Thursday, March 16, 2006

Reading Rilke

Certainly not to be confused with the William H. Gass book of the same name.

No, I'm referring to my reading selection for the wedding, from Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet:
It is ...good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.... Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person... it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances.
Alas, I must admit that I selected this passage out of one those wedding readings books. I have read neither the Rilke nor the Gass. Gass is, however, one of my favorite writers and certainly my favorite critic (admittedly the latter honor is largely by default, since I've not read much real criticism and have read three of Gass' books of essays).

Related: an excellent post over at CultureSpace on Gass' new collection of essays, A Temple of Texts:
...the distinctions that most interest me in this wide-ranging, opulent book are the ones Gass draws in the opening essay about the importance of literary classics. Having picked up A Temple of Texts not long after I brought home The Idiot, I began to think not only about the reasons we read Dostoevsky, but how we think about classics in the first place. I have long become bored with the tired, old arguments about the literary canon, about which books and authors are deemed essential. "Classics," Gass writes, "are by popular accord quite old and therefore out of date; while by the resentful they are representatives only of the errors of their age, their lines sewn always on the bias, their authors willing tools of power and privilege....

Gass...beautifully and cogently elucidates why classics matter.

I'm looking forward to reading this book. I'm also interested in Reading Rilke; I had been wary of it, mainly because I've never read Rilke's poetry, and, for that matter, am not a good reader of poetry. But, the book's subtitle, Reflections on the Problems of Translation, clinches it for me. I'm fascinated by translation questions, particularly as worked through by a writer the caliber of Gass.

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