An observation taken home, and taken to heart, and held warmly there until it rises like bread

No. Rilke is not Malte. Yet Malte is Rilke. Just as matter and mind, for Spinoza, were essential but separate aspects of one natural whole, so Malte is an aspect of Rilke — Rilke see with one “I”. And Malte, when he describes the remaining interior wall of a demolished house (to choose a celebrated example), is penetrating more fully into things than Rilke or Rodin or any one of us would, if we were merely walking by on some Parisian sidewalk, because this vision, like so many others, is an observation taken home, and taken to heart, and held warmly there until it rises like bread. Anyone can stand still and take notes. Quite a different eye or recording hand constructs one thing out of its response to another. It is the artful act of composition that creates the emotional knowledge which such passages contain — the metaphors of misery and shame and decay which arise like imagined odors from the wall. Thus Rilke comes into possession of this knowledge in the same moment Malte does; but he does so (and consequently suffers a stroke of synesthesia, smelling the ugliness he has just seen) because he is imagining Malte; and Malte, to be Malte, must make these discoveries; must run in horror from this wall which he feels exposes his soul to every passerby like a flung-open coat. One probably cannot say it too often: writing is, among other things, an activity which discovers its object; which surprises itself with the meanings it runs into, and passes sometimes with apologies, or recognizes with a start like an old friend encountered in a strange place.

— William H. Gass,
Introduction to The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
by Rainer Maria Rilke

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