Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A. V. Koshy writes

An Epic on Childhood - 24 - Fear

the cow was afraid, tied up
it rolled its eyes, showed its whites
and reds
it tossed its horns
and frightened
the little child on his mother's hip
they asked him to step out to the verandah
the camera flashed
afraid, he wept
how cute he looks
they all exclaimed
at three he could not think quite straight
he was Laura Maltids Brigge
and fear coursed through his veins
later he saw the piercings
through the lips noses cheeks of children
and hooks in their bodies and backs
and he almost fainted, vomiting

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge -- Clare Fielder


  1. In 1910, Rainer Maria Rilke published his only novel, “Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge” (The Notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge). Composed of 71 diary-like entries in two parts, it was the reflections of a young Danish man in Paris (who was, however, essentially an autobiographical re-imagning of Rilke himself). One of his strongest impressions was the remnant of a torn-down tenement, a lone wall with its wallpaper still discolored by the open channel of an old toilet pipe (as translated by Burton Pike in 2008). “The stubborn life of these rooms had not let itself be trampled out. It was still there; it clung to the nails that were left, stood on the narrow remnant of flooring, crouched under the corner beams where a bit of interior still remained…. It was in every flayed strip of surface; it was in the damp blisters on the lower edges of the wallpaper; it fluttered in the torn-off shreds, and oozed from the foul stains which had appeared long before.” Elsewhere, he summed up the process of experience upon imagination and character: “One must be able to think back to paths in unknown regions, to unexpected meetings and to partings one long saw coming; to childhood days that are still not understood…. to childhood illnesses that set in so strangely with so many profound and heavy transformations, to days in quiet, muted rooms and to mornings by the sea, the sea altogether, to nights travelling that rushed up and away and flew with all the stars; and if one can think of all that, it is still not enough. One must have memories of many nights of love, none of which resembled another, of screams in the delivery room and of easy, pale, sleeping women delivered, who are closing themselves. But one must also have been with the dying, have sat by the dead in the room with the open window and the spasmodic noises.” And: “I don’t know why, everything penetrates me more deeply, and doesn’t stop at the place where it always used to end. There is a place in me I knew nothing about. Everything goes there now. I don’t know what goes on there.” The definitive English translation was by Stephen Mitchell (1982), but Pike took issue with the approach, arguing that Rilke’s German prose was “not smooth,” so (in line with Robert Frost’s definition of poetry, “it is that which is lost out of both prose and verse in translation”), Pike said “making a smoothed-over literary English” was misguided. For example, on the first page, Mitchell wrote, “The street began to give off smells from all sides,” but Pike copied the German word for word (though he had to change the word order: “The street began to smell from all sides.” The German word “gespenstisch” doesn’t have any good English equivalent, so when a thought came to Malte in a spooky sort of way, Pike rendered it as “It touched me almost spectrally,” while Mitchell felt compelled to create a riff on the situation: “There was a thought which kept making my hair stand on end, as if I had been tapped on the shoulder by a ghost.” Rilke’s “Gesicht ist Gesicht” is “face is face,” which Mitchell Anglicizes as “A face is a face;” Malte’s meditation on faces takes him down an empty street, leading to an almost-impossible-to-translate description – in Pike’s words, “The street was too empty, its emptiness got bored and pulled my foot out from under and flipped it back and forth, this way and that, like a wooden shoe,” and in Mitchell’s, “The street was too empty; its emptiness had gotten bored and pulled my steps out from under my feet and clattered around in them, all over the street, as if they were wooden clogs.” The noise of Malte’s footsteps cause a woman at the end of the street to start, accidentally leaving her face laying in her hands, but this makes no surrealist sense without Mitchell’s contextualization.


  2. The novel inspired art student Clare Fielder to envision an art model based on its themes in 2013. As she described it, “I wanted to represent the fragmentary structure of the novel, so I created separate, isolated spaces within a larger structure. I arrived at the concept of sunken boxes, with various steps leading down into them. Submerged spaces, or cavities, seemed to reflect the way that we dip in and out of Malte’s psyche, through his journal entries, and also the emotional descent that he undergoes throughout the novel. The main plane of the model, where the viewer would enter represents the present tense – the time in which Malte is sitting and writing – and the descending staircases are symbolic of the other multiple time frames that are suspended within each episode. It is possible to walk between the structures on the surface, but I wanted the viewer to be aware of the excavated spaces, so I decided to leave the undersides of the staircases exposed. The second half of the model is an inverted version of the lower plane. It has fewer cavities, and the structures of these are encased within a flat roof. This means that it the viewer does not realise the cavities are there until they are occupying the space between the two planes. The purpose of this is partly to recreate the sense of claustrophobia that is felt when reading the novel, a result of Malte’s morbidity. Early on in the novel he observes a pregnant woman, and wonders if she is aware that within her womb she is carrying not only a child, but also the fact of that child’s death. This hyper-awareness of death colours all of his observations, and makes death almost like a third character hanging over the novel. This also introduces the concept of doubles and reflection, which are recurring ones. The novel is divided into two books. Rilke frequently uses reflection as a literary technique; Malte will observe a painting or a tapestry, or will imagine the room neighbouring his, and this will prompt a series of thoughts about his own life. Malte, and Rilke himself, were dressed and raised partly as girls in their childhoods, and so always contained the potential for another personality within themselves. The model I have built asks something of the viewer; they will only see the upper cavities once the centre of the model is at eye level. Rilke partly uses ghosts in the novel to represent the reader, who is invisible, but inherently essential to the novel’s existence. I wanted to replicate this sort of interactivity within my model. The cavities represent the insular viewpoint that the novel offers, but these open out into a wider space, which the reader can traverse according to their own desires, interpreting the space in the way that a reader interprets a novel.”


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