Harp & Altar
Joshua Cohen
from North Vain, Bluff

Evelyn Hampton

Lily Hoang

Peter Markus

Bryson Newhart

Robert Walser
translated by Mark Harman and Walter Arndt

Robert Walser

He began this strange behavior at a very early age by going his own way and finding such evident pleasure in being alone. In later years he recalled very clearly that nobody had made him aware of such things. All by itself the strange need to be alone and apart had appeared, and was there. All alone he drew from within himself the thought that it is beautiful to shut oneself off so as to gain fresh desire and feel renewed longing for being open and for going out harmlessly among men. It was a kind of calculation that he made, a kind of task that he set himself. He had moved into a wretched, half-destroyed house on the Bergstrasse; he lived there in a shabby little room, which was equipped and decorated with a remarkable lack of furnishings. Even though it was winter, he would have no heating. He did not want any comforts. Everything around him had to be rough, inhospitable, and miserable. He wanted to bear and endure some thing, and ordered himself to do so. And that, nobody had told him either. All alone he had the idea that it would be good for him to order himself to bear hardship and malice in a friendly and good-hearted manner. He considered himself to be at a kind of upper-level school. He went to university there, as a weird and wild student. For him it was a question of observing how far he ought risk pushing himself, how daring he might be. Every once in a while, fear entered his room and grazed him with the cold crêpe of despair. But he had taken up the dare to become peculiar, and he had to keep it up, almost against his will. The oddities take whoever has set foot among them, lead him further, pull him away, never again let him go. His days and his nights he spent alone. Two small children lay in the next room, right against the wall. He would often hear them crying pitiably. He lay sleeplessly during entire long dark nights, as if sleep were an enemy, frightened and fleeing from him, and as if wakefulness were a good friend, unable to tear himself away from him. Every day he went on the same walk through the frozen winter meadows and felt as though he were on a day-long hike through unknown and unfamiliar regions. Each day resembled the next. No young person would have been able to find this way of life beautiful. He, however, wanted it thus; he ordered himself to consider this way of life beautiful. Since he wanted to see attractions, he saw them; since he was searching for depth, he found it; since he wanted to get to know misery, it revealed itself to him. He endured all so-called boredom with joy and pride. To him the sameness and the one and only color seemed beautiful, and that single tone was his life. He wanted to have nothing to do with boredom. So for him it did not exist. He governed himself thus. Thus did he live. He kept company with those calm women, the hours, as though with sensuous and physical beings. They came and went, and Oskar, that was his name, never lost patience. To him impatience meant death. Perseverance, into which he freely and voluptuously sank, was his life as a man. Swathing and surrounding him with sweet fragrance of roses was the thought that he was poor. He belonged to the poor with body and soul, and with all his thoughts and feelings and with his whole heart. He loved the hidden paths between the high hedges, and the evenings were his friends. He knew no higher joy than the joy of day and night.



Translated from the German by Mark Harman



This selection appears with the permission of Suhrkamp Verlag and the translator.