Saturday, May 18, 2013

Maria Reiner Rilke's The Notebooks of Malte Laurdis Briggs: what your next-door neighbors probably think of you, if you're studying Medicine

I'M NOT YET done with Maria Reiner Rilke's The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Briggs. The tone is depressing, for it was written when the author lived alone in Paris, plagued by poverty, left to fend for himself. I'm stationed at the Psychiatry out-patient clinics in the morning. I see many depressed people. Reading this novel helps me see the world from their perspective.

Interesting is the part where Malte, the character who does the novel's narration, describes the person living in the room beside his own—a medical student.

I wrote; I had my life, and the one next door was a completely different life, that I shared nothing with: the life of a medical student who was studying for his exam. I had nothing like that awaiting me; this was already an essential difference. And in other respects as well, our circumstances were as different as they possibly could be. All this seemed crystal clear. Until the moment when I knew it would come; then I forgot that we had nothing in common.

When Malte no longer hears him moving next door, he writes:

He has gone home, somewhere in the country. He needed to recuperate.

How true that is in med school! If only plane tickets were cheaper I'd be at home every week.

In another section Malte is describing the pressures upon this medical student, comparable in our case to a fresh graduate about to take the medical boards.

My fear may have arisen from the very facts I had learned about him; after I knew them, I was even more easily scared.

He had already had to let the exams go by a few times; his ambition had become sensitive, and probably his people at home were pressuring him every time they wrote. So what could he do except pull himself together for one final attempt? But a few months before the decisive date, this weakness had appeared; this small, impossible fatigue, which seemed so ridiculous, as when a venetian blind refuses to stay up. I'm sure that for weeks he felt he should be strong enough to master it. Otherwise I would never have hit upon the idea of offering him my will. Because one day I realized that he had come to the end of his.

The author alludes to the possibility that this medical student may have killed himself—WHICH YOU SHOULDN'T EVEN BE THINKING ABOUT!

I warned you the book is depressing, didn't I?

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