Friday, June 21, 2013

Reading log: Rainer Maria Rilke. Auguste Rodin

Auguste Rodin. Monument to Balzak
At some point in his book, Rilke describes Rodin's work on this monument to Balzak: his multiple preparatory studies, many years of reading and thinking; his search for essence beyond appearances. I've come to think of Rilke's book as fundamentally the same type of monument, which expresses the essence of one artist's work in another artist's medium. Rodin moved from words to sculpture, Rilke, from sculpture back to words, but both had visited the depths where this difference doesn't really matter any more, and both came back with a representation of the life force itself expressing itself in art.  

And just like Rodin's monument overcomes Balzak's Falstaffian outer appearance to convey the inner essence, so Rilke looks deeper, through and beyond accidental biographical ripples marking the surface of Rodin's outer life, into his inner, solitary life and work as an artist. If you are going to read this book, pick an illustrated edition, or keep your Google image search (or the Rodin Museum site) open, or better still, read it where you can see the work: the book is filled with descriptions of Rodin's pieces; not "art criticism", but observations of an extraordinarily perceptive viewer dedicated to ultimate precision in words, who also had the advantage of conversations with Rodin himself.

But if I were to pick a single word to describe this book, it would be silence (maybe SILENTIUM): silence, solitude, patience essential for any meaningful work, for any insight; silence as in the lack of noise and meaningless ripples. It is a slow, quiet book, immersed in SILENTIUM; a poet's prose, in which every single word matters and means. And it describes a slow, solitary life of an artist, filled with silence, and thought, and work.               

It would be tempting to ascribe the deep quiet of this book, and of this life (as opposed to the noise around us) to their time (as opposed to ours). There may even be some fleeting truth in it, but it's a superficial one. To return to the beginning of this post, it's enough to read some Balzak to know that it was as easy to get trapped in the pointless noise of life in the past as it is now. And it is as essential to find this silence now, in our own lives and in our own time, as it was for Rodin and Rilke. Opening this book, diving into it, is like sinking into this silence, whatever the daily noise around.  

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