Monday, February 07, 2011

Dreamlike Novel

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge 

"Go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept it, just as it sounds, without inquiring into it. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what recompense might come from outside."  - Rainer Maria Rilke

Rilke was a poet and his only novel demonstrates that on every page. It is a dreamlike novel that is evocative of Paris and poetry. The focus on themes of death and darkness in contrast with the power of god and belief were powerful, joining with his beautiful writing to keep me enthralled. The importance of constructing an authentic life is emphasized as a prerequisite for the prospect of a unique personal death. Death becomes a character in the novel, a "terrible rival", which may seem stronger than the living in its tolling. While Paris is the city of poetry it is also described as a place "to die in"(p 3).

More importantly this is an early contribution to the literature of existentialism and bears reading and comparison with Kierkegaard, Gide and Camus. In some respects Rilke appears to be a harbinger of such thinkers as Heidegger and Benjamin with his portents of the looming growth of a modern industrial society. Just as Dostoevsky before him Rilke paints a picture of a world that is being threatened by science and technology. But, you do not have to fixate or even focus on these trends in order to enjoy this novel, you merely need to relax and enjoy the poetic way Rilke serves up the prose in this haunting story.

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke. Vintage Books, New York. 1990 (1910).


parrish lantern said...

Knew about the poetry, but not heard of this at all, will have to check this out pronto, especially as you describe this in the terms of a precursor to the likes of Camus etc.Also it appears to tie in with a lot of the Japanese Literature I read, that confrontation with Technology & tradition.

James said...

This may be an underrated classic. I've read it twice and look forward to returning -- Rilke's haunting prose style is worth the read.