Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Well, Auden thought so about Rilke, but the title might have to go to a dub poet recently seen and heard at the Scream in High Park. The performed work in question was essentially a transformation of that Jill Sobule classic, I Kissed a Girl [somewhat akin to how Penn Jillette's Sock is a transformation of the detestable albeit venerable Ed the Sock]. I should be less critical. Alternately, I should reserve my disdain for even less worthwhile purposes.

Approaching the subject of Rilke, there is but one short line in Sonnets to Orpheus that elucidates his approach to the subject of life: "Transform matter into mind". I stared at these words for a goodly length of time before they just clicked for me. Of course, I did have some help. William H. Gass, in his essay, Transformations, does some elucidating of his own on the whole matter, making specific reference to the observation and subsequent perception of a dewdrop on the tip of a leaf:

Quantities...have been transformed into qualities. Rude substance has been sublimed. Now this energy shapes a scene on a screen of the Soul. [Rilke] preferred to think that the world was waiting to be realized in just this way, to become invisible - just as, to others, each of our realms of awareness is - invisible - although nothing is more vivid, solid, substantial, now, than the most melancholy of our experiences, for instance, the loneliness of a room rented by the week.

So what we have when we observe and perceive things is a tangible object that evolves to invisible energy charged with personal meaning, rendering it visible once more, only in a more internalized fashion. I'm sure I have oversimplified matters here, and I'm also sure that I don't fully understand what Gass refers to as 'ontological transformation', but I find my mind wandering back to the whole potential energy vs. kinetic energy analogy, only this time it is in reverse: the ontology is the kinetic object which when transformed eschews its origins and gains an alternate potential, depending upon the perspective of the observer. The resulting hybrid is bound to be volatile.

Perhaps it is just this type of volatility that separates good lesbian poets from great ones.

[See the Complete Review for a rather elucidatory review of Reading Rilke by William H. Gass]

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