Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Letter 8 - Rilke on Solitude and Transformation

With respect to our place in the future Rilke concludes the preceding paragraph,

The future stands firm, dear Mr. Kappus, but we move in infinite space.

In an attempt to get my own head around Rilke’s thought in the following paragraphs I will quote in full with perhaps some brief comments clarifying what I am focusing on or perceiving.

And to speak of solitude again, it becomes always clearer that this at bottom not something that one can take or leave. We are solitary. We may delude ourselves and act as though this were not so. That is all. But how much better it is to realize that we are so, yes, even to begin by assuming it. We shall indeed turn dizzy then; for all points upon which our eye has been accustomed to rest are taken from us, there is nothing near any more and everything far is infinitely far. A person removed from his own room, almost without preparation and transition, and set upon the height of a great mountain range, would feel something of the sort: an unparalleled insecurity, an abandonment to something inexpressible would almost annihilate him. He would think himself falling or hurled into space, or exploded into a thousand pieces: what a monstrous lie his brain would have to invent to catch up with and explain the state of his senses!

Why is it that the movement towards the solitary is so disorientating? I stated earlier that I cannot conceive of a non-relational reality. While that may be true I wonder if what Rilke is getting at is that our notion of connection or relationship is more often the connection to ourselves which we see in others. We love in others what we love in ourselves and therefore do not love others at all. We are disorientated in solitude because we have lost the self-perceived affirmation we find in others.

So for him who becomes solitary all distances, all measures change; of these changes many take place suddenly, and then, as with the man on the mountaintop, extraordinary imaginings and singular sensations arise that seem to grow out beyond all bearing. But is necessary for us to experience that too. We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way can; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible in it.

This is where my sense of Rilke’s transcendence emerges. By transcendence I mean openness.

That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm; the experiences that are called “visions,” the who so-called “spirit-world,” death, all those things that are so closely akin to us, have by daily parrying been crowded out of life that the senses with which we could have grasped them are atrophied. [emphasis mine]

Then of this in connection to human relationships.

For it is not inertia alone that is responsible for human relationships repeating themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and unrenewed; it is shyness before any sort of new, unforeseeable experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope. But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation to another as something alive and will himself draw exhaustively from his own experience. [emphasis mine]

Rilke goes on to encourage Mr. Kappus to explore the contours of his world criticizing humanity for becoming to accommodating to their environment. He continues,

We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

Far from being an attempt to view the world through rose colored glasses Rilke here advocates a “narrow path” recognizing that we cannot trust the smooth and the easy. This path is both unstable and promises no fruit. Rather, this perspective opens wide the embrace of terror and abyss with the knowledge that they are not embedded or foundational in the created order. They too will be dissolved or as Rilke sees it transformed as we approach them in beauty and bravery.


Anonymous said...

Firstly Rilke was fucked up, secondly this is why he's such a brilliant demonstration of the consequences of Protestantism, the cult of personal salvation removing all that work of socialising and community building which the Catholic faith had achieved, as did the Orthodox, it doesn't matter which team you support as long as you all support the same team. blah, blah, blah.
But now 'even the beasts are aware that we don't feel very securely at home in this interpreted world' or as the Johnny phrased it ' I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die'. Alas the dichotomy of the two party system and thus the artifice of all thought is a consequence of Protestantism and as Ellul notes 'when we look at the specific choices made by Christians, we see they always revert to what the world has proposed. We wait for the world to take the initiative, then we approve or disapprove after-ward.' How can a Church that begs be the Church of the Lord of Lords?

M. Jennifer said...

I was actually curious, who was the translator of your copy of that letter? The book I have has a different translation of the passage with 'inertia' and I am trying to find that translation so I can see what else is different.