Telegrams of the Soul
When someone says, “Flash fiction is popular because of the internet, kid’s attention span these days…” why don’t you kick them right in the balls? Why don’t you sweep the leg for me?
Peter Altenberg lived from 1859-1919. Adolf Loos, the famed modernist architect, made the cross for his grave.
You like blurbs? Check these fucking blurbs. You wish. This isn’t your mom’s pal or former teacher or little Internet buddy in an indie/alt scene circle-jerk let’s get drunk at AWP and wear skinny, colored eyeglasses type of blurb, you fuckers. This is Kafka going, “In his small stories his whole life is confirmed” and oh, Thomas Mann going, “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.”
Kafka just blurbed your ass. Get it?
Altenberg quit everything. Law school, medical school, book-selling. His own name. He got a doctor’s note, he did, a doctor’s note excusing him from life. A golden ticket. He spent the rest of his days in bars, coffee bars and good old regular bars. He liked drinking and whores, just like anyone with time on their hands.
He wrote about it, this life, in fits of brevity.
You should probably start here and then just learn to read German afterwards.
He called them “telegram-style.” You can add that to flash, short-short, pocket story, postcard, smokelong, palm-in-hand, microficcione, minute-story, whatever you’re into. Labels. The genre is world-wide, so what do you expect? It would be nice if more anthologies were more global, as far as flash. It’s like that map they used to show you at school.
He said they were “Like a beef cow in a reduction pot.”
He said, “That which you wisely withhold is more artistic than what you blurt out.”
He said, “It’s up to the reader to re-dissolve.”
He looked to the Japanese for simplicity.
He claimed his writing advice was to not revise, but I smell something…
He pioneered the wearing of loose clothing. He wore sandals in winter. Dude had a walking cane. I think he had his own style. So few have their own style, I guess.
He kept his window open, in winter. He designed his own plum brandy. Necklaces, too. He lived in hotels, mostly.
Walls papered in photos of either art or pornography, you pick. Young, naked women, sometimes girls. Not photos, actually, or paintings—postcards. Remember who we are dealing with.
He wrote about nature but in sort of I’m-visiting way. Reminded me of a WW1 War Poet writing about poppy fields.
There are so many of these collections of flash out there, and I’m not just talking about Paris Spleen, though that is an important text. I mean others, sort of lost, but I’m finding them. We should find them. They exist. I’m reading a lot of Latin American authors and noticing they all read the French. Hell, they read a lot anyway. These Latin American authors are steeped in reading, but I digress.
I wonder as a contemporary translator if you don’t just have a notion to remove excessive exclamation marks. Sometimes they appear as turn of 19th century effect, as early 20th effect. To omit them would of course be mendacity.
I’m getting pretty sick of flashcists claiming flash is new, but I already intimated that.
Yeh, he drank a lot.
Modernist act of looking, of seeing again. I guess like paintings.
His favorite cafe is still in Vienna. Go there and you’ll see a statue of Peter Altenberg. Sit down and have a cup of coffee.
He borrowed a lot of money but didn’t pay back with money. He paid back with wit.
Maybe statue is too strong. I think it’s made of Papier-mâché, or “chewed paper.”
A friend of mine, the watchmaker Josef T., once came to me with a request. He had just laid his lovely 23-year-old beloved in the grave.
“Peter, you know me, please help me! Write me a proper inscription for my marble tombstone. When may I hope that you think up something appropriate?”
“Now or never!” I replied right there in the middle of the street.
He tore out his notebook.
“I was the watchmaker Josef T.,
And then I found paradise through you –.
And now I’m the Watchmaker
Joseph T. again –.”
You’ve got to pour out all your humanity spontaneously, in a rush; because later it turns into a tasteless sauce! That’s why there are so many tasteless sauces–.