21 July 2008

Rilke and self-identity

A.N. Wilson reads Rilke:
If you have ever read W G Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, you will realise that this cult book of the 1990s is heavily influenced by the Malte Laurids notebooks. Rilke completed it in 1909, when he was 34.

The book takes the form of meditations by a young Danish aristocrat, living a lonely and impoverished life in Paris and observing the extraordinary street "characters" of that city. [...]

The central question of the book is self-identity. It ends with a retelling of the Prodigal Son, who runs away from home precisely to escape being loved on his family's uncongenial terms. In his return, he wonders whether he is ready for the love of God - about which, in his reading of St Teresa of Avila, he has already meditated.

He wonders, moreover, whether God is ready to love him. If I had to teach creative writing, I think I would use this book as a text.

So many bad books - either novels or autobiographies - charge artlessly into their theme, assuming that the author's soul is (a) interesting and (b) self-evidently existent.

Rilke's prose masterpiece reminds us of the questionability of either statement.
Given the connection Wilson makes between Rilke and Sebald, it would be interesting to read Laird Hunt's The Exquisite alongside The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (since the former was inspired by The Rings of Saturn).

(via The Literary Saloon)

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