The Courage of Your Own Nudity

“The beauty of women has, all through my life, been my most potent inspiration, and I pitied every man who was wasting his time on less urgent concerns.”
Alexander King presents Peter Altenberg’s Evocations of Love (61)

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Don Juan painting by Alexander King

I don’t remember having new books on my bookshelves as a child. I do lovingly recall a few heavily used  wonders: Pocahontas and  the Greek Myths by Edgar and Ingrid Parin D’Auliare, a book of Russian Fables by Pushkin with fantastically wonderful drawings of Russia, my sister’s collection of Ant and Bee books that I coveted. When I recently went to the library to pick up a book I had apparently requested using my fancy new library search skills I was immediately reminded of those childhood books.

Children are disgusted with almost nothing, and this is their wonderful, unconscious romanticism. They’re as drunk with life as a lover, who would unhesitatingly drink the water in which his sweetheart has just washed her face. (33)

Over-sized, interspersed with whimsical drawings in fine red pen by the author, the battered,  cover-less book whose faded name on the spine was unintelligible, immediately fascinated me. Not least of all because I had no memory of ordering it nor any idea of why or what it could be.

Just remember that neither you nor anyone else is part of the mass. Maybe sheep and geese are, but I’m not too convinced of that, either.  After all, you have to suffer all your deep sorrows individually, and even your rare joys are profoundly personal; and nothing in your life, as far as I can see, manifests itself mass-wise, except dreary verbal cliches with which you exculpate your lack of thought and initiative. (28)

Over at Wuthering Expectations there is a Buch Party on German and Austrian literature; after examining the book in question for a full ten minutes I felt confident guessing that I had got the name from that blog. I could go back and look again, do my “homework,” but I am terrified that I will find ten more books to impulsively request and add to the pile of books-to-read-before-due towering on my desk.

Altenberg was an Austrian poet who died in 1919, Evocations of Love is a compilation of some of his vignettes and musings with lovely commentary by Alexander King who knew and clearly adored him. Very understandable, considering Altenberg’s enormously sincere, funny, and youthful outlook on life and people. His attitude is so infectious I didn’t mind laughing boisterously in public reading what looks like a child’s book. In fact, that’s the only way to do it.

Woe to those who are lucky in love! They are denied the joyous, painful, slow accumulation of yearning which finally fulfills itself in the heart’s ultimate ecstasy. They have been cheated out of the most valuable gift that life has to offer.
Whom does Don Juan, flitting from flower to flower, actually cheat? He cheats himself. (90)

The stories are very short, and wonderfully funny. My favorites were La Zeerlina in which Altenberg sets up an old age fund piggy bank for a beautiful starlet. In the Service of Beauty is too funny to spoil, you will have to seek this gem out for yourselves. And then there is My Night of Indulgence, somehow Mr. Altenberg has been privy to my own fantasy night of indulgence. Too bad we can’t do it together. On second thought he is probably best loved from a distance, I have the feeling that Mr. Altenberg loved falling in love rather more than being in love.

“Do you think,” he said, “that to act in this way is correct, in principle?”
“Certainly,” I said. “In matters of the heart, the only principle is to have no principles.” (74)

The man is divine, simply after my own heart, the entire book is an absolute delight. I look forward seeking out and  reading his poetry, to hell with my towering pile.

*Title of post from page 60: What is my great artistic credo? Listen to your heart, and don’t be afraid of giving off unexpected sounds. Have the courage of your own nudity.

Drawing by Peter Altenberg pg. 23

Drawing by Peter Altenberg pg. 23

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5 responses to “The Courage of Your Own Nudity

  1. I liked your quote about how children love life. This reminded me of the definition of love by your son Augustus: “Have fun, be happy, live”

  2. Wonderful selection of quotes – now I feel like I moved past Altenberg too quickly. I will revisit him.

  3. Pingback: De Profundis | so very very

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