At the center of this seminar will be an in-depth exploration Rilke’s lyric oeuvre beginning with Das Stundenbuch (1899/1905) and Das Buch der Bilder (1902), extending via Neue Gedichte (1907) through his Duineser Elegien and Sonette an Orpheus (1922) and other late poetry. Additionally, we will take up some of Rilke’s prose writings on aesthetics, including his short monograph on Rodin (1902), his letters on Cézanne (1907), a few short prose pieces, and a selection of his far-flung and remarkably probing letters.
Rilke’s overriding concern lies not with “things” as such, nor for that matter with their mimetic or specifically ekphrastic “representation.” Rather, his poetry (especially in Neue Gedichte and beyond) is concerned with capturing the way that perception of things and the spaces that contain them is qualitatively experienced by consciousness. It is this focus on experience as constitutive of the object- or thing-character of the world (and implicitly also of the consciousness experiencing the Lebenswelt) that is also being developed, during the same years, in the work of Edmund Husserl. The texts most pertinent for our purposes are Husserl’s lectures on Phantasie und Bildbewußtsein (1905) and his Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie (1913), of which we will read selections. Far more than Husserl, however, Rilke is also concerned with the challenge of transposing so-called intentionale Erlebnisse into expressive verbal form. In scrutinizing and giving metaphoric expression to Ding, Bild, and Raum, Rilke conceives of lyric speech as the crucial supplement to, or fulfillment of, the “noetic” states that Husserl is only able to parse in descriptive, taxonomic fashion.
Finally, the last third of our seminar will trace Rilke’s shift, in the Elegien and other late poems, to a phenomenology of existence or Dasein that has often, if not always convincingly, been mapped onto Heidegger’s writings of the later 1920s. In fact, Heidegger appears to flatten Rilke’s stunning metaphoric creativity when it comes to capture fleeting, albeit potentially epiphanic experiences that serendipitously present themselves to Dasein. Thus, in affirming “die herrlichen Überflüsse / unseres Daseins,” and maintaining that “noch ist uns das Dasein verzaubert; an hundert / Stellen ist es noch Ursprung” (RW 2: 262) Rilke understands the encounter with the ontic realm (“der unerschöpfliche Gegenstand”) to be shaped by an interweaving of finitude and transcendence: “Gesang, wie du ihn lehrst, ist nicht Begehr, / nicht Werbung um ein endlich noch Erreichtes; / Gesang ist Dasein.“
At least some of the readings will only be available in German, and that intermediate or advanced German reading proficiency is highly desirable.