Institute Benjamenta (Extraordinary Classics)
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Institute Benjamenta (Extraordinary Classics)

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  1,489 ratings  ·  169 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 1908)
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Emilian Kasemi
May 21, 2014 Emilian Kasemi rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
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
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.
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...more
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...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
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...more
Camille Stein
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...more
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...more

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...more
Nora Dillonovich
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
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...more
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.
M. Sarki

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...more
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.
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...more
I wish I had read this years ago. Like a German Holden Caulfield, but way more European.
Tanuj Solanki
European Modernism (yawn)

That was the time. The first three decades of the previous century. Literature changed radically, irreversibly.

Today, a century later, one can take the names of the winners with confidence - Joyce, Proust, Kafka, Woolf. Their(the list is not complete, but the weight of these names should denote the intent) work is so immense and so rich, it suffices to be a near comprehensive study in itself. But what of the early Modernists. What of the strivings in the German novel, st...more
the title character calls to mind an oddball mix of cultural figures: franz kafka, andy warhol, denton welch - even "kenneth the page" from 30 rock came to mind as i read this. but jakob von gunten is his own dude through and through. he's someone without any clear precedent in my own library, and his story is the best and most unusual "bildungsroman" i've ever read in my life.

there are an infinite number of things to praise about this book, but at the very top is the tightrope it walks between...more
Susan Sontag compares Robert Walser to a more whimsical Samuel Beckett, and after reading this it became clear why. The schizophrenical characters and their half-planned action seem so sweeping and abstract, and at the same time so right and graceful, it's hard not to be confused and delighted at the same time.

Walser seems to have a particular talent for simply contradicting himself in ways that made me laugh pretty regularly at the childish playfulness buried under such a bizarre tragedy as the...more
Josh Friedlander
A joy from start to finish. In one sense, Walser is a gentler, (reasonably) well-adjusted version of Kafka, full of self-deprecating wit and benign hopelessness. But beneath his protagonist Jakob's diffidence lies a warmth and perspicacity, executed sublimely, so that we barely notice. Observations of the busy to and fro of a city street - many degrees removed from the Benjamenta's anti-ambitious drudgery - gradually, drolly, melt into excitement: I wanted to hug everybody. And as the book revea...more
Odd book! About a teen/young man who goes to a school to learn how to be a servant. Really, the whole novel is about submission and power--who has one or the other, who wants one or the other, why someone wants one or the other or both. It centers on the relationship between the boy, Jakob, and the two heads of school (a man and his sister). Both eventually are drawn to Jakob. The other major element of the book is Jakob's relationship with another student, Kraus, who seems to be Jakob's foil--a...more
"Thinkers, if they only knew what harm they do. Anyone who industriously does not think, does something, he certainly does, and that is more necessary. There are ten thousand superfluous heads at work in the world. It's clear, clear as day. The generations of men are losing the joy of life with all their treatises and understandings and knowledge. If, for example, a pupil of the Benjamenta Institute doesn't know that he's being polite, then polite is what he's being. If he knows it, then all his...more
This was as close to a look at how my own mind works as I can remember reading, which is all the more interesting considering that, at times, I didn't like the narrator. Of course at other times I thought he was the wisest of men, which I suppose is how we all feel about ourselves anyway. Like Jakob, we're a constant repetitive soaring to the heights immediately followed by a plummet to the depths. I am the greatest person who ever lived. I am the worst wretch ever given life. Jakob's narration...more
"Klein sein und klein bleiben. Und höbe und trüge mich eine Hand, ein Umstand, eine Weile bis hinauf, wo Nacht und Einfluß gebieten, ich würde die Verhältnisse, die mich bevorzugten, zerschlagen, und mich selber würde ich hinabwerfen ins niedrige, nichtssagende Dunkel. Ich kann nur in den untern Regionen atmen."

„Vielleicht werde ich nie Äste und Zweige ausbreiten. Eines Tages wird von meinem Wesen und Beginnen irgendein Duft ausgehen, ich werde Blüte sein und ein wenig, wie zu meinem eigenen Ver...more
Why am I embarrassed by only "liking" Jakob von Gunten? Is it because I've never met anyone who's read it who didn't love it? There must be more of us out here who read it and thought, "Robert Walser is an unusual man and this is a suitably unusual book, but not something I love." Should I form a club for those who agree?

Of course I am being tongue-in-cheek. There are certain parts of this novel that are quite memorable, especially the atmosphere of thwarted expectancy and equally thwarted desir...more
Julia Boechat Machado
Jan 08, 2011 Julia Boechat Machado rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Julia by: Kafka, Hesse, Walter Benjamin e Enrique Villa-Matas
Novela narrada em primeira pessoa por Jakob von Gunten, que estuda para ser servo no Instituto Benjamenta, do modernista Robert Walser.
Uma novela brilhantemente original, absurda. Um livro que quero reler muitas vezes.

A princípio fiquei incomodada por não encontrá-lo em português. Como o livro em português custaria em torno de 40 ou 50 reais, e eu gastei 18 para encomendá-lo da Itália, acabei me consolando. Cheguei à conclusão que, mesmo quando o livro existe, muitas vezes é mais barato encomend...more
Sabra Embury

I picked up Jacob Von Gunten based on a recent obsession with first person narrative. The book itself is pretty straight-forward: a seventeen-year-old from an elite background runs away and enrolls in a school for servants 'aka' butler school. But peel back the obvious 'meanderings in a journal' layer and Gunten reads like a hyper-intuitive flay, re: class and personalities.

The genius of it: his observations/aches/frustrations of humanity are STILL relevant from an intellectual standpoint. His...more
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."
Joe Garvin
Robert Walser switched from pen to pencil in his thirties due to psychosomatic cramps and wrote five hundred pages in microscopic script, once subsisted entirely on sprats for six weeks, spent almost three decades in an asylum, and ultimately froze to death in a snowy field on Christmas Day, 1956. Since the 1960’s a fascination with the enigmatic Swiss writer has grown largely from these facts. “Walser’s so-called madness, his lonely death, and the posthumously discovered cache of his secret wri...more
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NYRB Classics: Jakob von Gunten, by Robert Walser 1 5 Oct 23, 2013 02:17PM  
  • Wittgenstein's Nephew
  • Witch Grass
  • Sunflower
  • Novels in Three Lines
  • A Sorrow Beyond Dreams
  • Moravagine
  • Irretrievable
  • The Sleepwalkers
  • The Waste Books
  • Malina
  • The Melancholy of Resistance
  • The Post-Office Girl
  • Vertigo
  • Amsterdam Stories
  • Skylark
  • The Pilgrim Hawk
  • The Confusions of Young Törless
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
More about Robert Walser...
Selected Stories The Tanners The Assistant Berlin Stories The Microscripts

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“That is all very senseless, but this senselessness has a pretty mouth, and it smiles.” 118 likes
“One is always half mad when one is shy of people.” 40 likes
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