaki ayrıksılık kimine yavan gelebilir, kimineyse hari Metaforları ve alt metin zenginliğiyle birçok farklı yoruma açık bir eser. Çok iyi bir kurgu karakteri olan Jakob'un kısmen/tamamen kurgu olabilecek günlüğü aracılığıyla bize ulaşan tespit ve tahlilleri basit görünümlerinin altında bilinçaltına ve topluma yönelik ilginç yorumlarla dolu. Jacob vasıtasıyla yazar, çoğu şeyi anlatının dışında veya kenarında bırakarak daha düş(ün)sel, genel itibarıyla gerçekdışı bir ortam yaratıyor. Yazarın tarzındaki ayrıksılık kimine yavan gelebilir, kimineyse harika. Unutulmaz edebi karakterlerden biriyle daha tanışmış olduğum için memnunum. "Yaşam, tüm o vahşi kanunlarıyla, bazı insanlar için sadece yılgınlıklar ve korkunç olumsuz deneyimlerden oluşan bir zincirdir. Schacht gibi insanlar, birbiri ardına gelen, acı dolu nefretler yaşamak için doğmuşlardır. Başına gelenleri selamlamak, hoşlukla karşılamak istiyor ama yapamıyor işte. Katılık ve merhametsizlik onunla on kat daha sert ve acımasızca çarpışıyor, o bunu daha yoğun hissediyor." (s.106) "Kuru gerçeklik: Bazen nasıl da dolandırıcı oluyor... İleride onlarla ne yapacağını bile bilmediği şeyleri çalıyor. Öyle görünüyor ki hüzün yaymak onu eğlendiriyor. Ayrıca ben hüznü seviyorum, değerli bir şey. İnsanı eğitiyor." (s.115) 9/10

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    One day I shall be laid low by a stroke, and then everything, all these confusions, this longing, this unknowing, all this, the gratitude and ingratitude, this telling lies and self-deception, this thinking that one knows and yet never knowing anything, will come to an end. But I want to live, no matter what. (I am numb towards this novel. Such is presently immune to interpretation. Okay I checked: no response) Walser's novel exudes a refined decadence. There are echoes of uproar and decay along t One day I shall be laid low by a stroke, and then everything, all these confusions, this longing, this unknowing, all this, the gratitude and ingratitude, this telling lies and self-deception, this thinking that one knows and yet never knowing anything, will come to an end. But I want to live, no matter what. (I am numb towards this novel. Such is presently immune to interpretation. Okay I checked: no response) Walser's novel exudes a refined decadence. There are echoes of uproar and decay along the margins of Jakob's observations. Jakob Von Gunten has arrived at a vocational institute to be trained as a domestic. Immediately, the protagonist notices that there isn't much instruction, not much activity at all. He details his classmates and accomplishes a self-portrait in the process. This is a petulant being, yet one who aches for earnestness. He aspires and ascribes himself to different forms of historical glory. All the while the owners of the institute confide in him as their own grasp on life loosens and slips. I hated the first half of this novel. It was the gradual inclusion of the adults in the panorama which saved the work for me.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Eugene

    heeded a thankfully persistent whisper of walser walser walser and fell hard. i'd heard the gossipy parts: how kafka dug him, how he lived his final years in a madhouse, how he died on a long walk in the snow, how he wrote in a pencilled hand so small that people thought it was a secret code but it wasn't--it was just very very small. i'd tried THE ASSISTANT, which is recently translated but earlier walser and could see the charm, but i was prejudiced against how its proto-modern style took too l heeded a thankfully persistent whisper of walser walser walser and fell hard. i'd heard the gossipy parts: how kafka dug him, how he lived his final years in a madhouse, how he died on a long walk in the snow, how he wrote in a pencilled hand so small that people thought it was a secret code but it wasn't--it was just very very small. i'd tried THE ASSISTANT, which is recently translated but earlier walser and could see the charm, but i was prejudiced against how its proto-modern style took too long to move things along (a similar feeling i got from zweig's BEWARE OF PITY)... and so was wholly unprepared at how JAKOB VON GUNTEN broke me down and hollowed me out. it's at times so shockingly beautiful i was, despite myself, moved to tears. not tears of empathy for some character caught in a melodramatic clutch--but tears for the friggin beauty of the writing. the dude writes like an angel--wherein modesty is one of the highest virtues, with pure charm, and with a scrambled semantic nonetheless crystal clear, which must be the emblem only of seraphim. walser writes with the freshness and immediacy of a journal entry, but also with a constant self-consciousness that makes the entry have the permanence and art of a poem. christopher middleton's translator's intro is a good brief. here's coetzee: "In Kafka one also catches echoes of Walser's prose, with its lucid syntactic layout, its casual juxtapositions of the elevated with the banal, and its eerily convincing logic of paradox." and elsewhere in the same review coetzee quotes walter benjamin who describes walser's characters as like those from a fairy tale but after the fairy tale has ended. [this book is a dream diary of a boys' school and i kept thinking it was an unintended translation of hui neng's PLATFORM SUTRA ... or, it reminded me of the orphanage scenes in edward dahlberg's BECAUSE I WAS FLESH... and i heard jakob as the flipside to mush tate's equally pure sermons that extolled with the hypnotic, "think you're in school, think you're much, think you're something?"] o i forgot to mention: it's very very funny...

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