The Brotherhood and The Darkness of God

 

Das Stunden-Buch (The Book of Hours) was written between 1899 and 1903 in three parts, and first published in Leipzig by Insel Verlag in April 1905. With its dreamy, melodic expression and neo-Romantic mood, it stands, along with ‘The Lay of the Love and Death of Christoph Cornet’, as the most important of Rainer Maria Rilke‘s early works.

The work, dedicated to Lou Andreas-Salome, is his first through-composed cycle, which established his reputation as a religious poet, culminating in the poet’s Duino Elegies.

In arresting language, using a turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau aesthetic, Rilke displayed a wide range of his poetic apparatus. The suggestive musicality of his verses developed into the hallmark of his later lyric poetry, to mixed criticism.

It consists of three sections with common themes relating to St. Francis and the Christian search for God.

The sections are:
*The Book of Monastic Life (Das Buch vom mönchischen Leben)
*The Book of Pilgrimage (Das Buch von der Pilgerschaft)
*The Book of Poverty and Death (Das Buch von der Armut und vom Tode)

 

The Crucifixion, p.87, Rossdhu Book of Hours, between 1460 and 1470

 

The collective title comes from the book of hours, a type of illuminated breviary popular in France in the later Middle Ages. These prayer and worship books were often decorated with illumination and so combined religious edification with art. They contained prayers for different times of the day and were designed to structure the day through regular devotion to God.

 

Lou Salomé, Paul Rée und Friedrich Nietzsche

 

The work is influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche and contemporaneous philosophical ideas, and shows Rilke’s search for a meaningful basis for living, which he identifies as a pantheistic God.

Rilke’s journeys to Russia in the summer of 1899 and 1900 form the biographical background to the work. He undertook these with Lou Andreas-Salome, and began work on the cycle after their conclusion. The vastness of Russia, the fervent devotion of its peasantry to their Orthodox religion, and its culture little touched by Western civilization – all formed a backdrop which, deepened by personal encounters with Leonid Pasternak and the renowned Leo Tolstoy, developed over time into a spiritual home. As he wrote retrospectively twenty years later, the country had revealed to him “the brotherhood and the darkness of God”.

 


Rilke’s imagery of walls and devotional pictures finds its inspiration in the typical Russian Orthodox Iconostasis

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In War and Peace with Tolstoy

Rainer Maria Rilke and Lou Andreas-Salomé in Russia, 1900

 

As Rainer Maria Rilke approached his 50th birthday, he was frequently asked to name influences on his career and literary work. In 1924, in response to a letter from the Swiss literary historian Alfred Schaer, Rilke mentioned to the Russian writer Aleksandr Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Nikolai Nekrasov, Ivan Turgenev, and Afanasij Fet. The name of Leo Tolstoy was conspicuously absent from his list. Several months later, in his answer to another biographical inquiry, he flatly denied that Tolstoy had had any literary effect on him whatsoever. Tolstoy’s role was a strictly cultural one, Rilke explained, and it would have been false to attribute to his visits with the Russian novelist any influence on his work at that time. Tolstoy, after all, only confirmed the discovery of Russia which became decisive to him. Tolstoy’s image captivated Rilke’s imagination as an artist who was struggling against his own creative genius.

Rainer Maria Rilke expressed resentment of Tolstoy’s moralizing aesthetics and failed to produce a monograph or an essay about the Russian novelist. Nonetheless, Tolstoy’s role was consequential: he provided Rilke with an anti-model for living and writing. After years of anxiety and indecision, Rilke became reconciled with Tolstoy in the fictional images of his novel Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge). Maxim Gorky‘s literary memoirs helped him articulate those feelings more precisely, and only as an established writer was Rilke able to find a compromise between his filial affection for Tolstoy the artist and his rejection of Tolstoy the preacher.

Lou Andreas-Salomé’s memoir Lebensrückblick (1931-33) corroborated Rilke’s assertions. She recalled that at the time to their travels in Russia, Tolstoy served as an archetype of the “eternal Russian” (der ewige Russe) and that his role was primarily symbolic. The image of the novelist formed for them, so to speak, a point of entry into Russia.

Despite Rilke’s public denials of Tolstoy’s importance for his work, he privately spoke about the Russian master in reverential tones. He was young and diffident at the time of his journeys with Andreas-Salomé and had no access to the language in which he which he could convincingly explain the complex phenomenon of Tolstoy’s personality and its impact.

References to Franz Kafka and Popular Culture

 
 

Haruki Murakami makes numerous literary, musical and film references throughout the novel Kakfa on the Shore, particularly to (who else?) Franz Kafka. Several of the characters in the book have a relationship with Kafka or “Kafkaesque” themes, the most obvious being the name the protagonist gives to himself, Kafka Tamura. While the reader never finds out his real name, he explains why he chooses the name Kafka to represent his identity. But why Kafka? It is possible that Murakami used Franz Kafka to emphasize themes of isolation and alienation, as well as to critique forms of Japanese bureaucracy and the police force investigating his father’s murder in particular.

 
 

“Nobody’s going to help me. At least no one has up till now. So I have to make it on my own. I have to get stronger–like a stray crow. That’s why I gave myself the name Kafka. That’s what Kafka means in Czech, you know–crow.”

 
 

Franz Kafka is also a figure that draws many of the characters together. Kafka Tamura is only allowed to stay in the library after revealing his name, which has an profound effect on the library staff. The tragedy of the death of Miss Saeki’s lover is shown in a song she writes for him, named Kafka on the Shore, which also becomes the title of the book. There is a consistently a switching of identities concerning the protagonist which all seem linked in some way or another to Franz Kafka. He switches from 15 year-old runaway, to “Crow”, his alter-ego, to Miss Saeki’s 15-year old boyfriend (who is also named Kafka by Miss Saeki) when he enters his old quarters. In this way, Murakami ties together some of the surreal events in the book by using Franz Kafka as a continuous reference.

With the majority of the novel being set in a library, it is abundant with literary and musical references. Much like the Franz Kafka reference, Murakami uses these references a moments in the plot that draw characters together. In their isolation, the main characters are absorbed in literature, music, and art, providing a starting point for much of their conversations and relationships. In addition to the obvious Oedipial reference throughout the novel, as Kafka searches desperately for his mother and sister, however at the same time, Murakami brings references from popular culture to life, adding a surreal and oddly comical overlay to the events in the novel. In a parallel storyline, Kafka Tamura’s father, brilliant sculptor and crazed cat murderer, takes on the pseudonym of Johnnie Walker. Colonel Sanders, the KFC icon, becomes a character in the novel, a pimp that guides Nakata and Hoshino to Takamatsu and the library, merging both storylines. Truck driver Hoshino, throws away his job and uproots himself after listening to Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, while Kafka Tamura calms himself in an isolated cabin, listening to Prince on his walkman. Murakami cultivates these references similarly to the way he develops architecture in the novel; both historical and contemporary, they blur the passing of time and are devices for the character’s self exploration and identity.

 
 

LITERARY REFERENCES:

The Book of Thousand Nights and a Night, Translated by Sir Richard Francis Burton

The Banquet, by Plato

The Castle, by Franz Kafka

The Trial, by Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka

In The Penal Colony, by Franz Kafka

• Complete Works of Natsume Sōseki

The Tale Of Genji, by Lady Murasaki Shikibu, translated by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

Trial of Adolf Eichmann, (Unknown)

Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare

Agamemnon, by Aeschylus

The Trojan Women, by Euripides

Rhetoric, by Aristotle

Poetics, by Aristotle

Electra, by Sophocles

Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles

The Hollow Men (poem), by T. S. Eliot

Tales of Moonlight and Rain, by Ueda Akinari

Matter and Memory, by Henri Bergson

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Aladdin, Added by Antoine Galland to French translation of The Book of Thousand Nights and a Night

The Frog Prince, The Brothers Grimm

Hansel and Gretel, by The Brothers Grimm

Uncle Vanya, by Anton Chekhov

A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, by Jean Jacques Rousseau

 
 

AUTHORIAL REFERENCES:

Leo Tolstoy

Federico García Lorca

Ernest Hemingway

Charles Dickens

 
 

MUSIC REFERENCES:

Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, by The Beatles

The White Album, by The Beatles

As Time Goes By, from the movie Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)

Blonde on Blonde, by Bob Dylan

Mi chiamano Mimi, from La Bohème, by Giacomo Puccini

Sonata in D Major (known as the Gasteiner), by Franz Schubert

Crossroads, by Cream

Little Red Corvette, by Prince

Greatest Hits, by Prince

Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay, by Otis Redding

Archduke Trio, (by Rubinstein, Heifetz and Feuermann) by Ludwig van Beethoven

First cello concerto, (solo by Pierre Fournier) by Franz Joseph Haydn

Posthorn Serenade, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Kid A, by Radiohead

My Favourite Things, by John Coltrane

Getz/Gilberto, by Stan Getz

 
 

ARTIST/COMPOSER REFERENCES:

Duke Ellington

Led Zeppelin

Schumann

Alfred Brendel

Rolling Stones

Beach Boys

Simon & Garfunkel

Stevie Wonder

Johann Sebastian Bach

Hector Berlioz

Richard Wagner

Franz Liszt

Acquaintances and Literary Influences

“I never wish to be easily defined. I’d rather float over other people’s minds as something strictly fluid and non-perceivable; more like a transparent, paradoxically iridescent creature rather than an actual person.”

Franz Kafka

 
 

 
 

A Friend of Kafka, a collection of Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short stories, was published in 1970 with most of the stories appearing in the previous decade. He and his readers had plenty of time to dwell on the growing feeling of alienation that came from decades of broken promises. One of the most powerful themes in these stories is the exhausting banality of life and a total feeling of rootless isolation.

The plot of A Friend of Kafka is about a bohemian amateur philosophy and former actor, Jaques Kohn, who spent his life pursuing women, drinking and otherwise living the hedonist lifestyle that his life philosophy demanded. He was an intriguing figure for the narrator who saw in him glimpses of Western Europe. “The very way he carried his silver-handled cane seemed exotic to me. He even smoked his cigarettes differently from the way we did in Warsaw.”

Supposedly, Kohn was the first to recognize Franz Kafka’s talent, and he has corresponded with other important figures: Marc Chagall, Stefan Zweig, and Martin Buber. As the narrator’s cultural guide, Kohn shows him his letters and photographs, and he even arranges for him to meet Madam Tschissik, with whom Kohn performed and whom Kafka allegedly loved.

Kohn likes to tell a story about Kafka’s failure in a brothel. His sexual reservations are the same as the reservations he had about writing. Kohn is obsessed with the idea that he is playing a game of chess with fate. “My partner wants to play a slow game. He’ll go on taking my pieces one by one. First he removed my appeal as an actor and turned me into a so-called writer. He’d no sooner done that than he provided me with writer’s cramps. His next move was to deprive me of my potency.” In short, while he finds something invigorating about the struggle, he is slowly dying. His stories of his acting career and his knowledge of Kafka are all that keeps him from total fatalism. Many if the characters in this collection are involved in same sort of slow death. No longer capable of a projectural life, they limp along, trying to find meaning in banalities, religious, hedonism, of their own delusions.

Isaac Bashevis Singer had many literary influences; besides the religious texts he studied, he grew up with a rich array of Jewish folktales and worldly Yiddish detective-stories about “Max Spitzkopf” and his assistant Fuchs. He read Russian, including Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s Crime and Punishment at the age of fourteen. He wrote in memoirs about the importance of the Yiddish translations donated in book-crates from America, which he studied as a teenager in Bilgoraj: “I read everything: Stories, novels, plays, essays… I read Avrom Reyzen,Johan August Strindberg, Don Kaplanowitsch, Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev, Lev Tolstoy, Guy de Maupassant and Anton Chekhov.” He studied many philosophers, among them Baruch Spinoza, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Otto Weininger. Among his Yiddish contemporaries, Singer considered his older brother to be his greatest artistic example; he was also life-long friend and admirer of the author and poet Aaron Zeitlin. Singer had translated Thomas Mann‘s Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) into Yiddish as a young writer.

A Particular Group of Writers

Homer

 
 

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

 
 

Jonathan Swift

 
 

Herman Melville

 
 

Franz Kafka

 
 

Kurt Vonnegut

 
 

Joseph Conrad

 
 

Charles Dickens

 
 

William Faulkner

 
 

Leo Tolstoy

 
 

Alice Walker

 
 

William Butler Yeats

 
 

Jules Verne

 
 

Louisa May Alcott

 
 

Ann Rice

 
 

Marcel Proust

 
 

Edgar Allan Poe

 
 

summersfrost591a8f029af251061ea181ae372a2c90Robert Frost

 
 

Walt Whitman

 
 

Virginia Woolf

 
 

Illustrations by Mark Summers

Anything but Boring

Thanks to The Perfumed Dandy for inciting my curiosity about this theme:
 

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, who was considered the female embodiment of the Jazz Age.

 
 

“The only horrible thing in the world is ennui, Dorian. That is the one sin for which there is no forgiveness”, advised Lord Henry Wotton, Oscar Wilde’s alter ego from The Portrait of Dorian Gray. “Intelligent people never get bored,” said a character from Ifigenia, the novel by the French-Venezuelan writer Teresa de la Parra. Diana Vreeland suggested “Never fear being vulgar, just boring.” For Sir Cecil Beaton boredom was the world’s second worst crime (the first is being a bore). On the other hand, Leo Tolstoy affirmed that boredom was the desire for desires. And everyone would agree the cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. But we all are constantly escaping from ennui and feelings like that.
 
Being Boring is a song composed by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe; the Pet Shop Boys. It is the opening track and second single from Behaviour (1990), an album influenced by Depeche Mode’s Violator, which was released the same year.
 
It’s been said that the title apparently materialized after someone in Japan accused the duo of being boring. The title is also derived from a Zelda Fitzgerald quotation, “she refused to be bored, chiefly because she wasn’t boring”. The song is concerned with the idea of growing up and how people’s perceptions and values change as they grow older.
 
Due to various factors (for example, it being hard to sing), it wasn’t initially performed on 1991’s Performance Tour, leading many fans, Axl Rose among them, to complain about its omission. It is considered among the greatest, most beautiful Pet Shop Boys’ songs, despite the track’s moderate commercial success.
 
The Pet Shop Boys first asked photographer and film maker Bruce Weber if he would make a video with them when Domino Dancing was corning out. They met him in New York whilst recording demos with Liza Minnelli. At the time he was keen, but too busy; he was working on his second documentary film, Let’s Get Lost, (a Film about the late jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. His first film was about boxing, Broken Noses).
 
Weber hadn’t done a video before because of “time and circumstance, and I also fell that I really wanted to fall in love with a song. Because I knew I was going to have to listen to it about a million times (laughs). I got the tape and I loved it; I had an immediate reaction to it. I thought it had a lot of musicality and a lot to say, I loved the lyrics and really felt that it was something I wanted to be part of.” he said to Neil and Lowe.
 
The video is shot in black and white. In what is either a coincidence or conscious decision, two previous videos, 1989’s It’s Alright and 1990’s So Hard also lacked color. Apart from these, only 2000’s You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk and partially 1987’s Rent were also recorded in black and white.
 
The video was filmed entirely in one day at the beginning of October 1990 in a house of Long Island. Bruce Weber chose that particular setting, outside New York City, because of its association with Zelda and Francis Scott Fitzgerald. Bruce Weber explained his idea of a wonderful party. He wanted to keep away from the streets after looking at MTV a lot of video clips filmed on roads. He thought it was a corny trend.
 
Weber cast people he was friends with or knew the girlfriends or boyfriends of or had photographed before, including Neneh Cherry’s half-brother, musician Eagle Eye and Drena, Robert de Niro‘s daughter.
 
Weber incorporated a dog because “in certain French films of Renoir there was always a country animal brought as a pet. Like the Bertolucci film where Dominique Sandra comes into the house on a horse.”
 
Originally, the video begun with everyone on the stairs, eyes closed and Neil speaking the Zelda Fitzgerald quote to the camera. This concept turned out to be a bit too complicated so the video eventually began with a handwritten message (written by one of Bruce Weber’s friends) based on Neil’s instructions.
 
In a way, the video is a literal projection of the first video of the song. The video begins with with a nude swimmer and a message: “I came from Newcastle in the North of England. We used to have lots of parties where everyone got dressed up and on one party invitation was the quote ‘she was never bored because she was never boring’. The song is about growing up – the ideals that you have when you’re young and how they turn out”.