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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
"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 wrote 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 lyrical and the narrative, the poetic and the prosaic, fiction and observation, harsh verity and whimsical vignette. Inspired by the prose poems of Charles Baudelaire, the tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Viennese Feuilleton, a light journalistic reflection current in 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-millenium of email.
See Peter Wortsman read from the book here.
Altenberg seems singular even when compared to his nearest literary kin: less austere and allegorical than Baudelaire, and more involved with society than Robert Walser, his short prose approaches form in ways that are uncannily relevant now."
—James Guida, The New Yorker
In his small stories his whole life is mirrored. And every step, every movement he makes confirms the truth of his words. Peter Alternberg is a genius of nullifications, a singular idealist who discovers the splendors of this world like cigarette butts in the ashtrays of coffeehouses."
Some [of Altenberg's pieces] are like steel projectiles, so tightly enclosed in themselves, so complete and precise in their form; and like projectiles, they pierce the breast; you are struck and you bleed. Some are like crystals and diamonds, sparkling in the multi-colored reflections of the light of life, gleaming with captured rays of sunlight and glittering with a hidden inner fire. Some are like ripe fruits, warm with the waft of summer, swollen and sweet."
The freest soul of the epoch."