Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Rilkean Regard

The luminous new novel The Moments Lost by Bruce Olds (appearing next month from FSG) contains the following remarkable passage, worthy of any commonplace book. In addition to being some of the loveliest prose I've read in a great while, the passage includes a veiled reference to the work of Rainer Maria Rilke:
"...she presented him with the orris-work-covered notebook she had purchased for the purpose, instructing him to copy the words conscientiously twice a day, once upon waking, again at bedtime, this midnight lucubration:

'There is nothing truly beautiful but that which can never be any use whatever; everything useful is ugly, for it is the expression of some need, and man's needs are ignoble and disgusting like his own poor and infirm nature. The most useful place in a house is the water-closet.'

Gautier's words in the preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin.

And why, she quizzed him? Why was this? How so?

"Because," he intuited, "man is a creature of abject want ahead of fundamental need, base desire before necessity? Because life is a matter of aoristic excrescence? Because fantasia and phantasmagoria, reverie and dream, are more beautiful than brute experience? Because the lyric of a poem sustains life no less than a loaf of bread, and there is no place without eyes to see us. Am I close?" "
There is no place without eyes to see us: Rilke admirers will promptly recognize the antecedent of this line by Olds in the famous close of Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo" in part two of New Poems:

Da ist keine Stelle / die dicht nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.

There is no piece of this that does not see you. You must change your life.

Read Rilke's full poem, translated by Stephen Mitchell here (or with the original German here). And seek out Olds's staggering new novel when it appears next month.

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