Dec. 4, 2009
God Bless the Experimental Writers
for David Markson
"One beginning and one ending for a book was a
thing I did not agree with."
Flann O'Brien from At Swim-Two-Birds
God bless the experimental writers.
The ones whose work is a little
difficult, built of tinkertoys
and dada, or portmanteau and
Reich. God help them as they
type away, knowing their readers
are few, only those who love to toil
over an intricate boil of language,
who think books are secret codes.
These writers will never see their names
in Publisher's Weekly. They will
never be on the talk shows. Yet,
every day they disappear into their
rooms atop their mother's houses,
or their guest houses behind some
lawyer's estate. Every day they
tack improbable word onto im-
probable word, out of love, children,
out of a desire to emend the world.
It's the birthday of poet Rainer Maria Rilke, (books by this author) born in Prague in 1875. He was a delicate boy, born prematurely. The year before he was born, his mother had given birth to a girl who died after a week, and she wanted her son to fill that place. Rainer's given name was René, and his mother dressed him in dresses, braided his hair, and generally treated him like a girl. Later, he wrote, "I think my mother played with me as though I were a big doll." But his mother also encouraged him to read and write poetry, and made him copy out verses before he even knew how to read.
At his father's request, he went to military school, then to the university. He fell in love with an older married woman, and she introduced him to many of the intellectual and literary stars of the day. He lived in an artists colony, and then went to Paris and worked for Auguste Rodin, and was inspired by the sculptor's commitment and discipline.
Rilke managed to live all over Europe for free, thanks to his wealthy connections and patrons. For a while, he lived in a castle in Italy, the home of a princess, and it was there that he took a walk along the cliffs and suddenly heard the voice of an angel say: "Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic orders?" This became the first line of the first of his "Duino Elegies," his masterpiece. Another of his patrons, Werner Reinhart, let him live in his castle in Switzerland, and there Rilke composed his "Sonnets to Orpheus." He died from leukemia in 1926, at the age of 51.
Whoever you are, go out into the evening,
leaving your room, of which you know each bit;
your house is the last before the infinite,
whoever you are.
Then with your eyes that wearily
scarce lift themselves from the worn-out door-stone
slowly you raise a shadowy black tree
and fix it on the sky: slender, alone.
And you have made the world (and it shall grow
and ripen as a word, unspoken, still).
When you have grasped its meaning with your will,
then tenderly your eyes will let it go.
(translated by C.F. MacIntyre)
It's the birthday of writer Samuel Butler, (books by this author) born near Bingham, England (1835). He didn't get along with his family, and as soon as he was old enough, he wanted to get as far away from them as possible. So he moved to New Zealand and worked as a sheep farmer. He moved back to England, but his experience in New Zealand was the inspiration for one of his most famous works, Erewhon, which was published anonymously in 1872. It was a utopian novel satirizing Victorian society. But his true attack on the Victorians was his novel The Way of All Flesh, which he based on his own painful childhood, and which he considered too critical to publish during his life. Samuel Butler died in 1902, and the novel was found and published in 1903.
Samuel Butler wrote, "A friend who cannot at a pinch remember a thing or two that never happened is as bad as one who does not know how to forget."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®