Deus absconditus: gnosticism, the secularization process, and philosophical modernity in the works of Rainer Maria Rilke
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This dissertation looks at the philosophical impact of the religious and historical phenomenon known as Gnosticism on the poetry and thought of Rainer Maria Rilke. At the center of Gnostic ideology and myth is a view of human existence as driven by a profound dualism, a dualism which is the result of warring opposites, often characterized in terms of good and evil and of the spiritual and the material. This perspective on the human condition is a defining moment for the secularization process, modern thought and modern aesthetics. Rilke’s re-incorporation of Gnostic motifs is not simply an adoption of the dualistic Gnostic world-view but represents a reaction to it within the greater development and articulation of modern consciousness. Both the intellectual climate of Rilke’s age and his own assimilation of certain tropes and motifs reveal a structural affinity with Gnostic ideology and myth. It is the Gnostic Deus absconditus that drives the thought behind the three connected figures of God, the angels, and Orpheus. This study looks at these favored tropes in light of the Gnostic tendencies that found their way into the culture of turn of the century Europe via philosophy. It offers a perspective on Rilke as a truly modern poet regarding the content and dynamic of his ideas. This project presents a cultural-philosophical approach toward Rilke, which differs from previous studies in its attempt to link the dynamic of philosophical ideas and cultural reception through the evolution of connected poetic figures. Unlike other studies that often assume a pre-existing philosophical context from which to view Rilke, this study seeks to define a philosophical context through Gnosticism and its relationship to notions of modernity.