Malte Ludens: Humor, Satire, Irony, and Deeper Significance in Rilke's Novel


Political Science and International Affairs

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The strong supporting role of humor, satire, and irony in the work of Rainer Maria Rilke has not received the attention it warrants. A rare essay on "Rilke's Humor" by Eudo C. Mason succinctly assesses the critical situation: "Rilke wird mesitens als ein Dicher angesehen, der ganz ohne Humor ist oder als einer, bei dem der Humor höchst eine bloß private, nebensächliche Rolle spielt und für die große schöpferische Leistung belangos bleibt." Mason urges critics to reexamine Rilke's writings more closely with an eye to their neglected humorous aspects. Such a reexamination seems all the more in order when one reviews the substantial role various forms of humor have played in the shaping of modern literature. These forms range, for example, to name on the most prominent exponents, from the satire of Oscar Wilde and the irony of Thomas Mann to the absurd casuistry of Franz Kafka and the black humor of Samuel Beckett. Even more important in the case of Rilke's Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge is the deeper structural role of humor, satire, and irony, which I shall examine here.