Thursday, September 27, 2007

Letter 10 - Rilke, Art and Life

This is the final paragraph in the last letter that Rilke wrote to Franz Kappus,

Art too is only a way of living, and, however one lives, one can, unwittingly, prepare oneself for it; in all that is real one is closer to it and more nearly neighbored than in the unreal half-artistic professions, which, while they pretend proximity to some art, in practice belie and assail the existence of all art, as for instance the whole of journalism does and almost all criticism and three-quarters of what is called and wants to be called literature. I am glad, in a word, that you have surmounted the danger of falling into this sort of thing and are somewhere in a rough reality being solitary and courageous. May the year that is at hand uphold and strengthen you in that.

I suspect that most of us with some appreciation towards the arts feel a little sting in Rilke's parting words. I also suspect that Rilke is not interested in criticizing professions as such but in criticizing those who "pretend proximity". Nature, reality and truth will not be fooled. Rilke believes that they can be trusted, but this in turn means that they must be trusted. We cannot fool or manipulate art and beauty. Proximity and presence is key both to the formation of identity and to the healthy relationships with others. Rilke's call inward demands that we begin analyzing or most primal walls, those interior walls that divide our passions, goals and compulsions. What have ghettoized in our self? What is it in us that remains hermetically sealed? This movement is necessary first because it in turn affects our external sensual reality. In greater self-understanding we develop courage and stability to allow ourselves to "presence" reality and not pretend proximity. There is no peer review here that can validate our interior and the movement is not natural. Much of Rilke's admonishing focuses around receiving the difficult. This can of course be reduced to pathology and veiled masochism, but this is not truly difficult. The relationship between presence and difficulty is key here. To experience presence we need identify particular dividing walls and either dismantle or at least gate them. Walls, however, are the very essence of our grasp for control and power. To take down a wall is contrary to the nature individual self-preservation, or at the very least it is an act of trust beyond one's self. The movement of difficulty is the movement of de-centralizing a personal position of power. This however, is also the movement and possibility of presence, even communion.

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