Books in Brief: Nonfiction; Rilke on Rodin
In 1902, an obscure young poet named Rainer Maria Rilke arrived on the Paris doorstep of Auguste Rodin, armed with an assignment to write a monograph on the French sculptor. At the time, Rilke, fastidious and recently married, was equipped with only halting French; Rodin, unable to read Rilke’s lyrical German, was an imperious 62, his creative drive matched only by his skill at seducing the women who posed nude for him. Combining Daniel Slager’s elegant translation from the German of Rilke’s writings on Rodin with Michael Eastman’s photographs of Rodin’s sculptures, AUGUSTE RODIN (Archipelago, $30) offers a fresh look at an unlikely mentorship. Adopting the rapturous tone of a new disciple, Rilke finds in Rodin’s sculpture much of his own ideal of the solitary genius—“sheltered behind the efforts that sustained him” and “filled with the animating burden of his vast knowledge.” But he may be closer to the mark, as the evocative photographs suggest, in portraying Rodin as a keen student of the flesh. In such works as “The Caryatid” and “The Kiss,” Rilke observes, “faces were extinguished and bodies came into their own,” an achievement that transformed the movement of limbs into “strange documents of the momentary.