- “Meine Welt beginnt bei den Dingen”: Rainer Maria Rilke und die Erfahrung der Dinge by Bernhard Marx
The examination of the creative process underlying Rilke’s lyrical production is at the heart of this speculative but ultimately exhilarating study. The citation in the title stems from a letter the poet wrote in 1922, but his fascination with “things” and their central role in his poetics—“things” both animate and inanimate, perceived through all doors of human sensory perception—goes back more than two decades, to his first journey to Russia in 1899. Up to this point, Rilke’s overpowering existential conviction was one of isolation, of [End Page 123] estrangement from a hostile world. His experience in Russia liberated him from this “prejudice” (“Befangenheit” 145), and his increasing existential intimacy with the “world of things” led to the feeling of self in his poetry that the author describes in the following way: “Rilke ‘präsentiert’ sich mitten unter den Dingen als ein Teil in dem ‘großen Orchester’ des Lebens” (149).
Bernhard Marx brings the poet’s own musings in his poetry, essays, and letters together with the thoughtful analyses of a group of scholars, visual artists, other poets, writers, and philosophers. While the very number of footnotes—720—underlines the “world of things” as central to Rilke’s lyrical concerns, the distinct advantage for the reader of this voluminous poetic/scholarly exchange is the constant rephrasing and reformulation of a process often resistant to a cast of mind accustomed to a clear distinction between subject and object. With the help of the mutually clarifying and illustrative points of view in this larger conversation—as well as some familiarity with meditative language and magical thinking—Rilke’s reflections on the process gradually come into focus as “eine Poetik des teilhabenden Blicks” (10).
In the first of his major chapters, Marx emphasizes Rilke’s vision of mutuality between artist and “things,” of a shared rather than a mutually alienated existence. He situates his vision of “ein wechselseitiges Bezogensein zwischen Mensch & Ding” (15) within the context of the “language crisis” in the early twentieth century. Rilke sought to imagine and formulate a bridging relationship to counter the seemingly increasing alienation between the artist and the world of “things” described in the writing of other writers of the era. For clarification at this point, Marx calls on another major poet closely associated with the “crisis” at the time, Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The Austrian discounts any Rilkean reference to “things-in-themselves” and emphasizes that his interest and intent was the “realization” or “visualization” (“Vergegenwärtigung”) of “things” in his lyrical works. This “realization” took place in what Rilke called the “Weltinnenraum”—an internal creative space of empathy, the site of “reciprocal relatedness” where the metamorphosis of Ding into Kunst-Ding takes place. An often-quoted line from a poem written in 1914 is perhaps the most clearly expressed example of the active response of the world of “Dinge” to the poet’s empathetic gaze: “Es winkt zu Fühlung fast aus allen Dingen. . . .” Later on in the poem, Rilke captures in language the site of this point of permeability and reciprocity: [End Page 124]
Durch alle Wesen reicht der eine Raum:Weltinnenraum. Die Vögel fliegen still Durch uns hindurch. . . .(37, emphasis in original)
The author builds further on his carefully argued and richly documented first chapter with four shorter excursuses that deal with Rodin, Cezanne, Ponge, and Sartre in an effort to place Rilke’s poetics in a larger international and aesthetic context. In the sculptor Rodin, the poet found a kindred spirit whose works reflected that “Weltinnenraum” where the artist’s intense experience breathes artistic life into what appear to be insensate objects or Dinge. Rilke conceived of the resulting work of art as a “Kunst-Ding,” one whose essence is marked by a shared existential realm enveloping them both. A key conceptualization for Marx is “Poetik der Teilhabe.” At an early stage of his book, he explains this phrase in the following...