Rilke: The Last Inward Man
by Lesley Chamberlain
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Pub Date 30 Aug 2022 | Archive Date 10 Jun 2022
When Rilke died in 1926, his reputation as a great poet seemed secure. But as the tide of the critical avant-garde turned, he was increasingly dismissed as apolitical, as too inward.
In Rilke: The Last Inward Man, acclaimed critic Lesley Chamberlain uses this charge as the starting point from which to explore the expansiveness of the inner world Rilke created in his poetry.
Weaving together searching insights on Rilke's life, work and reception, Chamberlain casts Rilke's inwardness as a profound response to a world that seemed ever more lacking in spirituality.
In works of dazzling imagination and rich imagery, Rilke sought to restore spirit to Western materialism, encouraging not narrow introversion but a heightened awareness of how to live with the world as it is, of how to retain a sense of transcendence within a world of collapsed spiritual certainty.
Average rating from 1 member
This is not a biography, not quite criticism but really exegesis and more accurately an appreciation of Rainer Maria Rilke.. The author loves this poet. He is an "angel", in the presence of whose work "you must change your life". She writes "Rilke—and I’m not the first to think this—was possibly given to us to help us withstand Wittgenstein." Possibly? Given to us by who? Presumably by God. Rilke is not explicitly called a god, yet God, "like Rilke, has difficulty breaking through to a shared reality." The worship of the poet keeps on in every page, and can tire the more cynical readers. More importantly, it gets in the way of interesting analysis, of which there is plenty.
Connecting and parallel lines are drawn between Rilke and Arnold Schoenberg, Freud, T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Jean Paul Sartre and various painters. Darwin's name serves as a kind of antagonist throughout the book, with the feeling behind the poetry being presented as an antithesis if not a reaction to the meaning of evolution by means of natural selection. There's no technical analysis, but there are enough linguistic observations to keep the nerdier reader's interest.
The Last Inward Man is not a book for anyone new to Rilke, or for anyone looking to overcome an existing indifference to Rilke. Lovers of Rilke, this one's for you.