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A Review of Telegrams of the Soul from Vincent Kling in Modern Austrian Literature

 

Has any other writer enjoyed unwavering acclaim across a whole range of readership on every level for 110 years, from the time an enthralled Karl Kraus sent a sample of Alten-berg’s vignettes to Fischer in 1986 to the jam-packed coordinated exhibits in Vienna’s Jewish Museum and Literaturhaus in 2003? Idolized by Arthur Schnitzler, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Felix Salten, Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, and of course Kraus, among countless others, Altenberg fascinates readers no less today, including a remarkable number of people who usually “hate to read” but who find a compelling personality completely articulated. Articulated in the brilliant immediacy of the writing, of course, the writing in turn revealing a sensibility that seems to grow only more free in its individuality of thought, more admirable in its courageous rejection of shallow convention, more intrepid in embracing true happiness, more daring in its erotic and aesthetic discoveries as years pass. Tourist-drawing kitsch aside, it’s no wonder that a mannequin of Altenberg, of all writers, still sits at his table in the Café Central. Richard von Schaukal Altenberg had unexpected admirers provides one key to Altenberg’s art, the lack of any boundary between living and writing: “Seine sonderbaren Bücher . . . sind nicht Bücher, die man als Bücher liest, sondern die dazu dienen, ihn aufzufinden, der in allen Zeilen . . . ist, Peter Altenberg, der Dichter . . . Es handelt sich immer nur um Peter Altenberg, den Menschen, denn das und nichts anderes ist Peter Altenberg, der Dichter.” The weft of subjective and objective, of ascetic and decadent, of strict documentary and feuilleton, of self-absorption and relentless outward view, of free-wheeling improvisation and inconspicuous but extreme stylistic discipline are the fusions that so fascinated his fellow writers and subsequent readers.

 

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