Telegrams of the Soul: Selected Prose of Peter Altenberg
Peter Altenberg, Peter Wortsman
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"If it be permitted to speak of ‘love at first sound,’ then that’s what I experienced in my first encounter with this poet of prose." So said Thomas Mann of the work of Peter Altenberg. A virtuoso Fin-de-Siècle Viennese innovator of what he called the "telegram style" of writing, Altenberg’s signature short prose straddles the line between the poetic and the prosaic, fiction and observation, harsh verity and whimsical vignette.
Inspired by the prose poems of Charles Baudelaire and the Feuilleton—a light journalistic reflection of his day—Altenberg carved out a spare, strikingly modern aesthetic that speaks with an eerie prescience to our own impatient time. Peter Wortsman’s new selection and translation reads like a sly lyrical wink from the turn-of-the-century of the telegram to the turn-of-the-millennium of email.
Always worries, errands—.” The old man was beaming with love, drunk with love, the gift of youth, and nameless bliss, forgetting. He was like a minstrel playing the lute to the beautiful wonderful world full of many curling destinies liable to unravel at a gust of spring wind. He felt: “My daughter’s stuck in a mediocre marriage, always preoccupied, critical of everything. So what?! Rosita came out of it!” Rosie sat on Mr. Peter’s lap. He softly kissed her golden hair. “Eljén!” she said and
curious example of Fin-de-Siècle flirtation with the exotic, Altenberg, characteristically, metamorphosed that flirtation into a heartfelt passion. Retrospective Introduction to my Book Märchen des Lebens* We relegated fairytales to the realm of childhood—that exceptional, wondrous, stirring, remarkable time of life! But why rig out childhood with it, when childhood is already sufficiently romantic and fairytale-like in and of itself? The disenchanted adult had best seek out the
millionaires’ sons with noble “vons” tacked onto their names and decked out in snow-white tails with gold buttons. My aunt said to me: “Say, I want to tell you something, come with me . . . !” She led me down the halls. She stopped in one room. “That’s it . . . ,” she said, “will you take a look at her . . . !” Seated there was a strawberry blonde American girl who looked like an angel and like the heavens and all the flowers in the field! My fat aunt and I just stood there . . . My aunt,
in the atmosphere, as a consequence of which, etc. etc. “I’d like to let it go—,” she said, just like that. “Wouldn’t you rather give it to that poor little girl over there?” “No, I want to let it go—!” She lets the balloon go, keeps looking after it, till it disappears in the blue sky. “Aren’t you sorry now you didn’t give it to the poor little girl?” “Yes, I should’ve given it to the poor little girl.” “Here’s another blue balloon, give her this one!” “No, I want to let this one go too
kept on looking after it, kept on looking—!” In the meantime, the rich little girl gets another ten balloons, and one time Uncle Karl even buys her all thirty balloons in one batch. Twenty of them she lets fly up into the sky and gives ten to poor children. From then on she had absolutely no more interest in balloons. “The stupid balloons—,” she said. Whereupon Aunt Ida observed that she was rather advanced for her age! The poor little girl dreamed: “I should have let it go up into the blue