Telegrams of the Soul: Select­ed Prose Pearls of Peter Altenberg

Peter Worts­man, trans.
  • Review
By – July 30, 2012
Short vignettes were the hall­mark of this late 19th cen­tu­ry writer — real and fan­tas­tic accounts and mus­ings that sear the soul and ele­vate the mind of the read­er in both his time and ours. The read­er is well-pre­pared in the author’s intro­duc­tion, We all do life an injus­tice in sur­ren­der­ing poet­ry as the exclu­sive province of the poet’s heart, since every one of us has the capac­i­ty to mine the poet­ic in the quar­ry of the mun­dane!” And Altenberg con­tin­ues to do just that, in what he lat­er calls Let­ter instant pho­tog­ra­phy.” Although he is rather self-dep­re­cat­ing at times in describ­ing his writ­ings as worth­less sam­ples,” the author finds men and women fas­ci­nat­ing, espe­cial­ly the lat­ter, who haven’t yet “…acquired the cul­ture of serene sweet­ness so as to affect you like a noble warm gold­en- yel­low tea.” Pow­er is a woman’s sig­nif­i­cant qual­i­ty which com­pels and repuls­es him, explored in a range of neg­a­tive reac­tions to a pass­ing car­riage dec­o­rat­ed with white ros­es in Flower Allee” and as “…the very incar­na­tion of nature itself in all its unspeak­able bounty…soaring with her lofty soul over the morass of mis­eries!” Uncle Emmerich” replays a scene almost every read­er has encoun­tered: the fick­le nature of ini­tial judg­ment trans­formed when what was deemed to be worth­less (a col­lec­tion of old paint­ings) becomes a trea­sure trove and earns the col­lec­tor the ever­last­ing label of “…you’re a good man after all!” Mean­der­ing through every imag­in­able sub­ject, Peter Worts­man shocks us but invites our increased con­scious­ness of the things that are, that will be!”
Deb­o­rah Schoen­e­man, is a for­mer Eng­lish teacher/​Writing Across the Cur­ricu­lum Cen­ter Coor­di­na­tor at North Shore Hebrew Acad­e­my High School and coed­i­tor of Mod­ern Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture: A Library of Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism, Vol. VI, pub­lished in 1997.

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