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Robert Walser – John Randolph Bennett

Truth in a Berlin Salon c. 1910

In a culture dedicated to pleasure, power, and stratagems, truth becomes simply another card in the deck.

No one speaks the truth here, in these circles that set the tone for society at large. —Perhaps a word of truth is out of the question, if only because people here are too clever and are acquainted with thousands of truths and untruths. The knowledge of human nature is too rich, the treasury of experiences in fact already too replete. In a sense, speaking the truth presupposes a certain narrow-mindedness.

So comments Robert Walser in “Frau Bähni,” a short recollection written in 1916 that appears in Berlin Stories (NYRB).

This little book presents Walser’s impressions—sometimes comic, sometimes somber—of Berlin in the first decades of the 20th century. The quality of the pieces is uneven, but the best pieces are superb, and I recommend the collection overall.

Of course, there are other cultures where a preference for truth seems almost quaint. . . .