"If it be permitted to speak of 'love at first syllable, ' then that's what I experienced in my first encounter with this poet of prose." So wrote Thomas Mann of the work of Peter Altenberg. A virtuoso Fin de Siecle Viennese innovator of what he called the "telegram style" of writing, Altenberg's signature short prose straddles the line between the lyrical and the narrative, fiction and observation, harsh verity and whimsical vignette. Inspired by the prose poems of Charles Baudelaire, the tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Viennese Feuilleton, a light journalistic reflection current in his day, Altenberg carved out a spare, strikingly modern aesthetic that speaks with an eerie prescience to our own impatient time. Peter Wortsman's new selection and translation reads like a sly lyrical wink from the turn-of-the-century of the telegram to the turn-of-the-millennium of e-mail.
Peter Altenberg, also known as Richard Englander, 1859-1919, was born into a well-to-do Viennese Jewish family, lived in hotels and listed as his official address the Cafe Central, Vienna's intellectual clubhouse (also the sometime haunt of Leon Trotsky and his chess partner Vladimir Ilyich Lenin). A renowned eccentric, Altenberg pioneered the very notion of loose-fitting leisure attire, designed a line of necklaces and favored sandals, walking sticks, slivovitz and the company of prostitutes. His literary admirers included Karl Kraus, Heinrich and Thomas Mann, Robert Musil and Arthur Schnitzler.
Recipient of the Beard's Fund Short Story Award, Peter Wortsman is the author of "A Modern Way To Die: Small Stories and Microtales" and the play "The Tattooed Man Tells All." His translations from the German include "Posthumous Papers of a Living Author" by Robert Musil and "Peter Schlemiel: The Man Who Sold His Shadow" by Adelbert von Chamisso.