Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Stranger Than You

Rilke once wrote an essay on dolls that disturbed many readers at the time, and still has the power to do so today. He wrote, in part:

[I]in a world in which Destiny, and even God himself, have become famous above all because they answer us with silence. At a time when everything was intent on giving us a quick and reassuring answer, the doll was the first to inflict on us that tremendous silence (larger than life) which was later to come to us repeatedly out of space, whenever we approached the frontiers of our existence at any point. It was facing the doll, as it stared at us, that we experienced for the first time that emptiness of feeling, that heart-pause, in which we should perish.

Dolls are disturbing.

One of the things I loved about living in the San Francisco area was that, for the first time in my life, I did not feel like a complete misfit. It was liberating: every time you feel weird or alien or strange, all you have to do is take a walk in Berkeley or on Market St. in San Francisco. No matter how strange you feel you are, there is always someone stranger than you.

Now it's nice to see such strangenesses elsewhere, too. I was in Chicago last weekend, and discovered a display of doll heads stuck on the tomato plants in the alley garden, as though impaled on stakes in front of a castle, in some Medieval threat display. My friend, who I usually stay with when in Chicago, felt it was great that someone other than him was participating in creating the aura of weirdness that usually lurks in our mutual zone. Usually we're the ones creating all the weird displays; it's nice to have outside help, for once.

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Anonymous liber-hace said...

I would like to further your doll observation.

They’re also humorous, at least in a darkly funny sense  defines humor as the following, a comic, absurd, or incongruous quality causing amusement. Might you agree that an odd man carrying paraphernalia and a Chihuahua in a sack (a personal Berkeley sighting) qualifies as absurd as does placing doll heads in bushes. The Rilke essay is chilling and amusing in a humorous and painted for me a vivid image of his disturbing childhood. Ever experiential Rilke standing as a child, doll clutched in hands, while Phia prances him about in his new dress. Most children don’t see that their dolls are silent and instead create the personas of their toys. Interestingly unimaginative is Rilke’s recollection of play. Just want to draw a connection to his perception of dolls and his childhood experiences

11:58 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Ah, but the absurd is not always funny. That can be summed up by the difference between Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett. Of course, sometimes the only thing to do is laugh anyway.

I wouldn't fall too far into the authorial fallacy, were I you. It's a common mistake to read into a text too much from a writer's childhood. There may be some truth to it, but it's rarely so cut and dried, or obvious, or simplistic, as all that.

Personally, I think clowns are innately creepy. It's what you do with the dolls that makes them creepy, though.

11:36 PM  

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