‘I’m a king who’s been deposed’

“You’re young,” the principal says to me, “you’re bursting with prospects. Wait a moment, was there something else I forgot to say? You must realise, Jakob, that I’ve got a lot of things to say to you, and yet you can have forgotten the best deepest things before you know where you are. And you yourself, you look like good fresh memory itself, whereas my memory is getting old now. My mind, Jakob, is dying. Forgive me if I’m saying things that are too weak, too intimate. It’s a laugh. So I ask you too forgive me, whereas I could give you a good beating if I thought it necessary. What stern looks you’re giving me. Well, well, I could throw you against that wall there, so hard you’d never see or hear anything again. I don’t know what’s happened to make me lose all authority over you. Probably you laugh at me, secretly. But between ourselves: watch out. You must realise that wild feelings seize me sometimes and before I can stop myself I forget what I’m doing. O my little lad, no, don’t be afraid. It would be so completely impossible, completely, to do you any harm, but – well, now, what was it I meant to say to you? Tell me, are you just a little frightened? And you’re young and you’ve got hopes, and soon you want to find a position. Isn’t that so? Yes, that’s it. Yes, that’s it and I’m sorry, for just think, sometimes I feel that you’re my young brother or something near as nature to me, you seem so related to me, with your gestures, talk, mouth, everything, in short, yourself. I’m a king who’s been deposed. You’re smiling? I find it simply delightful, you know, that precisely when I’m talking about kings deposed and deprived of their thrones a smile escapes you, such a mischievous smile. You have intelligence, Jakob. Oh, it’s so nice to be talking with you. It’s a delightful little prickling feeling to behave with you in a rather weak sort of way and more softly than usual. Yes, you really do provoke easy going, loosening up, the sacrifice of dignity. One attributes to you – do you believe me? – a nobility of mind, and this tempts one very strongly to indulge, when you are there, in fine and helpless explanations and confessions, as I do, for example, your master, confessing to you, my poor young worm, whom I could utterly crush if I chose to. Give me your hand. Good! Let me tell you that you’ve managed to make me feel respect for you. I respect you highly, and – I – don’t mind – telling you. And now I want to ask you: will you be my friend, the small sharer of my confidences? I ask you, please do. But I’ll give you time to think it over, you may go now. Please go, leave me alone.”

— Walser, Institute Benjamenta (aka Jakob von Gunten), tr. C. Middleton

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