Wednesday, May 29, 2019

the prodigal son


It would be difficult to persuade me that the story of the Prodigal Son is not the legend of a man who didn't want to be loved.. When he was a child, everyone in the house loved him.  He grew up not knowing it could be any other way and got used to their tenderness, when he was a child.

But as a boy he tried to lay aside these habits.  He wouldn't have been able to say it, but when he spent the whole day roaming around outside and didn't even want to have the dogs with him, it was because they too loved him; because in their eyes he could see observation and sympathy, expectation, concern; because in their presence too he couldn't do anything without giving pleasure or pain.  But what he wanted in those days was that profound indifference of heart which sometimes, early in the morning, in the field, seized him with such purity that he had to start running, in order to have no time or breath to be more than a weightless moment in which the morning becomes conscious of itself.

The secret of that life of his which had never yet come into being, spread out before him.  Involuntarily he left the footpath and went running across the fields, with outstretched arms, as if in this wide reach he would be able to master several directions at once.  And then he flung himself down behind some bush and didn't matter to anyone.  He peeled himself a willow flute, threw a pebble at some animal, he leaned over and forced a beetle to turnaround:  none of this became fate, and the sky passed over him as over nature.  Finally afternoon came with all its inspirations; you could become a buccaneer on the isle of Tortuga, and there was no obligation to be that; you could besiege Campeche, take Vera Cruz by storm; you could be a whole army or an officer on horseback or a ship on the ocean:  according to the way you felt.  If you thought of kneeling, right away you were Deodatus of Gozon and had slain the dragon and understood that this heroism was pure arrogance, without an obedient heart.  For you didn't spare yourself anything that belonged to the game.  But no matter how many scenes arose in your imagination, in between them there was always enough time to be nothing but a bird, you didn't even know what kind.  Though afterward, you had to go home.


Once you walked in to its full smell, most matters were already decided.  A few details might still be changed; but on the whole you were already the person they thought you were; the person for whom they had long ago fashioned a life, out of his small past and their own desires; the creature belonging to them all, who stood day and night under the influence of their love, between their hope and their mistrust, before their approval or their blame.

It is useless for such a person to walk up the front steps with infinite caution.  They will all be in the living room, and as soon as the door opens they will all look his way.  He remains in the dark, wants to wait for their questions.  But then comes the worst.  They take him by the hands, lead him over to the table, and all of them, as many as are there, gather inquisitively in front of the lamp.  They have the best of it; they stay in the shadows, and on him alone falls, along with the light, all the shame of having a face.

Can he stay and conform to this lying life of approximations which they have assigned to him, and come to resemble them all in every feature of his face?  Can he divide himself between the delicate truthfulness of his will and the coarse deceit which corrupts it in his own eyes?  Can he give up becoming what might hurt those of his family who have nothing left but a weak heart?

No, he will go away.  For example, while they are all busy setting out on his birthday table those badly guessed presents which, once again, are supposed to make up for everything.  He will go away for ever.  Not until long afterward would he realize how thoroughly he had decided never to love, in order not to put anyone in the terrible position of being loved.  He remembered this years later and, like other good intentions, it too had proved impossible.  For he had loved again and again in his solitude, each time squandering his whole nature and in unspeakable fear for the freedom of the other person.  Slowly he learned to let the rays of his emotion shine through into the beloved object, instead of consuming the emotion in her.  And he was pampered by the joy of recognizing, through the more and more transparent form of the beloved, the expanses that she opened to his infinite desire for possession.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
excerpt from The Prodigal Son
from the Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
art by andy warhol