Rilke’s Poetics of Immanence

You must change your life: Rilke’s Poetics of Immanence.”



“You must change your life” is the final line of one of Rainer Maria Rilke’s great poems. But counterintuitively, this advice means going more deeply into your already lived life, rather than removing yourself from daily distractions to focus on an abstract idea, greater beyond, or an overarching meaning that we have somehow missed so far. In this seminar we will look at several of Rilke’s letters on loss and transformation, some of them previously untranslated, and the way philosophers have responded to them. Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Gilles Deleuze and others considered Rilke to be a rare “poet of poets” – a writer who embodies the essence of literature itself. To most readers he is familiar as the author of Letters to a Young Poet, which our facilitator, Ulrich Baer, has just retranslated from the original German.

But Rilke moves the practices of thinking and living not in the direction of philosophy. Instead, in and through language he charts a way to a life lived more fully – even in the awareness of inevitable loss. In this seminar we will examine a mode of thinking that is not philosophical but literary, which means that it immerses us, via language, into the core of being.

Facilitator: Ulrich Baer is a professor of German and Comparative Literature at New York University. From 2012 until 2018, he served as NYU’s Vice Provost for Faculty, Arts, Humanities, and Diversity. From 2007 until 2012, he served as Vice Provost for Globalization and Multicultural Affairs, overseeing NYU’s network of Global Academic Sites around the world.

Ulrich received his B.A. from Harvard in 1991, and his Ph.D. from Yale in Comparative Literature in 1995. A widely published author, editor, and translator, he is an expert on poetry, literary theory, and photography, and has published extensively on these and other topics. He has lectured around the world on higher education, and on diversity as a means to institutional excellence. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, NYU’s Golden Dozen Teaching Award (twice), a Getty Research Fellowship, a DAAD fellowship, and an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship. He regularly teaches a freshmen seminar on globalization, as well as undergraduate and graduate courses in photography, poetry, and other areas.

Among his books are The Dark Interval: Rilke’s Letters on Loss, Grief and Transformation (translator and editor; forthcoming 2018); Rainer Maria Rilke: Prosa (editor); We Are but A Moment; The Rilke Alphabet; Beggar’s Chicken: Stories from Shanghai; Hannah Arendt Between the Disciplines (co-editor with Amir Eshel); The Claims of Literature: A Shoshana Felman Reader (co-editor with Emily Sun and Eyal Peretz); Rainer Maria Rilke: Letters on Life (translator and editor); Spectral Evidence: The Photography of Trauma; 110 Stories: New York Writes After September 11 (editor); “Nobody Bears Witness for the Witness”: Testimony and Historical Memory after the Shoah (editor); Remnants of Song: Trauma and the Experience of Modernity in Charles Baudelaire and Paul Celan.

Time: Saturday, June 23, 10am-3pm.
Place: Ethical Society, 1906 Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, Collier Room, 2nd floor.
Cost: $80 before May 31st, $95 after.

Ulrich Baer discusses the upcoming seminar with Matthew O’Connell.


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