Monday, August 03, 2009

The Artist as Scoundrel

Rainier Maria Rilke, one critic has written, “was not merely a selfish snob; he was also an anti-Semite, a coward, a psychic vampire, a crybaby. He was a son who refused to go to his dying father's bedside, a husband who exploited and abandoned his wife, a father who almost never saw his daughter and who even stole from a special fund for her education to pay for his first-class hotel rooms. He was a seducer of other men's wives, a pampered intellectual gigolo, and a virtual parody of the soulful artiste who deems himself superior to ordinary people because he is so tenderly sensitive, a delicate blossom easily punished by a passing breeze or sudden frost…. Once, in the midst of a love affair, Rilke actually persuaded the wronged husband to underwrite the rent for his errant wife's studio-love nest.”

Bertolt Brecht, according to critic Clive James, “emerged as an ice-cold, ruthless, self-serving egomaniac contemptuous of all decencies, and especially pitiless to the women who made the mistake of paying him allegiance. Even people who admired his work have given pen-portraits that turn the stomach. Yet somewhere in between the thoroughgoing con man Brecht was in real life and the hollow prophet he was as a man of the didactic theatre, Brecht was a great poet.”

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