No Cover Image

The Beginning of Terror: A Psychological Study of Rainer Maria Rilke's Life and Work

David Kleinbard
Copyright Date: 1993
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 300
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg3dx
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Beginning of Terror
    Book Description:

    The insights here are of such depth, and contain such beauty in them, that time and again the reader must pause for breath. At last Rilke has met a critic whose insight, courage, and humanity are worthy of his life and work." - Leslie Epstein Director, Graduate Creative Writing Program, Boston University "[A] well-reasoned, fairly fascinating, and illuminating study which soundly and convincingly applies Freudian and particularly post-Freudian insights into the self, to Rilke's life and work, in a way which enlightens us considerably as to the relationship between life and work in original ways. Kleinbard takes off where Hugo Simenauer's monumental psycho- biography of Rilke (1953) left off. . . . He succeeds in giving us a psychic portrait of the poet which is more illuminating and which . . . does greater justice to its subject than any of his predecessors.. . . . Any reader with strong interest in Rilke would certainly welcome the availability of this study." - Walter H. Sokel,Commonwealth Professor of German and English Literatures,University of Virginia. For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are just able to bear, and we wonder at it so because it calmly disdainsto destroy us." - Rilke Beginning with Rilke's 1910 novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, The Beginning of Terror examines the ways in which the poet mastered the illness that is so frightening and crippling in Malte and made the illness a resource for his art. Kleinbard goes on to explore Rilke's poetry, letters, and non-fiction prose, his childhood and marriage, and the relationship between illness and genius in the poet and his work, a subject to which Rilke returned time and again. This psychoanalytic study also defines the complex connections between Malte's and Rilke's fantasies of mental and physical fragmentation, and the poet's response to Rodin's disintegrative and re-integrative sculpture during the writing of The Notebooks and New Poems. One point of departure is the poet's sense of the origins of his illness in his childhood and, particularly, in his mother's blind, narcissistic self- absorption and his father's emotional constriction and mental limitations. Kleinbard examines the poet's struggle to purge himself of his deeply felt identification with his mother, even as he fulfilled her hopes that he become a major poet. The book also contains chapters on Rilke's relationships with Lou Andreas Salom and Aguste Rodin, who served as parental surrogates for Rilke. A psychological portrait of the early twentieth-century German poet, The Beginning of Terror explores Rilke's poetry, letters, non-fiction prose, his childhood and marriage. David Kleinbard focuses on the relationship between illness and genius in the poet and his work, a subject to which Rilke returned time and again.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6358-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    Jeffrey Berman

    As New York University Press inaugurates a new series of books on literature and psychoanalysis, it seems appropriate to pause and reflect briefly upon the history of psychoanalytic literary criticism. For a century now it has struggled to define its relationship to its two contentious progenitors and to come of age. After glancing at its origins, we may be in a better position to speculate on its future.

    Psychoanalytic literary criticism was conceived at the precise moment in which Freud, reflecting upon his self-analysis, made a connection to two plays and thus gave us a radically new approach to reading...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xx)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  7. CHAPTER I Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    This is a psychological study of Rainer Maria Rilke’s life and writings. Beginning with his novel,The Notebooks of Make Laurids Brigge,published in 1910, I explore the relationship between illness and genius in the poet and his work, a subject to which he returned time and again. His letters describing his experiences when he first came to Paris in 1902 reveal that the anxieties which bring Make, the main character of the novel, close to psychosis, plagued Rilke himself. The letters andThe Notebooksshow that Rilke felt that he was losing his sanity. In the summer of 1903...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Learning to See Integration and Distintegration in The Notebooks of Make Laurids Brigge and Other Writings Illness and Creativity
    (pp. 23-47)

    Rilke came to Paris late in August 1902 to talk with Auguste Rodin and to study his sculpture in order to write a monograph on him. This monograph had been commissioned by Richard Muther, professor of art history at Breslau. The poet was twenty-six. He had published several volumes of poetry and short stories, mainly juvenilia, among themLeben und Lieder(Life and Songs) (1894),Larenopfer(Offerings to the Lares) (1896),Traumgekrönt(Dream-Crowned) (1897),Advent(1898),Zwei Prager Geschichten(Two Prague Stories) (1899),Mir zur Feier(In Celebration of Myself) (1899),Die weisse Fürstin(The White Princess) (1899), andDie...

  9. CHAPTER 3 A Mask of Him Roams in His Place Differentiation between Self and Others in The Notebooks and Rilke’s Letters
    (pp. 48-67)

    During his first year in Paris, 1902–3, Rilke’s ability to differentiate himself from other people was often impaired. A letter to Salomé describes an experience in which the sense of mental and bodily separateness from others which underlies most adult relationships and contacts gave way to a frightening fantasy of being pulled into close identification, involving a partial merging of bodies and minds. This was his encounter with a man suffering from St. Vitus’ dance: “I was close behind him, will-less, drawn along by his fear, that was no longer distinguishable from mine.” Imagining that this stranger’s “fear had...

  10. CHAPTER 4 This Lost, Unreal Woman Phia Rilke and the Maternal Figures in The Notebooks
    (pp. 68-87)

    In April 1904, at the age of twenty-eight, two months after beginning the book that was to become his novel, Rilke wrote a letter to Salomé which more fully and precisely than anything else he left us reveals his adult conceptions of his mother and her effect on him. Phia had come to Rome, where her son was staying, and he was forced to meet her from time to time, though he felt that “every meeting with her [was] a kind of setback.” He found her “lost” and “unreal,” “connected with nothing,” determined to remain young. The sight of her...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Take Me, Give Me Form, Finish Me Lou Andreas-Salomé
    (pp. 88-109)

    “Now there is still time—” he writes, “now I am still soft, and I can be like wax in your hands. Take me, give me a form, finish me … ”

    It is a cry for motherliness.¹

    This is from the early autobiographical novellaEwald Tragy. Ewald is a transparent self-portrait of Rilke during 1896 and 1897, both before he left his family and native city, Prague, and after he settled in Munich and began to lead an independent life as an artist. If scholars are correct in their dating of the novella, Rilke began writingEwald Tragymore...

  12. CHAPTER 6 To Fill All the Rooms of Your Soul Clara Rilke
    (pp. 110-130)

    If Rilke was unhappy about his separation from Salomé in September 1900, his diaries do not show it. Soon after his arrival in the artists’ community at Worpswede, he became infatuated with two young women: the painter Paula Becker and her friend, the sculptor Clara Westhoff. Paula was close to him in age, Clara almost three years younger. In his diary he noted that the painter’s hair was golden. He compared her voice to silk.¹ Her eyes seemed to unfold “like double roses.”² His diary is full of their times together, images of Paula, and intimations of platonic intimacy but...

  13. CHAPTER 7 This Always Secret Influence The Poet’s Changing Relationship with His Father
    (pp. 131-164)

    Rilke’s relationship with his father was far more complex than a narrow “orthodox” Freudian analysis, such as Erich Simenauer’s, would have it. Reduced by Simenauer to oedipal phase antagonism, with expressions of love and esteem defined as “nothing more than ‘cant’,” camouflage created under the dictates of the superego, their relationship becomes a simplistic cartoon.¹ In this chapter I delineate the poet’s multilayered feelings about Josef, his ambivalences, the conflicts and tensions between opposing emotions and attitudes, their origins in his pre-oedipal childhood, and their development during his adolescent and adult years.

    It is hard to imagine a less likely...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Rodin
    (pp. 165-208)

    In the summer of 1905, not having seen his old friend and “master” for more than two years, Rilke asked if he might pay Rodin a visit. The sculptor telegraphed a welcome and had his secretary write, inviting the poet to live with him at Meudon for the duration of Rilke’s stay in Paris, adding that the Frenchman was looking forward to the opportunity which this visit would give them to talk. Full of excitement at this prospect, eagerly anticipating being “allowed to share all his days,” the poet wrote to a friend that “the great man” was “dear as...

  15. CHAPTER 9 Woman Within Developments Leading to The Sonnets to Orpheus and the Completion of the Duino Elegies
    (pp. 209-244)

    In May 1911, more than a year after completingThe Notebooks,Rilke wrote to his patron, Princess Marie von Thurn and Taxis-Hohenlohe, wondering why he was still unable to work, pondering “this long drought” which was “reducing my soul … to famine” (Letters2:26–27). In December of that year, having made no progress, from Duino he lamented to Salomé that he had begun to feel he was left “without a vocation, superfluous,” a man without value or role, purpose or place (Letters2:34). Facing the possibility that his gifts had failed him, he could think of nothing else to...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 245-260)
  17. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 261-266)
  18. Index
    (pp. 267-276)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 277-277)