SELF: continuous with itself through time, separate from other selves in space

This post owes everything to Rilke’s two poems in Sonnets to Orpheus, part two, the third and twenty-sixth. The translation of II,3 with some preliminary remarks appears in the post MIrrors and Awakenings (part 2). In that poem I translated the phrase ‘Zwischenraume der Zeit’ as intervals in time. But what are intervals (gaps, interstices) in time? Certainly they have more to do with psychology than physics, or at least what is described by Rilke is approached from the direction of perception. Rilke is suggesting that a continuing sense of self can be disturbed or disrupted by a personal shock. In II,26 Rilke has the phrase ‘In Zwischenraume dieses, des Weltraums…’ which I then translated as ‘Into the many breaches within the one space’. I also translated Zufall as correspondence but now prefer coincidence. Here is the poem with my revisions to lines 5 and 6.

How the shriek of a bird will shake us...
any cry once it has broken in.
And children again at play in the open
cry far beyond their actual cries.

Cry coincidence. Into these breaches 
of world space, (where birdsong
plunges entire, as people into dreams)
they dart their piercing shouts.

Where, O where can we be? Ever more free,
like kites torn loose from the earth
we swoop in the air with rippling laughter,

buffeted by the wind. Gather these shrill one up,
O singing God! Let them awaken trembllng, hearing
within them like a tide the head and the lyre.

There follows an analysis of this poem and also Rilke’s poem on mirrors.

This poem recalls a time in a garden in Capri described in the prose piece, Experience (Erlebnis). ‘A bird call in the open and in his consciousness was one, when it did not, as it were, break on the barrier of his body but gathered both together in undivided space, in which there was only one region of purest deepest consciousness, mysteriously protected. On that occasion he had closed his eyes so that he might not be confused by the contour of his body in so generously granted an experience, and infinity passed into him from all sides in so familiar a manner that he believed he felt within him the presence of the stars which now appeared.’

In lines 5-6 conscious beings are described as breaches in world space, a phrase which hints at the mystery of selfhood. But there is also the suggestion that the breach may be annulled by the shrillness of birdsong or the cry of a child which awakens some echo or correspondence in us. The prose passage adds that through some obscure process of attunement of inner and outer an oceanic state of feeling may arise, while the poem goes on to liken us in our oneness with the open to kites in the wind. I would like to suggest that the breaches in space and in time in these two poems, finds a parallel in Kant’s outer sense (space) and inner sense (time). Although the image in the mirror falls on outer sense, the image disturbs the girl’s perception of herself. There is a breach in personal time or inner sense at the instant of altered self-awareness. So Rilke suggests in these two poems that each private world of consciousness is discontinuous with the outer world, but continuous with itself in time. As a breach in world space each person is separated from others, and constantly engaged in the effort to establish relatedness. Sometimes a moment of attunement, correspondence or coincidence may afford a brief feeling of oneness with the outside world. As an uninterrupted unfolding of world time, an individual may be jolted into feeling things differently. A change of awareness of the self will be seeded between an undifferentiated before and after, so that the passage of time is experienced as a development or even a crisis. Why does individual experience have the properties of being separate from the external world in space and continuous with itself in time?

I will discuss this in my next post.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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