Conversation

On October 19, 2013 by admin

altenpor

 

Peter Altenberg

[Peter Altenberg, one the central figures among the late nineteenth century Vienna Coffeehouse wits (part of the ‘Young Vienna’), produced some of the finest impressionistic miniatures (a variety of kleinkunzt–art of small forms).  Here is such a piece, titled, Conversation. But before that, Altenberg’s paean to the very milieu that produced the likes of him.

 

 

 

You have trouble of one sort or another….

to the COFFEEHOUSE !

She can’t come to you for some reason no matter how plausible…

to the COFFEEHOUSE !

You have holes in your shoes…

to the COFFEEHOUSE !

You have a salary of 400 crowns and spend 500…

to the COFFEEHOUSE !

You are frugal and permit yourself nothing…

to the COFFEEHOUSE !

You find no woman who suits you…

to the COFFEEHOUSE !

You are spiritually on the threshold of suicide…

to the COFFEEHOUSE !

You hate and disdain people and yet cannot do without them…

to the COFFEEHOUSE !

Nobody extends you any more credit anywhere…

to the COFFEEHOUSE !

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Most people live out their life with an almost pathologically bottled up world view. The most insignificant occurrences in their own experience and the experiences of their few acquaintances not only preoccupy their thinking, but such people also unknowingly attempt to derive therefrom deep philosophical problems and universal judgments intended to open up wide ranging perspectives! “So what are we to conclude from the fact that Anna had to go and buy herself this particular hat?! How are we to take an impartial position?! Is it just a whim, a childish folly, an impertinence, an extravagance, or somebody in particular perhaps get upset about it?!? That too would be perfectly possible.” Everyone attempts with more or less skill to hang his own empty, irrelevant, ridiculous experiences onto the tail end of the conversation underway like a kind of ‘philosophical-historical’, which process one commonly calls “stimulating conversation.” “Wouldn’t you also agree, despite everything, that G does not really appreciate B quite as much as she rightly deserves, particularly under such extenuating circumstances?”—“Unfortunately, as much as I would like to, I cannot, ‘for reasons of principle,’ give you an answer madam, a principle, moreover, to which you yourself will surely adhere, although in any case a spark of truth appears to flicker forth from your question. Such is “stimulating conversation!” No one is interested in anyone else but he “psychoanalyzes” the other because it’s “stimulating to dig around behind things and set yourself on a pedestal around them!” The “silent man,” the “silent woman” don’t come off as wise or decent, but rather boring. “What does he, what does she, take him or herself for?” Even the “ironic note” is a rotten dodge in the conversation. Should anyone ever seriously hazard a “fiery stand” in favour of something or other, then, following a brief artificial pause, the firebrand is taken aside: “But surely you couldn’t possibly believe that yourself, do you?!?” Conversation is the Moloch that gobbles up and decimates the non-existent spirits and souls! At home one is one’s own man, but in society one immediately becomes a philosopher of life in general. Butchers, bakers, busy businessmen, salesman do not suddenly transform themselves on hours on end into “universally thinking” philosophers predisposed to “look down on the swarming masses of humanity.” “It’s easy enough to listen Altenberg sound off; if it can’t help you it can’t harm you either, but that guy, he’s one curious customer!” But those that seek to make us measure up to themselves, to lead us back to the reasonable, salubrious, normal, decent, useful mien, only they make—conversation with us.

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26-02-01/24

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