Sense and Creative Labor in Rainer Maria Rilke's Prose Works
MetadataShow full item record
Although Rainer Maria Rilke is one of the most widely-read poets in the world and there are mountains of secondary literature on his poetry, his prose works are not given nearly so much attention. The present study is a reading of several of those works, with particular attention given to the role that the senses and creative labor play there. I begin with his "Ur-geräusch" essay (1919), in which Rilke reveals a fascination with the phonograph and a certain jealousy of its abilities. The phonograph provides a model for creative labor, as well as clues about Rilke's thinking on the relationship between this process of creation and the senses. There is an original synesthetic moment when, as a child in his science classroom, Rilke sees the phonograph translating the vibrations received by the horn and carving them into the wax and in turn hears his and the voices of his classmates played back through that horn. This moment in which the senses are blurred together perplexes him and he is left to make sense of this experience for years afterward. With the Geschichten vom lieben Gott (1900), the question turns to the relationship between creative labor and creation as such. The primordiality that was revealed in the sound produced by the phonograph is the subconscious for Rilke, which is our connection to the divine. Although we have been severed from that divine source, we are able to produce it through certain circumstances, viz. through our intersubjective interactions, especially storytelling. We also cultivate it through labor, if we are able to do it: we are stuck in the "Seventh Day," unable to work for the most part, which is the particular plight of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910). He undergoes the necessary transformation to do labor, a certain deconstruction of the self, but is unable to complete the circuit by expressing this change through his works. Auguste Rodin (1903), Rilke's monograph on the sculptor, shows us the ideal artist: able to dig up the tremendous energies of the subconscious and to channel them into great works.