Academic journal article German Quarterly

Interstitial Space in Rilke's Short Prose Works

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Interstitial Space in Rilke's Short Prose Works

Article excerpt

Rilke is the modern writer for whom space is most thematically prominent, and who is persistently invoked in major theories of poetic or literary space.1 While much scholarly attention has been devoted to the study of space in his poetry, novel, and writings on art,2 the range of innovative renderings of space in the insufficiently examined short prose works has remained almost entirely overlooked. In his stories and narrative essays, traditional setting is considerably transformed, as depicted space is integrated into perceptions or narrative reflections, or the spatial qualities of the text itself. In other short prose writings, Rilke transposes sense-regions, personifies objects, and uses spatial metaphors to intensify localities. Exceeding the limits of empirical perception, Rilke develops in prose a range of innovative means for evoking the alternative spatiality of interstitial space. While spatiality in Rilke has been almost exclusively characterized in scholarship and popular reception as a lyrical "Weltinnenraum," this notion can be seen as one highpoint within the development of a more encompassing and differentiated structure of the spatial imagination, the "Zwischenraum."3

In the short prose works emerge inter-phenomenal Zwischenräume that are neither available to ordinary perception, nor compatible with the premises of modern scientific consciousness. "Interstitial" space is meant broadly, indicating not merely the intervening space between fixed empirical or geometrical points, but space constituted by striking renegotiations of the relation between different positions within experience or between different forms of experience. These interstitial spaces are not measurable by empirical means and must be achieved through poetic effort. In many short prose works, space is given a hermeneutic role, so that the reader is invited to imagine interstitial forms of spatial meaning.

Among Rilke's short prose works are individual Erzählungen and series of tales, the settings of which are diverse.4 Space in the non-fictional short prose is, however, as prominent as the settings of his stories, and the poetological connections are more explicit. The difficulty of classifying these texts has been noted,5 but it can be said that in these works as in the Erzählungen, Rilke intensifies the relevance of space through strategies of spatial evocation which are interstitial in the sense described above. These strategies include: transposition of background or personification of natural surrounding elements, such that a tension with foreground emerges; the space of communication between metaphorical interior and empirically exterior spaces; empathetic study and personification of objects which promotes a space "between" self and world; and isolation of a given sense or transposition of senses, evoking inter-phenomenal "regions" between the different senses.

Given the complexities of the relation between space and literature,6 a few of the terms for spatiality need to be clarified at the outset. Just as the fourteen lines of a sonnet construct a contained textual space within which its subject matter is explored,7 the prose work is given parameters by its scope, length or brevity; its paragraphs or sections; its link to other texts which might precede or follow it; and its containment of other texts or stories within itself.8 Through narrative space the reader is situated vis-a-vis the characters, events, and surroundings. Narration crosses distances, renders things in clear view or obscured, near or far, accessing "inner" thoughts as well as "outside" perception. Descriptive space is the space described and evoked by imagery, and might include imaginative transformations thereof. Metaphorical space emerges when a non-spatial feeling, idea, or experience is expressed through a spatial metaphor- for instance in the notion of "regions of sense." In what follows it will be shown that these spatial structures are interdependent in striking ways in Rilke's short prose works. …

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