The Institut Benjamenta: a school of humility for the unambitious. The young Jakob von Gunten arrives at this most curious of educational establishments with the goal of becoming ‘something very small and subordinate later in life’, a goal he sets about achieving with laconic dedication and wry detachment. Irony, scepticism, absurd images and sensations, disconcerting humour, minor humiliations and minute observations mingle to form one of the signature works of twentieth century fiction. First published in 1908, a forerunner to and key influence on the work of writers such as Franz Kafka and Thomas Bernhard, Robert Walser’s masterpiece is a paean to infinitesimal unimportance, a celebration of the marginal life that is the life of the mind.
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