Jakob von Gunten

“Often I go out on to the street, and there I seem to be living in an altogether wild fairytale. What a crush and a crowd, what rattlings and patterings! What shoutings, whizzings and hummings!… The buses go galumphing past like clumsy great beetles. Then there are wagons that look like travelling watchtowers. People sit on the seats high up and travel over the heads of whatever is walking, jumping and running below … And the sun sparkles down on it all. It shines on one person’s nose, on another’s toecap. Lacework pokes from the hems of skirts in a glittering confusion … And then again there are the many silly cigars in the many slits of masculine mouthparts.” From the novel Jakob Von Gunten by Robert Walser

There is such a general hurry because people think every moment how nice it is to go struggling and grasping for things. The breath of life becomes more bewitching. The wounds and pains go deeper, joy jubilates more joyously and for longer than elsewhere, because anyone who is joyous here always seems to have bitterly and justly earned by toil. Then again there are the gardens that lie behind the delicate fencings, so quiet and lost, like secret corners in English parklands. Right beside them the business traffic rushes by and clatters past, as if landscapes or dreams had never existed. The railway trains thunder over the quivering bridges. Evening, the fabulous rich and elegant shopwindows shine, and streams, serpents, and billows of people roll past the allures of industrial riches on display. Yes, that all seems grand and good to me. One profits from being in the midst of the whirling and bubbling. One has a good feeling in the legs, the arms, the chest while making effort to wriggle cleverly and without much fuss through all the living stuff. In the morning everything comes to life anew, and in the evening everything sinks into the wildly embracing arms of a new and unknown dream. That’s very poetic.

Robert Walser, Jakob Von Gunten

La prohibición de hacer algo resulta a veces tan atractiva que no se puede por menos que hacerlo. Por eso me agradan tanto las coacciones de cualquier tipo: consienten el placer de transgredir la ley. Si en este mundo no hubiera ningún mandamiento, ningún deber, me moriría, me consumiría, me anquilosaría de aburrimiento. Necesito vivir espoleado, forzado, sujeto a tutela. Es algo que me fascina. Al final soy yo, y nadie más que yo, quien decide. Siempre consigo enfurecer un poco a la ceñuda ley, y luego me dedico a apaciguarla.
—  Fragmento: “Jakob von Gunten”, de Robert Walser.
One day I shall be laid low by a stroke, and then everything, all these confusions, this longing, this unknowing, all this, the gratitude and ingratitude, this telling lies and self-deception, this thinking that one knows and yet never knowing anything, will come to an end. But I want to live, no matter how.
—  Robert Walser, ‘Jakob Von Gunten’
Por ahora, querido hermano, eres como quien dice un cero a la izquierda. Pero cuando se es joven hay que ser un cero a la izquierda, pues no existe nada más perjudicial que destacar pronto, prematuramente, en cualquier cosa. Cierto es que algo significas para ti mismo. Bravo. Estupendo. Pero para el mundo todavía no eres nada, y eso es casi igualmente estupendo.
—  Robert Walser, Jakob von Gunten

Aquí se aprende muy poco, falta personal docente y nosotros, los muchachos del Instituto Benjamenta, jamás llegaremos a nada, es decir que el día de mañana seremos todos gente muy modesta y subordinada. La enseñanza que nos imparten consiste básicamente en inculcarnos paciencia y obediencia, dos cualidades que prometen escaso o ningún éxito. Éxitos interiores, eso sí. Pero ¿qué ventaja se obtiene de ellos? ¿A quién dan de comer las conquistas interiores?

Robert Walser. Jakob Von Gunten (1909)

Foto: Niños en el recibidor (1902)


Institute Benjamenta, Brothers Quay, 1996.


I started reading _Jakob Von Gunten_by Robert Walser because of this foreword to Shirley Jackson’s _Hangsaman_, which included it on the curriculum of a class called “Strange Books.” It’s almost impossible to describe this book, but I find it strangely compelling–it’s a farcical (?) account of a boy at a mediocre Victorian boarding school in Germany? It goes off on long digressions in praise of memorization and stupidity. And ofc there’s plenty of schoolboy homoeroticism, which you all know I find necessary in my reading.


Quay Kardeşlerin (Stephen & Timothy Quay) 1995 yapımı filmi Benjamenta Enstitüsü, İsviçreli yazar Robert Walser’in “Jakob von Gunten” romanından uyarlama. Uşak yetiştirmek amacıyla kurulmuş bu enstitünün sahibi Johannes Benjamenta. Enstitüde onun kız kardeşi Lisa Benjamenta öğretmenlik yapıyor, “Nasıl iyi bir uşak olunur?” sorusuna cevap olarak öğrencilere pedagojik bir eğitim veriyor. Eğitimde daha kibar kaşık tutmayı, masaya daha güzel tabak koymayı, ses tonunu ayarlamayı, daha içten ve görgülü ‘evet efendim’ demeyi öğretmek üzerine dersler veriliyor.

Film, başkarakter Jakob von Gunten’in uşak olmak için bu enstitüye kaydolmak istemesiyle başlıyor. Enstitüden içeri giriyoruz ve karşımıza kafkaesk bir mekan çıkıyor. Labirent biçiminde büyüklü küçüklü nereye açıldığı belli olmayan kapılar, tekinsiz, sisli, hayali bir siyah-beyaz atmosfer, sabit uzun planlar… Burada dış kurallar geçerli değildir. Zamansız, kasvetli bir bekleme odası atmosferinde tekrarlarla hipnotize edilmiş öğrencilerin duyguları yok gibidir.

Rüya ve gerçek arasında kırılgan bir sınırda ekspresyonist bir anlatıma sahip Benjamenta Enstitüsü, bulmaca sembolizminden hoşlananlar için güzel bir kabus olabilir.