“Yet, no matter how deeply I go down into myself, my God is dark, and like a webbing made of a hundred roots that drink in silence. I know that my trunk rose from his warmth, but that’s all, because my branches hardly move at all near the ground, and just wave a little in the wind.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke
No one kneads us again out of earth and clay,
no one incants our dust.
Blessed art thou, No One.
In thy sight would
we were, are now, and ever
shall be, blooming:
the Nothing-, the
our pistil soul-bright,
our stamen heaven-waste,
our corona red
from the purpleword we sang
over, O over
Paul Celan, “Psalm” from Selected Poems and Prose, translated by John Felstiner. Copyright © 2001 by John Felstiner.
The body is the zero point of the world. There, where paths and spaces come to meet, the body is nowhere. It is at the heart of the world, this small utopian kernel from which I dream, I speak, I proceed, I imagine, I perceive things in their place, and I negate them also by the indefinite power of the utopias I imagine. My body is like the City of the Sun. It has no place, but it is from it that all possible places, real or utopian, emerge and radiate.
Excerpts from the translation by Lucia Allais of a radio lecture Foucault delivered in 1966. Published in Sensorium, MIT Press, 2006, 229-34:
My body: it is the place without recourse to which I am condemned. And actually I think that it is against this body (as if to erase it) that all these utopias have come into being. The prestige of utopia–to what does utopia owe its beauty, its marvel? Utopia is a place outside all places, but it is a place where I will have a body without body, a body that will be beautiful, limpid, transparent, luminous, speedy, colossal in its power, infinite in its duration. Untethered, invisible, protected–always transfigured. It may very well be that the first utopia, the one most deeply rooted in the hearts of men, is precisely the utopia of an incorporeal body.
No, really, there is no need for magic, for enchantment. There’s no need for a soul, nor a death, for me to be both transparent and opaque, visible and invisible, life and thing. For me to be a utopia, it is enough that I be a body. All those utopias by which I evaded my body–well they had, quite simply, their model and their first application, they had their place of origin, in my body itself, I really was wrong, before, to say that utopias are turned against the body and destined to erase it. They were born from the body itself, and perhaps afterwards they turned against it.
My body, in fact, is always elsewhere. It is tied to all the elsewheres of the world. And to tell the truth, it is elsewhere than in the world, because it is around it that things are arranged. It is in relation to it–and in relation to it as if in relation to a sovereign–that there is a below, an above, a right, a left, a forward and a backward, a near and a far. The body is the zero point of the world. There, where paths and spaces come to meet, the body is nowhere. It is at the heart of the world, this small utopian kernel from which I dream, I speak, I proceed, I imagine, I perceive things in their place, and I negate them also by the indefinite power of the utopias I imagine. My body is like the City of the Sun. It has no place, but it is from it that all possible places, real or utopian, emerge and radiate.
Maybe it should also be said that to make love is to feel one’s body close in on oneself. It is finally to exist outside of any utopia, with all of one’s density, between the hands of the other. Under the other’s fingers running over you, all the invisible parts of your body begin to exist. Against the lips of the other, yours become sensitive. In front of his half-closed eyes, your face acquires a certitude. There is a gaze, finally, to see your closed eyelids. Love also, like the mirror and like death–it appeases the utopia of your body, it hushes it, it calms it, it encloses it as if in a box, it shuts and seals it. This is why love is so closely related to the illusion of the mirror and the menace of death. And if, despite these two perilous figures that surround it, we love so much to make love, it is because, in love, the body is here.
Rilke chose as his own epitaph this poem:
Rose, oh reiner Widerspruch, Lust,
Niemandes Schlaf zu sein unter soviel
Rose, o pure contradiction, desire
to be no one’s sleep beneath so many lids.
“The following selections from David Need’s Roses: The Late French Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke provide an illuminating glimpse into the ways Rilke uses the rose as motif. The poems seek to elucidate how time’s ceaseless transformations do not rectify or allay the contradictions they invoke. The living rose is “fully awake” but discreet, possessing “many pages / of detailed happiness / we will never read.” Rilke is fascinated by these irreducible relationships: the flower’s vitality belies its eventual death; its blooming won’t diminish the impenetrable density of its petals.” —Dan Holmes
Rilke’s posthumously published Roses calls us into a more intimate relationship with things, asking us to consider the material world as sister of our imagination, rather than nameless patient of our ideas.
If your blooming sometimes so astonishes us,
it’s that, petal against petal, you rest
within yourself, inside.
Fully awake, your petals, whose surroundings
sleep, though numberless, meet
this silent heart’s tendernesses
which end in these urgent lips.
I see you, rose, book half-opened,
having so many pages
of detailed happiness
we will never read. Mage-Book,
which is opened by the wind and can be read,
from which butterflies scatter, confused
to have had the same ideas.
Oh Rose, you perfect thing beyond compare,
and infinitely lavished, oh, head
of a body with far too much wandering sweetness,
nothing is equal to you, oh you supreme essence
of this inconstant hour,
your perfume wanders all about
this space of love we have scarcely entered.
A single rose, it’s every rose
and this one—the irreplaceable one,
the perfect one—a supple spoken word
framed by the text of things.
How could we ever speak without her
of what our hopes were,
and of the tender moments
in the continual departure.
All that we feel, you share,
yet we ignore what happens to you.
There would have to be a hundred butterflies
to read all your pages.
There are ones among you like dictionaries;
those who gather these
are tempted to bind all the pages.
Me? I like the roses which are letters.
Rose, come so late, when the bitter nights stop
in their too sidereal brilliance,
Rose, do you divine the facile, perfect pleasures
of your summer sisters?
Day after day, I watch you who hesitate
in your sheath, clasped too tight.
Rose who, when born, imitates in reverse
the slow ways of the dead.
Does your indescribable state make you understand
in a mingling in which all is silenced
that ineffable harmony of nothingness and being
that we ignore?
despite so many dangers
with no change ever
in her habits
is the Rose which opens, prelude
to her immeasurable duration.
Do we know how she lives?
One of her days, without doubt,
is all the earth, all
the infinity of this moment.
Rose, was it necessary to leave you outdoors,
What is a rose doing there, where fate
exhausts itself on us?
Point of turning back. It’s you
with us, desperately, this life, this life
which is not your time.
(Translated from the French by David Need. To read the original, click HERE.)
Roses. Rainer Maria Rilke.Translation by David Need. Illustrations by Clare Johnson.Horse & Buggy Press, 2014.
I can’t quite believe it’s five years today since my beloved grandpa passed on.
Marble Machine built and composed by Martin Molin. Video filmed and edited by Hannes Knutsson.
Wintergatan website: www.wintergatan.net.