After dropping Amy off at the bus stop this morning, I came home and realized I was on the precipice of nausea and that a 20- or 25-minute drive to the office likely would’ve pushed me over the edge. So I wrote in sick, went back to bed for 3+ hours, and found myself feeling better.
Then I spent the afternoon rereading Camp Concentration, which made me feel worse.
It’s a short, frightening novel about a drug that unlocks genius (at a price).Â With its unending state of war and secret prison camps, the book has plenty of contemporary resonance (published in 1968). I wasn’t thinking about its political issues when I picked it up; my reason for rereading it was the author’s recent suicide.
Beyond the horrifying vision of America, I was captivated by the romance of art and mortality as portrayed by narrator-poet Louis Sacchetti. I doubt I was too aware of the sheer Germanness of this worldview back when I first read it at the age 18, but 37 is a different story.
After I finished, I decided to sprawl out on a different sofa, so I went downstairs to my library and stared at the wall of books. I picked up Ahead of All Parting, a collection of poetry and prose by Rilke (tr. Stephen Mitchell), and flipped it open. The poet-narrator of the novel refers to Rilke and quotes him in the novel.
I like Mitchell’s translation of my favorite Rilke poem, Archaic Torso of Apollo, but I was disappointed to find that this collection is set in a font that’s remarkably similar to that of the Choose Your Own Adventure books I used to read as a kid. I found myself looking for breaks like
If you ignore Lou Andreas-Salome’s Freudian analysis of how your mother dressed you in girls’ clothes as a child, turn to page 32
Anyway, I decided to look at the Duino Elegies, which I’ve never read. As it turns out, one of the key passages in Camp Concentration comes from the first elegy:
For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.
It sends me back 16 years to my Attic Greek class, where I was first exposed to the word deinos, that which is both beautiful and dreadful (or wondrous and terrible, depending on what my brother offers up by way of translation).
So that’s what I do on my sick days. I’m gonna go get more rest, then embarrass myself or others at our company picnic tomorrow.