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This article is taken from PN Review 222, Volume 41 Number 4, March - April 2015.

Catchwords 26 Iain Bamforth
Exploded Sutures

Rilke thought of the skull as ‘this special housing, closed against all worldly space’ (‘dieses besondere, gegen einen durchaus weltischen Raum abgeschlossene Gehäus’). He was fascinated by the cranial sutures too, and even proposed running a gramophone needle along them: coronal, lambdoid, squamosal. The sutures – technically synarthroses – are firmly wedded seams that permit a tiny amount of movement, with the sagittal only closing completely by age 35, an important milestone for a pathologist.

The origami ontology of inside was certainly Rilke’s thing, and he explored inwardness in ways that convinced readers he was what he said he was: a great poet. The outside world in Rilke has been so thoroughly internalised it feels as if the fantastically elaborated decorations in his special intracranial housing unit are inadequate compensation for the loss of an embodied life: his poetic self lives in a world from which harshness has gone, with no checks or obstacles, and the poet himself is implicated in sealing the sutures.

In the Great War, which he observed from a distance as if it were a mythic event, unnumbered skulls of living men were being blown apart at the sutures, by bullets and shells. This kind of diastatic fracture usually occurs at the lambdoidal suture at the back of the skull, which finally fuses by age 60. Georg Büchner had anticipated that violence, eighty years earlier, when Danton suggests, in the opening scene of his tragedy, that if humans really wanted to know each other, the crudity ...

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