Random Research: Raphael and Rilke

Every once in a while, I stop and consider how utterly reliant I am on the internet in general, and Google in particular.  O, benevolent online overlords!  Thou art the repository of so much of human thought, the cache of my own ideas, and my lady Mnemosyne.  Nor dost thou scorn to stoop and serve me, so long as my ISP does not fail me and I can limit my query to 128 characters.

But sometimes even Google, mighty Google, cannot come to my aid.

Two instances of late come to mind.

Back in April, I went to Rome with a friend.  Among the sights I appreciated most was the library of Pope Julius II, the Stanza della Segnatura, which Raphael decorated on all sides with frescoes.  The School of Athens is there (cue flashbacks to college days), as well as La Disputa del Sacramento – The Disputation of the Sacrament.


I was struck with curiosity over the scribe girl sitting next to St. Augustine (the fellow with a miter to the right of the altar, who is gesturing toward her).  Presumably she’s taking notes on the discussion of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist.
La Disputa scribe

I love her.  My practice is the same: to write down what people are saying in conversation, whether it’s in a booklet or whatever scraps of paper I have to hand, whether it’s clever or funny or erudite or just plain ridiculous.  Whoever she is, she is my representative where this picture is concerned.

Sadly, I have no idea who she is.  She might not be anyone at all; she might be a figure representing all scribes in all times and in all places, or the preservation of the doctrine of the church throughout history.  She might be the anthropomorphization of some concept: purity, truth, reason.

After scrolling through site after site in vain, I became convinced that all the Googling in the world could not illuminate this figure for me.  I headed to the library and got out every book on Raphael they’ve got, which gave me background on the putative chronology of the frescoes, and the background for how Raphael was chosen to paint them, but not much insight on the iconography he used, beyond the fact that it was ground-breaking in its animation. Roger Jones and Nicholas Penny, bless them, shared an endnote in their 1983 Raphael that Heinrich Pfeiffer explored the question in his dissertation, Zur Ikonographie von Raffaels Disputa.

It is a testament to my curiosity that I submitted a WorldCat request to get it from Montreal, despite the fact that I will need to translate the lot to get any answers from it.  Provoking!

But not, perhaps, as provoking as that other problem that plagues the internet, namely: people crediting an individual as the author of a quotation or idea or aphorism, without citing where they found it.  Then other people share it, be it truth or falsehood.  The thing becomes ubiquitous, a weed with no way to trace its forebears.

In this case, I found a poem credited to Rilke called “Blank Joy,” which of course appealed to me very greatly.  Given that he composed in German and French but not, to my knowledge, in English, I was interested in finding and translating the original.  So I checked Amazon for his titles, and took a look at their respective tables of contents.  I consulted my library’s catalog, and Wikipedia, and poetic fan sites: all the usual places.

The original German…does not appear to exist.  Or, rather, I’ve found it on three sites, but no one indicates what volume of his it was published in (was it published?  Did someone share a poem once written in a letter?).  Is it actually his?  How can we know?

So far the only solution I’ve come up with…is to request Sämtliche Werke in 12 Bänden – his complete works in twelve volumes – from the library.

I’m not sure what to take from this.  Maybe I should rely on Google less; perhaps I should consult the library and librarians therein first; possibly (probably) I should develop more vigorous and enterprising methods of research.

Or perhaps the real lesson is that I should learn German.

Ex Libris

As a passionate bibliophile who is obsessively careful with her own books, I’ve never understood the mentality of those people who write with pen in library books.  If you’re going to do it, at least use a pencil.  Yet while these scribblers provoke varying degrees of annoyance, at the same time, their notes offer a sense of connection to earlier readers.  When you’re on that road of peril and uncertainty that is the Research Quest, there’s something comforting in knowing that a fellow student has tread the path before you, and one hopes, vanquished.

I’m not sure a whole lot of vanquishing was happening with these students, though.

Shantih, stand and unfold thyself!

As much as part of me wants smack these people up-side the head for immortalizing their trivial comments in this book, I’m pretty darn amused to see this empassioned little commentary by a succession of readers, each in a different hand and ink (and pencil).  My favorite comment is “he” ‘s not a person.  So, Mr. Who Is Shantih, did you even read the poem?

One of the writers with the blue ink also commented on the previous page.

I don't think it means what you think it means.

On a later essay in the anthology, our little friend with the black pen proves that, assertions to the contrary notwithstanding, clearly he does not know better.

Sound and fury signifying...nothing!

I’m pleased by the irony of this statement.  Besides the ontological impossibility of a book’s being said to truly “know” anything, might I point out that this book is a collection of essays by different authors?  Inevitably, you’re going to agree with some of them and for the rest, wonder exactly whether they were reading the same copy of The Waste Land as you were.

Ah, students.  Thank you for a few fragments.  While I certainly shan’t be using them to shore up any ruins, they gave me a chuckle (spread from ear to ear)!