TESTI BIOGRAFICI IN INGLESE
THESE TEXTS ARE IN ENGLISH
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
"The Child of Anger"
"The Infernal Husband"
"The Man with Foot Soles of Wind"
"The man was tall, well-built, almost athletic, with a perfectly oval face of an angel in exile, with untidy light brown hair and eyes of a disturbing pale blue"
- Paul Verlaine: The Accursed Poets
~ ~ ~
"This Considerable Passer-By"
"Glare, him, of a meteor, lit without any other motive than his presence, born alone and dying out".
"... the one, who rejects dreams, by his fault or theirs, and operates on himself, alive, for poetry, later can find only far, very far, a new state. Oblivion includes the space of the desert or the sea."
- Stéphane Mallarmé: letter to M. Harrison, Rhodes. "Arthur Rimbaud",
The Chap Book Review, May 15, 1895 and Divagations, 1897
~ ~ ~
From Poet to Adventurer:
Jean Nicolas Arthur RIMBAUD was born in Charleville, in the Ardennes, on October 20, 1854. His father, Captain of Infantry Frédéric Rimbaud and his mother Vitalie Cuif, who came from a farming family of Ardennes, married in 1853. Arthur had an elder brother, Frédéric and two sisters, Vitalie and Isabelle, respectively born in 1858 and in 1860.
MORTAL, angel AND demon, as to say Rimbaud,
You deserve the first place in this book of mine,
Despite of such smart scribbler called you a beardless ribaud*,
And a budding monster, and a drunken schoolboy.
The first place yet in the temple of Memory
All the spirals of incense, all the chords of lute!
And your radiant name will sing in the glory,
Because you loved me as it had to be.
The women will see you, tall young man very strong,
Very handsome of a rustic and wily beauty,
With an indolently daring attitude;
History sculptured you triumphing over death
Omnipotent Poet and victorious of life,
Your white feet put on Envy's heads.
- As published for the first time in the review
"Le Chat Noir" (The Black Cat) on August 24, 1899.
~ *A ribaud is a debauched person.
…AND ANOTHER BIO TOO…:
(a bit more succint, if you’re in a hurry)
Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891)
French poet and adventurer, who stopped writing verse at the age of 21,
and became after his early death an inextricable myth in French gay life.
Rimbaud's poetry, partially written in free verse, is characterized by
dramatic and imaginative vision. "I say that one must be a visionary -
that one must make oneself a VISIONARY." His works are among the most
original in the Symbolist movement, which included in France such poets
as Stéphane Mallarme and Paul Paul Verlaine, and playwrights as Maurice Maeterlinck.
Rimbaud's best-known work, LE BÂTEAU IVRE (The Drunken Boat), appeared in 1871.
In the poem he sent a toy boat on a journey, an allegory for a spiritual quest.
It is the sea
Gone with the sun.
(from 'L'Éternite', 1872)
Arthur Rimbaud was born in Charleville, in the northern Ardennes region of France, as the son of Fréderic Rimbaud, a career soldier, who had served in Algria, and Marie-Catherine-Vitale Cuif, an unsentimental matriarch. Rimbaud's father left the family and from the age of six young Arthur was raised by her strictly religious mother. Rimbaud was educated in a provincial school until the age of fifteen. He was an outstanding student but his behavior was considered provocative. After publishing his first poem in 1870 at the age of 16, Rimbaud wandered through northern France and Belgium, and was returned to his home in Paris by police.
Dans la feuillée, écrin vert taché d'or,
Dans la feuillée incertaine et fleurie
De splendides fleurs où le baiser dort,
Vif et crevant l'exquise broderie,
Un faune égaré montre ses deux yeux
Et mord les fleurs rouges de ses dents blanches.
Brunie et sanglante ainsi qu'un vin vieux,
Sa lévre éclate en rires sous les branches.
Et quand il a fui - tel qu'un écureuil, -
Son rire tremble encore à chaque feuille,
Et l'on voit épeuré par un bouvreuil
Le Baiser d'or du Bois, qui se recueille.
• UNE SAISON EN ENFER, 1873 - A Season in Hell
• ILLUMINATIONS, 1886 - (ed. by Paul Verlaine)
• LE RELIQUAIRE, 1891
• POÈMES, 1891
• POÉSIES COMPLÈTES, 1895 (publ. by Verlaine)
• LETTRES, 1899
• LES MAINS DE JEANNE-MARIE, 1919
• ŒUVRES COMPLÈTES, 1921
• UN CŒUR SOUS UNE SOUTANE, 1924
• LETTRES (1870-1875), 1931
• ŒUVRES, 1931
• POÉSIES, 1939
• ŒUVRES COMPLÈTES, 1946
• CORRESPONDANCE 1888-91, 1970
• Arthur Rimbaud: Complete Works, 1976
• Rimbaud Complete Works: Selected Letters, 1987
• Rimbaud: Poems, 1994
…AND SOME MORE:
(because I like it!)
THE STRANGE FATE OF ARTHUR RIMBAUD, BOY POET
by Pierre Ferrand
Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) is undoubtedly one of the most puzzling figures among the world’s famous poets. As a result, he has been the subject of endless controversy, and he is forever quoted and interpreted out of context.
~ Here's a fair translation of Rimbaud's...
As I was descending cold-faced rivers,
I realized I had lost my guides:
Yelping Redskins are taking them for targets,
They've nailed them naked to painted poles.
I didn't give a fuck about the crew or cargo
Of Flemish wheat and English cotton.
When the screams of my haulers had finally ended,
The rivers let me go where I wanted.
In furious tongues of surf last winter
I, being deffer than a child's brain,
Ran! And the peninsula took off
Unused to such triumphant noise.
The storm has blessed my awakening.
More light than a cork I dance on the waves
That are called the eternal rollers of victims,
Ten nights, without missing the inane look of the lanterns.
More sweet than the flesh of sour apples to boys
The green water entered my hull of fir
And washed the vomit and blue wine
Off me, scattering rudder and grappling hook.
And from then on I bathed in the Poem
Of the Sea, star-soaked, milk radiant, gulping
Down the green sky-blue; where the pallid debris
Is stirred by the drowned man's passing thoughts.
Where all of a sudden the blueness is dyed: madness
And slow rhythms under the gleam of day,
Stronger than alcohol, more vast than our song,
The bitter red dots of love ferment!
I know the skies bursting with lightning, and the waterspout
And the undertow and the currents: I've been the evening,
The Dawn, as elated as the nation of doves,
And at times I've seen what man believes he's seen!
I've seen the setting sun, stained with mystical horror,
Light up the long purple jellies
Like actors of ancient dramas
The waves roll away their quivering shutters!
I've dreamed the green night of dazzling snows,
A kiss wells up slowly to the eyes of the sea,
The circulation of previously unimaginable saps,
And the yellow and blue dawn of crooning phosphor!
I have followed for many ripe months the cowish
Hysterical pounding of swells on the reefs,
Without supposing that the glowing feet of the Marys
Could kick in the face of the wheezing seas!
I have hit upon, understand, unbelievable Floridas
Mingling with flowers the eyes of panthers-in-
Man-skin! The rainbows tight as reins
Beneath the oceans to some glaucous flocks!
I have seen the enormous swamp ferment, fish-net
Where in the rushes rots a prehistoric whale!
Water collapse cascading in the midst of calm,
And distances that lead to a torrential emptiness!
Glaciers, silver suns, nacreaous waves, glowing embers of sky!
Hideous wreckage on the floor of brown gulfs
Where the giant snakes devoured by bugs
Sink, like torn trees, in black perfumes!
I would have loved to show the children these gilt-heads
From the ocean blue, these fish of gold, these fish that lyricize.
--Flower foam rocks my formless drift
And ineffable breezes make wings of me at times.
Sometimes, a martyr weary of zones and poles,
The sob of the seas gentled my rocking,
Lifting its flowers of shadow on yellow suction pads
And I stayed there, like a kneeling woman...
Nearly an island, tossing around my banks the quarrels
And dung of blond-eyed birds.
And I sailed along, as across my frail lines
Drowned men sank to sleep backwards!
Thus I, boat lost beneath the hair of coves,
Thrown by the storm into birdless ether,
I, the ruin drunk with water, would not
Have been rescued by the Monitors of Hanseatic caravelles;
Free, smoking, lifted by the purple mist,
I who pierced the smoldering sky like a wall
Which offers good poets that exquisite jam
The lichen of the sun and infinite-blue mucous;
Who ran, stained by electric half-moons,
Loony board, escorted by black sea-horses,
When the Julys were thrashing and smashing
The sea-blue skies of burning funnels;
I who was shaking, feeling fifty miles away the moan
Of the rutting Hippos and the thick Maelstroms,
I the eternal plyer of the blue immobilities,
I miss the Europe of ancient parapets!
I've seen sidereal archipelegos! and islands
The delerious skies of which are open to the wanderer
--Is it in these ancient nights that you sleep and exile yourself,
Millions of golden birds, oh future Strength?--
But really, I cry too much! The Dawns are beyond hope.
Any moon is atrocious and any sun bitter:
The acrid love inflated me with its heady torpors.
Oh that my keel explode! Oh that I'm all the sea!
If I desire the waters of Europe, it's the puddle
Black and cold, where towards fragrant twilight
A squatting child full of sadnesses, releases
A boat as frail as a butterfly.
I can't anymore, bathed in your languors, oh waves,
Erase the traces of your cotton carriers,
Nor traverse the arrogance of flags and flames,
Nor swim beneath the horrible eyes of slave ships.
The Crux of Rimbaud's Poetics
by Eric Mader-Lin
Arthur Rimbaud--the meaning of Arthur Rimbaud's work--has periodically haunted me since I first read him in English translation at age 16. It was around a year after my first reading of Rimbaud that the following lines appeared in my high school's literary magazine over the name Delahaye:
Car Je est un autre. Si le cuivre s'eveille clairon, il n'y a rien de sa faute. Cela m'est evident: j'assise a l'eclosion de ma pensee: je la regarde, je l'ecoute: je lance un coup d'archet: la symphonie fait son remuement dans les profondeurs, ou vient d'un bond sur la scene.
Here again, cited for the thousandth time, is that locus classicus of modern poetry, the lettre du voyant. We have encountered it so many times we finally become indifferent to the meaning of its formulae. The first thing we always remark upon reading over these lines is that the process of Rimbaud's poetics is quite explicit. One could "easily" become a disciple of Rimbaud by taking up this project step by step. The very explicitness of his formulae has perhaps rendered his poetics somewhat opaque. For what is not explicit are the implications of this project. And we have become so used to reading mere restatements of this project that we neglect to think through what these implications might be. What is the philosophy it implies? I would say even: What is the theology implied in Rimbaud's theory of the voyant? What would the universe need to be for Rimbaud's project to bring forth the results he so fervently hopes it will? It is only through questions such as these that we may approach the young poet's thought.
2) This is a potential in language that needs to be tapped.
3) The voyant is the only one capable of tapping this potential.
4) To tap this potential in language is to approach creating the "universal language."
5) The universal language is capable of transforming the world.
6) The universal language is already somehow latent in language as potential.
7) The voyant, as expeditor of the universal language, is a divine being.
Here, in a few positive statements, is Rimbaud's philosophy of language. It is not, as it stands, a necessarily magical philosophy of language, though it does owe much to 19th century occultism. As regards this latter, however, I do not think that Rimbaud believed in a lost Adamic language as the Kabbalists do. His idea of the power in language was not founded on the supposition of something precious that had been lost, but rather on the supposition of things that were there to be found or created. These things to be found or created would give the voyant the power to transform the world. Rimbaud’s notion of the approach to these things was a religious one, and it formulated itself in a kind of praxis: "one must make oneself a voyant." Rimbaud's philosophy of language was not fundamentally magical, but was rather what I would call dispensational.
Cette langue sera de l'ame pour l'ame, resumant tout, parfums, sons, couleurs, de la pensee accrochant la pensee et tirant.... Enormite devenant norme, absorbee par tous, [le poete] sera vraiment un multiplicateur de progres!
Here it is not a question of the power of language to transform things immediately, but rather a question of the power of language to transform men's relations to things. In line with both Western religious tradition and the progressive thought of his century, Rimbaud knew that a transformation of the world meant first of all a transformation of men. Parting ways with his century, however, he understood that the keys to the transformation of man were hidden away somewhere in the Divine.
2. I have modified the translation by Wallace Fowlie. Below I will use his translation, unmodified, of Le Bateau ivre.
3. The assumption of the possibility of a universal language in Rimbaud's sense does not necessarily presume an understanding of words as symbols somehow positively holding their meaning. I do not think Rimbaud believed there are hidden syllables which, once uttered, would somehow magically transform reality. This is to say that the possibility of a language capable of overturning the world is not annulled by post-Saussurean linguistics. One need only consider, by analogy, how much of the world Marxism overturned in order to verify the fact of language's potential.
4. Though perhaps he came close. How shall we know?
5. Cf. "The Sleep of Rimbaud" in Maurice Blanchot: The Work of Fire, tr. Charlotte Mandell, Stanford University Press: 1995.
THE WORKS OF ARTHUR RIMBAUD FROM FRENCH TO ENGLISH
by Michael C. Walker
Few writers depend so heavily on the intricacies of a given language as the poet, for whom each word is often essential. Every major language can provide examples of fine poetry, rich in the demeanor and presence of language, filled with the richness that makes a language unique and interesting. Some would argue that without the variance found in dissimilar languages poetry would fail us as a comprehensive art; could we have the peculiar grammar of Emily Dickinson beside the lyricism of Baudelaire if both poets were constrained to the same language? However, such richness provides difficulty for those who are called upon to translate poetry from one language to another, a common task in the case of well-known poets and a growing area of interest for the works of lesser-known contemporary poets. This article examines issues germane to the translation of poetry using the works of the nineteenth century French poet Arthur Rimbaud as its example.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
PAUL VERLAINE AND ARTHUR RIMBAUD, DAMNED GAYS
Ô vive lui, chaque fois
Que chante son coq gaulois.
are often rendered as though the French Cock is just any other gallic rooster…. The coq gaulois or “French Cock” — or so my poor French leads me to understand — is actually a splendid breed of fowl, long an icon of France but more than that, in this case symbolises Verlaine in both his sexual and literary personas. To translate otherwise is to destroy the whole figure of speech, the compacted symbolism for which the youthful Rimbaud became famous. A literal and sanitized translation loses the joy which is so evident in this poem, the joy — in my understanding — of a young man who has discovered that he, like other men, can love and perhaps more specifically, that he can “do sex”. The “saisons” of the title for me are more like Shakespeare’s “ages of man” and the châteauxare castles in the air, the daydreams, young men have about being a man (and which in French are châteaux en Espagne, castles in Spain).
Presented by Bob Hay
PAUL VERLAINE AND ARTHUR RIMBAUD, PÉDÉS MAUDITS
Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit
Si bleu, si calm!
“Le ciel est par-dessus le toit….” is a prison poem and the patch of blue is the only bit of the “outside” which the poet, Paul Verlaine could see from his cell window. In the past half-century, this “patch of blue” has become a symbol for me too, but not so much of freedom from physical confinement, but more from the psychological constraints we place upon ourselves in our daily lives. Over the years I also have used this “patch of blue” in my own writing, a couple of times when talking about “coming out” in the Gay Liberation context and most recently, not long after my mother died, in another essay where I examined the strange double-edged sword the death of a loved-one can sometimes be. I don’t remember what was said in that distant class, but knowing what I know now, I doubt if the poet, Paul Verlaine, ever felt truly free.
LE COEUR VOLÉ
Mon triste coeur bave à la poupe,
Mon coeur couvert de caporal :
Ils y lancent des jets de soupe
Mon triste coeur bave à la poupe :
Sous les quolibets de la troupe
Qui pousse un rire général,
Mon triste coeur bave à la poupe,
Mon coeur couvert de caporal.
It is at this period while back home in Charleville, Rimbaud seems to have undergone some kind of poetic rebirth and, like Mallarmé before him, revised his whole philosophy of poetry and what it meant to be a poet.
rational deregulation of all the senses. All forms of love, of
suffering, of madness: he searches himself, he exhausts all poisons
in himself, in order to preserve only their quintessence…..”
There can be little doubt the experiences of the past few weeks, the hardship and chaos of the Commune and the trauma of the rape, had ‘deregulated the senses’ and brought about this change in Rimbaud’s thoughts and feelings about poetry.
“The man was tall, well-built, almost athletic, with the perfectly
oval face of an angel in exile, with untidy light brown hair and eyes
of a disturbing pale blue"
Despite his publications, these were bad years for Verlaine who was sinking more and more into debauchery and illness. His mother attempted to rescue him by taking him to the country to live but he scandalised the neighbourhood with his constant drunkenness, his seductions of local farm boys, and finally, by his violence to his mother. For this last, he was once again sent to prison.
Les sanglots longs
Blessent mon coeur
Et blême, quand
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure;
Et je m'en vais
Au vent mauvais
Pareil à la
In another poem, “Art Poétique” which he wrote in 1874 but which was not published until the collection “Jadis et Naguère” appeared in 1884, Verlaine set out his musical view of poetry:
De la musique avant toute chose,
Et pour cela préfère l’Impair,
Plus vague et plus soluble dans l’air,
Sans rien en lui qui pèse ou qui pose……
However, of the two men, it was the teen-age Rimbaud — now virtually canonised in Charleville, the town he kept running away from — who laid the foundations for much of modern literature and contributed most to our modern view of the world. Among others, Rimbaud strongly influenced Joseph Conrad, Jean Cocteau, Hart Crane, Bob Dylan, Jean Genet, André Gide, Allen Ginsberg, William Faulkner, Henry James, James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, Federico García Lorca, H.P. Lovecraft, Marcel Proust, Patti Smith, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, the Surrealists and much of today's alternative music scene. One such was Jim Morrison (1943 – 1971) and his group, The Doors. Poet as well as musician, Morrison once wrote:
LE CHANT DES VOYELLES
A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu : voyelles,
Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes :
A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes
Qui bombinent autour des puanteurs cruelles,
Golfes d'ombre ; E, candeurs des vapeurs et des tentes,
Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d'ombelles ;
I, pourpres, sang craché, rire des lèvres belles
Dans la colère ou les ivresses pénitentes ;
U, cycles, vibrement divins des mers virides,
Paix des pâtis semés d'animaux, paix des rides
Que l'alchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux ;
O, suprême Clairon plein des strideurs étranges,
Silences traversés des Mondes et des Anges :
- O l'Oméga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux !
(Poésies 1870 - 1871)
I'll tell One day, you vowels, how you come to be and whence.
A, black, the glittering of flies that form a dense,
Velvety corset round some foul and cruel smell,
Gulf of dark shadow; E, the glaiers' insolence,
Steams, tents, white kings, the quiver of a flowery bell;
I, crimson, blood expectorated, laughs that well
From lovely lips in wrath or drunken pentinence;
U, cycles, the divine vibrations of the seas,
Peace of herd-dotted pastures or the wrinkled ease
That alchemy imprints upon the scholar's brow;
O, the last trumpet, loud with strangely strident brass,
The silences through which the Worlds and Angels pass:
-- O stands for Omega, His Eyes' deep violet glow!
(Translation by N. Cameron, 1947)
Now this of course is a sonnet, but note the rhyme scheme in the French: in the quatrains, abba baab and in the tercets, cc deed. And note too the neologism, “bombinent”, presumably from the nonexistent verb “bombiner, to buzz or drone” which Rimbaud invented from the Latin bombus, drone. These features aside, however, this poem is regarded by many as the most modern of all Rimbaud’s texts, especially because it places the associations of words ahead of the meaning of words. It is also an extraordinarily clever construction: notice how he arranges the poem according to the properties of light, first from the darkness of Black to the light of White, then groups the colours in order of the spectrum. This poem is extraordinary too in the way it shows how the poet can play with words yet, like John Donne, leap with them into Eternity. Although brief, the relationship between Verlaine and Rimbaud has continued to preoccupy the curiosity of the public and scholars alike. Two frequently asked questions are “To what extent were they ‘homosexual’ in our sense of the word?” and “How did their sexualities affect their art?” These questions are not motivated by some prurient interest in the sex lives of the two young poets but arise in the attempt to understand how the identity of artists, particularly those who are members of minority groups, affect their art. Similar questions are asked about many feminist and black writers.
VERS POUR ETRE CALOMNIE
Ce soir je m'étais penché sur ton sommeil.
Tout ton corps dormait chaste sur l'humble lit,
Et j'ai vu, comme un qui s'applique et qui lit,
Ah ! j'ai vu que tout est vain sous le soleil !
Qu'on vive, ô quelle délicate merveille,
Tant notre appareil est une fleur qui plie !
O pensée aboutissant à la folie !
Va, pauvre, dors ! moi, l'effroi pour toi m'éveille.
Ah ! misère de t'aimer, mon frêle amour
Qui vas respirant comme on respire un jour !
O regard fermé que la mort fera tel !
O bouche qui ris en songe sur ma bouche,
En attendant l'autre rire plus farouche !
Vite, éveille-toi. Dis, l'âme est immortelle ?
One of my favourite poems, and the one which is most often quoted as expressing Verlaine’s love for Rimbaud is a poem he wrote in prison and which he dedicated to his distant lover. It refers to Rimbaud’s earlier poem which opens thus:
Il pleut doucement sur la ville.
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénètre mon coeur?
The third poem of the section of “Romances sans paroles” entitled “ariettes oubliées” (an ariette is a musical movement, a melody), Verlaine made obvious connection to his former lover’s poem, equating the rain with his own tears…..
IL PLEURE DANS MON CŒUR
Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville,
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénètre mon coeur?
0 bruit doux de la pluie
Par terre et sur les toits !
Pour un coeur qui s'ennuie
0 le chant de la pluie !
Il pleure sans raison
Dans ce coeur qui écoeure.
Quoi ! nulle trahison ? ...
Ce deuil est sans raison.
C'est bien la pire peine
De ne savoir pourquoi
Sans amour et sans haine
Mon coeur a tant de peine!
(Romances sans paroles 1874)
However, to use Carolyn A. Durham’s words, not all of Verlaine’s poems are so evocative of “melodic and bittersweet etats d'ame”. In 1891, Verlaine completed 15 poems celebrating male-male sexuality. This work, Hombres, was not published in his lifetime and indeed, was not included in the Pleiade edition of the poet's complete works until 1989. These are often very explicit, even more accurately descriptive of malemale sex than the famous poem “A day for a lay” by WH Auden which was circulated anonymously when I was still a student but which you can now buy in books, fully attributed, from Amazon.com. While many have rushed to call Hombres plain pornography, in my own view (and I have not yet read them all), they have been damned more because they brilliantly celebrate taboo experiences than for any lack of artistic merit.
Ô SAISONS, Ô CHATEAUX
Ô saisons ô châteaux,
Quelle âme est sans défauts ?
Ô saisons, ô châteaux,
J'ai fait la magique étude
Du Bonheur, que nul n'élude.
Ô vive lui, chaque fois
Que chante son coq gaulois.
Mais ! je n'aurai plus d'envie,
Il s'est chargé de ma vie.
Ce Charme ! il prit âme et corps.
Et dispersa tous efforts.
Que comprendre à ma parole ?
Il fait qu'elle fuie et vole !
Ô saisons, ô châteaux !
Et, si le malheur m'entraîne,
Sa disgrâce m'est certaine.
Il faut que son dédain, las !
Me livre au plus prompt trépas !
- Ô Saisons, ô Châteaux !
"Une saison en enfer" 1872/3
republished in "Les lluminations", 1886.
However, I don’t think such censorship is always the fault of squeamish editors: sometimes too, it looks to me as though Verlaine and Rimbaud deliberately left things a little indefinite. Many homosexual poets and song-writers have written in code or in some way hidden their real meaning from all but the cognoscenti. A good example, more or less of our own time, is the American song-writer Jerome Kearne who wrote a song “Can’t help lovin’ that man of mine”. This was a big hit in its day and was sung on stage by a woman but everyone who was anybody knew “that man of mine” was Jerome’s own partner.
LE CIEL EST PAR DESSUS....*
Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit,
Si bleu, si calme!
Un arbre, par-dessus le toit,
Berce sa palme.
La cloche, dans le ciel qu'on voit,
Un oiseau sur l'arbre qu'on voit,
Chante sa plainte.
Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, la vie est là,
Simple et tranquille.
Cette paisible rumeur-là
Vient de la ville.
-Qu'as-tu fait, ô toi que voilà
Pleurant sans cesse,
Dis, qu'as-tu fait, toi que voilà,
De ta jeunesse?
* This poem was set to music by many composers including Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) , "Sagesse", from Quatre chansons françaises, no. 2.; Frederick Delius (1862-1934) , "Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit" , 1895, from Songs to poems by Paul Verlaine, no. 2.; Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) , "Prison" , op. 83 no. 1 (1894), published 1896.; Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947) , "D'une prison"
ARTICLES ON RIMBAUD
UNDER HER WINGS: GREEN FAIRY’S POETIC REVOLT
“The Green Fairy” is the English translation of La Fee Verte, the affectionate French nickname given to the celebrated absinthe drink in the nineteenth century. The nickname stuck, and over a century later, "absinthe" and "Green Fairy" continue to be used interchangeably by devotees of the potent green alcohol. Mind you, absinthe earned other nicknames, too: poets and artists were inspired by the "Green Muse"; Aleister Crowley, the British occultist, worshipped the "Green Goddess". But no other nickname stuck as well as the original, and many drinkers of absinthe refer to the green liquor simply as La Fee - the Fairy [check Rimbaud’s poem by the same title].
Absinthe and the poet go together like a horse and carriage. The metaphorical Green Fairy first earned her fitting reputation as the artist's muse in the second part of the nineteenth century, when she became the drink of choice among the avante-garde habitues of the Latin Quarter, the artistic district of Paris. It was here, in the absinthe-soaked atmosphere of cafes such as La Nouvelle-Athenes and L'Academie where the Symbolist movement was born. It was under the Fairy's wings where the old was being rejected and the new embraced. It was the Fairy who was the witness to, or perhaps the inspirer of, a profound artistic rebellion.
ARTHUR RIMBAUD: GREEN FAIRY'S WILD CHILD
Rimbaud hated being photographed; he attacked Carjat, the photographer, with a cane shortly after this picture was taken (1871).
Et voilà! Here's Arthur Rimbaud, the first "punk poet", the iconic rebel, and perhaps the most celebrated of all absinthe drinkers.
THE REBEL ARRIVES...
The appearance of young Rimbaud -- he was only 17 at the time -- in Parisian literary circles was met with a bizarre mix of admiration, jealousy, shock and nervous consternation:
"We are witnessing the birth of a genius," declared Leon Valade after attending a dinner of the Vilains Bonshommes, a group of poets to whom Rimbaud was "exhibited" in October 1871. "... a terrifying poet," Valade recalled, "a truly childlike face which might suit a thirteen year old, deep blue eyes, wild rather than timid -- this is the lad whose imagination, with its amazing powers and depravity, has been fascinating or frightening all our friends."
...AND HE SHOCKS FROM DAY ONE
At that very first dinner, Rimbaud gave the astonished poets a taste of his defiant, self-confident nature when he boldly dismissed the alexandrine, the classical meter that had dominated French poetry for over three centuries. "You can imagine how surprised we were by this rebellious outburst," noted Valade. Little did he know what was yet to come.
Soon, Rimbaud developed a reputation as the "savage" of the Latin Quarter, a child rebel who made the avant-garde look prudish. A notorious rule-breaker with a feral disregard, even disgust, for the niceties of Parisian decorum, he outraged decent society and fellow poets alike.
He announced that Paris was "the least intellectual place on Earth", and proposed that the Communards should have blown up Louvre, a symbol of bourgeois tastes. His conversation was sporadic and obscene, his manners non-existent. At poetry readings, he shouted "merde!" and other profanities whenever he disapproved of his fellow poets' works.
Rimbaud's own poetry was, without a doubt, the work of a genius mind ahead of its time. He was the first poet to attempt expressing the inexpressible, in evocative language that bypasses conventional "meaning". He experimented with concepts such as the "colour" of sounds, the impact of sound over sense, and verse libre (free rhythmic patterns). He articulated symbolist ideas before symbolism became a movement; he was "the spectator to the flowering of (his) thought" before the surrealists embraced the notion of the subconscious mind and free-flow thinking; he was a poet-scientist who set down a credible theory for changing human existence itself.
THE FAIRY AT WORK?
Those familiar with the mind-bending effects of absinthe drinking may be tempted to attribute Rimbaud's ground-breaking visions to the influence of the Green Fairy. Whilst there is no doubt that Rimbaud enjoyed the company of the Fairy, or "absomphe" as he called her, we should remember that absinthe merely inspires genius; it does not create it.
To fully understand Rimbaud's genius, we must realise that he was more of an explorer than a poet. By his own admission, poetry was but his favoured means of exploring the more fundamental aspects of life. Poetry was the medium through which he indulged in the "immense and rational derangement of the senses", a mental adventure that, he hoped, would provide answers to the Unknown.
And if poetry was simply the vehicle that was to take him to his ultimate destination, the Green Fairy was merely a guide along the route, never the driver. Rimbaud didn't drink absinthe to get drunk, he drank it to liberate his mind and enhance his visions. This was in contrast to Paul Verlaine, his fellow poet, and many other artists of the time.
THE ICON OF DISSENT
During his short-lived (but brilliant) career as a poet, Rimbaud anarchic lifestyle mirrored his radical artistic life. He was the original room-trasher, the popular occupation of modern-day rock stars: a contemporary recalled how Rimbaud amused himself by smashing "all the porcelain -- water jug, basin and chamber pot," but also "being short of money, he sold the furniture". This apparently happened time and time again.
Unlike those of most modern rock stars, however, Rimbaud's antics were not preconceived publicity stunts, nor were they random acts of anarchy. Just like his poetry, his lifestyle reflected his innermost desire to escape the frightening world of conformity and to re-invent reality.
"Real life is absent," he proclaimed, and "I is somebody else," as well as "Love must be reinvented."
Rimbaud is thought to be the first person of his time to publicly stand up for women's rights and, later -- during his time as a gun runner in the Horn of Africa -- to even propose the notion of "rights" for the local black population, a concept previously unheard of in France, a mighty colonial power of the time.
Rimbaud's appeal as a determined revolutionary is such that in 1968, during the Paris Students' Revolt, students mocked up a photograph of him wearing jeans and mounted it on the barricades as an apt symbol of defiance. It has also been proposed that the extravagant American musician and occasional poet Jim Morrison may have faked his death in Paris and retraced Rimbaud's journey to Ethiopia. The anarchic child-poet was also claimed as messiah by a whole raft of later-day subversives, from surrealists to hard-core socialists.
PAUL VERLAINE: ABSINTHE-SOAKED DAYS (AND NIGHTS)
In contrast to Arthur Rimbaud, who was a genius who used absinthe as a prop, Paul Verlaine, his fellow poet and partner, was an absinthe drunk first -- albeit a very talented one.
"I take sugar with it!" seems an innocent enough remark, but to Verlaine, this was his way of saying "hello" to just about anyone he met. It was "a sort of war-cry," one contemporary dryly remarked of the manner in which Verlaine usually delivered his peculiar salutation. The "it" which Verlaine took with sugar wasn't a cup of tea, of course; the "it" was the Green Fairy, absinthe. To Verlaine, absinthe was a way of life.
CALMING POETRY, TURBULENT LIFE
Born in 1844 -- ten years before Arthur Rimbaud -- Verlaine was to become the leader of the French Symbolist movement. He was the pioneer of free verse and an inspiration to scores of followers. Despite its vagueness and simplicity, or perhaps because of it, Verlaine's works remain a beautiful testament to his ingenious ability. According to the writer Graham Robb, Verlaine "never wrote a bad line" and some of his poems had "the strange power to calm a violent class of schoolchildren".
Verlaine was much less reliable off the page. His life alternated between extended periods of drunken debauchery and shorter spells of sober repentance. His absinthe binges sometimes turned violent: he once set his wife's hair on fire, and threatened his elderly mother with a knife (he spent a month in jail for the latter incident, despite her mother's plea in court that he really was "a good boy at heart" ).
The arrival of Rimbaud on the Paris art scene didn't help matters one bit. Verlaine had fallen for Rimbaud's poetry well before the young poet's appearance in Paris (the two exchanged letters when Rimbaud was still living with his mother in Charleville). When Rimbaud finally turned up, Verlaine fell for the boy, too. This was an affliction he never quite recovered from, even though their relationship only lasted about two years.
It is probable that adolescent Rimbaud's interest in carrying on with Verlaine was a reflection of his innate anarchic desire to challenge convention. Verlaine, in contrast, was truly smitten, describing Rimbaud as "a sun that burns inside me that does not want to be put out" long after their paths had gone separate ways.
While it lasted, their association rarely was a happy or a calm one, however. They left Paris for Belgium when Verlaine's marriage began to disintegrate, embarking on a two-year-long "frivolous adventure" (as Verlaine himself later put it) across Europe. They wrote, taught French, drank and provoked 'upright' society -- but they also argued and fought frequently. Rimbaud, who drank far less than Verlaine, slowly grew disgusted by Verlaine's near-constant alcohol consumption and bone idleness. Verlaine had become "impossible to live with", Rimbaud later complained, while Verlaine declared Rimbaud "a Demon, [not] a man!" with a terrible temper. The two parted company after Verlaine, in an absinthe-fuelled frenzy, lost control and shot Rimbaud in the arm. Verlaine ended up doing two years in jail as a result.
In a later sober moment, Verlaine lamented their decadent, care-free lifestyle when he expressed a sincere regret over some lost poems of Rimbaud: "That dastardly Rimbaud and I flogged them along with lots of other things to pay for absinthes and cigars".
END OF THE LINE
Rimbaud stopped writing poetry at the age of twenty and set out to travel the world. In the seventeen years that followed (he died age 37 of a mysterious disease), he explored three continents, eventually settling down in Africa where he was a coffee trader, a gun-runner and even a Koran scholar.
Verlaine spent his last years in the company of one Bibi-la-Purre, an umbrella thief by profession and, like Verlaine, a keen absinthe drinker. Together they killed their days in the cafes of the Latin Quarter, where Verlaine sometimes recited poetry to novice poets or tried to introduce prostitutes to the delights of literature. He died at the age of 50, broken-down and broke.
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VERLAINE AND RIMBAUD: POETS FROM HELL
The London home of Verlaine and Rimbaud, the enfants terribles of French poetry, is up for sale. A landmark of literary hedonism may be lost, says Christina Patterson
Published: 08 February 2006
He lived in a squalid loft in a seedy part of town. He was often drunk, drugged and violent. He abused his friends, but relied on them to bail him out. Baby-faced and fiercely talented, this lyricist of love and death had a cult following and an angelic smile. "I know these passions and disasters too well," wrote Arthur Rimbaud in 1873, "the rages, the debauches, the madness."
When he wrote those words, the great French poet was living in a house in Camden Town. The terraced house is still there, though in a dilapidated state and in an area that can only be described as bleak. Beside the front door there is a simple plaque: "The French poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud lived here May-July 1873". The words can't begin to do justice to the slice of turbulent history that lies behind those walls. Since the house is currently on the market, it is a history that is in danger of being lost.
Arthur Rimbaud first met Paul Verlaine in 1871. Rimbaud was 17, Verlaine 27. Both were brilliant, volatile and utterly committed to the quest for the new, in art and life. Rimbaud was a young poet in search of a patron. Verlaine was a young poet in search of distraction - not least from his miserable marriage to Mathilde, whom he regularly hit. Verlaine's brother-in-law described Rimbaud as "a vile, vicious, disgusting, smutty little schoolboy", but Verlaine found him an "exquisite creature". He didn't seem to mind that Rimbaud rarely washed, left turds under one friend's pillow, and put sulphuric acid in the drink of another; not to mention that he hacked at his wrists with a penknife and stabbed him in the thigh. But by then, he was in love. The two of them ran off to Brussels and then London.
Rimbaud was "delighted and astonished" by London. Verlaine was overwhelmed by the "incessant railways on splendid cast-iron bridges" and the "brutal, loud-mouthed people in the streets", but inspired by the "interminable docks. The city was, he wrote, "prudish, but with every vice on offer", and, "permanently sozzled, despite ridiculous bills on drunkenness". The two poets were often sozzled, too: on ale, gin and absinthe. Rimbaud's extraordinary sonnet "Voyelles" (Vowels), which gained an instant cult following, was clearly inspired by his experiments with "the Green Fairy".
At other times, their drinking was less productive. They fought like cats, sometimes with knives rolled in towels. "As soon as mutilation had been achieved," according to Rimbaud's biographer Graham Robb,"they put the knives away and went to the pub."
Their relationship ended with a slap in the face with a wet fish. When Verlaine came home one day with a fish and a bottle of oil, Rimbaud sniggered. Furious at being mocked, Verlaine whacked him with the fish, then stormed off to Brussels and threatened suicide. After pawning his lover's clothes, Rimbaud followed him and, in a Brussels hotel, they had their final row. With the gun he'd planned to kill himself with, Verlaine shot Rimbaud in the arm. He was jailed for two years.
Throughout this time, however, both poets were producing work that would earn them a place in world literature. Verlaine wrote much of his Romances sans paroles; Rimbaud wrote many of the poems in Illuminations. Hailed as a masterpiece of modernism, the latter included the extraordinary polyphonic prose poem, "Une saison en enfer" (A Season in Hell).
These were clearly not pieces tossed off in the pub. Rimbaud would spend hours polishing his lines in the British Library. He was, according to Robb, "ferociously self-disciplined". He may have smashed rooms up, but this was, Robb tells me, "partly a way of smashing the image that he was supposed to have. He came from the provinces and so was patronised by the Parisian poets. He never really did become a Parisian. And that is why it would be much more fitting to have a Rimbaud house in London than in Paris".
For Lisa Appignanesi, one of a number of writers spearheading a campaign to save the Camden house, "it would be wonderful to insert their presence on to the London literary map, and to have a historical site that also thinks about the values of transgression". Rimbaud and Verlaine, she explains, "were both transgressive writers who influenced not only modernism but also the young for many generations, including the world of rock and pop". Indeed. Picasso, André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison have all named Rimbaud as an influence. And Patti Smith talks of her debt to the writer she dubbed "the first punk poet". Her song "Land: Horses/ Land of a Thousand Dances/ La Mer (de)" even coined the verb "to go Rimbaud".
Even Pete Doherty, who has claimed Baudelaire as an influence, seems to share some of Rimbaud's proclivities. Like Rimbaud, he was a brilliant pupil who published poems as a teenager. And like Rimbaud, he's seems keen on opiates and blades, even writing poems in his own blood. But, for the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, "there's something rather self-conscious in Doherty's attempts to conform to the Rimbaud model. It's all so attention-seeking".
Julian Barnes, who is also involved in the campaign to preserve the house, included quotations from Rimbaud and Verlaine in Metroland, his first novel. Part One has an epigraph from Rimbaud's "Voyelles". Part Two has one from Verlaine: "Moi qui ai connu Rimbaud, je sais qu'il se foutait pas mal si 'A' était rouge ou vert. Il le voyait comme ça, mais c'est tout." ("I who knew Rimbaud, know that he really didn't give a damn whether 'A' was red or green. He saw it like that, but that's all.")
"Rimbaud's 'Voyelles'," says Barnes, "is about how you see life at 18. The Verlaine quote is about how realism kicks in." It is, in other words, about growing up. Pete Doherty, take note.
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YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT... ARTHUR RIMBAUD
By Craig Whitney
Had French poet Arthur Rimbaud been alive in the last 50 years or so, he would have been a rock musician. And from all indications, he would have had a lot of fans.
Bob Dylan has repeatedly cited him as the key influence in his "chains of flashing images" lyrical style of the mid-'60s. Jim Morrison commonly signed autographs using his name, and wrote a fan letter thanking Rimbaud translator Wallace Fowlie. He inspired Patti Smith to quit her New Jersey factory job and start a rock band. Kurt Cobain named him as one of his favorite poets, and his widow, Courtney Love, read several of Rimbaud's prose poems at his funeral.
The real Arthur Rimbaud was born 151 years ago today in Charleville, a town in eastern France just miles from the Belgian border. He was a conspicuously good student, composing Latin verse in his classes with astonishing rapidity and winning nearly all the prizes awarded in his school's annual academic competitions.
At age 14, Rimbaud began increasingly turning his attention to composing French verse. His first attempts were, in general, unremarkable - technically brilliant but otherwise uninspired imitations of Victor Hugo and other notable poets of his day.
The real breakthrough came in 1870 with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. With nearly all of Charleville's teachers serving in the war, the town's schools were closed for the fall term, and Rimbaud, who had grown to become increasingly revolted by the provinciality of his hometown, was transformed in these months of idleness from its prized pupil to its chief rebel. He wandered through Charleville, his greasy hair grown down to his shoulders, scrawling obscene graffiti on park benches and smoking his pipe upside-down, which for some reason was considered the most scandalous of the three.
Accompanying this newfound bohemianism, Rimbaud made a complete break with the influences that had fueled his early poetry. He wrote brilliant invectives against the flowery style of contemporary French poetry, wicked satires of his quaint hometown, polemics against the war, condemnations of religion and, especially, scathing attacks on his pious, domineering mother.
What is most amazing is the tenderness and lyrical subtlety with which he did so, concealing a wealth of hidden meaning beneath the seeming simplicity of these poems. In "The Poet at Seven Years," Rimbaud contrasts his mother's petty tyrannies, and his quiet rebellions against them, with the first stirrings of his adolescent fantasy, imagining fantastic adventures and sea voyages from the quiet of his playroom.
Invigorated by these early poetic triumphs, Rimbaud began to grow even more disgusted with his life in Charleville. He made several attempts to run away, following a friendly school teacher who was serving in Belgium, but was caught and returned to face his mother's wrath each time.
Desperate, Rimbaud wrote two letters to the poet Paul Verlaine in Paris, enclosing several poems in his pleas for help in escaping Charleville. Verlaine, who was duly impressed with the skill of the young poet, wrote back immediately, saying: "My dear soul, come at once. You are summoned. You are expected."
The newly married Verlaine and his wife, Mathilde, had recently moved in to her parents' home in an attempt to wean the middle-aged poet from his fondness for drink and, more importantly, his predilection for teenage boys. But when he learned that his young protegee was only seventeen - and not, as he had been lead to believe, in his mid-twenties - it was far too much for a man of his limited willpower to resist. The two embarked on a torrid love affair that would last for most of the next three years, and which Rimbaud would later chronicle in his brilliant intellectual autobiography, "A Season In Hell."
For a few months Rimbaud and Verlaine made the rounds in the Paris cafes, mocking the smug self-satisfaction of its writers, driving a wedge between Mathilde's parents with their antics and in general making themselves the scandal of Parisian literary society. Under intense pressure from his in-laws to shape up or ship out, Verlaine, with much persuasion from Rimbaud, opted for the latter. For the next two years, the poets would divide their time between Paris, Brussels, London and Charleville, living off of Verlaine's inheritance in a series of bars and cold water flats.
Unlike the deliberately provocative writings of Rimbaud, Verlaine's poetry, at least until the two met, consisted mainly of love poems to his wife, incredible less for their themes than for their unprecedented level of technical innovation. Under his influence, Rimbaud's poetry became not only more technically experimental, but more poised and meditative.
Combining this with his increasing interest in mysticism, Rimbaud's poems took on a surreal, hyper-aesthetic edge, combining recollected events from his childhood with a visionary perceptivity for detail. In the poem "Memory," perhaps his greatest lyric, he delivers a cascading series of elliptical recollections from childhood, densely packed with detail and written in a carefully disordered style that brilliantly conveyed its hazy remembrances of things past.
But despite the success of their collaboration, the sadistic, domineering Rimbaud and the hyper-passive Verlaine were simply too volatile a combination to make their poetic marriage last for more than a brief period. When Rimbaud finally resolved to leave Verlaine in 1874 to return to Charleville and finish the half-completed "Season In Hell," Verlaine shot him in a fit of desperation. He was later arrested, and when the nature of the two poets' relationship became apparent to the Brussels authorities, he was sentenced to two years' hard labor for attempted manslaughter.
After finishing "Season," Rimbaud would go on to complete what would be the first book of prose poems in the French language, "Illuminations." At 19 years old, he gave up writing poetry for the rest of his life, spending a few years traveling and learning languages in Europe before resettling in East Africa. He spent the next 15 years in Ethiopia, working as an engineer, gun runner and, it is alleged, slave trader, before dying of cancer in 1891.
While it is easy in some sense to dismiss Rimbaud as the arch-rebel of French letters or the teenage poet laureate, to do so would be to miss not only the incredible depth and richness of his poems, but the central importance of his place in the history of French poetry.
Rimbaud's poems would go largely unrecognized for several decades after his death. But when, largely because of Verlaine's advocacy, they were rediscovered by Paris' young intellectuals near the turn of the century, he very quickly became the driving force behind the French symbolist and surrealist movements that would dominate the nation's verse well into the next century.
But beyond any question of influence, Rimbaud's importance as a poet rests primarily in his effortless combination of subjective, personal detail with the visionary self-mythology that he crafted around it. That he did so with such deceptive simplicity is unprecedented not only for a poet of his extreme youth, but for a poet of any age.
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FROM "MEMORY" BY ARTHUR RIMBAUD
Translated by Wallace Fowlie
Rimbaud's 1872 poem "Memory" draws on events from his childhood in rural France and delivers them in an extraordinarily brisk meter that evokes the elliptical, dreamlike nature of memory itself.
Clear water; like the salt of childhood tears;
The assault on the sun by the whiteness of women's bodies;
the silk of banners, in masses and of pure lilies,
under the walls a maid once defended.
The play of angels - No... the golden current on it's way
moves its arms, black and heavy, and above all cool, with grass. She,
dark, having the blue sky as a canopy, calls up
for curtains the shadow of the hill and the arch.
Madame stands too straight in the field
nearby where the filaments from the work snow down; the parasol
in her fingers; stepping on the white flower, too proud for her;
children reading in the flowering grass
their book of red morocco. Alas, he, like
a thousand white angels separating on the road,
goes off beyond the mountain! She, all
cold and dark, runs! after the departing man!
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ARTHUR RIMBAUD, COFFEE TRADER
Written by Richard Goodman
On a sweltering day in August 1880, a tall, thin blue-eyed Frenchman walked into the offices of Viannay, Bardey et Cie. in Aden, Yemen, and asked for a job. He said he was from the Jura, and had lately overseen a gang of laborers in Cyprus; the work had been finished, so he'd come south to find something else. He had a letter of introduction. He knew some Arabic, too.
Well, said co-owner Pierre Bardey, we might have something for you, Monsieur...? Rimbaud? Viannay, Bardey et Cie, whose main office was in Lyon, exported coffee, among other things, and Bardey thought they could use a foreman in their coffee sorting warehouse. Lodging would be included, and meals. The pay? Well, not much, to be truthful, just seven francs a day. But if one were careful... Yes, it was indeed hot in Aden this time of year. Over 38 degrees (100°F) indoors. But one could get used to anything.
For the next eleven years, until he died miserably in a hospital in Marseille, Arthur Rimbaud, France's great 19th-century enfant terrible, whose poetry was to exert enormous influence on French literature, lived mostly in Aden and in Harar, Ethiopia, working in the coffee trade. He was, in fact, a pioneer in the business, the first European to oversee the export of the celebrated coffee of Harar from the country where coffee was born. He was only the third European ever to set foot in the city, and the first to do business there. How his life swung from the sublime to the commercial is one of the most perplexing mysteries in the history of modern literature.
When Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) abandoned poetry altogether in 1873, at the age of 19 or 20, he left behind a small, incendiary and revolutionary body of work that included "The Drunken Boat", A Season in Hell, and Illuminations, a series of mystical prose poems. He had come out of nowhere, from the small town of Charleville in the Ardennes. His parents were not literary. He began writing poetry at 13, serious poetry at 16. He came to Paris and befriended the poet Paul Verlaine. They had a tempestuous relationship which culminated in Verlaine's shooting Rimbaud in the wrist in a fit of hysteria. Verlaine went to prison; Rimbaud, after completing A Season in Hell, burned his papers and stopped writing altogether. All this in three short years.
From that point onward, Rimbaud led an itinerant life marked by an insatiable restlessness and, especially in the end, a concerted and frustrated quest for money. His wanderings took him from one unlikely place to another: from Indonesia, where he deserted from the Dutch colonial army; to Scandinavia, where he interpreted for a touring Danish circus; to Cyprus, where he supervised road-building gangs; and, finally, in 1880, to Aden in the British protectorate of Yemen near the southern entrance of the Red Sea. Intermittently, he returned—or was repatriated, sick or penniless, by the French diplomatic corps—to his family in Charleville. It was a life from which literature was completely absent. As far as I can determine, in all the letters he wrote to his family during these last years, he never once mentions literature. (He does mention books, but they are invariably technical or instructional ones.) He certainly never wrote poetry again. He did write, though: He published several pieces on East Africa, including a treatise on Ogaden that appeared in the bulletin of the French Geographical Society. It was decently, though not memorably, written, but its author hardly seemed the same Arthur Rimbaud who had upset and forever altered the French literary world.
In fact, like many before him and after, Rimbaud reinvented himself. The problem for posterity has been that with this reinvention, Rimbaud discarded his marvelous ability to spin words in the stars. When, some years later, Pierre Bardey's brother Alfred happened to learn that Rimbaud had written poetry and was revered in certain small circles in Paris, he confronted Rimbaud with this. Rimbaud seemed aghast: "Absurd! Ridiculous! Disgusting!" he said to Bardey. The Rimbaud who had written "The Drunken Boat" and A Season in Hell was dead and buried. The new Rimbaud wanted to make money. And, perhaps, to do some exploring and a bit of photography. This was the Arthur Rimbaud who arrived in Aden, Yemen in August of 1880: a different person entirely.
At that time, coffee had become extremely popular in Europe, and especially in France. Though the plant was being cultivated elsewhere— notably in Java by the Dutch—the best coffee was considered to come from Yemen. Coffee had come into its own there. The name of the port of al-Mukha in Yemen had become synonymous with coffee, and still denotes a certain superior quality today. For years, Arab merchants and traders had kept coffee entirely to themselves. Releasing it at last to the outside world, they then held a monopoly on its trade. They knew a good thing when they saw one.
Coffee's origin is placed variously in Yemen and Ethiopia, with most food historians now believing it to be the latter. Some believe that the word "coffee" derives from the name of the Ethiopian province of Kaffa. It was discovered perhaps as early as the ninth century, and the legend of its discovery was described by the French traveler Jean de La Roque in A Voyage to Arabia the Happy, published in English in 1726. La Roque writes that a goatherd noticed that after eating the berries of a particular bush his goats "leaped and frisked about all night." A local cleric heard of this and gave some of the berries to his disciples "to hinder them from sleeping, when they were called up to their prayers...."
It was not a great leap from munching the berries to making a decoction of them, and from that to roasting the "beans" they contained before boiling them in water—and the revivifying cup of coffee was born. For hundreds of years since, everyone from college students in need of stamina to writers in need of stimulation—Balzac drank up to 20, or possibly 50, cups a day—has turned gratefully to the Ethiopian bean.
The coffee tree—really a large bush—grows to some six meters (20') in height, but is usually pruned to around four meters (12') in cultivation. Its flowers, which have an appealing jasmine-like scent, drop off and are replaced by red berries. It is what is inside these berries—the coffee beans—that is coveted. Machines remove the pulp, and then, usually, the beans are washed and dried. They are shipped green, eventually to be roasted. (The roasting of beans began in the 13th century.) The peak harvest in Ethiopia—it's still done by hand—is in November and December.
Arabs had been drinking coffee for hundreds of years when Europeans finally got a taste of this stimulating drink. They eventually broke the Arab monopoly and began importing coffee beans themselves. Coffee was introduced in France in 1660 by some merchants from Marseille who had acquired the habit of drinking it in the Middle East, where they traded. Upon returning from the Levant, they decided they couldn't live without it. It reached Paris in 1669 when the Turkish ambassador began holding lavish coffee parties for the French nobility. After that, it was only a matter of time before the general population got in on it. The Café Procope, Paris's first genuine coffeehouse, opened in 1689. (You can still drink coffee there today, as Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin did in their day.) By 1880, the date of Rimbaud's arrival in Yemen, half of the entire Yemeni export coffee crop went to France.
Alfred and Pierre Bardey, businessmen from Lyon, were well aware of their countrymen's thirst for coffee. They traveled to Yemen—then under British control—and opened a branch of their company. (You will find it called by different names in different reincarnations: Bardey et Cie.; Viannay, Bardey et Cie.; and Mazeran, Viannay, Bardey et Cie.) They would export the great treasures of Yemen and those of East Africa, just across the Red Sea: ivory, gum, hides—and coffee. In exchange, they would barter the finest Massachusetts shirting, among other eagerly sought items. The entire process would be much simpler now that the Suez Canal was open. (In the 18th century, La Roque had traveled around Cape Horn to reach Aden.)
The newly hired Arthur Rimbaud was to work as the foreman in the Bardey's coffee-sorting house. He was now at the epicenter of the coffee trade. (The coffee trade in Yemen at the time of Rimbaud's arrival is ably explained by Charles Nicholl in his book Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa, 1880-91, published in 1999 by the University of Chicago Press. I have relied heavily on its insights.) The coffee, which was grown in the highlands of Yemen, was transported to the capital city of Aden by camel. It normally arrived as berries from which the pulp had to be removed; the resulting beans then had to be cleaned, graded, packed in large burlap sacks and sent off to Marseille.
One can imagine the heat and dust of such a warehouse in August, when Rimbaud reported the temperature rising to 43 degrees (110F). The sorters and baggers—mostly Indian women, the wives of Indian soldiers posted there— worked from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Rimbaud learned quickly, and almost immediately became a valued employee. In just one month, he was able to write his family that he was "very up to date on the present coffee trade. I have the absolute confidence of my employer." The only problem was that he loathed the town of Aden with all his heart. "Aden is a terrible rock," he wrote his parents, "without a single blade of grass or a drop of good water." The heat was awful. "We sweat liters of water here every day," he told them. He was looking for a way to get out, and declared he'd probably go to Zanzibar. When he heard that Bardey et Cie. wanted to establish a branch in Harar, in the interior of Abyssinia, he jumped at the chance to go.
Alfred Bardey had made an exploratory trip to Abyssinia and was excited about the possibilities for trade and profit. In early November, 1880, Arthur Rimbaud wrote his family, "The company has founded an agency in Harar, a region that you'll find on the map in the south-east of Abyssinia. We'll export coffee, hides, gum, and so on... The country is very healthy and cool due to its elevation." Bardey et Cie. offered Rimbaud a posting there, and on November 10 he signed a three-year contract with the firm. He was to receive 1800 rupees a year, plus food, lodging and one percent of the net profit coming out of Harar. (It is often difficult to follow the monetary transactions of the time, as they flow freely from rupees to francs to Austrian thalers.)
So, there he was, age 26, the equivalent of at least one lifetime already behind him, ready to plunge into Eastern Africa on a search for coffee.
Rimbaud, it turned out, was not unequipped for the job. He had a great facility for languages. He already knew Latin, English, German and probably Dutch, and had even studied Arabic in his home town of Charleville. He would thus be well prepared to learn the language spoken in Harar. (There were two, in fact.) He was genuinely interested in the culture of the lands where he resided, and he was charitable. Indeed, "charitable" is the word most often used by his contemporaries in Yemen and Africa to describe his relations with the locals. For a man who was to become obsessed with making money, hoarding and accounting for every sou, this seems ironic.
Though often frustrated by his dealings with local traders, he was, it turns out, a very sharp merchant. Much later, someone who knew him in Africa but who had only subsequently learned of his artistic past said, "Far be it for me to judge his past as a poet, but I can state with absolute conviction that he was a passionate trader." Who would have predicted that the author of the shimmering, gorgeous "Voyelles"—which by itself would have assured Rimbaud a place in the history of French literature—had a talent for trading?
Near the end of November 1880, Rimbaud left Aden and took a boat across the Red Sea to the Somali port of Zeila. He then joined a caravan. He and his fellow travelers made a 20-day trek across the desert on horseback—the same route by which the coffee would return—to the Abyssinian city of Harar, 1830 meters (6000') feet above sea level. Until just a few years earlier, it had been a closed city. In the end, Rimbaud would reside there on three different occasions and spend more than eight years there altogether—the longest time he spent in any single place in his life, except Charleville. Eleven years later, he would make his last return trip by this route, unable to walk, his leg swollen with a huge tumor, carried in a litter by hired porters.
It is hard to imagine the world into which Arthur Rimbaud entered. Harar, a city of some 20,000 inhabitants, was still primitive. The sanitary system consisted of throwing refuse—including dead bodies—over the town walls after dark to expectant hyenas. Just five years earlier, in 1875, the city had been conquered by the Egyptians, and a garrison of Egyptian soldiers was stationed there when Rimbaud arrived. Although the city had been closed to non-Muslims for centuries, one very unusual European Christian had been there: the amazing Richard Burton. Fresh from his impudent trip to Mecca, he again disguised himself as an Arab and, in 1855, made the same overland journey Rimbaud would make 25 years later. Burton described his visit in First Footsteps in East Africa, where he wrote that "the coffee of Harar is too well known in the markets of Europe to require description." This coffee had long been exported when Rimbaud arrived—but not by Europeans.
What was it about coffee from Harar that made it so desirable then—and still today? Joel Schapira, in The Book of Coffee & Tea, says that Harar coffee is the "finest of Ethiopian coffees," with a taste "characterized by a winy pungency, an exquisitely piquant aroma." An Ethiopian trading company praises its "medium acidity, full body and... distinctive deep mocca flavor." It is a form of Coffea arabica, the variety, indigenous to Ethiopia, that accounts for 90 percent of world production.
Arthur Rimbaud entered Harar unhindered. He situated himself and began trading immediately. From the first, he liked the climate. "Cool and not unhealthy," he described it. He started bartering—not just for coffee but for hides and ivory as well, for the Harar branch of Bardey et Cie. could not subsist on the coffee trade alone. He began gathering coffee and sending it by caravan back to Zeila and then by boat across the Red Sea to Aden. His office was usually filled with sacks of coffee beans, and he would occasionally sleep among them. In February, two months after his arrival, he wrote his family and said that he was having 20 kilos of café moka sent to them at his own expense, "if the customs duty isn't too much."
Then, almost immediately, he grew bored. It's not hard to see why. Even if he had forsaken his literary self, he remained a highly intelligent, keenly observant and very emotional man. He needed intellectual stimulation, and he did not find it in Harar. "Thankfully, this life is the only one we have," he wrote home, "and that's for certain, because I can't imagine another life more boring than this one!" This is the man who, ten years earlier, had enthusiastically written to the poet Théodore de Banville, "I will be a Parnassian! I swear, cher Maître, I will always worship the two goddesses, the Muse and Liberty." Now, his hopes—and, increasingly, his despairs—were more bourgeois. "What good is this coming and going," he wrote to Charleville, "this hard work and these upheavals among strange peoples, these languages I stuff my head with and these nameless tortures, if I can't someday, in a few years, take my ease in a place that suits me pretty well, and have a family—or have, at least, a son whom I can spend the rest of my life bringing up the way I think he should be, whom I can adornand arm with the most complete education it’s possible to get in this age, and whom I can see, become a renowned engineer, a man whose knowledge makes him rich and powerful. But who knows the length of my days in these mountains? I may simply disappear among the population, and never be heard of again...."
Partly to alleviate his pressing boredom, Rimbaud took up photography. He had a camera shipped to him from France and began taking pictures. To this we owe the last of the rare photographs we have of Arthur Rimbaud. They are self-portraits. In a simple statement filled with great poignancy, he sent them home to his family so that they "would remember my face." Looking at the photograph of the man in white cotton tropical garb standing in front of a coffee bush, it's difficult to believe he was 29 when it was taken: He looks 50.
He did well at his trade, though— so well that, in 1883, Alfred Bardey renewed his contract for three more years. He would, in the end, leave Bardey et Cie. to work for another French exporter, César Tian.
And he was to turn to trading of a different sort. He ran guns for King Menelik II of Shewa, helping him conquer the province of Harar. Rimbaud, who knew the region well by then, thought that aiding Menelik would be a reasonably easy way to make money. He was wrong: Menelik cheated him of most of his profits.
By the time he began working for César Tian, he arguably knew more about Ethiopian coffee than any European alive and, albeit inadvertently, had done much to further France's intimacy with the select coffee of Harar. In the late 1880's, Paul Verlaine, out of jail and back in Paris, published Rimbaud's Illuminations. Verlaine had tried unavailingly to contact Rimbaud and assumed that he was dead, and the book was attributed to "the late Arthur Rimbaud." Thus there may have been a moment in a Paris café when someone was reading Rimbaud's Illuminations while drinking a cup of Ethiopian for and exported. Such are the hidden ironies of life.
Frustrated in his effort to accumulate a fortune, Rimbaud left Harar for the last time on April 7, 1891, his leg terribly swollen by a synovial tumor. For 15 agonizing days, his leg hurting "at every step," he was hand-carried in a covered litter to the coast. It was almost equally agonizing for him to pay the porters, parting with some of the money he had slavishly devoted himself to earning during hard years in Africa. Beyond the capacity of local treatment, he was put on a steamer for Marseille, and there was taken to the Hospital of the Immaculate Conception. Near death, he still worried about the expense!
His tumorous leg was amputated in May, and his despair soon increased. "I begin to understand," he wrote to his sister Isabelle, "that crutches, wooden legs and prostheses are just jokes. All you get from them is the ability to drag yourself miserably around without being able to actually do anything. And just when I had decided to return to France this summer and get married! Goodbye marriage, goodbye family, goodbye future! My life is over; I'm nothing but an immobile lump...."
His cancer widespread, Rimbaud died on November 10, 1891, alone and miserable. Though he was by then aware that some of his poetry had been published and had attracted attention, he had not a clue of the magnitude of his eventual, posthumous fame. Would he have cared? In one of his last letters, also written to his sister, he wrote, "Our life is a misery, an endless misery! Why do we exist?"
He was 37.
This article appeared on pages 8-15 of the September/October 2001 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.
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JOUISSANCE OF THE COMMODITIES
RIMBAUD AGAINST EROTIC REIFICATION
by Merrill Cole
Could the commodities themselves speak, they would say: Our use-value may be a thing that interests men. It is no part of us as objects. What, however, does belong to us as objects, is our value. Our natural intercourse as commodities proves it. In the eyes of each other we are nothing but exchange-values. Now listen how these commodities speak through the mouth of the economist. "Value"–(i.e., exchange-value) "is a property of things, riches"–(i.e., use-value) "of man. Value, in this sense, necessarily implies exchanges, riches do not."
- Karl Marx, Capital
 In the contamination of poetic idealism with the violence of commodification, in the simultaneous deconstruction of poetic language and commercial speech, Arthur Rimbaud's "Solde" inaugurates a cultural politics more sophisticated than critics have recognized. The prose poem challenges the reading of Rimbaud's œuvre as a narrative culminating in failure. "Solde," like other poems in the Illuminations, refuses the closure that a diagnosis of failure provides and enacts that refusal through poetic form. Its dizzying paradoxes also reveal the limitations of the poet's previous erotic apotheoses, by suggesting the perfect consonance of unrestrained libidinal flow and the smooth functioning of the marketplace. It is not that Rimbaud inscribes homosexuality as failure in "Solde," but rather that subversive sexual desire alone proves quite amenable to commodification. Only by incorporating the logic of the marketplace, and by pushing that logic past its capacity to make sense, can Rimbaud's poetry effectively pervert the erotics of cultural reification.
 To analyze how "Solde" intervenes in commodity relations requires recourse to contemporary Marxism, which has already theorized the commercial cooptation of modernism, often citing Rimbaud as the paradigmatic illustration of defeat. I intend to demonstrate, however, not only that Marxist critics have underestimated the poet; but also that he extends a provocation to theoretical certitude. This would position Rimbaud as a potential contributor to Marxist discourse, rather than one of its more or less negative examples. Before I attend to the close reading of "Solde," I need first to canvass Marxist reassessments of modernism; and second, to consider the history of the Marxist reception of Rimbaud. These contexts open the poem's very peculiar disruptions to critical scrutiny.
 The common denominator of contemporary Marxist readings of artistic modernism is failure. Whether this negative postulate generates a somewhat optimistic argument in favor of the works of the recent past, as with Jürgen Habermas' "Modernity–An Incomplete Project"; or leads to more dismissive conclusions, as, for instance, in Raymond Williams' "When Was Modernism?," Marxist critics concur that capitalism, particularly in its current commodity manifestation, has achieved decisive cultural hegemony over the various counterdiscourses of modern art and literature. To appropriate a term from Pierre Bourdieu and John Guillory for purposes ultimately different than theirs, these political writers contend that capital, with its basic equivalence form of money, has reified modernist cultural interventions into objects of "cultural capital." Thus paintings, poems, novels, sculptures, musical compositions, and even manifestos have become mere counters for circulation in the global marketplace. Karl Marx's hypothetical polemic that begins, "[c]ould the commodities themselves speak," receives its most eloquent confirmation in artistic works whose terminal statement invariably declares, "exchange-value" (83).
 For Habermas, however, it is precisely the aesthetic that can help us overcome reification: "everyday praxis can only be cured by creating unconstrained interaction of the cognitive with the moral-practical and the aesthetic-expressive elements" (11-12). If capitalism created these divided spheres, including the autonomous sphere of the artwork, the modernist or avant-garde commitment to reintegrating them still holds promise. Modernism is thus defined as a critical response to the conditions of modernity. Habermas, diagnosing what he considers the bad eminence of anti-modernism and anti-rationality on the contemporary critical scene, argues that "instead of giving up modernity and its projects as a lost cause" (12), we should understand that the vital "project of modernity has not yet been fulfilled" (13). After reviewing the recent historical decline of modernism, he asks, "what is the meaning of this failure? Does it signal a farewell to modernity?" (6). He answers by negating the negation, by arguing that it beckons us to resume the project of "a differentiated relinking of modern culture with an everyday praxis that still depends on vital heritages, but would be impoverished through mere traditionalism" (13). Habermas dialectically reaffirms the modernist revolt "against what might be called a false normativity of history" (5)–in other words, against convention and administered society–while advocating an adversarial critical culture.
 Habermas also acknowledges that characteristic modernism "simply makes an abstract opposition between tradition and the present" and that, since the advent of modernism, "the distinguishing mark of works which count as modern is 'the new' which will be overcome and made obsolete through the novelty of the next style" (4). In this fetishization of the new, however, other Marxist critics find an extremely successful enlargement of modernist ideology, from the specifically aesthetic to the general culture, that also, paradoxically, instrumentalizes its total dissolution. In the words of Raymond Williams,
What has quite rapidly happened is that Modernism quickly lost its anti-bourgeois stance, and achieved comfortable integration into the new international capitalism. Its attempt at a universal market, transfrontier and transclass, turned out to be spurious. Its forms lent themselves to cultural competition and the commercial interplay of obsolescence, with its shifts of schools, styles and fashion so essential to the market. The painfully acquired techniques of significant disconnection are relocated, with the help of the special insensitivity of the trained and assured technicists, as the merely technical modes of advertising and the commercial cinema. The isolated, estranged images of alienation and loss, the narrative discontinuities, have become the easy iconography of the commercials, and the lonely, bitter, sardonic and skeptical hero takes his ready-made place as star of the thriller. (35)
Not only does novelty now serve capitalist ends, but the formal innovations of modernism "have become the new but fixed forms of our present moment" (35). "Modernism," it should be noted, appears as a unitary phenomena in this passage. By using the term, "ready-made," the name of Marcel Duchamp's important avant-garde innovation, in "his ready-made place as star of the thriller," Williams adds derision to his polemic. Finding no continuing merit in the artistic projects of modernity, Williams, with this foundational cultural studies gesture, would turn our attention to more communal and popular forms of art.
 The faintly pastoral alternative he envisions, which we might call 'premodernist' in Habermas' terms, does not find much support among other prominent Marxists who share his sense of modernism's cooptation. Williams neglects the possibility that the modernists had very good reasons to abandon permanently the established conventions of artistic production. Even were we to grant that modernism, in its disparate entirety, has utterly flopped, we still need to question whether a return to the forms of so-called popular culture provides a viable political substitute. I say, "so-called," with the strong suspicion that commodity capitalism has more completely and irrevocably co-opted popular Western genres and traditions than those of modernism. I also take issue with the idea that modernist art works are fundamentally elitist, because of their inherent difficultly. The easy equation of difficulty with elitism elides difficulty's diverse forms and rationales. Moreover, as Guillory argues, the truly elitist problem that we must acknowledge and address is "access to literacy" (15): "everyone has a right of access to cultural works, to the means of both their production and their consumption" (54).
 In "Capitalism, Modernism, and Postmodernism," Terry Eagleton claims that modernism resisted one form of commodification, only to be captured by another: "[m]odernism is among other things a strategy whereby the work of art resists commodification, holds out by the skin of its teeth against those social forces which would degrade it to an exchangeable object." In order "[t]o fend off such reduction to commodity status, the modernist work brackets off the referent or real historical world, thickens its textures and deranges its forms to forestall instant consumability, and draws its own language protectively around it to become a mysteriously autotelic object." The term, "autotelic," along with the closely following "irony," parodies the discourse of the New Criticism, the preeminent modernist Anglo-American critical practice. For Eagleton, the "devastating irony" is that, as modernism
avoids the humiliation of of becoming an abstract, serialized, instantly exchangeable thing, it does so only by virtue of reproducing that other side of the commodity which is its fetishism. The autonomous, self-regarding impenetrable modernist artefact, in all its isolated splendour, is the commodity as fetish resisting the commodity as exchange, its solution to reification part of the problem. (140)
This argumentative turn depends upon absolutizing the modernist artwork's break from reference and context–an attempted total divorce certainly evident in some modernist works, but not in all. There is a way of reading the break mimetically, as I will elaborate in reference to Rimbaud. Dissatisfied with modernism, though, Eagleton looks with hope for more openly political postmodernist artistic practices that would stress "the state of contradiction we still inhabit" (146), and thus reconstruct the complex forms of modernism and the avant-garde, while learning from their mistakes. He does not consider the extent to which certain modernisms anticipate his critique.
 Eagleton basically agrees with Andreas Huyssen, who writes in "The Hidden Dialectic: Avantgarde – Technology – Culture" that, even though culture industry "conformism has all but obliterated the original iconoclastic and subversive thrust of the historical avantgarde" (3), which "has lost its cultural and political explosiveness and has itself become a tool of legitimation" (6),
Both politically and aesthetically, today it is important to retain that image of the now lost unity of the political and artistic avantgarde, which may help us forge a new unity of politics and culture adequate to our own times. Since it has become more difficult to share the historical avantgarde's belief that art can be crucial to a transformation of society, the point is not simply to revive the avantgarde. . . . The point is rather to take up the historical avantgarde's insistence on the cultural transformation of everyday life and from there develop strategies for today's cultural and political context. (6-7)
Any workable cultural politics would have to be historically well-informed and, as Huyssen stipulates in "Adorno in Reverse: From Hollywood to Richard Wagner," would need to create "a contemporary art precisely out of the tensions between modernism and mass culture" (43).
 In Fredric Jameson's Postmodernism, or, The Logic of Late Capitalism, a similar, if infinitely more guarded, affirmation of the potentials of the postmodern accompanies the dismissal of modernist praxis. Fundamentally, he argues,
What has happened is that aesthetic production today has become integrated into commodity production generally: the frantic economic urgency of producing fresh waves of ever more novel-seeming goods (from clothing to airplanes), at ever greater rates of turnover, now assigns an increasingly essential structural function and position to aesthetic innovation and experimentation. (4-5)
Jameson also catalogues how, in his view, vital aesthetic features of modernism no longer function in the situation of Late Capitalism, where surface flattens discredited depth; space distends time; flow washes away interpretation; "fragmentation" decomposes "the alienation of the subject" (14); pastiche emptily mimes the gestures of parody; clashing representations supersede defamiliarization, that outmoded "Utopia of a renewal of perception" (122); fully-administered, prepackaged consumption leaves no place for the experience of art as "nonalienated labor" (146); and, most profoundly, history is "forgotten" (ix), erased from (now disabled) consciousness. Accelerating the anti-historical trends of the modern era, postmodernism voids art of its old political aspirations, along with its sense of temporality. In this situation, Jameson rules out the possibility of resurrecting modernist praxis. Instead, he asserts, in standard Marxist fashion, that "a truly new culture could only emerge through the collective struggle to create a new social system" (xii). Such a struggle, however, would be impossible without historical understanding. Jameson therefore suggests preliminary ways of producing it in properly postmodern art and criticism.
MODERNITY AT ZERO
 A central literary figure who often supplies the criterion of all things modern, the proper name that indicates precisely what did not work, is Arthur Rimbaud. Although Jameson employs Rimbaud as a touchstone, as do numerous non-Marxist commentators, he disregards reading any of the poet's works closely. Rather, he simply cites "Rimbaud's magical flowers 'that look back at you'" (10), as a passing illustration of the deep affect postmodernism will neither recognize nor reproduce. Implicitly, what the poet demanded of his readers is no longer exactly relevant to today's world. That Jameson, like other contemporary Marxists, grants Rimbaud an at least nominal place in modernist history, reflects the influence of the great modern Marxist, Theodor Adorno. Although Adorno's successors devote much more critical space to refuting or updating his arguments than those of his aesthetic exemplars, reconsidering certain crucial aspects of Adorno's late opus, Aesthetic Theory, along with Rimbaud, problematizes the thoroughly tragic role to which some postmodern-era Marxists assign modernism. Indeed, Rimbaud may prove to have even more to offer than Adorno conceived.
 The purpose here is certainly not to disprove the commodification thesis. What follows neither proclaims the triumph of modernism in general, nor of Rimbaud in particular. According to Jameson, "[h]istory progresses by failure rather than by success, as Benjamin never tired of insisting"; in other words, "all the radical positions of the past are flawed, precisely because they failed" (209). In this ultimate sense, Rimbaud has failed, too. Regardless of his spectacular poetic innovations, and in spite of the new forms of love he conjured, Rimbaud did not succeed in the revolution of social relationality he championed. But that is not the end of (the) history. I should like to apply a passage from Walter Benjamin's "Theses on the Philosophy of History" to the study of the poet:
To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it "the way it really was" (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at the moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to retain that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to man singled out by history at a moment of danger. The danger affects both the content of the tradition and it receivers. The same threat hangs over both: that of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. (VI. 255)
Rather than rehearse the insipid and dubious platitudes about the impossible poetic ambition that led to a disillusioned life in imperialist commerce, the pat biographical narrative that even Adorno endorses, the intent of this essay is to read a certain Rimbaldian poetic text in such a way as to illuminate how it participates both in the struggle Benjamin stresses and in the critique of commodification Adorno and his successors articulate. That would situate Rimbaud doubly as a participant in contemporary theoretical debate and as one of its compelling historical objects. It is not the historical actor–more inaccessible than most moderns, in any case–but poetry in its "moment of danger" that may offer what Benjamin terms "the spark of hope in the past" (VI. 255). Focusing on the work, rather than the person, also displaces Benjamin's androcentrically universalized "man." The "historical materialism" of this endeavor, if indeed it can be called that, consists in attending to the crisis of modernity where it still matters, at the very instant it sears into our postmodern situation.
 There is an unfortunate limitation to how Adorno theorizes Rimbaud, which leaves his insights incomplete, though those insights certainly provide the pivotal juncture with which to commence. Rimbaud might have played a larger, more productive role in Aesthetic Theory, had Adorno scrutinized the later prose poems, collected as the Illuminations, as closely as he did the early letters and the decisive dictum, "[i]l faut être absolument moderne" (241) ["One must be absolutely modern" (Varèse 89)], from Une Saison en enfer [All Rimbaud translations are Louise Varèse's, unless otherwise indicated; all critical translations are mine]. The Rimbaud of whom Adorno speaks appears to be primarily the writer of the famous "lettres du voyant (342) ["Letters of the Visionary" (v)], written to Georges Izambard and Paul Demeny. If, as Adorno claims, "artworks became artworks only by negating their origin" (3), if "only by virtue of the absolute negativity of collapse does art enunciate the unspeakable: utopia" (32), perhaps no artistic testimony more completely embodies the sweeping gesture of repudiation than the rash words of this poet. In his letter to Izambard, Rimbaud proclaims,
Maintenant, je m'encrapule le plus possible. Pourquoi? Je veux être poète, et je travaille à me rendre voyant : vous ne comprendrez pas du tout, et je ne saurais presque vous expliquer. Il s'agit d'arriver à l'inconnu par le dérèglement de tous les sens. Les souffrances sont énormes, mais il faut être fort, être né poète, et je me suis reconnu poète. Ce n'est pas du tout ma faute. C'est faux de dire : Je pense : on devrait dire : On me pense. –Pardon du jeu de mots.–
Je est un autre. Tant pis pour le bois qui se trouve violon, et Nargue aux inconscients, qui ergotent sur ce qu'ils ignorent tout à fait! (345-46)
[Now I am going in for debauch. Why? I want to be a poet, and I am working to make myself a visionary: you won't possibly understand, and I don't know how to explain it to you. To arrive at the unknown through the disordering of all the senses, that's the point. The sufferings will be tremendous, but one must be strong, be born a poet: it is in no way my fault. It is wrong to say: I think. One should say: I am thought. Pardon the pun.
I is some one else. So much the worse for the wood that discovers it's a violin, and to hell with the heedless who cavil about something they know nothing about! (xxvii)]
There is no preconceived content to the "unknown" Rimbaud would summon, outside of newness and its attendant thrill. To reach the beyond requires jettisoning not only the "poésie subjective" (345) ["subjective poetry" (xxvi)] Izambard taught him, but also the subjective self. The goal is emphatically transcendent, as the word, "voyant," implies. Intention gives way to, is sacrificed to, the materials of art, which transform the poet, instead of vise-versa; and for Adorno, "[t]he element of self-alienness that occurs under the constraint of of the material is indeed the seal of what was meant by 'genius'" (170). Although Rimbaud's formulations may in some sense anticipate the postmodern fragmentation of the subject, his faith in defamiliarization as a program for vision or genius marks this passage as profoundly modernist.
 Adorno writes, "[t]he new is a blind spot, as empty as the purely indexical gesture 'look here'":
The new is necessarily abstract: It is no more known than the most terrible secret of Poe's pit. Yet something decisive, with regard to its content, is encapsulated in the abstractness of the new. Toward the end of his life Victor Hugo touched on it in his comment that Rimbaud bestowed a frisson nouveau [new shudder] on poetry. (20)
In his letter to Demeny, the importance of novelty for the poet becomes immediately evident. Rimbaud opens, "[j]'ai résolu de vous donner une heure de littérature nouvelle" (346) ["I have decided to give you an hour of new literature" (xxviii)]. Although the awkward, parodic, and rather conventional early poems inserted in the letter hardly fulfill this promise, the prose goes much farther (which is ironic, considering the specific charge Rimbaud levels below). Rimbaud rebukes the course of literary history in asserting the absolute value of the new:
Toute poésie antique aboutit à la poésie grecque; Vie harmonieuse. – De la Grèce au movement romantique, – moyen-âge, – il y a des lettrés, des versificateurs. D'Ennius à Théroldus, de Théroldus à Casimir Delavigne, tout est prose rimée, un jeu, avachissement et gloire d'innombrables générations idiotes : Racine est le pur, le fort, le grand. – On eût soufflé sur ses rimes, brouillé ses hémistiches, que le Divin Sot serait aujourd'hui aussi ignoré que le premier venu auteur d'Origines. – Après Racine, le jeu moisit. Il a duré deux mille ans! (347)
[All ancient poetry culminated in Greek poetry, harmonious Life. From Greece to the Romantic movement–Middle Ages–there are men of letters, versifiers. From Ennius to Theroldus, from Theroldus to Casimir Delavigne, nothing but rhymed prose, a game, fatty degeneration and glory of countless idiotic generations: Racine is the pure, the strong, the great man. Had his rhymes been effaced, his hemistiches got mixed up, today the Divine Imbecile would be as unknown as any old author of Origins. After Racine the game gets moldy. It lasted for two thousand years! (xxix)]
The formal structures of poetry have ceased to complement the contours of existence. Reality no longer informs poetry. Rimbaud follows his singular valorization of the Greeks, a typical Romantic gesture, with an execration of the Romantic poets, from whom he wishes to distance himself:
Si les vieux imbéciles n'avaient pas trouvé du Moi que la signification fausse, nous n'aurions pas à balayer ces millions de squelettes qui, depuis un temps infini, ! ont accumulé les produits de leur intelligence borgnesse, en s'en clamant les auteurs!
En Grèce, ai-je dit, vers et lyres rhythment l'Action. Après, musique et rimes sont jeux, délassements. (347-48)
[If the old fools had not hit upon the false significance of the Ego only, we should not now have to sweep away these millions of skeletons who, since time immemorial, have been accumulating the products of the cockeyed intellects claiming themselves to be authors.
In Greece, I have said, verses and lyres, rhythms: Action. After that, music and rhymes are games, pasttimes. (xxix)]
Imagining a utopian Greece without boundaries between art and life, Rimbaud projects an alternative present–an historically simplistic version of the modernist dream of an integrated everyday praxis that Habermas endorses. Rimbaud's is a profoundly political conception of poetry, however naive its first enunciation appears to the contemporary reader.
 The program for social change Rimbaud outlines in his letter to Demeny betrays the ideology of Nineteenth-Century French social reformism, one of the socialisms Marx critiques as inadequate in The Communist Manifesto. The actions of the poet, for Rimbaud, have the power to transform the world:
Il arrive à l'inconnu, et quand, affolé, il finirait par perdre l'intelligence de ses visions, il les a vues! Qu'il crève dans son bondissement par les choses inouïes et innombrables : viendront d'autre horribles travailleurs; ils commenceront par les horizons où l'autre s'est affaissé! (348)
[He arrives at the unknown: and even if, half crazed, in the end, he loses the understanding of his visions, he has seen them! Let him be destroyed in his leap by those unnamable, unutterable and innumerable things: there will come other horrible workers: they will begin at the horizons where he has succumbed. (xxxi)]
In high Romantic fashion, the poet-Prometheus suffers to deliver the truth to others, who are positioned so as to receive and learn from his discoveries. The tropology of horizons and advance is prototypically avant-garde. That the poet leaps into something defined as indescribable implies a surface-depth dichotomy in operation, a bipolar oppositionality that Jameson claims postmodernism invalidates ("Overhastily, we can say that that besides the hermeneutic model of inside and outside which Munch's painting ['The Scream'] develops, at least four other fundamental depth models have generally been repudiated by in contemporary theory," one of which is "the dialectical one of essence and appearance" (12).). The progress that Rimbaud heralds is more than the advancement of the art of poetry, as the word "travailleurs" ["workers"] indicates. But it is idealistic, in Marx's sense:
Donc le poète est vraiment voleur de feu.
Il est chargé de l'humanité, des animaux même; il devra faire sentir, palper, écouter ses inventions; si ce qu'il il rapporte de là-bas a forme, il donne forme : si c'est informe, il donne de l'informe. Trouver une langue;
– Du reste, toute parole étant idée, le temps d'un langage universal viendra! (349)
[So then, the poet is truly a thief of fire.
Humanity is his responsibility, even the animals; he must see to it that his inventions can be smelled, felt, heard. If what he brings back from beyond has form, he gives it form, if it is formless, he gives it formlessness. A language must be found; as a matter of fact, all speech being an idea, the time of a universal language will come! (xxxi-xxxii)]
The overt, if reversed, Platonism of the passage's final formulations underlines the traditional register of its aspirations. Rimbaud envisions the genesis of a shared, common language that would dismantle the alienations of modern significatory practice. The poet would lead the way: bettering the Greeks, he would bring on social revolution: "[l]a Poésie ne rhythma plus l'action; elle sera en avant (350) ["Poetry will no longer accompany action but will lead it" (xxxii)].
 Were we to leave Rimbaud with these outpourings of wildly unreasonable expectation, and their corresponding caustic disillusionment in Une Saison en enfer, Adorno's discourse on modernism and commodification would be completely apropos. Connecting aesthetic output to the modes of production in industrial society, Adorno stipulates that the "abstractness of the new is bound up with the commodity character of art" (21). Art responds to real social conditions:
Nouveauté [newness] is aesthetically the result of historical development, the trademark of consumer goods appropriated by art by means of which artworks distinguish themselves from the ever-same inventory in obedience to the need for the exploitation of capital, which, if it does not expand, if it does not–in its own language–offer something new, is eclipsed. The new is the aesthetic seal of expanded reproduction, with its promise of undiminished plenitude. . . . Only by immersing its autonomy in society's imagerie [imagery or symbolism] can art surmount the heteronomous market. Art is modern art through mimesis of the hardened and alienated; only thereby, and not by the refusal of mute reality, does art become eloquent; this is why art no longer tolerates the innocuous. (21)
By this reasoning, the purported ugliness of some of Rimbaud's poetry, as well as the impatience of his letters, evidences a critical response to the commodity marketplace. His difficult formal inventions resist consumption. If, in defiance of "the ignominy of the ever-same," Adorno writes, "the new becomes a fetish, this is to be criticized in the work itself, not externally simply because it became a fetish" (22). Thus, while Adorno anticipates Eagleton's argument about how resistance to mass production can turn into a particular sort of commodity fetishism, he leaves room for the artwork to provide oppositional commentary on this process. Adorno avoids condemning artistic production for taking part in the ubiquitous exchange system: "[t]hat artworks are offered for sale at the market–just as pots and statuettes once were–is not their misuse but rather the simple consequence of their participation in the relations of production" (236). Only by such participation can the artwork represent the "historical injustice" (172) the commodity system entails and, by objectifying, by critiquing, and even, if only within the work itself, by negating that system, offer the glimpse of a less degraded social reality.
 It is therefore crucial to distinguish 'the new,' as Rimbaud advocates it in the letters, from the role of novelty in the capitalist economy. Whereas Rimbaud would employ the new as a force to shatter the rigidities and complacencies of the ego, the commodity system, from advertising and mass media entertainment to goods consumption, aggrandizes it. Adorno asserts that the culture industry's products offer the consumer "a standardized echo of himself," a locus of "identification" that, rather than challenging the limits of the self, consolidates the ego's petty securities and its sense that the world is as it should be, as it has to be (17). Proffering an assortment of stereotypes and canned plotlines, the culture industry sends the consumer back her or his own glossy self-image, reified and packaged for sale. Although, like Rimbaud, the culture industry glamorizes the unattainable, it programs the consumer to pursue what she or he cannot have or be, simply by buying more products. Jameson argues that "the force of desire alleged to undermine the rigidities of late capitalism is, in fact, very precisely what keeps the consumer system going" (202). Yet Jameson does not distinguish the incitement to desire from its very different possible mobilizations. For Adorno, modernism counters "the culinary consumption of art" (92) with formal devices that keep the artwork at a distance from its audience; thus modern art figures 'the new' not as an object which satiates some immediate hunger in its audience, but as the sometimes painful promise of what the world and the self could become.
THE LIMITS OF PERVERSION
 In his essay, "L'ambiguïté de Solde" ["The Ambiguity of 'Sale,'"], Yoshikazu Nakaji remarks that Rimbaud's "Solde" is "une poème relativement peu commenté" ["a poem that has received relatively little commentary"]. In Rimbaud: Visions and Habitations, Edward J. Ahearn argues that the ambiguity of "the provocative commercial mode" of the poem "has led to opposing interpretations" (122-23): "Solde," when it does receive attention, is comprehended either as the derisive rebuttal of the whole visionary project, a sort of addendum to Saison en enfer, or as a piece of ironic optimism. Perhaps it is precisely the "commercial mode" of the prose poem that explains the paucity of exegesis; for commerce and poetry to collaborate in such an emphatically erotic, yet equivocal, manner, and thereby challenge the coherence of a fundamental modernist bipolar opposition, may prompt avoidance.
 Suzanne Bernard and André Guyaux, in the notes accompanying their definitive edition, Œuvres de Rimbaud, appear to concur with the pessimistic reading: "Le titre de cette pièce semble bien indiquer une volonté de liquidation du passé, un passé qui est celui du voyant : « Après les vaste espoirs, après les ambitions surhumaines, il ne reste plus qu'à solder », écrit A. Adam" (522) ["The title of this piece seems very much to indicate a will to liquidate the past, a past which is that of the visionary: 'After the vast hopes, after the superhuman ambitions, all that is left is to sell,' writes A. Adam."]. The diagnosis of failure is a constant in Rimbaldian interpretation; indeed, ever since Paul Verlaine introduced him to the reading public with Les poètes maudits, or The Accursed Poets, in 1883, the significance of Rimbaud's purported failure and consequent silence has been of paramount critical concern.
 Verlaine accentuates ontological, rather than corporeal, disorder, inferring a hidden causality behind Rimbaud's final "abandon de la poésie" ["abandon of poetry"] that must be "logique, honnête et necessaire" ["logical, honest, and necessary"] (15). Much of the critical tradition, however, from Remy de Gourmont and Benjamin Fondane to Yves Bonnefoy and Paul Schmidt, renarrates Rimbaud's final poetic silence as repentance from homosexual transgression against nature, God, or reality. Such judgments, formulated in a variety of different critical vocabularies over the last hundred years, more or less explicitly homophobic, usually entail a dismissal of Rimbaud's liberatory sexual politics. Still other readers, following Paul Valéry, and more interested in poetics than biography or homophobic truism, valorize the profound accord of Rimbaud's failure with the dissonant reality of modern life; failure thus becomes a standard of mimetic realism.
 To fashion a satisfying narrative, it is necessary either to force the poems to follow a causal, biographical schedule, wherein juvenile bravado is shamed into self-castigation; or to abstract a governing thematic, whereby the poems submit to allegorical mapping. Such interpretations risk violating the anti-narrativity everywhere evident in the Illuminations, as Guyaux shows in his philological study, Poétique du fragment: Essai sur les Illuminations de Rimbaud [Poetic of the Fragment: Essay on the Illuminations of Rimbaud]. Targeting biographical fallacy, this important intervention unfortunately excludes questions of sexuality and politics. Guyaux's analysis of the "forme de métonymie du fragment littéraire" ["metonymic form of the literary fragment"] (8), which follows from Valéry's study of "incohérence harmonique" ["harmonic incoherence"] (Valéry, 282), elaborates a methodology for interpreting the anti-narratival Rimbaud. Through what Guyaux terms "[l]es glissements du mot" ["slidings of the word"] (162), Rimbaud makes changes in cliché phrases by substituting startling homonyms in key places, undermines closure with subtle and corrosive repetition, escapes autotelic containment through twist endings, effaces syntactic logic by privileging the nominal phrase, and jams the discursive chain with exclamations and superlatives. Although Guyaux remarks on "la perversion du sens par le glissement des mots" [the perversion of sense by the sliding of words"] (184), he declines to address what such perversion could mean beyond linguistic play. Yet the derangement of the vernacular is only the beginning.
 In an anaphoric compendium that extends for six of its eight paragraphs, and recommences in its last, the prose-poem, "Solde," appears to throw everything on the market. With derisory frenzy, the poet-merchant hawks a bizarre–even, conflicting–assortment of objects, careful to render them more enticing, and thus to arouse the interest of the clientele (Nakaji 239-40). In the first paragraph, Rimbaud's speaker appropriates the common clichés of commercial discourse:
A vendre ce que les Juifs n'ont pas vendu, ce que noblesse ni crime n'ont goûté, ce qu'ignorent l'amour maudit et la probité infernale des masses : ce que le temps ni la science n'ont pas à reconnaître : (293)
[For sale what the Jews have not sold, what neither nobility nor crime have tasted, what is unknown to monstrous love and to the infernal probity of the masses! what neither time nor science need recognize: (147)]
To reproach the poet for lapsing into Anti-Semitism would be to miss his irony, whereby the hyped phrases of Nineteenth-Century advertising are strung together, without concern for logical consistency. Nakaji points out that the Jews bring to mind the merchants who must be acquainted with many articles, the most precious among others (240). Yet there is also the unsavory suggestion of illicit wealth, which chimes in with contemporaneous sentiments about decadent aristocracy, excitingly transgressive criminality, and naughtily taboo homosexuality ("amour maudit"). Although snob-appeal makes these rarefied states preferable to undifferentiated membership in the moralistic "masses," Rimbaud's hyperboles evoke something even more exquisite, more select, more provocative.
 Ahearn argues that, in these formulations, "the negation of the ethical-social codes ('infernale' reverses ethical values [i.e., 'probité']), and of related experiential-conceptual categories and methods (time, science) is augmented by a critique of forms of rebellion" (123). What such a critique seems to imply, though Ahearn argues otherwise, is that supposedly dangerous forms of social subversion have tremendous potential for the marketplace. They sell. Rimbaud proceeds in the second and third paragraphs of "Solde"–note that the sentence above flows past the end of the paragraph–to bring his own former political project, as outlined in the "Letters of the Visionary," under corrosive scrutiny:
Les Voix reconstituées; l'éveil fraternal de toutes les énergies chorales et orchestrales et leurs applications instantanées; l'occasion, unique, de dégager nos sens!
A vendre les Corps sans prix, hors de toute race, de tout monde, de tout sexe, de toute descendance! Les riches jaillissant à chaque démarche! Solde de diamants sans contrôle! (293)
[The Voices restored; fraternal awakening of all choral and orchestral energies and their instantaneous application; the opportunity, the only one, for the release of our senses!
For sale Bodies without price, outside any race, any world, any sex, any lineage! Riches gushing at every step! Uncontrolled sale of diamonds! (147)]
The objectives of poetic vision become bargain items, as the speaker packages the dream of new societal harmony and new language as sexy consumer experiences. These packaged products find their syntactic counterpart in the poem's overcharge of nominal phrases lacking predicates. The release of the senses turns into hedonism. Nakaji notes that, alongside the exhaustive hyperbole, the series of phrases including the word, "any," "Solde" executes a spiraling depreciation of its subject material that begins with the transition from "[l]es Voix" ["Voices"] to "les Corps" ["Bodies"], and continues to unfold across the poem (Nakaji 240).
 Adorno claims that art contests "the dichotomy of rationality and sensuousness that society perpetrates and ideologically enjoins" (98), and certainly an integral component of that division is the mind-body duality. Rimbaud's letters call for its dissolution, and such prose poems from the Illuminations as "Being Beauteous" (titled in English) and "Génie" ["Genie"] arguably effect it. In "Solde," however, the speaker ironically reinforces convention at the same time that he lures us closer, to examine his extremely unconventional wares. The pandering becomes explicit when exotically described bodies go up for sale, even though they are paradoxically "sans prix" ["without price"]. The ambiguity concerns whether we should read these bodies as prostituted objects; or, following the implications of "sans prix," comprehend them as the promise of a utopian physicality, which we will enjoy when we finally bury the "arbre du bien et du mal" ("Matinée d'ivresse" 269) ["tree of good and evil" ("Morning of Drunkenness" 41)] of antiquated moral distinctions.
 Yet the sale of diamonds is "sans contrôle" ["uncontrolled"], just as the bodies are "sans prix." This repetition erodes any special subjective status presumably granted to the human; it reduces voices and bodies to forms of commodity equivalence. And the phrases, "[l]es riches jaillissant à chaque démarche! Solde de diamants sans contrôle!," taken together, indicate another possibility that Varèse's translation–"[r]iches gushing at every step! Uncontrolled sale of diamonds!" –somewhat obscures. The French verb, "jaillir," has stronger erotic connotations that the English verb, "to gush": it also means "to spurt out," and thus suggests the masculine orgasm. In this context, "diamants sans contrôle!" has significance undetectable in the translation. That the poem's economics are also libidinal, however, does not rule out the commercial reading. Rather, it may indicate, with all sexual proclivities and preferences reduced to slave-market slogans, a confluence of the most unruly erotic flush and the rising tide of commodity traffic.
 The veritable delirium of equivalence continues. What the speaker peddles comes to resemble less the inventory of a street vendor (or pimp), than an impossible compendium of human desire, from the petty to the profound, and in no certain order. According to Ahearn, the range includes not only "what Rimbaud was pursuing throughout [his] earlier texts" (124), but also "paltry versions of the search for integral existence provided in the modern world" (125). Nakaji writes,
Après les « Voix » et les « Corps », il ne reste plus que des articles divers. Le déroulement des paragraphs 4 à 7 marque une multiple dégradation. Il n'y a plus de marchandise-vedette qui domine, à elle seule, un paragraph entier. Parallèlement à cette affaiblissement de l'impact des articles apparaît la division de la clientèle en trois catégories (241).
[After the "Voices" and the "Bodies," there are no more than various items. The unfolding of paragraphs 4 to 7 marks a multiple degradation. No longer does a leading product alone dominate an entire paragraph. Parallel to that weakening of the impact of the items, the division of the clientele into three categories appears.]
If the distinction of individual items fades, however, their paradoxical relations proliferate; however diminished they may be, they continue to draw rhetorical force from the various promotional discourses Rimbaud preempts. It is not entirely the case here that flow washes away interpretation, though the play of surfaces is crucial. The incongruity of the selection, the mismatch of languages, becomes more fascinating than the goods themselves.
A vendre l'anarchie pour les masses; la satisfaction irrépressible pour les amateurs supérieurs; la mort atroce pour les fidèles et les amants!
A vendre les habitations et les migrations, sports, féeries et conforts parfaits, et le bruit, le mouvement et l'avenir qu'ils font!
A vendre les applications de calcul et les sauts d'harmonie inouïs. Les trouvailles et les terms non soupçonnés, possession immédiate,
Élan insensé et infini aux splendeurs invisibles, aux délices insensibles, – et ses secrets affolants pour chaque vice – et sa gaîté effrayante pour la foule – (293)
[For sale anarchy for the masses; irrepressible satisfaction for rare connoisseurs; agonizing death for the faithful and for lovers!
For sale colonizations and migrations, sports, fairylands and incomparable comforts, and the noise and the movement and the future they make!
For sale the application of calculations and the incredible leaps of harmony. Discoveries and terms never dreamed of,–immediate possession.
Wild and infinite flights toward invisible splendours, toward intangible delights–and its maddening secrets for every vice–and its terrifying gaiety for the mob. (148-49)]
A purchasing which satisfies both the political radicalism of the underclasses and the specialized wishes of the well-to-do, which both offers and undercuts the possibility of economic justice, can only come across as a scam. When applied mathematics and new music appear to combine seamlessly to provide instantaneous satisfaction, such satisfaction seems as improbable as its production is difficult to envision.
 Nakaji observes that,
Les articles divers ne possèdent plus de consistance objective : ce ne sont plus des objets concrets mais des états (« anarchie », « satisfaction ») ou des actions (« mort », « habitations », «migrations », etc.). À cette abstraction de contenu vient s'ajouter la désignation générale : au lieu de nommer ses articles un à un, le marchand finit par les désigner sous un nom générique : « Les trouvailles et les termes non soupçonnés ». (241)
[The various items no longer possess objective consistency: they are no longer concrete objects but states ("anarchy," "satisfaction"), or actions ("death," "colonizations," "migrations," etc.). To this abstraction of content is added generalized designation: instead of naming his items one by one, the merchant finishes by designating them under a generic name: "Discoveries and terms never dreamed of."]
Viewed in the context of Rimbaud's previous political convictions, "Solde" sounds like their dismissal, as though the poet has 'sold out.' It may be more useful, however, to read the contradictory euphorias the poem extends as a stunningly accurate depiction of what capitalism has to offer, particularly in its current commodity manifestation. We have only to transcode 'Disneyland' or 'supermall' for "fairyland," 'niche markets' for "connoisseurs," and so forth, to recognize this. Such transcoding both extends Rimbaud's poetic of unexpected word substitution, as elaborated by Guyaux, and advances Jameson's project. Not only would this make Rimbaud into a 'visionary' in the predictive sense of the term, but it would also show him anticipating the postmodern appropriation of modernism. For just as "Solde" displaces the often revolutionary discourse of Rimbaud's other writings, so capitalism has taken over the ideas and techniques of literary modernism for commercial purposes. The question remains as to whether "Solde" presents a progressive political vision, one more applicable, and perhaps more realistic, than that of the letters.
 In the final verse paragraph of "Solde," according to Suzanne Bernard and André Guyaux, some commentators find hope:
Certains font . . . remarquer l'optimisme de la conclusion . . . Étiemble et Y. Gauclère considèrent ce texte comme un commentaire direct de la lettre du « voyant », Rimbaud exposant aux hommes « ce qu'il rapporte de là-bas ». (522, n. 1)
[Certain critics . . . remark on the optimism of the conclusion . . . Étiemble and Y. Gauclère considered this text as a direct commentary on the letter of the "visionary," Rimbaud exposing to men "what he brings back from beyond."]
For Bernard and Guyaux, this interpretation is inadequate because it fails to register the continuing irony of the poem. Similarly, Nakaji concludes that "Solde" is "un poème d'échec" ["a poem about failure"] (246). But a certain optimism may resonate through the finale of the poem, an optimism unlike that of the letters:
– A vendre les Corps, les voix, l'immense opulence inquestionable, ce qu'on ne vendra jamais. Les vendeurs ne sont pas à bout de solde! Les voyageurs n'ont pas à rendre leur commission de si tôt! (293)
[For sale, the bodies, the voices, the enormous and unquestionable wealth, that which will never be sold. Salesmen are not at the end of their stock! It will be some time before travelers have to turn in their accounts. (149)]
Ahearn argues that the speaker, by reversing the availability of the promised goods, informs us indirectly that "so long as we continue to exist in the mode of experience and discourse that seems natural to us and the poem subverts," we will never achieve the "revitalized mode of being" Rimbaud elsewhere affirms (126). Thus he reads "Solde" as urging us to return to Rimbaud's modernist project, and perhaps to cleanse ourselves of the commercial expectations that the poem raises only in order to disappoint.
 If the poem announces the insufficiency of modernist high purity, as I have argued, then recourse to the old redemptive poetic politics runs counter to its intent. While Ahearn is correct to assert that "Solde" undermines "the techniques and vocabulary of the socioproductive order" (126), he neglects to note the corresponding subversion of poetic language. Because the commercial so thoroughly pervades and dominates the lifeworld of the modern subject, that lifeworld's total exclusion from poetic practice can only register as literary escapism. A self-consumed poetry closed in on itself, obsessed with its inviolable integrity to the point of severing external reference, does not accord with the poet who states, "[j]e est un autre" ["I is some one else"]. Instead of reaffirming the limited prerogatives of exclusive identity, Rimbaud trespasses every boundary, propriety, and preconceived restriction of experience. Even the homoerotic flamboyance of prose-poems like "Conte" ["Tale"], "Parade" ["Side Show"], and "Vagabonds" ["Vagabonds"]–not to mention the complete explicitness of the "Sonnet du Trou du Cul" ["Asshole Sonnet," my translation], which Rimbaud composed with Verlaine–proves insufficiently unsettling, a frontier, that, once crossed, loses its strangeness. To the threat of habituation, to all that has been seen, had, or known, Rimbaud responds with a fresh departure. The refusal of poetic purity in "Solde" is not only the escape from another suspect safe harbor, but also a turn in a different political direction.
 In "Rimbaud and Patti Smith: Style as Social Deviance," Carrie Jaurès Noland writes that "'Solde' testifies to Rimbaud's awareness that all ideas, all cultural strategies may be appropriated and commodified" (607). Furthermore, "[w]hat the music industry would discover in the sixties and seventies–that resistance to commodification conforms brilliantly to commodification, that social deviance sells – is the implicit message of 'Solde'" (608). Noland traces the important role of Rimbaud in the development of punk rock, a history of the influence of avant-garde poetry on radical, not-so-popular music that raises serious doubts about Jameson's claim of Rimbaud's obsolescence. The aggressive dialogue that "Solde" initiates with commercial culture may not only give the contemporary reader the "ability to imagine the transgression of reality" (608) and some of the formal tools with which to enact it, but also warn of the pitfalls of performing subversions too easily replayed on the hegemonic stage. Sexual deviance in isolation may not suffice; rather than clinging to the redemptive possibilities of the sexed body, and thereby avoiding the economic underwriting of social relations, the more thorough-going perversion confronts commodification intimately.
 The ambiguity of the final paragraph of "Solde" concerns the paradox, "[à] vendre . . . ce qu'on ne vendra jamais" ["For sale . . . that which will never be sold"]. Does this mean that there are some things which simply cannot be sold, as Ahearn implies? Or might we interpret it as capitalism's final twist of the knife, that it will market even what eludes it, what seems to confound its operative logic? In "General Economics and Postmodern Capitalism," Jean-Joseph Goux argues that "the capitalist economy is founded on a metaphysical uncertainty regarding the object of human desire. It must create this desire through the invention of the new, the production of the unpredictable" (212). Yet whatever uncertainties capitalism cultivates, it has to direct the consumer toward a purchase; the various stories it tells all have the same ending. An apparent cornucopia of colorful options camouflages the lackluster reification of desire. The object of desire that it cannot standardize, package, and mass produce, it sentences to failure, thus forestalling significant change (or revolution). More than empty novelties, capitalism would fashion the human subject as ever-willing to be duped by its cycles of planned obsolescence, ever-interested in the next sequel to its fantasy narrative.
 For sale, that which will never be sold–I do not find this either-or choice, pricelessness or the pricing of absolutely everything, decidable, in part because the poem's concluding exclamations–"Les vendeurs ne sont pas à bout de solde! Les voyageurs n'ont pas à rendre leur commission de si tôt!" ["Salesmen are not at the end of their stock! It will be some time before travelers have to turn in their accounts"]–indicate that the transaction, whatever it is, certainly has not been concluded. What the commodities say has lost all coherence. Rimbaud leaves it to his readers to make a choice where choices appear impossible, to purchase something where it is neither clear what purchasing means, nor even what the goods are. This demystifies the commodity narrative. As the believability and attractiveness of these objects diminish, the exposed syntax of their elaboration invites inspection. I would argue, moreover, that the choice of whether "Solde" itself is a success or a failure also remains indeterminable, regardless of how sharply the poem belittles Rimbaud's earlier idealism. The allure of the prose poem as a genre resides in the delicate balance of presumably incompatible modes of language usage; "Solde" expresses that generic constituent in its careful paradoxes. This thematization of form is resolutely political.
 The optimism of "Solde," then, is its consequential open-endedness. The poem's concurrent deconstruction of commercial and poetic discourses may help to extricate us from unhelpful forms of closure. As Hugh Grady remarks in "Further Notes on Marxism(s) and the Lyric," poetry's capacity for "ideological distantiation" may be one of its crucial functions in the postmodern world (187). This would be a most promising provision for 'the new,' defamiliarization no longer limited to perception, but expanding to cognition and, ultimately, to practice–as Rimbaud desired from the beginning. The failure of Rimbaud to revolutionize his world does not have to translate into his futility for ours, so long as we are able to recognize it. "For," as Benjamin warns, "every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably" (255). Open-ended interpretation is a matter of historical justice.
 If Guillory is correct to conclude that the role of literature on the contemporary scene is its function as cultural capital in academic institutions, perhaps the very strange capital that Rimbaud offers deserves a lot more pedagogical attention than it currently receives–at least in the American institution. Rimbaud may, however, challenge the cultural capital model. As Noland asserts,
Students too easily accept the division between the classroom and the street, and the text and the arenas of political change. Perhaps this division needs to be revealed for what it is: a tenacious institutional construction that–like the text itself–paradoxically invites us to imagine its own débordement [overflowing]" (610).
No poetry better tutors such critical imagination than Rimbaud's; no poetry better maps débordement. Rimbaud also demonstrates that such imagination requires new forms: the received idioms of cultural reification will not serve this purpose, except through their rigorous disarticulation.
 Commodity culture teaches the subject to eroticize her or his own impoverishment. The unlearning experience that Rimbaud provides may have particular relevance not only to students, but also to queer activists. For if Rimbaud recognized more than one hundred years ago the susceptibility of homoerotic celebration to commercial cooptation, the same circumstance is painfully apparent to the contemporary purveyor of gay pride parades, where sex and gender subversion receives corporate sponsorship and a full array of product-identified accessories. The avoidance of social issues irreducible to sexual preference also registers as acquiescence to the prefabricated departmentalization of human misery. Combatting the commodification of the "queer" necessitates the very sort of disarticulation that the word itself instances. I would argue that attempting to maintain a non-commercial purity in queer communities is not a viable strategy; the task at hand is to pervert the order of exchange, rather than allow the invisible hand of the marketplace to regulate the homoerotic. In the worst years of the American A.I.D.S. crisis, the artistic production of ACT-UP and others revealed the efficacy of such confrontation; through the subversive appropriation of commercial messages and images, as well as by redefining the purposes of art, A.I.D.S. activists upset the political status-quo and brought needed attention to the pandemic. Rimbaud introduces us to the specifically erotic power of such art. This eroticism counters the passive consumption of reified, privatized sexuality, for it situates the subject as a potential agent of social change.
 The critique of modernist novelty begins with Rimbaud. In the sacrifice of his own dearly held poetic ideology, he shows us that past arrangements, old solutions, and outmoded visions must give way to the more stringent demands of the present. The contemporary deconstruction of myths of presence need not entail the dismissal of diachronous experience on the razor's edge of the now. Nothing necessitates capitulation to the postmodern ever-same. What remains of the past, as Benjamin advises, is what we use. In "Solde," Rimbaud encourages us to disrupt the false continuum of history, to seize the day, however overwhelming, as the beginning it always also is.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I would like to thank Leroy Searle, Ranjana Khanna, and Nancy Rubino for their assistance with this essay.
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Adorno, Theodor. Aesthetic Theory. Ed. Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann. Trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997.
Ahearn, Edward J. Rimbaud: Visions and Habitations. Berkeley: U of California P, 1983.
Benjamin, Walter. "Theses on the Philosophy of History." Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books, 1969: 253-64.
Bonnefoy, Yves. Arthur Rimbaud par lui-même. Paris: Hatier, 1968.
____. "L'outre-couleur." Rimbaud: Cahiers de l'Herne. Ed. André Guyaux. Paris: Éditions de l'Herne, 1993: 341-58.
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____. "The Hidden Dialectic: Avantgarde–Technology–Mass Culture." After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism. Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1986: 3-15.
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Marx, Karl. "The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret thereof." Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I. Ed. Frederick Engels. Trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling. New York: International Publishers, 1967: 71-83.
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Valéry, Paul. "Extraits de lettres, cahiers, textes divers." Ed. Judith Robinson-Valéry. Rimbaud: Cahiers de l'Herne. Ed. André Guyaux. Paris: Éditions de l'Herne, 1993: 273-85.
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A POET AGAINST POETRY
A book review of:
Rimbaud by Graham Robb (Picador)
Published: 30 September 2000
Rousseau cane up with the theory of the wild child, but it took Arthur Rimbaud to put it extravagantly into practice. Rimbaud was the ultimate drop-out: school, Paris, poetry, life, none could detain him for very long. And it is his scandalous example as much as his bewitching poetry that has been such an abiding bad influence on a century of ageing adolescents. He has been canonised by the academy, beatified by Bob Dylan and embodied by Leonardo di Caprio (in Christopher Hampton's Total Eclipse). He gave excellent poetic reasons for having nothing to do with poetry. To the biographer of Balzac and Hugo, Graham Robb, who fell in love with his work as a teenager, Rimbaud must have seemed an irresistible subject.
Rousseau cane up with the theory of the wild child, but it took Arthur Rimbaud to put it extravagantly into practice. Rimbaud was the ultimate drop-out: school, Paris, poetry, life, none could detain him for very long. And it is his scandalous example as much as his bewitching poetry that has been such an abiding bad influence on a century of ageing adolescents. He has been canonised by the academy, beatified by Bob Dylan and embodied by Leonardo di Caprio (in Christopher Hampton's Total Eclipse). He gave excellent poetic reasons for having nothing to do with poetry. To the biographer of Balzac and Hugo, Graham Robb, who fell in love with his work as a teenager, Rimbaud must have seemed an irresistible subject.
But any biographer of Rimbaud must encounter two equal and opposite problems. In his first phase, Rimbaud does very little but says and writes a great deal; in the second, he does an awful lot, but provides vanishingly little commentary.
On the one hand is an excess of discourse over substance, issuing in dense, quasi-mystical slabs of verse (Illuminations, A Season in Hell); on the other, an overload of Tintin-in-Africa heroics which left him too busy for anything other than the most prosaic and misleading notes home ("modern astronauts sound poetic by comparison," Robb acknowledges).
In each case, the biographer has to run against the grain of his subject's inclinations. Robb's Rimbaud is encyclopaedic and subtle. But like someone having to explain a joke, Robb is obliged to labour over the meaning of such resonant lines as "Je est un autre". Then, when Rimbaud gives up Parnassus for Harrar, he must colour in the tantalising blanks.
All the usual suspects appear on the scene of Rimbaud's teenage angst: the absent father, the overly-present mother, the grinding dullness of the provinces, revolutionary turmoil in the capital. The young Arthur was the most brilliant student at the College de Charleville and worked up a nice little earner as a Latininist-for-hire to fellow pupils. One plausible hypothesis from Robb's account is that Rimbaud was essentially a shrewd entrepreneur who worked out what the market wanted, gave it them, then moved on to the next deal. But this was no top-hatted capitalist. You can almost smell Robb's picture of the lice-ridden ragamuffin scrounger in Paris: "Rimbaud was a semi-stagnant eco-system with its own atmosphere and verminous population".
There is no account of the notorious Rimbaud-Verlaine spree across France, Belgium and England that does not favour Rimbaud. Robb, although judicious, still leans towards Rimbaud's egocentric vagabondage. Personally, I don't blame Verlaine for pausing to wonder if he had really done the right thing in ditching wife and child in favour of a barely house-trained but charming maniac. When Verlaine, entertaining suicide, shoots Rimbaud (wounding him in the arm), I can't help feeling that Rimbaud - who has been blackmailing him with the threat of exposure as a homosexual - was asking for it.
Robb gives the poetry a plausible biographical spin: since "The Drunken Boat" appears to mean everything and nothing in particular it might just as well be a lament for the long-gone father, Captain Rimbaud. But Robb leaves intact the more metaphysical idea that in order to be a decent writer you have to get filthy, take drugs, and have a sado-masochistic gay fling. Maybe William Hague would agree that "with Rimbaud, drunkenness was an intellectual journey". Robb rightly points out, however, that for an enfant terrible, intent on shocking the bourgeosie, Rimbaud spent an awful lot of time at home with his Mum.
But Rimbaud found even the vie de Boheme too stodgy and took off for the East, leaving literature behind. More truly Vernian than Jules Verne - a mere armchair traveller - Rimbaud's own voyages extraordinaires take him to Java, where he deserts from the Dutch colonial army, and finally Abyssinia, where he turns his hand to gun-running, possibly slave-trading, and even becoming a semi-married man.
Where Charles Nicholl, in Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa, was lyrically mournful, Robb is more upbeat. He see Rimbaud as a successful trader who is simply unlucky to die, aged 37, of a dodgy knee (and amputation). At the very least he attained a working knowledge of many languages: not just English, but Arabic, Amharic, Adarinya, Oromo and Somali. Had he ever returned to writing, that multilingual oeuvre would surely have made Finnegans Wake seem easy.
The real mystery of Rimbaud is not that he gave up poetry at 21 but rather that he stuck with it as long as he did when he hated it so much. Which is why it is possible to idolise Rimbaud and still loathe French literature at large.
In 1876, sailing back to Europe, Rimbaud tried to swim to Saint Helena, where Napoleon died in exile, but was dragged back to the ship. Rimbaud was another of those 19th-century writers - like Balzac and Hugo - who dreamed of being a Napoleon of letters. Rimbaud alone had a real shot at carving out his own small empire in the heart of darkness.
Andy Martin (who teaches French at Cambridge University)
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BOOK REVIEW: DELINQUENT WITH AN ART OF GOLD
(Independent, The (London), Sep 17, 2000 by Robin Buss)
Arthur Rimbaud, voyant et voyou ("seer and delinquent") offers special challenges to a biographer. Having to describe the personality of someone who famously announced "I is another", is only the start. The fate of this "I" has been resurrection as a host of others, an accretion of myths tailored to suit the myth-maker which started in Rimbaud's lifetime and has not stopped since. His friend, lover and mentor Paul Verlaine enrolled him among the literary damned, les poetes maudits, while an early admirer, the Catholic poet Paul Claudel, tried to redeem him through an alleged deathbed conversion, and since then every little voyou with a taste for drugs and drinks, an urge to adopt a Bohemian lifestyle and basic literacy skills has felt an affinity with the adolescent who announced his intention to undertake "a long, immense and rational derangement of all the senses" - as Graham Robb remarks, the word "rational" is often omitted from this quotation.
The life has given Rimbaud what Robb calls "his posthumous career as Symbolist, Surrealist, Beat poet, student revolutionary, rock lyricist, gay pioneer and inspired drug-user... an emergency exit from the house of convention". His example has inspired so many that his influence seems at times ubiquitous: you can find him in Dylan Thomas ("the Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin drive"), say, or in Jim Morrison (who is believed, by some, to have faked his death and set off, like Rimbaud, for Africa); in punks, singers, painters, travellers, revolutionaries, criminals... and, of course, throughout French literature since his time where the effect of his work has been great, if hard to quantify. It is to Robb's credit that he has managed, in this exceptional biography, to offer a version of Rimbaud that is plausible in human terms, with a sober account of the poetry.
The poetry is one of the problems. There were poets in the Romantic era, Byron, Shelley and Pushkin among them, whose lives and tragic deaths made them easily mythologisable, but the myths were divorced from the work, which was there to be judged on its own terms. The idiom of Rimbaud's poetry, however, opaque, mystical, allusive, has made it the site of endless exploration and interpretation. The famous "Sonnet of the Vowels" begins:
A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles
Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes
("A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels / One day I will recount your latent births", in the literal version that Robb gives in his text, adding the originals in an appendix).
But how seriously should this attribution of colours be taken? Does it reflect the poet's reading of books on universal harmony, an absinthe- induced vision, conscious or subconscious memories of children's primers, or a random, idiosyncratic fancy? When a well-respected critic (Rene Etiemble) can devote a book to these 14 lines, concluding that they depict the body of a woman with green hair at the moment of orgasm, then the field may be said to be open.
There is not much that Graham Robb can do with this particular poem except to point to the most likely sources of inspiration; though some reader, of course, may even now be discovering it afresh, and feel the indefinable charm that Rimbaud's poetry so often exerts, regardless of meaning. Robb rightly sees his task as meticulously separating probability from fantasy and situating the work in the context of Rimbaud's life and time. The poet was born in Charleville, a small town in northern France on the River Meuse, in 1854, the son of an army captain, who was to feature little in his early life (and not at all after 1860), and an embittered mother with a forbidding personality. She would outlive her son and there has been much speculation about her influence on him.
Unlike that other poetic prodigy, Thomas Chatterton, Rimbaud was not uneducated. At the College de Charleville, which he attended from the age of 10, he was in one of the best educational systems in Europe and quickly learned how to excel. Robb remarks that his school career was "one of the most glittering in French literature" - arguably even more brilliant than that of the biographer's previous subject, Victor Hugo. He was soon winning prizes in regional competitions for French and Latin verse. The poet's erudition has usually been played down by later admirers: the shining path to the Imitation of Rimbaud starts with hashish and absinthe rather than with Latin hexameters.
The effect of this success was something that often happens to children who learn early in life how to exploit the system: he came to despise it. He began by seeing what he could get away with: a Latin poem on the French conquest of Algeria, comparing the Algerian leader Abd-el-Kader with the Numidian King Jugurtha, was probably written with irony, and he cribbed a translation of Lucretius from the poet Sully-Prudhomme; he was not found out until 1930. His own poems were increasingly obscene and blasphemous. Young Rimbaud had written an ode for the first communion of Napoleon III's son, but any admiration that he may have had for the pathetic regime of the Second Empire collapsed with the disastrous war against Prussia in 1870. By the time of the Commune in the following year, he was almost certainly in Paris, though how much he saw or felt about the events remains a mystery. Jacques Roubaud has published an analysis of the poem "Qu'est-ce pour nous, mon coeur?" which sees it as both a lament for the dead of the Commune and for the abandonment of the regular metre of the alexandrine. As ever, Rimbaud remains open to a variety of interpretations.
The rest of the poet's literary career is almost over-familiar: the passionate, destructive affair with Verlaine, their residence in London, the shooting incident in Brussels and the abandonment of poetry. Young Rimbaud is someone nicer to know about than to know. For a start, his table manners and personal hygiene were not up to acceptable standards, even in his time: "The filth which is so often associated with Rimbaud should be placed in its historical context - an age when weekly bathing was considered excessive. This was not the faint patina and smell that the word `filth' conjures up today. After a hundred days in the city, Rimbaud was a semi- stagnant eco-system with its own atmosphere and verminous population."
He had an uncomfortable sense of humour. Living at one point with a friend suffering from TB, he ejaculated into his host's daily glass of milk, and cut the panes out of his window. On another occasion, he pinned a man's hand to a cafe table with a knife. He was unpredictable, careless of consequences and no respecter of persons; yet, as Robb points out, he regularly went home for Christmas and kept in contact with his family in Charleville.
It is only because our culture values literature so highly that the period after 1875, when Rimbaud apparently stopped writing poetry, seems an anticlimax and a mockery of our admiration. In fact, what followed was by far the most interesting part of his life. Having studiously avoided conscription in his own country, he enrolled in the Dutch colonial army and set sail for Java. Within a fortnight of his arrival, he had deserted (risking execution if caught), made his way through the jungle and, according to Robb's researches, escaped under the name "Edwin Holmes" on an English merchant vessel that was nearly wrecked on its homeward voyage.
A period of wandering followed. As a foreman in charge of navvies at a stone quarry on Cyprus, he may have killed a man in a fit of temper. He was certainly keen to leave Europe and by 1880 was in Aden. Robb argues persuasively that Rimbaud in Abyssinia, where he spent most of the rest of his life, should be counted among the last of the great 19th-century explorers, and that the odd-sounding requests for books and equipment that he sent home were not evidence of insanity, but entirely reasonable in Rimbaud's circumstances. He learned Arabic, Amharic and several other East African languages, gaining the confidence of the Abyssinians well enough to survive (an achievement in itself) and to make a lot of money trading in various commodities, including guns. In personality, he was still abrasive, with little apparent regard for his own safety. He was probably happier at this time than at any other. Robb devotes about one- third of his gripping biography to this African adventure, the conclusion to a short life lived entirely on its own terms. The final irony is that Rimbaud, dimly reflected in so many later lives, defies imitation. n Above: Henri Fantin-Latour's "Un Coin de Table", depicting the decadent poets of the day; Rimbaud and Verlaine are seated far left.
Below: Rimbaud by Carjat (1871)
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NEW LIGHT ON A TOTAL ECLIPSE
(Independent, The (London), May 10, 1997 by Duncan Fallowell)
It is an amazing story. Arthur Rimbaud, the unknown 16-year-old delinquent poet, writes to Verlaine - established and nearly 30 - then turns up at the older poet's home in Paris. Verlaine falls in love with the boy and deserts his pregnant wife. The two flee to London and have a violent affair fuelled by huge amounts of alcohol.
Verlaine eventually escapes to his mother in Brussels. Rimbaud follows, only to say he's leaving Verlaine. Verlaine begs him to stay; Rimbaud says no. Verlaine shoots him with a revolver, hits him in the arm, goes to prison. Rimbaud, tries England again - weirdly, he turns up in Reading in 1874 - before abandoning literature and working as a trader in Aden and Ethiopia for the last 11 years of his life. He came back to France in 1891 to die. Verlaine died five years later. Both were victims of bohemianism at its most exultant.
The first quarter of Charles Nicholl's book recounts Rimbaud's earlier life with Verlaine. It is written in high focus, with a strong narrative drive, because much was happening and there is substantial documentation. Then, as Rimbaud embarks on his African period in 1880, the style changes. It falters and drifts in an atmosphere of tropical reverie, hashish dream and sandstorm. We are among nostalgic yearnings, sun-yellowed extracts from forgotten company ledgers, conjecture, a stream of exotic places and few events. The documentary back-up for this phase is negligible - Rimbaud's few letters home and the recollections of commercial colleagues. Whatever there may be of hard-core evidence Nicholl has assiduously traced. But it doesn't amount to a picture. The dossier-like form of the ensuing book and its author's feline performance with very speculative material present a constant tease. Perhaps we shall soon come to somewhere; perhaps we shall even meet Rimbaud, strangely sensed as one who, wherever you turn up, has just left the room. Certain of Nicholl's tricks do not feel right. The on-the-road Bob Dylan sub-theme is pure hippy sentimentality. The switches from past to present tense in historical passages is bogus originality. The present tense in biographical work always comes across as mannered, though not in autobiography. In autobiography the present tense brings one closer to the subject, whereas in biography it takes one further away. So the present is obviously less grating when Nicholl employs it to recount his own recent journeys in Rimbaud's footsteps. Yet Nicholl keeps himself quite as much of a ghost as Rimbaud, in what one may call the peeping-Tom school of travel writing (Bruce Chatwin and Colin Thubron are the recent masters). The author says "Just go about your affairs as though I weren't here", which produces endless scene-setting and no adventure. Nicholl gives us a superb description of the arrival of evening in Djibouti - an evening on which nothing whatsoever happens. The avoidance of emotional contact is very English and maybe even appropriate. In Africa, Rimbaud sought to turn himself into a stoical, abstracted Englishman. Previously he'd been outrageously the Parisian artist, extravagantly self- aware and expressive, pushing poetry off all sorts of cliffs. Eventually one adjusts to Nicholl's oscillation of unrealised possibilities and shifts of perspective, even when the background swallows up the foreground. When, for example, a paragraph referring to some obscure record Nicholl has managed to locate begins "There are 14 camel-suppliers named", one knows one's going to be taken through the whole lot. Yet one accepts it because in such a remote, formless terrain of faint echoes and heat-haze, there isn't much else to do. Unexpectedly, one comes away with more than a ghost. Nicholl quotes Rimbaud's prescient line: "Exiled here, I had a stage on which to perform dramatic masterpieces". They were very private masterpieces too. Thankfully his colleagues were less reticent. One describes him as "closed-up". Another said "He was, it was plain to see, an embittered and irascible man". His hair went prematurely grey. He took an Abyssinian mistress but there were no children and his greatest emotional attachment was to a servant boy. A part of him was somehow ego-less, picking up local languages very quickly and slipping effortlessly into the rhythms of native life. He traded in gold, ivory, guns, earthenware jugs of his own design, but not slaves. It also becomes very clear what drove Verlaine mad. Rimbaud was the classic pain-in-the-neck adolescent, relentlessly sarcastic, clever, surly, uncooperative. He seems to have stayed that way. There is a terrible stubbornness against life in Rimbaud. Nicholl refers to "The horror of stasis: to arrive at the empty inn, at the end of the adventure, and find your old self waiting for you". If you refuse to react with life this is what will happen. Nicholl doesn't investigate the crassness - or divine idiocy - in Rimbaud, the refusal to connect or care about anything or anybody. Nor, in a book fundamentally about the need to escape, does he pursue that great idea either. Why did Rimbaud need to escape so completely? Why did he stop writing? Why, for that matter, did he start writing? What is the connection between poetry and fury? Lists of camel-suppliers are all very well but some intellectual exploration to parallel the geographical would have been fruitful. The end is ghastly and movingly rendered. Rimbaud returns to France with a severe leg infection. The leg is amputated. He becomes trapped in a Marseille hospital, between his need to go north to his family and south to Africa. He dies there, watched over by a sister, and Rimbaud's moroseness at last attains its Hamlet-like nobility.
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(Independent, The (London), Mar 31, 1997 by Roger Clarke)
How does a 19th-century symbolist poet like Arthur Rimbaud, an almost exact contemporary of Van Gogh, manage to exert such a spell on contemporary culture and contemporary popular culture in particular? A recent Pocket Penguin edition of the poet's last poem has sold 60,000 copies. He's up there with Burroughs, Bukowski and William Blake as one of the exalted four of the Internet generation - one of those visionaries who happened to push back the envelope of perception and who adapt so well to the era of pop and cyberspace.
Last month, the Richard Alston Dance Company toured with Visions, a Rimbaudian inspired dance and, on her comeback tour last year, Patti Smith interrupted her show in London to read from the Rimbaud uvre. And had she switched on the TV, she would have seen Eric Cantona finding "room to breathe" on the Eurostar while ostentatiously reading a book of Rimbaud's poems (as does the Terence Stamp character reading on the lawn in Teorema - Pasolini was of course another Rimbaud fan). Cantona puzzled many tabloid hacks at a famous press conference in a now celebrated monologue involving "seagulls" and "trawlers". Little did the sports journalists realise that their idol was giving them a masterclass in Rimbaudian imagery.
In Total Eclipse, this month's much delayed British release of Agnieszcka Holland's disappointing film about the volatile relationship between Rimbaud and fellow poet, Paul Verlaine, the appropriately pretty Leonardo DiCaprio plays the poet as a capricious brat; it was a role originally intended for River Phoenix. Christopher Hampton, who wrote the original stage play back in 1967, himself grabs some cameo roles in the film: significantly, as the photographer attacked by Rimbaud with a swordstick, and again as the Belgian judge who sentences Verlaine to imprisonment for immorality. It was the play that launched Hampton's career, for it was in the Sixties that the great rediscovery of Rimbaud took place. This Sixties fetishisation of the poet is evident in Charles Nicholl's new travel book Someone Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa 1880-91 (published by Cape in April). Nicholl observes the influence of Rimbaud on Bob Dylan who, as early as 1965, name-checked Rimbaud in an interview. Rimbaud became, for the Sixties generation, the original alienated rebel, vagabond poet, the dropout who practised "systematic derangement of the senses" 100 years before the "Summer of Love". Rimbaud is one of those template icons who is all things to all people: young kids identify with his rebellion, musicians (like Benjamin Britten, in Les Illuminations) with his verbal musicality, dancers and choreographers (like Richard Alston) with his physicality, gay men with his up-front sexual stance, travel writers (like Nicholl or Philip Smedley) with his feverish wanderlust. Born in the north of France in 1854, the son of a soldier, he had youthful ambitions to be a poet and ran away from home in his early teens, embarking upon what was always to be a nomadic existence. Written-out before the age of 19, he turned his back on the dandified poetry scene in Paris and went abroad to become a coffee-trader and arms-dealer on the north-east coast of Africa.
Bruce Chatwin, with whom I wrote an opera libretto about Rimbaud's "lost" period in Africa, and who named his last book What Am I Doing Here after a Rimbaud quote, always said that the poet had to give up writing or "go mad". Every writer sometimes entertains the fantasy of "giving up writing for ever", but Rimbaud actually did it - he pushed the artistic self-destruct button. On his deathbed, nursed by a sister unaware that he had even been a poet, the family doctor at Roche casually asked his bedridden patient about his work written 15 years earlier. The great poet merely rasped "poetry is a load of shit" and turned away in disgust. Oliver Bernard, younger brother of lowlifer Jeffrey, is a Rimbaud enthusiast who has translated Rimbaud's poems for the Penguin edition and who regularly gives readings of Rimbaud's final poem A Season in Hell. Like Nicholl and a recent leaden Swiss docudrama, he tries to downplay Rimbaud's errant sexuality. "He was no more or less gay than any 15-year-old," Bernard claims mysteriously, deploring Hampton's filmscript and play as "making too much of his homosexuality" - apparently unaware that sexual appropriation can go both ways. Gay Italian wildman and best-selling novelist Aldo Busi has no such queasiness about Rimbaud's preferences ("Arthur turns out to have been sexually indifferent") and, in his own customary otiose style, in the recently published English edition of Uses and Abuses, launches a spirited defence of Rimbaud's much-maligned over-strict mother Vitalie Cuif - yet another example of classic Rimbaudian projection (Busi's own beloved mother, in her eighties, cooks him lunch every day).
Many of Rimbaud's horrible sufferings during his final illness, when he came back from Ethiopia while still in his thirties to die in France, were shared by Bruce Chatwin, who even suffered similar physical symptoms to those ascribed to the "invalids" in A Season in Hell - Rimbaud's remarkably prescient and visionary account of the rest of his own life. Busi was not to know this when he wrote about Rimbaud, but it is fascinating that he throws out, almost casually, the possibility that Rimbaud himself may have had Aids ("l even came across the word 'sarcoma'," Busi notes in relation to Rimbaud's illness) and thus constituted the "first Aids death of modern times". Could the virus have been active in Africa even at that date? Busi is another child of the Sixties, and of all Rimbaud's modern admirers, the most like him. It was the Beat poets, such as Allen Ginsberg, who in the Sixties filtered Rimbaud into the then emerging pop culture; after all, had he not been to Africa a century before Burroughs and the rest fled to Tangier? Was he not the original "on the road" writer? Certainly Dylan learnt much from Ginsberg, and Patti Smith from Burroughs. Many have felt a passionate identification with Rimbaud; Serge Gainsbourg once said on camera that he would "meet Rimbaud in Abyssinia" after his death, while the inhabitants of Roche found a wreathe from Gainsbourg's family laid outside the Rimbaud farmhouse just after the singer's death. Henry Miller wrote a whole book about his obsession, The Time of Assassins. Before Chatwin's demise his identification with the poet was so profound, he insisted he should play a role in the opera we were writing for composer Kevin Volans. Others like just to namecheck the poet for street cred reasons, like the 17-year-old Hollywood screenwriter wunderbrat Jessica Kaplan in a recent issue of Details magazine. Others are interested more in the Rimbaud cult, like the director Todd Haynes, now in London to film his glamrock movie Velvet Underground with Ewan McGregor. His unseen graduation film was about "all those books about Rimbaud". It's hard to say what the poet would have made of all the adoration paid to him; one can't help thinking the boy poet might well have attacked many of his disciples with a swordstick, or thrown lice at them, or tripped up the dancers. Perhaps in the late 20th century his nomadic spirit would have been content with a recording contract and a PC with an Internet link. Rimbaud's famous dictum "we must be absolutely modern" has never seemed more threatening than it does now, in our culturally censorious and fearful environment.
['Total Eclipse' opened on Fri 11 April 1997]
Jean-Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud born October 20, 1854 at Charleville, now part of Charleville-Mezieres, in the Ardennes departement in northeastern France, in his maternal grandfather's house. His father, Frederic Rimbaud was a Captain of Infantry, risen to his rank from that of a simple recruit. He is the author of certain unpublished military works and the french-translated Koran, which Arthur will later use to learn Arabic.
Rimbaud goes as a day boy to the Rossat Institute in Charleville. The story:
"The sun was still warm, it hardly lit up the earth any more, however; just as a torch placed against the... only lights them up with a feeble light, so the sun, torch of the earth, was going out, letting a last feeble light escape from its body of fire, which nevertheless allowed the green leaves of the trees, the little fading flowers, and the enormous tops of the centuries-old pines, poplars, and okas to be seen. The refreshing wind, that is to say a fresh breeze, moved the leaves of the trees with a rustling somewhat similar to that which the silvery waters of the brook made, flowing at my feet. The ferns bent their green heads before the wind. I fell asleep, not without refreshing myself with the water of the brook.
I dreamt that... I was born in Rheims, in the year 1503.
At that time Rheims was a little town, or, to put it better, a borough, nevertheless famous for its beautiful cathedral, witness to the coronation of king Clovis."
Rimbaud enters the College de Charleville, aged ten.
Rimbaud addresses 'under the strictest secrecy', sixty Latin hexameters to the Imperial Prince on the occasion of the latter's first Communion; his tutor asks Rimbaud's headmaster to thank him publicly. (see poem The ball-boy, the Pubescent)
Rimbaud wins the Latin Poetry Prize at the Concours Academique. His first known french verse composition, Les Etrennes des orphelins, is written. It appears in the Revue pour tous on January 2, 1870.
Rimbaud movies up to the Class of Rhetoric, and became friends with Georges Izambard. Izambard is a young teacher with revolutionary tendencies, who encourages him, to the outage of his mother, to read Rabelais and Hugo. In his 15th year Rimbaud is already a poet. He writes to Banville but too late to have his Sensation, Ophelie, and Soleil et chair published in ”Parnasse contemporain”; but his 'Premiere Soiree' appears, under the tittle 'Trois Baisers', in a satirical periodical called La Charge. On August 29, Rimbaud sells his prize books and takes the train to Paris, hoping to witness the fall to Imperial Government. He rans away another time from home to Belgium, where he writes La Maline, Au Cabaret-Vert, Le Buffet, Reve pour l'hiver and Ma Boheme. He took off to Brussels, where he appears unannounced at the house of some friends of Izambard's, who send him to Douai where Izambard's adoptive 'aunts' live. There he writes Rages de Cesars, L'Elatante Victoire de Sarrebruck, Le Dormeur du val, and Le Mal.
He frequently ran away from home and may have briefly joined the Paris Commune, which he portrayed in his poem L'Orgie parisienne ou Paris se repeuple. At 19, he ran away from the literary world for a stint abroad as a coffee merchant and part-time gun-runner. He may have been raped by drunken Communard soldiers (his poem "Le Coeur supplicie" suggests so). By then he had become an anarchist, started drinking and amused himself by shocking the local bourgeois with his shabby dressing and long hair. At the same time he wrote to Izambard and Paul Demeny about his method for attaining poetical transcendence or visionary power through a "long, immense and rational derangement of all the senses" "Les lettres du Voyant". He returned to Paris in late September 1871 at the invitation of the eminent Parnassian poet Paul Verlaine (after Rimbaud had sent him a letter containing several samples of his work) and resided briefly in Verlaine's home. Verlaine, who was bisexual, promptly fell in love with the sullen, blue-eyed, overgrown 5'10", light-brown-haired adolescent. They became lovers and led a dissolute, vagabond-like life rocked by absinthe and hashish. They scandalized the Parisian literary elite on account of the outrageous behaviour of Rimbaud, the archetypical enfant terrible, and their pederasty. Throughout this period he continued to write strikingly visionary, modern verses.
Rimbaud and Verlaine spend their days in the cafes of the Quartier Latin. Verlaine's mother-in-law accused Rimbaud of corrupting Verlaine on the account between Verlaine;s constant violence with his wife, who has given birth to a son in October 1871, and is only 18. Rimbaud turned to the streets of Paris where he learned to drink absinthe and to smoke hashish. On his return to Charleville in March 1872, he writes the poems Memoire, Michel et Christine, Larme, La Riviere de Cassis, Comedie de la soif, Bonne Pensee du matin, Fetes de la patience, and Chanson de la plus haute tour. In June he writes his last poems in verse Est-elle almee?, Age d'or, Fetes de la faim, O saisons, o chateaux, and the beginning of the period of Illuminations.
Although Rimbaud said that Paris was just a 'pretty little provincial town', the Illuminations called 'metropolitan' and 'villes' seem to be very vivid and convincing descriptions of the horror of a large city such as London was at that time. The possibility that Rimbaud and Verlaine learned to smoke opium in Chinese dens near the Docks may help to explain the distortion of vision one encounters in these prose poems. Rimbaud returnes to Roche, where his mother's farm is, in April. Rather than help on the farm, he shuts humself up to begin writing Une Saison en Enfer. Verlaine manages to persuade Rimbaudto go to England with him, which Rimbaud soon regrets. It is also said that at this time Rimbaud fell in love with a girl he saw on the Underground whom he used to follow home but dared not speak to; thus his work Bottom. After a violent quarrel, Verlaine leaves Rimbaud and goes to Brussels, where Rimbaud follws him, and the shooting occurs. Verlaine fires two shots at Rimbaud, one of which hits him in the wrist; thus the poem Deposition. Rimbaud goes back to Roche in sling and finishes Une Saision en Enfer. Verlaine is sent to prison for 2 years.
Having arranged to have Une Saison en Enfer printed in Belgium, Rimbaud renounced literature and loses interest, thus leaving the printing to halt, with only half a dozen author's copies remaind at the printer's until 1914. With intentions of perfecting his English, Rimbaud set off to London with Germain Nouveau,a young poet he met in Paris. He teaches in various establishments in England and Scotland. The two of them both hold British Museum Library reader's tickets.
Travel in Germany, Italy, Switzerland. Studies German, Spanish, Arabic, Italian, Dutch and modern Greek. Joins the Dutch colonial army on a six-year engagement; deserts in Batavia after 3 weeks in the East Indies, and returns to France on an English sailing ship, walking home from Bordeaux. Visits Vienna, Holland, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. Verlaine converted to Catholicism and begs Rimbaud to become so too on their last meeting in Stuttgart.
Rimbaud sails to Alexandria from Marseille, but falls sick and disembarked at Civita Vecchia, visits Rome and back to Charleville during winter.
He is in Cyprus directing operations for the building of the Governor-General's residence. Rimbaud became a trader in North Africa, with headquarters at Harar and Shoa, central Abyssinia. He arrives on December 13 after 20 days on horseback in the Somali desert.
Rimbaud’s employers ask him to investigate the territories of Somaliland and Galla. He also became the first European to cross the territory of the unknown region of Ogadine.
1883: He got his report about Ogadine published to the Societe de Georgaphie on December 10th.
Rimbaud is living as husband to an Abyssinian girl; but as he wishes to become a gun-runner, he has her repatriated. His gun-running enterprise failed. He obtains license to sell arms, ammunition and is involved in the slave trade with Turkey and Arabia.
Verlaine, under the impression that Rimbaud was no longer alive, published the latter's poems in Illuminations (trans. 1932). This work contains the famous Sonnet des voyelles, in which each of the five vowels is associated with a different color.
Rimbaud is attacked by a tumour on the right knee, on his arrival in France in May, where his leg is amputated at the Hospital de la Conception in Marseille. He returns home to Roche, but then goes back to Marseille when his condition worsens. On December 10, 1891- Rimbaud dies aged 37, in the Hospital de la Conception. On the strength of a few poems that he wrote between the ages of 10 and 20, Rimbaud ranks as one of the most original of all French poets.
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italiano / français
OPERE VARIE incl. ALBUM ZUTIQUE
italiano / français
italiano / français
UNE SAISON EN ENFER|
italiano / français
A SEASON IN HELL
SAGGI & VARIE, e anche:|
~ Saggio di Verlaine 1
~ Saggio di Verlaine 2 + poesie
BIOGRAFIE & NOTIZIE|
italiano / français / English
BIOGRAPHIES & ESSAYS|