Rising out of chasms of self-contempt and flippant disbelief

The Tanners from Robert Walser’s Berlin Stories:

The intoxicating gleam of the dark, metropolitan streets, the lights, the people, my brother. I myself, living in my brother’s apartment. I shall never forget this simple two-bedroom dwelling. It always seemed to me as if this apartment contained a sky complete with stars, moon, and clouds. Marvelous romanticism, dulcet forebodings! My brother would spend half the night at the theater, where he was making the stage sets. At three or four in the morning he would come home, and I would still be sitting there, enchanted by all the thoughts, all the lovely images wafting through my head; it was as if I no longer required sleep, as if thinking, writing, and waking were my lovely, restorative sleep, as if writing for hours and hours at my desk comprised my world, my pleasure, relaxation and peace. The dark-colored desk, so antiquated it might have been an old magician. When I pulled open its delicately worked small drawers, I imagined that sentences, words, and maxims would come leaping out. The snow-white curtains, the singing gaslight, the elongated dark room, the cat and all the becalmed waves of the long nights filled with thoughts. From time to time I would go visit the merry maids down at the girls’ tavern, that was also part of it. To speak of the cat once more: she always sat on the pages filled with writing that I had laid to one side and would blink at me with her unfathomable golden eyes so strangely, with such a questioning look. Her presence was like the presence of an odd, silent fairy. Perhaps I owe this dear, silent animal a great deal. How can one know? The further I progressed in my writing, the more I felt as if I were being watched over and protected by a kindly entity. A soft, delicate large veil floated about me. But at this juncture I should also mention the liqueur that stood upon the sideboard. I partook of it as freely as I was permitted and able. Everything all around me had a soothing, invigorating influence. Certain states, circumstances, and circles are there only once, never again to appear, or else only when one is least expecting it. Are not expectations and presuppositions unholy, impertinent, and indelicate? The poet must ramble and rove, he must courageously lose himself, must always venture everything he owns, and he has to hope, or rather he is permitted: permitted to hope. —I recall that I began writing the book with a hopeless flutter of words, with all sorts of mindless sketchings and scribblings. —I never dreamed I might be capable of completing something serious, beautiful, and good. —Better ideas and, along with them, the courage to create arrived only gradually, but also all the more mysteriously, rising out of chasms of self-contempt and flippant disbelief. —It was like the morning sun rising up in the sky. Evening and morning, past and future and the so delightful present seemed to lie at my feet; before me the countryside quickened with life, and I felt as though I could grasp human activity, all of human life in my hands, that’s how vividly I saw it. —One image gave way to another, and the thoughts that occurred to me played with one another like happy, graceful, well-mannered children. Filled with rapture, I clung to my joyful main idea, and as I industriously went on writing more and more, its context came into view.

People here have a nearly comical understanding of how to let time flow by

Aschinger from Robert Walser’s Berlin Stories. Aschinger was an early chain of beer halls – there’s a brief English writeup of here or the German wiki article here.

A lager please! The tap man’s known me for ages. I gaze at the filled glass a moment, take it by the handle with two fingers, and casually carry it to one of the round tables supplied with forks, knives, rolls, vinegar, and oil. I place the sweating glass in an orderly fashion upon the felt coaster and consider whether or not to fetch myself something to eat. This food-thought propels me to the blue-and-white-striped cold-cuts damsel. I have this lady serve me a plate of assorted open-face sandwiches and, thus enriched, trot rather indolently back to my seat. Neither fork nor knife do I use, just the mustard spoon, with which I paint my sandwiches brown before inserting them so cozily into my mouth that it is perhaps tranquillity itself to witness this. Another lager please! At Aschinger, you quickly adopt a familiar food-and-drink tone of voice; after a certain amount of time there, a person can’t help talking just like Wassmann at the Deutsches Theater. Once you have your fist around your second or third glass of beer, you’re generally driven to engage in all manner of observations. It is imperative to note with precision how the Berliners eat. They stand up as they do so, but take their own sweet time about it. It’s a myth that in Berlin people only bustle, whizz, and trot about. People here have a nearly comical understanding of how to let time flow by; after all, they’re only human. It’s a sincere pleasure to watch people fishing for sausage-laden rolls and Italian salads. The payment is extracted mostly from vest pockets, almost always just a matter of small change. Now I’ve rolled myself a cigarette, which I light at the gas flame beneath its green glass shield. How well I know it, this glass, and the brass chain to pull on. Famished and satiated individuals are constantly swarming in and out. The dissatisfied quickly find satisfaction at the beer spring and the warm sausage tower, and the satiated dash out again into the mercantile air, each generally with a briefcase beneath his arm, a letter in his pocket, an assignment in his brain, firm plans in his skull, and in his open palm a watch that says the time has come. In the round tower at the center of the room reigns a young queen, the sovereign of the sausages and potato salad—she’s a bit bored up there in her quiver-like surrounds. An elegant lady enters and with two fingers skewers a roll spread with caviar; at once I bring myself to her notice, but in such a way as if being noticed were of no concern to me at all. Meanwhile I’ve found time to lay hands on another beer. The elegant lady is somewhat hesitant to bite into the caviar marvel; of course I immediately assume it to be on my account and none other that she is no longer fully in control of her masticatory senses. Delusions are so easy and so agreeable. Outside on the square is a racket no one really hears: a tumult of carriages, people, automobiles, newspaper hawkers, electric trams, handcarts, and bicycles that no one ever really sees either. It’s almost unseemly to think of wanting to hear and see all these things, you’re not new in town. The elegantly curved bodice that was just nibbling bread now quits the Aschinger. How much longer am I planning on sitting here anyhow? The tap boys are enjoying a calm moment, but not for long, for here they come rolling in again from out-of-doors to throw themselves thirstily upon the bubbling spring. Eaters observe others who are similarly working their jaws. While one person’s mouth is full, his eyes can simultaneously behold a neighbor occupied with popping it in. And they don’t even laugh; even I don’t. Since arriving in Berlin, I’ve lost the habit of finding humanity laughable. At this point, by the way, I myself request another edible wonder: a plank of bread bearing a sleeping sardine upon a bedsheet of butter, so enchanting a vision that I toss the whole spectacle down my open revolving stage of a gullet. Is such a thing laughable? By no means. Well, then. What isn’t laughable in me cannot be any more so in others, since it’s our duty to esteem others more highly than ourselves no matter what, a worldview splendidly in keeping with the earnestness with which I now contemplate the abrupt demise of my sardine pallet. A few of the people near me are conversing as they eat. The earnestness with which they do so is appealing. As long as you’re undertaking to do something, you might as well set about it matter-of-factly and with dignity. Dignity and self-confidence have a comforting effect, at least on me they do, and this is why I so like standing around in one of our local Aschingers where people drink, eat, talk, and think all at the same time. How many business ventures were dreamed up here? And best of all: You can remain standing here for hours on end, no one minds, and not one of all the people coming and going will give it a second thought. Anyone who takes pleasure in modesty will get on well here, he can live, no one’s stopping him. Anyone who does not insist on particularly heartfelt shows of warmth can still have a heart here, he is allowed that much.

Of tailors and their opinions I have a comprehensive, constant, and intense fear

From Robert Walser’s The Walk (pg 49 in the New Directions edition):

It was now meet to conquer, master, surprise, and abash in his utterly unshakable convictions an obstinate, recalcitrant tailor, or marchand tailleur, a person obviously in every respect convinced of the infallibility of his doubtless eminent skill, as well as completely saturated with a sense of his own efficiency.

The toppling of a master tailor’s fixity of mind must be considered one of the most difficulty and hazardous tasks which courage can undertake and daredevil determination determine to carry forward. Of tailors and their opinions I have a comprehensive, constant, and intense fear, of which, however, I am not at all ashamed for fear is, in this instance, readily explicable.

So I was, then, prepared for trouble, perhaps even for trouble of the worst kind, and I armed myself for such a highly perilous attack with qualities such as courage, scorn, wrath, indignation, disdain, even the disdain of death; and with these indubitably very appreciable weapons I hoped to advance, victoriously and successfully, against biting irony and mockery lurking under a simulation of friendliness.