Customer Reviews: The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge: A Novel (Vintage International)
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on April 25, 2003
This proto-existentialist novel features a main character (Malte) that is frightened by the possibility of faceless-ness; that is, he is terrified by the collapse of a coherent subject/identity in modernity. This work is highly critical of the traditional narrative where everything occurs in a logical and temporal order that is coherent and teleological. Through the character of Malte, Rilke illustrates the decay of such an understanding of one's self and the chaos that results.
Rilke read a lot of Nietzsche prior to writing this book, and many of the same themes Nietzsche contemplated in The Gay Science and Thus Spake Zarathustra are reworked by Rilke in this novel. It is my interpretation that Rilke was trying to work out a theory of modern, fragmented, existential subjectivity and then offer some way to make such a life livable. Rilke explores such themes as memory's transience, unpredictability, and instability, the role of a God in a world after the "death of God", and a dissolving of the conceptual categories between the self and the other, or the inside and the outside, all play into this fascinating book.
The book is written in notebook form, which plays into the notion of fragmentary identity and problematic narrative. Entries jump from the past to the present to imagined futures in an often random and chaotic order. There is no "plot" to speak of, although there are bits and pieces of narratives, but nothing sufficient enough to create a comprehensible 'Malte'. All the while, you are in the mind of a character that is trying and failing to make sense of it all (to 'impose' a narrative).
The later Martin Heidegger always lauded Rilke (despite Rilke's being too metaphysical) for being able to express ways of interacting with the world that were non-humanist. He was especially interested, and wrote significantly about, a passage (p. 46 in the Vintage paperback edition) where Malte imagines a house and its inhabitants from a single mutilated wall that is left remaining. I'm not too sure what his relation to the text as a whole was, so I'll leave it at that.
This book is an intellectual paradise and is rich in treasures as long as you are willing to look for them.
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VINE VOICEon August 30, 2001
If you read this at the right time of life no other book will ever be more important to you. I read it when I was 19 and for me that was the right age. Rilke's Notebooks contain what amounts to the crisis of modern existence. For Rilke the solution was writing some of the best poetry ever written. If you want proof read it. For Malte it was not so clear yet and his struggles will be very familiar to any student of the arts. As a time piece this also has much value. It records the change over from the old Europe to the new. For Malte, as it was for many of Mann's, Musil's, Broch's... characters, this proves devastating. Identity threatening. The second half of this book is not as good as the first half but I'll take that first half and disregard the rest. Read this while reading Rilke's greatest contribution to our world, his poetry.
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on March 10, 2002
though it seems to be a collection of strange lyric essays moving from simple snapshots to fantastic recollections and musings. There are seeds planted early that expand and flower, painfully and beautifully and so truthfully. This is what books should do for people. Every sentence, as foreign as it can seem, you've known all your life, and you see it now in words. I don't know anything about german, but this translation is incredibly beautiful, I cannot imagine the original could work any better than this. There is no desire to move forward, you move through the pages and can't imagine having to look up. Blah blah and more blah, its really good.
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on June 22, 2001
I recently had occasion to replace my worn-out (tattered) copy of The Notebooks of MLB and when my new copy arrived I started reading it. It is a remarkable work in every way, sometimes seeming simple and straightforward, sometimes so arcane it's almost impossible to figure out what Rilke is trying to say. I love this book. I have learned so much about myself by looking into the mirror Rilke holds up -- a mirror he himself faced, and in response to which he wrote The Notebooks. He invites us into his universe, and it is so rich and abundant we always learn new things about ourselves as we read. This is a book to savor, to live with, to read often. Take it in small doses if it seems too arcane. Reflect on it, and the meaning will come to you. And if it doesn't, let it go and come back to it at some future time. I first read it 25 years ago and I'm still discovering new things in it. The layers of meaning can be overwhelming. But for sheer beauty of image and incisive insights into the self, this book can't be beat.
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on June 14, 2007
I discovered this book quite by accident, so it has a a special place for me. I found it at a used book sale in my home town, pop. 2000, and was so curious as to what exactly it was about, I bought it, figuring it had to have some value. Needless to say, it was like nothing I'd read at that point, being all of 21. It didn't matter to me that the book was plotless (as has been noted elsewhere)--the prose was gorgeous.
I still have my copy, and have gone back to it a number of times in the last 20 years. At one point I read aloud, to my wife, the last section in which Rilke/Malte gives his interpretation of the Prodigal Son story. I didn't know when I began, but it would soon reduce me to tears. So you could say it spoke to me very personally about love and "not wanting to be loved", which is part of his theme about the Prodigal.
A gem of a book, but probably not for everyone...but then, that's true for many books!
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on March 19, 1999
This is the only novel written by Rilke. It is a difficult text, often vaguely referencing obscure Medieval history. It has endnotes to help you through it though. It is entirely worth the effort to read this book (too many books don't make you try these days) because it is unlike anything I have ever read. Rilke places you in the mind of Malte, an unusual, beautiful and intensely profound universe. This novel is, I believe, an epic poem under the guise of a journal, and it's one of the best poems written.
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on May 9, 2000
This collaboration between the posthumous words of Ranier Marie Rilke and the drawings of Ben Shahn slows the pace of Rilke's hauting verbal images as one steps into the sanctity of Shahn's graphic images of one man's life. Each step along the pilgrim's path is exquisitely described by Shahn's primal lithographs. Birth, Attachment, Travel, Wonder, Illness and Death as described simply but poignantly by Rilke are transformed into stages of devotion in the search for a single verse. Life itself becomes the metaphor for the poet's calling, and the artist captures the awe and anxiety of the transformation. This is a book you'll want to hand on to your children for generations to appreciate such a collaboration.
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on April 10, 2000
One of the great novels of the twentieth century -- moving, beautiful, strange. Not until I reread this a few years ago did I realize that I had been stealing from this book for my whole writing life.
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on February 5, 2013
This book is a dense jungle of metaphor, symbol and history. First time readers will be taken aback by the haunting beauty of the descriptions and situations, but long time readers get so much more from it. I can't really put that into words, but this is a book I will revisit every year or two for the rest of my life.
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on April 26, 2014
This is a complicated work that operates on a number of levels. It's a vaguely autobiographical take on Rilke's brief time living in Pre-WWI Paris, it's also a contemplation on the sudden rise of urban life, of the anxiety of being one anonymous person living in a sea of anonymous people. Rilke juxtaposes the dreariness of modern city life with intense, haunted recollections about Laurids childhood in the Austro-Hungarian countryside, in a world where the effects of modernity have yet to really take hold and in which an almost suffocating sense of family life prevails. It's a beautifully written book which responds to the world with a dense, allusive sensibility that really pre-figures a lot of the big stylistic shifts that high-modernism would bring about just a few years later.
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