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[T]his hollow-eyed communer with angels, Greek torsos
and death was not merely a selfish snob;
Loving another does not entitle one to their love in return, but being loved by another does place one under an obligation. This is the awful truth that Rainer Maria Rilke's semi autobiographical hero, Malte Laurids Brigge, seems to be trying to evade. In fact, this is very much the dilemma of modern man, for no matter how much we love God, our love will not necessarily influence Him, but His love for us places us under an obligation to Him. Of course, the easiest way out of this dilemma is simply to deny the existence of God, which has been the response of Modernity.
Unfortunately, this still leaves the problem of fellow humans, and the obligations that their love puts us under. Thus, Rilke, who wrote the book after running away from his wife and young child, says of Brigge :
[H]e had decided never to love, in order not to put anyone in the terrible position of being loved.
Or, as Sartre more famously said :
Hell is other people.
Both quotes reflect an understanding that love ultimately places limits on human freedom, by creating interdependence.
Brigge's/Rilke's reaction, one which has been all to common in our age, was to turn completely inward and become totally self-absorbed, to disregard others. And in the absence of God and of other people what is the central fact of the self ? Mortality. So it is little surprise that an obsession with death thoroughly permeates the Notebooks. If you really want to read about an effete and morbidly self-centered intellectual who is down and out in Paris (of course Paris), this is the book for you.
But if you don't share in the pathologies, it's likely to be off-putting, at least it was for me. Reviews all seem to mention the beauty of Rilke's language, but it didn't strike me as particularly lovely. It certainly does not redeem the depressing story. Rilke's concerns are those you would expect of the man that Michael Dirda describes above : only his own unpleasant self. In the end the book is mainly interesting as an influential expression of a philosophy of mere existence that has proven enormously damaging, contributing mightily to the unfortunate atomization of humanity in the 20th Century.
See also:Eastern European Literature
-Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) (kirjasto)
-ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : "Rainer Maria Rilke"
-The Rainer Maria Rilke Archive
-Rainer Maria Rilke Archive (uk)
-Rainer Maria Rilke Web Site (Dr. David Lavery)
-Rainer Maria Rilke - The Academy of American Poets
-Little Blue Light - Rainer Maria Rilke
-The Cry Existentialism: Rilke
-Rainer Maria Rilke (BBC Online)
-Poetry Magazine : Rainer Maria Rilke
-Rainer Maria Rilke (Case Western Reserve University)
-Poetry Today Online : Classic Poets: Rainer Maria Rilke
-ETEXTS : Rainer Maria Rilke (Gutenberg)
-ETEXTS : 3 Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) (translated by Stephen Mitchell)
-ETEXTS : The Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke new translations by Cliff Crego
-ETEXTS : Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke Translated by Leonard Cottrell (Monadnock Review)
-EXCERPT : Chapter One of Life of a Poet : Rainer Maria Rilke By Ralph Freedman
-Annotated Works of Rainer Maria Rilke (Medical Humanities, NYU)
-ESSAY : Development in Rainer Maria Rilke (Jason Hall)
-ARCHIVES : rilke (NY Review of Books)
-LINKS : Assorted Rilke Websites
-REVIEW : of THE SELECTED POETRY OF RAINER MARIA RILKE Edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell (Denis Donoghue, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke and Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation by William H. Gass (Nicole Krauss, Boston Review)
-REVIEW : of Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke, Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation by William H. Gass & The Essential Rilke selected and translated by Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann (Brian Phillips, New Republic)
-REVIEW : of READING RILKE Reflections on the Problems of Translation. By William H. Gass (Daniel Mendelsohn, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : Dec 2, 1999 J.M. Coetzee: Going All the Way, NY Review of Books
Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation by William H. Gass
-REVIEW : of Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation by William H. Gass (Complete Review)
-REVIEW : of Reading Rilke by William Gass (DAVID DAVIDAR, The Hindu)
-REVIEW : of READING RILKE: REFLECTIONS ON THE PROBLEMS OF TRANSLATION, by William Gass & THE ESSENTIAL RILKE, selected and translated by Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann (John Freeman, Boston Phoenix)
-REVIEW : of Reading Rilke (Glen Bolcain, Waterman Review)
-REVIEW : of Reading Rilke (DAVID GARZA, Austin Chronicle)
-REVIEW : of Reading Rilke (Ray Pride, New City Chicago)
-INTERVIEW : with William Gass about Rilke (WRITERS AND COMPANY - CBC Radio)
-REVIEW : of RILKE AND BENVENUTA An Intimate Correspondence. Edited by Magda von Hattingberg. Translated by Joel Agee (Katharine Washburn, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of LIFE OF A POET Rainer Maria Rilke. By Ralph Freedman (Michael Hofmann, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of Life of a Poet : Rainer Maria Rilke By Ralph Freedman (Michael Dirda, Washington Post)
-REVIEW : of A RINGING GLASS The Life of Rainer Maria Rilke. By Donald Prater (Michael Hofmann, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : RILKE: A Life. By Wolfgang Leppmann (ANATOLE BROYARD, NY Times)
-REVIEW : of RILKE, By Wolfgang Leppmann. Translated by Russell M. Stockman (Erich Heller, NY Times Book Review)