Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rilke - Letter 3: Part II

Rilke offers interesting commentary on art, sexuality and gender. Though many comparisons exist between the birthing process of human life and of art Rilke encourages further that the artist offer the truly human in the artistic process. In this letter Rilke refers to the poet Richard Dehmel as one who writes in heat. He acknowledges that such writing indeed moves him, that Dehmel’s “poetic power is great, strong as a primitive instinct; it has its own unyielding rhythms in itself and breaks out of him as out of mountains.” But he continues to say that, “this power is not always honest.” Rilke claims that Dehmel’s artistic urge as “it comes to the sexual” does not find a “clean” sex world, that is it is not sufficiently human.

“[It] is only male, is heat, intoxication and restlessness, and laden with the old prejudices and arrogances with which man has disfigured and burdened love. Because he loves as man only, not as human being, for this reason there is in his sexual feeling something narrow, seeming wild, spiteful, time-bound, uneternal, that diminishes his art and makes it ambiguous and doubtful. It is not immaculate, it is marked by time and by passion, and little of it will survive and endure. (But most art is like that!) Nevertheless one may deeply rejoice in what there is of greatness in it, only one must not lost oneself in it.”

In the realm of art and beauty categories of male and female carry significant currency. In earlier posts I reflected on the role the feminine womb or interior played in spiritual formation. Here Rilke warns of the heat and restlessness of the masculine. It is receiving the artistic urge “in community,” in the “clean” sex world of the human that abiding beauty emerges. I am intrigued by Rilke’s notion of a “clean sex world”. This image both evokes and distances itself from cultic representations of the sacred in the Hebrew Bible. Having sex rendered one ceremonially unclean and required a distancing from the holiness of God. However, the union between God and humanity is often rendered in sexual terms. As with Rilke this too is conceived of as a (ceremonially) “clean sex world”. In the New Testament this would be expressed with the image of “the pure spotless bride”. In the Bible as with Rilke this union emerges only in trust and humility. In the Bible this is conceived in the act and life of worship for Rilke this is conceived in the space within and beyond ourselves (trust), “in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence.” In this space the artist is called to “await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity.”

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