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Institute Benjamenta (Extraordinary Classics)

4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  2,663 Ratings  ·  257 Reviews
This novel takes the form of the journal of a young man attending a school for butlers, the Benjamenta Institute. First published as Jakob Von Gunten in 1909, the book is now the subject of a Channel 4 feature film.
Published October 1st 1999 by Serpent's Tail (first published 1909)
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As I was reading through Jakob von Gunten I wondered what genre it belonged to. Was it some kind of memoir? Was it a coming of age story? Was it a love story? Was it perhaps something totally new, a genre I'd never met before? Or was it rather something utterly ancient, as ancient as the stories of the Old Testament.

Ancient, yes, that was the predominant feeling I was left with at the end, though the writing has nothing biblical about it whatsoever being extremely lighthearted and jolly in tone
Apr 15, 2017 Gaurav rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jakob von Gunten
Robert Walser

Jakob von Gunten dissects the remote and vulnerable regions of human brain, the dramatic tensions between the fluctuating demons of inner self and the savage realities of outer world carves out an enigmatic reality which pierces your heart and thrusts yourself through the crests and troughs of an assorted compendium of human emotions. Written during a period which transformed German fiction, when refined, compact elementary forms of prose were taking shape, when pros
So this weekend I was in the UK, spending some time with my Dad who is temporarily based there. My Saturday was planned; I had father/daughter time scheduled for the morning, I’d sourced some vintage shops for the afternoon and I was meeting friends in the evening. Best of all, I had just enough free time at lunch to finish Jakob Von Gunten, alone, in peace, with no distractions. My work phone was off and I didn’t have to check my emails all weekend. A rare thing indeed. There was a decent park ...more
Emilian Kasemi
Aug 17, 2012 Emilian Kasemi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Emilian by: Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin, Hermann Hesse, Enrique Vila-Matas

I would wish it on no one to be me.
Only I am capable of bearing myself.
To know so much, to have seen so much, and
To say nothing, just about nothing.
Robert Walser

Reading Robert Walser is a unique experience, a dreamy, absurdly, ambiguously beautiful writing. Very Kafkaesque, or rather we may say Kafka is very Walseresque, since Kafka read Walser. Now he makes you smile, he amuses you, then you are caught in a dream where the thoughts have a hallucinatory quality, being difficult to differentiate
Oct 16, 2013 Warwick rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, swiss-lit

Imagine the school scenes from Gormenghast rewritten by Kafka and you'll have a good idea of the atmosphere of Jakob von Gunten, a short and stodgy philosophical fable of a very Germanic kind. It's easy to see why Kafka and Hesse were such fans; I wasn't quite so convinced, although I can understand why so many people love it.

The novel consists of a journal written by the title character, who has enrolled in a school for servants (based on Walser's own experience at a valet school in Berlin). Th
Apr 13, 2017 Cody rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb
Not a book I loved but I can appreciate it's many qualities. I really enjoy concise writing. I think it's beautiful in its simplicity, and Walser's style matches my tastes nicely. I also enjoyed the formatting of the narrative. It is not epistolary, but this novel is written in a manner that gives us the impression of reading Jakob's journal.

Most of the novel consists of opinions and observations from Jakob. There is not much in the way of a plot here. It's a quiet novel, which is certainly not
Oct 11, 2013 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: european-novels
Quite an oddity; it took me a while to decide whether I liked it or not; it’s quite abstract and the protagonist isn’t someone that I would immediately warm to. The novel is written in the first person. Jakob is from a good family, with money and possibly titled who decides to go to the big city (Berlin) and join a school for servants (much as Walser did) called the Benjamenta Institute. The only teaching members we meet are the Principal and his sister.
The book is in diary form and consists of
Camille Stein
Sep 14, 2013 Camille Stein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jakob von Gunten. Robert Walser

Jakob von Gunten / Robert Walser | Un libro cada día -

Siento que la vida exige emociones, no reflexiones.

Sí, sin duda existe en el mundo eso que llaman progreso, pero no es sino una de las numerosas mentiras divulgadas por los hombres de negocios para poderle exprimir dinero a la masa con mayor cinismo y desparpajo. La masa es el esclavo de nuestro tiempo, y el individuo, el esclavo de la grandiosa idea de masa. Ya no hay nada bello ni excelente. Lo bello, lo bueno y lo justo
Aug 19, 2013 ·Karen· rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those ready to be discomfited
I would wish it on no one to be me.
Only I am capable of bearing myself.
To know so much, to have seen so much, and
To say nothing, just about nothing.

Written by Robert Walser, as quoted by J.M. Coetzee in The Genius of Robert Walser


Those dates there at the top of this review tell me that I took an inexplicable two and a half weeks to read this novella of a mere 164 pages.

At the back of my edition I find a schematic overview of Walser's biograph
Vit Babenco
Aug 12, 2016 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jakob Von Gunten is a metaphor of learning in the school of life…
“We pupils all know, one as well as the next, that timidity is a punishable offence. Whoever stutters and shows fear is exposed to the scorn of our Fraulein, but we must be small, and we must know, know precisely, that we are nothing big. The law which commands, the discipline which compels, and the many unmerciful rules which give us a direction and give us good taste: that is the big thing, not us pupils. Well, everyone feels thi
Feb 05, 2013 knig rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: keeper, dream-like, 2013
Chris Middleton does such a proficient job in my introduction honing in on the mysterium, journal element, and subtle ribbing tone of Jakob, that for a moment I think I am left with nothing to say. Luckily,I am not one to succumb to silence even in those circumstances : or, to be perfectly precise, I seem to always have something to say even when I don’t. For better or worse.

This entire novel, then, is a study of contrast, and undercurrent. Seeming levity of tone belies a violent clash of dicho
Feb 06, 2010 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spurned, nyrb
I really, really hated this book. Jakob von Gunten (the character) is the most dull, fey, irritating, and obtuse example of a first-person narrator I have yet encountered in my literary sojourns. I wanted to track him down and to bludgeon him to death.
Jack Tripper
Mar 13, 2017 Jack Tripper rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Here's the cover of the 1983 Vintage Books trade paperback I have (154 pages). Full review to come.
Stephen P
When I see a painting in a gallery or museum I avoid at all costs the name of the artist until I have experienced and been impacted by the work itself. It is a task in self discipline not to peek at the plate where the artist’s name is engraved waiting to create swathes of widening black bordered edges, its brushed strokes leaving my preconceived ideas, my self imposed biases, concerning the artist, the genre, the…the…shrinking and distorting of the painting out of its context, paling beyond rec ...more
I've been thinking a lot about institutions/institutional living lately due to having recently finished two books back-to-back where the primary action takes place in one. The other book being Leonora Carrington's The Hearing Trumpet which had a certain resonance with this book despite being significantly different. Neither has quite the traditional take on institutions, a word that, for me, tends to conjure up images of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Both books have an inter ...more
Jean-Paul Werner Walshaw-Sauter


(Händehochhaltende, Otto Meyer-Amden)

"Ich fühle, dass das Leben Wallungen verlangt, nicht Überlegungen."

Robert Walser's novel Jakob von Gunten. Ein Tagebuch is an anti-Bildungsroman. This first-person poetical journal is narrated by Jakob in a series of pictures, dark thoughts, observations and insinuations; the order of events and the distinction between reality and fantasy is not always clearly definable. Jakob has run away from the provinces and his well-to-do family in order to escape the om
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 what.

(I am numb towards this novel. Such is presently immune to interpretation. Okay I checked: no response)

Walser's novel exudes a refined decadence. There are echoes of uproar and decay along t
How does one begin to write even an on-the-fly review of such a novel, one that should be experienced as a series of deceptively simple vignettes in the young life of the titular character and be relished as Walser carries one along with Jakob's singular voice? Jakob von Gunten is also a difficult novel from which to quote given how the reader manages to catch small glimpses of how the narrative voice will develop and evolve, something that this reviewer would not wish to ruin for any future rea ...more
I liked the subtle sarcasm and clever wordplay in this novel, things I myself like to trot out, although likely without the attendant adjectives. Walser's eponymous narrator has left home (we don't know why) and has enrolled himself in a school for servants. He writes of his days there in a kind of diary. Jakob engages in some leg-pulling with the principal, the instructress and at least one of his fellow students. He is probably pulling the reader's leg too, with sleight of hand sentences like ...more
May 06, 2008 Eugene rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
heeded a thankfully persistent whisper of walser walser walser and fell hard. i'd heard the gossipy parts: how kafka dug him, how he lived his final years in a madhouse, how he died on a long walk in the snow, how he wrote in a pencilled hand so small that people thought it was a secret code but it wasn't--it was just very very small.

i'd tried THE ASSISTANT, which is recently translated but earlier walser and could see the charm, but i was prejudiced against how its proto-modern style took too l
Mar 30, 2015 Vipassana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who can trust Jakob
There are a few authors I trust. Their constant prodding as words flow, keeps me in a state of mild excitement. Not too much to throw me into a tizzy and not too little that I may slip into ennui. I call these authors perceptive, yet I can't let go of the idea that their bubble of perception and mine overlap sufficiently for me to believe so. With that nagging thought, Jakob von Gunten's ambivalence is reassuring.

Jakob, with his bourgeois intellect, enters the Benjamenta Institute and soon cont
No pasa muchas veces, pero en ocasiones sucede que te cruzas, más o menos por azar, con un libro que no tenías pensado leer, pero en un impulso irracional decides darle una oportunidad, aunque en realidad no estás esperando mucho de él, pero luego empiezas e, inesperadamente, ya en la primera página te das cuenta de que este libro va a ser uno de tus favoritos por lo que te resta de vida. Esto me ha pasado con el ‘Jakob von Gunten’ de Robert Walser.

Tengo que confesar que tampoco ha sido por puro
Sep 15, 2016 Pantelis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This could be Gregor Samsa's uneasy dream that fateful night... Kafka wrote Die Verwandlung in 1912. He had already read Jakob von Gunten in 1909. There is a relevant entry in his diary. "Jakob von Gunten, ein gutes Buch"... Inception?...
Oct 15, 2008 Jimmy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An imaginative, deceptively simple book. One becomes almost suspicious of the narrator half-way. It's nice that there is no plot (just beautiful prose-poem-like passages) until close to the end. But the last 20 pages is where the actual plot lies (by that time you're lulled into the strangely lit mood-world so convincingly that it really affects you). I loved the quiet humor of this book, and the slightly uncomfortable feeling I get from it.
M. Sarki
Jun 21, 2013 M. Sarki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The publisher claims this German work Jakob von Gunten as Robert Walser's finest work. Other reviewers speak of the wondrous language and how the title character Jakob reminds them of Holden Caulfield, among others. For those of you who may not be privy to this person, Holden was the famous character in J.D. Salinger's novel, The Catcher in the Rye. I didn't get that same reaction reading this book. Jakob was young like Holden, and sort of cheeky and intel
Nora Dillonovich
Dec 17, 2007 Nora Dillonovich rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mysterioso
I think I will add Jakob Von Gunten to my growing list of "book characters I spend afternoons imagining I am friends with". My list started (of course...) with Holden Caulfield (I was 12 when I read it first, growing up in a prim suburb- silently screaming my way through middle school and then, at times, literally screaming throughout high school) and has continued to grow- vacillating wildly and traveling through time. Mrs. Dalloway is on it, as is the protagonist of The Yellow Wallpaper. Jane ...more
May 08, 2013 Will rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most incredible novels I've read. Whatever life is, Walser seems to cover all of it in less than even 175 pages. "Ah, all these thoughts, all this peculiar yearning, this seeking, this stretching out of hands toward a meaning. Let it all dream, let it all sleep. I'll simply let it come. Let it come."
I'm sorry, everybody who told me to read this. We tortured each other for about seventy pages and I gave up before it did.

When somebody visited him in the lunatic asylum and asked him how his writing was going, Walser famously replied 'I didn't come here to write, I came here to be mad.'

Fair enough, Robert. But you ain't taking me with you.
Aug 26, 2016 Matt marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Beck was dozing in the heat of the afternoon, when he was startled and thought out loud: “Jakob von Gunten!”
“What?” said the man in whose mind Beck is usually residing. Although ever present, Beck kept his silence ever since his appearance in the review of Perlman’s Silence.
“Jakob von Gunten! You have to read it. It’s the book by Robert Walser,” said Beck.
“I know what it is”, said Beck’s host. “I just don’t know why I should read it now.”
“It’s featured in Perlman’s Silence. Two times! And I know
Jan 14, 2014 Teresa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: n-suica, e3
Jakob Von Gunten é um jovem estudante do Instituto Benjamenta; uma escola para rapazes que tem como missão incutir nos alunos "paciência e obediência, duas qualidades que pouco ou nenhum proveito prometem.".
Durante a sua permanência no colégio, Jakob vai relatando no seu diário os acontecimentos quotidianos, protagonizados pelos alunos e professores; e anota os seus próprios sonhos, delírios e estratégias de sobrevivência a um ambiente autoritário e estéril de conhecimento.

Neste livro recordei a
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NYRB Classics: Jakob von Gunten, by Robert Walser 1 15 Oct 23, 2013 02:17PM  
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Robert Walser, a German-Swiss prose writer and novelist, enjoyed high repute among a select group of authors and critics in Berlin early in his career, only to become nearly forgotten by the time he committed himself to the Waldau mental clinic in Bern in January 1929. Since his death in 1956, however, Walser has been recognized as German Switzerland's leading author of the first half of the twent ...more
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“That is all very senseless, but this senselessness has a pretty mouth, and it smiles.” 129 likes
“One is always half mad when one is shy of people.” 53 likes
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