(Flow) I Am (Rilke) Sonnets to Orpheus

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Rilke is the poet of the Information Age, art nouveau its design culture. There’s no better articulation of the tensions between subjects, objecthood and mass.

What is the status of the individual subjectivity in a world constituted as constant flux? We’re reading a little bit of Rilke in my graduate seminar, and I came across these closing lines from the Sonnets to Orpheus. I’m modifying slightly the translation by C.F. MacIntyre.

Und wenn deich das Irdische vergass/zu der stillen Erde sag: Ich rinne/Zum dem raschen Wasser sprich: Ich bin

And though the earthly forgot you/Say unto the still earth: I flow/To the fleeting water speak: I am

Rilke and an art nouveau bowl. In both, the combination of thing-hood and pure flow, the roiling physiognomy of organic subjectivity coupled with an angelic push towards the dematerialization into finer vibrations.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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4 Responses to (Flow) I Am (Rilke) Sonnets to Orpheus

  1. evanstonjew says:

    I think you have to say more before I can believe your thesis that art nouveau is the design culture of the information age. Other than rebelling against academic art, there was much in common with all the national movements that are now designated art nouveau. Stickley tables and the arts and crafts movement in America are rock solid , not an angelic push in sight. The Vienna Secession did have the pure flow of Klimt, but also created modernist buildings and plenty of heavy furniture, including even such designers as Josef Hoffmann. There is a movie available on Netflix on D’Annunzio’s home , a central figure of the period, showing heavy rooms, handsome but hardly ethereal. Even in France, the floral, curvy, undulating designs was a style, no more than that, based on gashmiyus, materialization. An object surrounded by a snake and a curvy woman is not a world in constant flux. It’s as bound to earth as any material thing. Even an ethereal woman like the Marchesa Luisa Casati achieved her dazzling effects by a combination of being emaciated, black eye liner and attention provoking stunts. The curved line, draped by Fortuny fabrics was the least of it. Lilien’s art nouveau posters was inspiration for a Zionism based on labor and connectedness to the earth, not dreamy subjectivity.

    • zjb says:

      hi evanstonjew! you’re probably right, but let me try to defend myself a little. [1] it could be that heavy art nouveau objects were just imperfectly realized. it’s all so hit and miss, yes? what strikes me as contemporary about art nouveau is the way, after International School modernism, more recent design turns to curvilenear form. i think Apple and Frank Gehry are neo art nouveau. [2] the dematerialization of form in art classical nouveau is, you are absolutely right, deeply imbricated in material, especially sexual form. but art nouveau seeks to volatize that form. see if the tension between materialization and dematerialization makes sense of Rilke’s famous letter re: angels, about which i’ll post tomorrow. regarding Lilien, i’ll beg to differ, respectfully. not unlike early Buber’s, his Zionism and connection to earth was very, very dreamy and very subjective indeed. please, please feel free to push back. i’ll give you the last word!!

  2. evanstonjew says:

    Other than a correction, I omitted a ‘not’ in my second sentence, (should read “not much in common…”,) I don’t have too much to add to my original comment. I don’t fully accept your new Gehry example. Is wrapping a building in a shmatte, as he describes his essential style, creating a more volatile form once the initial shock wears off? I remember how my late wife who was a commercial photographer spent most of her career perfecting the art of perfectly clear “objective” portraits, which were of course totally constructed. In the ‘90s suddenly you couldn’t get a job unless you knew how to blur photos, creating the different illusion of dynamism and activity. Everybody it seemed was running to catch a train, a plane, something. Did this signal a more ethereal version of capitalist production? Can we learn from these photos to say kadish on the industrial revolution, the ushering in of a new information age? Here we are a generation later and blurring is out of style. Have we sunk back to a more material age?

    • zjb says:

      i’ll give you the last word, except to say that, yes, dematerilization is a conceit, that what we talk about in the history of style, clear or blurry, straight or loopy, is always one kind of material effect or another; and also to say that i’m always very happy when “evanstonjew” replies to a post of mine here at jpp.

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