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Authors: Peter Altenberg

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Telegrams of the Soul

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Telegrams of the Soul

Selected Prose of Peter Altenberg

 

Selected, translated and
with an afterword by Peter Wortsman

 

 

archipelago books

 

 

Copyright © 2005 Archipelago Books

First Edition

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the prior written permission of the publisher.

English Translation copyright © 2005 Peter Wortsman

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Altenberg, Peter, 1859–1919.

[Prose works. Selections. English. 2005]

Telegrams of the soul : selected prose of Peter Altenberg / selected, translated, and with an afterword by Peter Wortsman.—1st ed.

p. cm.

ISBN
0-9749680-8-0 (pbk.)

I
. Altenberg, Peter, 1859-1919—Translations into English.

I. Wortsman, Peter. II. Title.

PT
2601.L78
A
6 2005

838'.91208—dc22        2004027895

Archipelago Books

232 Third Street #A111

Brooklyn, NY 11201

www.archipelagobooks.org

Distributed by Consortium Book Sales and Distribution

www.cbsd.com

Telegrams of the Soul: Selected Prose of Peter Altenberg

Translations of “Flower Allée,” “The Mouse” and “In the Stadtpark” were first published in
Fiction.
An earlier version of “P.S. (to P.A. from P.W.)” previously appeared under a different title in
A Modern Way to Die, small stories and microtales,
by Peter Wortsman, Fromm International Publishing Corporation, New York, 1991.

Cover art: Oskar Kokoschka,
Peter Altenberg,
1909.
© 2004 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ProLitteris, Zürich

All rights reserved

This publication is made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.

 

to my father's wit and my mother's soul
P. W.

Contents

Autobiography

Retrospective Introduction to my Book
Märchen des Lebens

A Letter to Arthur Schnitzler

On Writing

The
Koberer
(Procurer)

Coffeehouse

I Drink Tea

Perfume

On Smells

Tulips

Flower Allée

Uncle Max

Uncle Emmerich

My Aunt

Career

The Bed

Celebrity

Poem

Love

Theater Evening

Poverty

The Little Silk Swatches

Day of Affluence

Traveling

In the Volksgarten

Marionette Theater

At Buffalo Bill's

Saint Martin's Island

The Kingfisher

The Drummer Belín

Twelve

Seventeen to Thirty

Schubert

Gramophone Record

A Real True Relationship

The Nature of Friendship

October Sunday

Fellow Man

The Reader

Modern Diogenes

Conversation

Albert

The Private Tutor

Conversation with Tíoko

The Automaton

Adultery

Philosophy

Akolé

Complications

The Novice Postal Clerk

Conversation with a Chambermaid

Afternoon Break

The Mouse

The Hotel Room

Elevator

Visit

Little Things

Idyll

My Ideals

Peter Altenberg as Collector

On the Street

The Walking Stick

A Walk

Psychology

Discovery

Persecution Complex

January, on the Semmering

The Steamboat Landing

In Munich

My Summer Trip, 1916

My Gmunden

An Experience

In a Viennese
Puff

Putain

Human Relations

The New Romanticism

Cabaret Fledermaus

Newsky Roussotine Troop

The Interpretation

Subjectivity

Aphorisms

The People Don't Always Feel Altogether Social-democratic

Big Prater Swing

Sunset in the Prater

The Night

Sanatorium for the Mentally Imbalanced (but not the one in which I wiled!)

Mood

July Sunday

In the Stadtpark

A Sunday (12.29.1918)

To Make a Long Story Short: The Prose of Peter Altenberg (an afterword)

P.S. (to P.A. from P.W.)

 

 

There are three idealists: God, mothers and poets!

They don't seek the ideal in completed things—

they find it in the incomplete.

Peter Altenberg

 

Telegrams of the Soul
Autobiography

I was born in 1862, in Vienna. My father is a businessman. He has one distinguishing quality: He only reads French books. For the past 40 years. Above his bed hangs a wonderful likeness of his God “Victor Hugo.” Evenings he sits in a dark red armchair, reading the
Revue des deux Mondes,
dressed in a blue robe with a wide velvet collar à la Victor Hugo. There's not another idealist like him in this world. He was once asked: “Aren't you proud of your son?”

He replied: “I was not overly vexed that he remained an idler for 30 years. So I'm not overly honored that he's a poet now! I gave him his freedom. I knew that it was a long shot. I counted on his soul!”

Yes, indeed, oh noblest, most remarkable of all fathers, for the longest time I squandered your godly gift of freedom, doted on noble and altogether ignoble women, loafed around in forests, was a lawyer without studying law, a doctor without studying medicine, a book dealer without selling books, a lover without ever marrying, and finally a poet without composing any poetry. Can these short things really be called poetry?! No way.They're extracts! Extracts from life. The life of the soul and what the day may bring, reduced to two to three pages, cleansed of superfluities like a beef cow in a reduction pot! It's up to the reader to re-dissolve these extracts with his own lust for life and stir them back into a palatable broth, to heat them up with his own zest, in short, to make them light, liquidy and digestible. But there are “soulful stomachs” that can't tolerate extracts. Everything ingested remains heavy and caustic. Such constitutions require 90 percent broths, watered-down blends. What are they supposed to dilute the extracts with?! With their own “lust for life” maybe?

Consequently, I have many adversaries, “dyspeptics of the soul,” quite simply. Bad digesters! “Finishing” is the artist's all. Even finishing with himself! And yet, I maintain: that which you “wisely withhold” is more artistic than that which you “blurt out.” Isn't that so?! Indeed, I love the “abbreviated deal,” the telegram style of the soul!

I'd like to capture an individual in a single sentence, a soul-
stirring experience on a single page, a landscape in one word! Present arms, artist, aim, bull's-eye! Basta. And above all: Listen to yourself. Lend an ear to the voices within. Don't be shy with yourself. Don't let yourself be scared off by unfamiliar sounds. As long as they're your own! Have the courage of your own nakedness!

I was nothing, I am nothing, I will be nothing. But I will live out my life in freedom and let noble and considerate souls share in the experiences of this free inner life, by putting them out in the most concentrated form on paper.

I am poor, but I am myself! Absolutely and completely myself! The man without compromises!

How far do you get with that? One hundred Guldens a month and a few ardent admirers.

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