A defective reading of Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo”

The “Archaic Torso of Apollo” by Rainer Maria Rilke is a poem of great power. (Here is a link to the Stephen Mitchell translation, which I recommend you read before proceeding with the rest.) The surprising shock of the final words (You must change your life.) always seem new and true to me, no matter how many times I read it. The poem at once shifts from a detached aesthetic gaze to a hard ethical demand (i.e. subjectivity in Kierkegaard’s sense), from potency to actuality. (It is not surprising to discover that Rilke studied Kierkegaard intently in the years leading up to writing this poem.) Let’s begin by taking the title apart:

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Education and the Liturgical Formation of Desire

I want to write on the “liturgical” character of Plato’s education program as laid out in the Republic, particularly Book VII. My thinking on this subject has been shaped primarily from three sources:

1) Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formations by James K. A. Smith — the first volume in a projected trilogy called Cultural Liturgies;
2) “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God,” an essay by Simone Weil;
3) Personal Knowledge by Michael Polanyi.

This post will be rather longer than usual, but I hesitated to divide up these confluent sources of inspiration, since their ideas overlap in interesting ways — with each other and with Plato’s thought. (I will relate Girardian mimetic theory to these later.) Such moments of agreement (homologia) are often a first sign that one may be on to something… (more…)