Monday, February 26, 2007

What is Lost Son About? I.
    (Periodic Answers to an Unanswerable Question)

Beginning today, I will be posting periodic replies to the question: "What is Lost Son about?" It's a question as inevitable as it is impossible to answer definitively, because the responses it might elicit from me will change as my own relationship to the novel evolves (and as I come to better understand the book myself).

On the surface, of course, Lost Son is about Rainer Maria Rilke. His life, his work, his loves and friendships and memories and torments and triumphs. But were the question as easily answerable as this, I might not have written the novel at all. Over its five-year gestation period, Lost Son has been driven by more numerous, more elusive, and hopefully more widely resonant impulses than a wish to novelize the great poet's biography.

For this first post, Rilke's work itself provides something of a response. This quote from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge might have served as a relevant epigraph for Lost Son. In a way, the novel's dilemmas are all here: the loneliness of The Poet in this world. His somber restlessness. And a certain need for him to stand in stupefaction before his own destiny, in order to speak of it evocatively...
"Und man hat niemand und nichts und fährt in der Welt

"And one has nobody and nothing and travels about in the world with a suitcase and with a trunk full of books and really without curiosity. What kind of life is this anyway? -- without house, without inherited things, without dogs.
"Was für ein Leben ist das eigentlich…

"Still, if one had at least one's memories. But who has those? If a chilhood were's like something buried. Perhaps one must be old in order to reach back to all that. I think it's good to be old."

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