Before business time, let’s just address the big ol’ elephant in the room. We haven’t posted in a while. You’re probably upset about it. I would be too if I was you seeing as we’re fucking hilarious and you probably miss laughing. But listen, MRG was cramming for the GREs and I was working like 40 hours last week and watching Battlestar Galactica. I’m a busy bitch, ok? But it’s my turn to deliver some historical scandal unto you and so I shall.
Rainer Maria Rilke is my favorite poet. Of all time. Granted, I could probably only name you like 6 poets. Maybe 4. Not many. You get the gist — I’m kind of a literary nincompoop. But I love me some Rilke. At my high school, about a quarter of senior AP English was dedicated to reading Rilke’s schmoetry and instead of hating his guts like most of my classmates, I embarked on my first and probably only literary love affair to date. It turned out to be pretty useful since I’ve encountered him at least twice in different classes in college. Plus it turns out that in addition to writing some pretty bangin’ lyrical prose, he did another kind of bangin’ that for sure makes him the stuff of for shame!
Rainer (nee Renee) was born in 1875 in Prague to a cra-cra mommy and a military nut job papa. The Rilkes had lost a baby girl before they had their son and as a result, Mrs. Rilke thought it would be a great idea to dress her son in girls’ clothes for most of his childhood. His father thought he would counteract this gender-bending by sending his son to a hard-core military school. But the kid’s an artist, ya know? He’s not into that shit. And at this point, he’s pretty fucking confused. Heck, I would be too if I spent my childhood thinking I was a dude and then started entering beauty pageants. So it’s a good thing that when he was 22 he met the married psychoanalyst Lou Andreas-Salome so she could straighten that shit out.
Lou was an alternative motherfucker who was known for her brains and her willingness to bone pretty much anyone as long as it wasn’t her husband. After she had her fill (EW) of Nietzsche and Freud and a slew of other big wig German philosophizers and intellectuals and artists, Rilke managed to dip his D in the Lou Pool. Their affair last about three years, until 1900. During that time, they went on a bunch of trips together — including a little hop and a skip over to Moscow to meet Leo Tolstoy where her husband joined in the fun. Who has a keyboard in front of them and thinks that must have been awkward? This guy! (Me. I’m talking about myself because I think it’s awkward and I’m typing on a keyboard.)
Later in 1900 he went to live at an “artists’ colony” in the north of Germany which I choose to imagine as a sex den with, like, paintings on the walls or something. At the colony/sex den, he met the sculptor Clara Westhoff and they hit it off right away. A few months later they were married and Clara had them a little baby named Ruth 9 months later.
Throughout their marriage, Rilke remained real tight with Lou…which probably wasn’t the biggest deal ever to Clara because she was training with Rodin and a bunch of other famous male sculptors and I just wouldn’t be surprised if she extramaritally touched parts with one of them at one point or another. Just saying.
Rilke was also BFFs with an abstract expressionist painter named Paula Becker who died tragically of an embolism days after giving birth to her first child. She and Rilke were very close “artistically” and it fucking destroyed him when she died. BUT we managed to get some of his greatest poetry EVERRR out of her death, so I’m not too broken up about it.
During the war years, he had an affair with a different Lou, Lou Albert-Lasard, a German Jewish painter lady. She and Rilke lived together in Vienna from 1914-1916 while she was still married. AWKWARD. But they ran with a really sick crowd while there. Regular invites to their love den include Paul Klee and Stefan Zweig.
Rilke and Clara wanted to get a divorce probably around this time, but WOOPSIES, Rilke was an official Catholic and there’s no getting out of that marriage shit when you’ve got the pope riding your ass, youknowwhatimsaying?! So they remained married until Rilke’s death of leukemia in 1926. Meanwhile, they both probably did a lot of illicit and uncatholic things with a lot of different people. Artists!
I’ll geek out for just a hot second now before signing off. My favorite poem of Rilke’s is called “Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes.”, it isn’t one of the famous Sonnets to Orpheus, but it’s still kind of amazing. The poem tells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice but puts an emphasis on the experience and perspective of Eurydice, the woman. It is quite wonderful. My other favorite thing that he did, which I read in high school, is the Letters to a Young Poet. It is a compilation of the ten letter correspondence he kept with Franz Kappus, a 19 year old military school student who wanted to be a poet and wrote to him asking advice. I’m trying not to sound like a little bitch here, but Letters to a Young Poet is one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever experienced. I know you’re probably not going to run out and get a copy, even though I’ve provided you with such a convenient link, so here’s a little excerpt. Indulge me and read it, assholes:
For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. That is why young people, who are beginners in everything, are not yet capable of love: it is something they must learn.
Uhhh, and also fuck bitches and shit.
You know who had the world’s most awkward funeral? Architect Louis Kahn is who. You know why? Because that’s where his wife, his two mistresses, and his three children met for the first time. WOOPSIES! Ok, probably they didn’t meet. They probably just avoided eye contact. But the point is, they were all there.
But before we get to the good stuff, I have to make a little disclaimer about this post: Lou Kahn is my favorite architect. Granted, I could probably only name you, like, 4 architects. But the point is, I have a really big boner for the architecture of Estonian-American modernist and notorious baby-daddy, Louis Kahn. And you’ll see why. Because we’re going to take a mini tour around the world to catch Kahn’s greatest hits — and I don’t just mean his bitches. Just shut up and indulge me, will you?
Now that I got that out of my system, (I totally didn’t, I want more. THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID) we’ll get to the juicy stuff. I’m not promising flying BUTTresses or anything (get it? it’s an anal architecture joke), but Kahn’s life was pretty salacious. And also errs a little on the side of tragic, so break out your Kleenex/KY cuz shit’s getting real sad/sexy ifyouknowhatimsayin.
We’re going to sort of breeze through Kahn’s early life (when he immigrated with his family from Estonia in 1906, moved to Philadelphia, worked as a piano player for silent films, drew pictures on the streets for extra cash, and burned his face with an apron full of hot coals when he was 3 that left scars on his face forever) and skip to the part in 1930 when he finally finds a nice Jewish girl to settle down with, Esther Israeli. In 1940, they have a little girl named Sue Ann.
TANGENT: Did I mention that Louis Kahn is For Shame!’s first latke-loving perp? Well, let’s just take a quick moment to call attention to the fact that this big-nosed builder is the first member of the tribe to grace the pages of our little blog. That’s right, in honor of Passover (why not?), we’re bringing you a special story of circumcised scandal! BUT I DIGRESS.
Moving on. After a rough stint in the 30s and early 40s of not getting any work except commissions from a few fellow yids in Philly, Lou gets an offer to teach architecture at Yale. And he’s like, “duh” and takes it. A couple of years later, he gets an offer from UPenn and lectures there until his death in 1974. He didn’t design too many buildings for being one of America’s most cherished modernist architects. But that was kind of what was so awesome about him; he designed, like, 6 famous buildings or something and all of them are considered masterpieces. The point is that throughout his life he was mostly known and admired in the field of architecture education.
We all know you can’t be great at everything, but you know what field he especially sucked at? Being a husband.
Here’s why. Aside from not being so great with money (uncharacteristic of our people, I know) and being in debt just about all the time, he also had a couple of passionate love affairs that sort of maybe resulted in him raising 3 separate families instead of the typical 1. (The whole 3 families thing might have had something to do with the debt, if you ask me.)
In 1954, he had a daughter named Alexandra with Anne Tyng, a young architect who worked at his firm in Philadelphia. And in 1962, he had a son named Nathaniel with a collaborator landscape-architect, Harriet Pattison. Nathaniel grew up to be a really good roller-blader and filmmaker, who made a documentary about his father called My Architect.
I suppose the whole having three families thing never really erupted into a huge scandal, so maybe it isn’t entirely the stuff of For Shame! But mostly it wasn’t scandalous because Esther was very tight lipped about the whole thing, even after Lou’s death, and never made a big fuss about it. The three women knew about each other the whole time, though, and lived within a few mile radius of one another. Which must have made the midnight drives back to wifey’s house pretty convenient for girlfriends #1 and #2. What’s weird is they all probably shopped at the same grocery store. The kids probably chased the same ice cream truck. If the women had been friends, though, it would have been just like Jewish Sister Wives. But they never spoke. And Kahn’s obituary understandably only stated his wife and first daughter as his survivors.
Kahn died of a heart attack at the age of 73 (when his youngest child was 11…so he was 62 when Nathaniel was born. gross.) in the public bathrooms at Penn Station in New York City. He had just returned from a trip to Bangladesh where he was finishing up the National Assembly rooms and was at Penn to take the train back to Philly. It took police 3 days to identify his body because he had crossed out the address in his passport. Mysterioso? I think so.
In his documentary, Nathaniel Kahn talks about seeing his half sisters for the first time at the funeral. How’s that for a family reunion! OY VEY, that would have been uncomfortable! I would not have wanted to be the officiating rabbi at that funeral.
So even though it doesn’t seem like a BFS (Big Fucking Scandal) because Esther was a nice Jewish girl who kept her mouth shut, you better believe that having three goddam families (2 of them secret) in the 50s and 60s WAS a BFD (Big Fucking Deal). This architectural mensch was a bold motherfucker, getting what was his one baby-mamma at a time. Oh yeah, and like, defining American civic modernist architecture while he was at it. Not saying he was a great guy, he clearly was not the best husband (or boyfriend, for that matter), but he and his buildings have inspired countless architects (and probably adulterers) and remain some of the crowning achievements, masterpieces even, of American modernism.
I have to stop typing now because my boner for this man’s architecture is getting in the way of the keyboard.