Adam Floridia's Reviews > The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke
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Feb 03, 2013

it was ok
bookshelves: discovered-thanks-to-goodreads, being-a-human
Read from January 25 to February 12, 2012

Sometimes choosing a star rating can be difficult. To avoid falling trap to such uncertainty, I try to stick as formally to the description as possible (ie: 1= “didn’t like,” 2= “it was ok,” 3=”liked it,” etc.). What gets really hairy, though, is when I have to reconcile “liked” with “appreciated,” which can be at odds and which happens occasionally with “literature.” This is made all the tougher when I already have it in my head that I should “like,” or at the very least “appreciate,” a book because people whose opinions I respect think highly of it. That should really does get me and make me second guess my own opinion. I feel like “I don’t know how much of it I understood, but it was as if I were being solemnly promised that at some time I would understand it all” (150).

Thank goodness goodreads allows so much space for someone to move beyond a simplistic star rating and to give lengthy descriptions of the different aspects of the books that reached him (as well as provide rambling prefatory notes).
I didn’t like reading this. I never found myself anxiously awaiting the next time I could find time to pick it up and read more about Malte’s childhood reminiscences. I waded through his obscure historical asides, couldn’t keep any of the names straight, and just didn’t care. I actually cringed at certain passages which I thought were striving so hard to achieve profundity and reached odd at best. For example, when Malte “hit upon the idea of offering [the neighbor on the other side of the wall] my will. For one day I understood that his was at an end. And after that, whenever I felt it coming on, I stood on my side of the wall and begged him to make use of it. And as far as my expenditure of will was concerned, I began to feel it” (132). To me this reeks of a would-be poet attempting to emphasize how he feels things more deeply than the common man, when, in reality, he’s nuts and it makes no sense. Plus, that page is followed by a page of meditation on a box lid, “a lid [that] could have no other longing than to find itself on its box…the fulfillment of its desires” (134). He even decides “this box lid has it in for me.”
Then there are his ruminations on love, death, and God. All fodder for some very profound revelations. However, again I just couldn’t get into them—it’s the same problem I’ve always had with the Transcendentalists, and some of this sounded pretty transcendentalist-ish: “In the garden, there is one chief thing; everything is everywhere, and one would have to be in everything in order not to miss anything” (149). Malte is definitely trying to live deep and suck out the marrow of life, to separate himself from the mass of men who lead lives of quiet desperation.
HOWEVER, there were many passages that I did find profound, especially towards the beginning. (Maybe this just isn’t the type of book one can read a few pages at a time in ten minute bursts). In the beginning, I understand that Malte does represent the true Modern man: he is “learning to see” (3), discovering that “the main thing was that one was alive” (2), wondering “Is it possible that the whole history of the world has been misunderstood? Is it possible that the past is false because one has always spoken of its masses…” (16), understanding that “something is going on in me as well, something that is beginning to distance and separate me from everything” (37). Talk about embodying the disillusionment, isolation, and true severing of ties with the past of the modernist movement (just read page 38 in its entirety and you’ve got a summary of said movement). There is sooo much talk about “masks” in the book, and I see that as a metaphor for Malte’s goal. He seeks to reveal the Truth to all of those around him, to rip away the false masks under which they live. Unfortunately, he is too awkward (especially around girls) and self-conscious and insecure. There were countless time throughout the text that I wrote in the margins “Prufrock!” In fact, as I read I had planned for this review to be a comparison between this book and the poem. Now I realize that I would have had to copy nearly the entire poem because comparisons/connections can be drawn to nearly every line of it (“Now one accidentally emerges among accidental things and almost takes fright at not being invited” (97)…I mean, come on!). Malte’s “overwhelming question” is “My God, if it were possible to impart something of it. But would it exist then, would it exist?” (54)…”And will they, in any event see what I am saying here” (111).

A Favorite Quotation:“Flowers and fruits are ripe when they fall; animals feel themselves and find one another and are satisfied. But we, who have made God for ourselves, we can not find satisfaction” (174).

A Favorite Scene: When his dog reproaches him for letting death in. Touching. (121).

A Quotation That, Perhaps, Sums Up My Reading Experience: “Many things came into my hands that, so to speak, ought to have been read already, for other things it was much too soon; nothing at that time was just right for the present. But nevertheless I read” (148).
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02/04/2012 page 50
02/07/2012 page 100
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Geoff There ya go! Is this the edition you are going to read? I love the translation by MD Herter Norton, and I have also read parts of Stephen Mitchell's translation, both are excellent, but I am not familiar with the translator of this edition. It might not matter, but just letting you know that the Norton and Mitchell translations are wonderful.

message 10: by Adam (new) - rated it 2 stars

Adam Floridia This is the one I currently have in my Amazon cart...but I haven't ordered yet. Thanks for the rec.

Geoff It probably doesn't matter. That one has an attractive cover. But Mitchell and Norton are both well known Rilke scholars, Mitchell has done an excellent edition of selected poems and the Notebooks and his Letters to a Young Poet are my favorite translation. Norton translated Rilke's collected letters and the Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus, so they are both rather experienced in Rilke's work.

Jimmy Great review. Your observation about how he sometimes stretches for profundity is true... it's something I find annoying in others, and though I can't explain it, I am completely under Rilke's spell. I laughed out loud at your review though! “a lid [that] could have no other longing than to find itself on its box…the fulfillment of its desires” Ahh, Rilke
Rilke was a jerk.
I admit his griefs & music
& titled spelled all-disappointed ladies.
A threshold worse than the circles
where the vile settle & lurk,
Rilke's. As I said,--

-- from John Berryman's, Dreamsong #3

Adam Floridia Hahaha, I like that poem fragment. Thanks, Jimmy.

This was my first/only experience with Rilke (I'd actually never heard of him except through here), so I have nothing other by which to judge him or become charmed by him.

Jimmy I'd be interested in your opinion of his Duino Elegies if you ever get a chance to read them. I prefer Mitchell's translation, but Snow's is pretty good too.

Geoff Great review Adam, though I'm sorry you didn't enjoy this as much as I did. Rilke to me is always elusive-approaching-profound. It's the approach (and the sometimes arrival) that I really appreciate in him. Especially in his poetry, he constantly attempts to push language into a really lofty, heavenward arc- sometimes successful, sometimes not- but the attempt is always at some sort of divinity of language. I like that. In addition to Mitchell's translations of the Duino Elegies, and the Sonnets to Orpheus, I highly recommend his "Letters on Cezanne" and "Letters to a Young Poet". A lot of what is at the heart of what he does is in these.

Adam Floridia Thanks, Geoff.

Now if I ever do go on a Rilke-kick, I'll be fully prepared thanks to you and Jimmy :-)

message 3: by Maciek (new)

Thank goodness goodreads allows so much space for someone to move beyond a simplistic star rating and to give lengthy descriptions of the different aspects of the books that reached him (as well as provide rambling prefatory notes)

I fullu agree with this sentiment and am glad you chose to indulge in lenghty explanations, Adam! I like to do that myself and talk about things in reviews, and hope that those who will read them will also enjoy that. Please continue to indulge in this habit - I especially enjoyed your musings on how to rate the book you're not sure you liked but appreciated. I often have the same thoughts!

Adam Floridia Maciek wrote: "
Thank goodness goodreads allows so much space for someone to move beyond a simplistic star rating and to give lengthy descriptions of the different aspects of the books that reached him (as well a..."

Thanks, Maciek! I have noticed that I'm not alone--many people imbue their reviews with personal ramblings. Rather than view this as a sign of narcissism, I like to look at it as a way of really expressing the full experience of reading the book--a sense of how the book affected a human being. Anyway, thanks for the comment!

message 1: by Maciek (new)

Maciek You're welcome, Adam! :) I absolutely agree. I don't find it narcisstic at all - personal reaction is equally interesting to me, and somethimes even more so.

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