Rilke’s Disappointing Dolls

Rilke’s Disappointing Dolls

Posted on May 22nd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
The Secret Life of Puppets
By Victoria Nelson
Pages 69-70

In the essay “Doll: On the Wax Dolls of Lote Pritzel” (1913-14), inspired by an exhibit of life-size adult dolls he had seen in Munich as well as the Kleist esay, Rainer Maria Rilke confronts the frustrating paradox of graven images that will not come to life.  Noting as a casual given that most inanimate objects “eagerly” absorb human tenderness (“a violin’s devotion, the good-natured eagerness of horn-rimmed spectacles”), he laments the fact that the childhood fusion with the self-object doll is a barren union that promises everything and delivers nothing.  “You doll-soul,” he exclaims in this monologue addressed to an idol that does not reply, “not made by god, you soul, begged as a whim by some impetuous elf, you thing-soul exhaled laboriously by an idol and kept in being by us all.”  As children, he says, we invent a soul for the doll, but ultimately the doll makes the child feel cheated,  “unmasked as the gruesome foreign body on which we squandered our purest affection.’  By the end of cihildhood “we could not make it into a thing or person, and in such moments it became a stranger to us,’ and so the doll-soul and its possibilities die for good.  Rilke suggests that this kind of infantile wish-animism is doomed to wither in the object once it has died within us.

The same is not true of the puppet, however.  Rilke expresses his hope that this simulacrum will prove to be a potential soul vessel in the fourth Duino elegy, where he builds explicitly on the paradoxes Kleist set forth in “On the Marionette Theater”:

    when I am in the mood
    to wait before the puppet stage, no,
    to watch it so intensely that, in order
    finally to compensate for my watching, as puppeteer
    an angel must come to set the puppets in motion

Or, as Harold Segel has elegantly paraphrased this passage: “Once the self is overcome, one stands before the possibility of a heretofore unrealizable interaction of the material world, represented by the puppet figure, and the transcendent world, represented by the figure of an angel… the path to harmonize the world.”  The puppet-angel conjunction is in fact Rilke’s solution to the mute and fruitless idolatry of childhood, a state of innocence to which, like the Garden of Eden, we cannot return.

Rilke continues:

    Angel and puppet.  Now we will have a play.
    Now will there come together what we always
    Divide because of our presence…
    Now will the angel perform over us.

To achieve the loss of ego necessary to experience the true unio mystica, the conjunction of the visible and invisible worlds, he says, we must do precisely as Kleist’s Mr. C. suggests — bite the apple again and re-lose our innocence.  For Rilke, however, this loss of ego may represent not, as Louis Sass argues about Kleist, the subject-object fusion that is “an obliteration of all individuating self-consciousness,’ but rather a more sophisticated state of integration, “a higher self-consciousness that is, at the same time, a higher self-fogetfulness,” the true Paradise on earth.

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

38 minutes later

Nicole said

yes, indeed, Rilke always aspired toward that true integration. you can see it as well when he speaks of love, for example in the passage I quoted in the God Pod discussion What is Love? excellent blog. I’m really enjoying this Rilke series, learning a lot

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 1 hour later

Marmalade said

I posted these blogs about Rilke for 4 reasons.
1) I thought you might enjoy them.
2) It might start some nice discussion.
3) The 2 books I quoted from are ones I’ve been looking at recently and this gives me an opportunity to think about them.
4) Its a non-poetic way of looking at poetry.  🙂

I was noticing how different a view Rilke’s ideas of the doll are from The Velveteen Rabbit.  No amount of human love(no matter how innocent and pure) is going to animate Rilke’s dolls into animate Reality.  The puppet, on the other hand, draws forth the animating power beyond the human(child or otherwise), the Angel.  The doll can’t be ensouled, but the puppet can be moved by the angelic spirit.  The puppet can be animated because that which animates is transcendent to it.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 6 hours later

Nicole said

yes, Ben! oh, how do you see so clearly? i very deeply admire your keen mind and insight.

and thanks that you were at least partly motivated by my enjoyment. that is definitely full reality!

Marina Warner on Rilke

Marina Warner on Rilke

Posted on May 20th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade

“Every Angel is terrible.”
Duino Elegies, Rainer Maria Rilke

Phantasmagoria
By Marina  Warner

Pages 54-55:
In an essay about playing with dolls, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke describes the way imagination stirs to fill a void, to stop the love for a doll expiring on the blank slate of its response.  Rilke often throws an oblique light on Freud, as if engaged in a distant conversation with him (as in the case of his poems on Narcissus), and he also illuminates the uncanny when he describes the power of make-believe in children.  He writes:

“I know, I know it was necessary for us to have things of this kind, which acquiesced in everything.  The simplest love relationships were quite beyond our comprehension, we could not possibly have lived and had dealings with a person who was something; at most, we could only have entered into such a person and have lost ourselves there.  With the doll we were forced to assert ourselves, for, had we surrendered ourselves to it, there would then have been no one there at all…. it was so abysmally devoid of phantasy, that our imagination became inexaustible in dealing with it.”

(The Rilke quote is from ‘Some Reflections on Dolls—Occasioned by the Wax Dolls of Lotte Pritzel’, in Rodin and Other Pieces)

Page 170:
Sigmund Freud produced his controversial 1914 paper on the psycholgy of narcissism the year after Rainer Maria rilke wrote two of his many intense Narcissus poems.  The poet caught at Ovid’s underlying aesthetic concerns, and identified himself with the doomed lover in several highly wrought meditaitons on love, autononmy, self-annihalation, and creativity.  In one tight eight-line lyric of 1913 Rilke passionately describes Narcissus’ beauty, and his absorption and final disappaearance into the mirror of himself; in another, longer poem, his Narcissus imagines loving another or being loved by another, but rejects the possibility as damaging to the perfect unity of his twinned being for the making of beauty.  ‘On Narcissism’, Freud’s paper, ostensibly counters the views of his former colleague and friend C. G. Jung,  but it does seem to be replying, without aknowledgment, to Rilke’s poetic manifesto, Freud laying out his damaging argument that both the ego and the libido are deeply entangled from infancy in self-love(primary narcissism); and prescribing that this energy be healthily cathected towards another object, most often a lover and, especially in the case of women, a child.  The paper, and the concept of narcissism which it has defined and spread, have eclipsed some of the threads in Ovid’s fascinating originary story about the recognition and the self.  Before Freud’s essay placed the myth in the field of perverse sexuality, the motive of the imperilling mirror occurred widely, principally in tales defining primitves, saves: the instrument of revelation, a glass, could capture and subdue wild things and bring them within the compass of civility—usually disempowered.

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

8 minutes later

Nicole said

wow! how do you find this stuff, master of the search engine. i am fascinated…

Rilke was deeply conflicted in some ways, very wounded wrt childhood issues. His mother wanted him to be a girl and clothed him in dresses until a ridiculous age. His father was harsh and insisted on military school, completely inappropriate for such a sensitive and poetic boy.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

28 minutes later

Marmalade said

I own this book and I noticed the author mentioned Rilke twice(the two quotes above).  Since, I wanted to start a conversation with you about Rilke, this seemed like a nice place to start.  I wish I had found it in a search engine, but instead I typed it out.

What you said does me give more insight to Rilke.  I’d like to hear more about him if you’d like to share.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 3 hours later

Nicole said

here’s a brief biography

Writer and poet, Rilke was considered one of the greatest lyric poets of modern Germany. He created the “object poem” as an attempt to describe with utmost clarity physical objects, the “silence of their concentrated reality.” He became famous with such works as Duineser Elegien and Die Sonette an Orpheus . They both appeared in 1923. After these books, Rilke had published his major works, believing that he had done his best as a writer.

Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague as the son of Josef Rilke, a railway official and the former Sophie Entz. A crucial fact in Rilke’s life was that his mother called him Sophia. She forced him to wear girl’s clothes until he was aged five – thus compensating for the earlier loss of a baby daughter. Rilke’s parents separated when he was nine. His militarily inclined Father sent him at ten yesrs old to the military academies of St. Pölten and Mahrisch-Weisskirchenn. At the military academy Rilke did not enjoy his stay, and was sent to a business school in Linz. He also worked in his uncle’s law firm. Rilke continued his studies at the universities of Prague, Munich, and Berlin.

As a poet Rilke made his debut at the age of nineteen with Leben und Lieder (1894), written in the conventional style of Heinrich Heine. In Munich he met the Russian intellectual Lou Andreas-Salome, an older woman, who influenced him deeply. In Florence, where he spent some months in 1898, Rilke wrote: “… I felt at first so confused that I could scarcely separate my impressions, and thought I was drowning in the breaking waves of some foreign splendor.”

With Lou Andreas-Salome and her husband Rilke travelled in Russia in 1899, visiting among others Leo Tolstoy . Rilke was deeply impressed by what he learned of Russian mysticism. During this period he started to write The Book of Hours: The Book of Monastic Life , which appeared in 1905. He spent some time in Italy, Sweden, and Denmark, and joined an artists’ colony at Worpswede in 1903. In his letters to a young would-be poet, which he wrote from 1903 to 1908, Rilke explained, that “nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you to write; find out whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write.” (in Letters to a Young Poet, 1929 )

In 1901 Rilke married the young sculptress, Klara Westhoff, one of Auguste Rodin’s pupils. They had a daughter, Ruth, but marriage lasted only one year. During this period Rilke composed in rhymed, metered verse, the second part of The Book of Hours . The work expressed his spiritual yearning. After Rilke had separated from Klara, he settled in Paris to write a book about Rodin and to work for his secretary (1905-06).

In the Spring of 1906 the overworked poet left Rodin abruptly. Rilke revised Das Buch der Bilder and published it in an enlarged edition. He also wrote The Tale of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke , which became a great popular success. During his Paris years Rilke developed a new style of lyrical poetry. After Neue Gedighte (1907-08, New Poems) he wrote a notebook named Die Aufzechnungen des Malte Laurdis Brigge (1910), his most important prose work. It took the form of a series of semiautobiographical spiritual confessions but written by a Danish expatriate in Paris.

Rilke kept silent as a poet for twelve years before writing Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus , which are concerned with “the identity of terror and bliss” and “the oneness of life and death”. Duino Elegies was born in two bursts of inspiration separated by ten years. According to a story, Rilke heard in the wind the first lines of his elegies when he was walking on the rocks above the sea – “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?”

Rilke visited his friend Princess Marie von Thurnun Taxis in 1910 at Duino, her remote castle on the coast of the Adriatic, and returned again next year. There he started to compose the poems, but the work did not proceed easily. After serving in the army, Rilke was afraid that he would never be able to finish it but finally in 1922 he completed Duineser Elegien (Duino Elegies) in a chateau in Muzot, Switzerland. He also wrote an addition, the Sonnets to Orpheus , which was a memorial for the young daughter of a friend. In the philosophical poems Rilke meditated on time and eternity, life and death, art versus ordinary things. The tone was melancholic. Rilke believed in the coexistence of the material and spiritual realms, but human beings were for him only spectators of life, grasping its beauties momentarily only to lose them again. With the power of creativity an artist can try to build a bridge between two worlds, although the task is almost too great for a man. The work influenced deeply such poets as Sidney Keyes, Stephen Spender, Robert Bly, W.S. Merwin, John Ashbery, and W.H. Auden, who had Rilkean angels appear in the collection In Times of War (1939).

In 1913 Rilke returned to Paris, but he was forced to return to Germany because of the First World War. Duino Castle was bombarded to ruins and Rilke’s personal property was confiscated in France. He served in the Austrian army and found another patron, Werner Reinhart, who owned the Castle Muzot at Valais. After 1919 he lived in Switzerland, occupied by his work and roses in his little garden. For time to time he went to Paris for a few months or to Italy. Rilke’s companion during his last years was the artist Baladine (Elisabeth Dorothea Spiro), whose son, Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski), become also an artist. Rilke wrote a foreword to a book illustrated by Balthus’s drawings of cats. Rilke died on December 29, in 1926.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 7 hours later

Marmalade said

Thanks Nicole!

Reading that bio makes me particularly curious to read Duino Elegies.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 10 hours later

Nicole said

I’d like to know what you think, Ben. I find it really helpful to have this background in mind when reading his poetry, especially his central work… especially when he talks about love, or mothers… I think I blogged all or most of the Elegies, but anyway I’m sure you have found online the link to read them all, you’re so good with that.