Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Down and Out in Paris

 From Nation:

Paris is a difficult place,” Rainer Maria Rilke wrote to a friend on New Year’s Eve, 1902. “And the beautiful things here and there do not quite compensate for the cruelty of its streets and the monstrosity of its people.” Then 26, the writer had recently moved to the city from the German countryside, leaving behind his new wife and their young child. His plan was to work there for a year and send money to his family, which had been relying on a trust fund that his father had abruptly withdrawn. For reasons that remain hard to pin down, however, he stayed for six years, without warming to the cruel streets and monstrous people or, for that matter, earning much money. It was a period of loneliness and frustration, during which he was wracked with doubts about his art. And yet a part of him seemed obscurely drawn to its hardships. In “Turning Point,” a poem about spiritual growth, he quotes as an epigraph these lines from the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Kassner: “The road from intensity to greatness / passes through sacrifice.” His fictional record of Paris would likewise turn on ascetic withdrawal and renewal. (Read more.)


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