He held out for some sort of salvation, but what that was to be, its form, went largely unknown and undefined. The broken home, childhood sexual trauma, abusive parents, addiction. Like Jean Genet, the criminal and outlaw experience informed the work. In significant measure, it was poetics, an aesthetic of verse that paid tribute to the pleasure principle, through his “reordering of the senses”, a departure from earlier forms which coincided with industrialization, consumerism and the new urban reality as articulated by Baudelaire, with Rimbaud fitting these new conventions by-products of capitalism where art was marginalized and there was a repression of the erotic influenced by Victorianism.
Rimbaud’s program was a genuine, self-exploratory act, of releasing the soul of its own consciousness and seeking individuation in the face of the new stereotypes that bourgeois values and affluence were creating. A desire for autonomy as well as a larger connection. Artistically, it was really the opposite of our postmodern staged acting of madness. Rimbaud wanted to shatter the mold of artistic convention by asserting a complete derangement of the senses, an authentic shock of the new transforming suffering into a kind of clairvoyance and lucidity. Of course, it became a protracted period in hell; bamboozled by his own ideology as art, the Franz Kafka eternal catastrophe bounded by myth he ostensibly sought to break the fetters of. The alchemy being a conversion of the mainly sordid prime material of his life into sublime art, if unfinished. Rimbaud’s psychic images, early depth psychology, have the qualities of a vigorous and energetic purity, but were always slightly contaminated by the venting, too powerful, of suffering and dissatisfaction, the modern malaise of nothingness that inevitably arises with a protracted distancing, suspension, of relations with reality.
The worn-out ideas of old-fashioned poetry played an important part in my alchemy of the word.
I got used to elementary hallucination: I could very precisely see a mosque instead of a factory, a drum corps of angels, horse carts on the highways of the sky, a drawing room at the bottom of a lake; monsters and mysteries; a vaudeville’s title filled me with awe.
And so I explained my magical sophistries by turning words into visions!
At last, I began to consider my mind’s disorder a sacred thing. I lay about idle, consumed by an oppressive fever: I envied the bliss of animals – caterpillars, who portray the innocence of a second childhood, moles, the slumber of virginity! ( Rimbaud )
Michael Ehrhardt: Rimbaud believed he could become a seer through the re-invention of language, what he called the “alchemy of the word” and the “re-ordering of the senses.” In his famous poem “Voyelles,” he claimed he could detect colors in words; he claims to have invented the colors of vowels. The condition of “synesthesia” is reportedly common among artists and poets. Do you think he suffered from it?
Edmund White: A person who is capable of synesthesia might see colors in the sounds of vowels or in listening to music. While that’s a fascinating part of his work, I think he was influenced in this respect by Baudelaire, who was the great apostle of the idea of synesthesia. Baudelaire’s other famous dictum was to “be drunk, always.” Rimbaud and Verlaine were always imbibing absinthe, which was believed to produce a state of hyper-creativity. They smoked hashish as well….
ME: Do you believe Rimbaud was really convinced he could transform life through poetry?
EW: He did believe in the disordering of the senses, of creating a kind of liberating chaos. It might come at a terrible cost to you, not to mention to your friends, but that’s all right, because out of this great disorder comes this great poetry. After all, whereas prose is realistic and chatty, poetry has an exalted side to it, where you transform the everyday into the fantastic. For instance, Rimbaud writes about seeing a mosque instead of a factory. He took the idea of being a mage, or seer, quite seriously. He even read books on alchemy and magic. There’s a famous letter that he wrote called the “Lettre du Voyant,” which he wrote to two different people and stated that the poet must be a kind of seer. Rimbaud’s literary era was really at the height of the Romantic period with a capital R, and the notion of the artist was to achieve the sublime. He seriously believed that poetry had these remarkable powers. And when it failed him, or didn’t work out that way, he abandoned the whole project with a lot of anger and declared it hogwash. His career as a poet was a very brief, flaming career….
…ME: It’s fascinating to think that in America Walt Whitman was singing “the body electric” and celebrating the “beautiful and sane affection of man for man,” and died a year after Rimbaud did in 1892. Rimbaud was a voracious reader; do you know if he ever read Emerson or Whitman?
EW: There’s no evidence of that. But probably not, since, while Rimbaud was very proficient in languages, his grasp of English wasn’t all that good. And Whitman hadn’t been widely translated during his lifetime, so he couldn’t have been an influence. Also, in a provincial village like Charleville, books were scarce and too expensive for a student. When I was doing my research on Genet, who was brought up in a similar village, I discovered that there were only about forty books available there. Remember, this was the era before public libraries. Rimbaud knew the ancient Greek poets and was proficient in Latin. He borrowed all the latest poetry books and journals from his professor Georges Izambard….
…ME: Balzac, who was a follower of the mystic Swedenborg, and had already published his “Seraphita” in Rimbaud’s era, wrote about an androgynous, angelic creature of a higher intelligence, which seems to anticipate poems like “Génie” or “Antique.” Could that have been one source for his poems?
EW: Possibly. In Charleville, he borrowed books from an obese, older gay man, Charles Bretagne, whom he’d met at a local café and befriended, and whose opinion he respected. These were books about alchemy, mysticism, and the occult, which were very popular at the time. Swedenborg’s philosophy was widespread and had already influenced writers such as Blake and Baudelaire. Baudelaire’s famous poem “Correspondences” and longer prose poems must have had an influence on Rimbaud. These studies had a big influence on his poetic language. He also consumed books on science and the latest technology, which encouraged him in his visions of a utopian future. In London, he was constantly going to the library to keep up with the latest developments.
ME: Verlaine had never met Rimbaud before he came to Paris, right?
EW: Right. Verlaine didn’t even know Rimbaud was young and cute; it’s one thing to invite someone if you know they’re a hot sixteen-year-old on the make as a writer—but he was actually impressed by the poetry. Rimbaud arrived with a secret weapon in his baggage—which was “Le Bateau Ivre,” “The Drunken Boat” —and he read it to a group of poets, and they were just bowled over because no one had ever written anything like it. Mind you, they were competitive artists, not ready to concede their preeminence to a sixteen-year-old raw peasant. But they could all see what a genius he was. Remember, Verlaine’s own poetry took off after he met Rimbaud. I love Verlaine’s poetry as much as I do Rimbaud’s, and I think he was a great genius. But it is true that he responded to the challenge that the younger poet represented. Yet Rimbaud’s behavior was so reprehensible at times that he couldn’t help put the others off. For instance, people would give him their maid’s room to live in, and then he’d piss on everything. Or he’d stand in the window nude and jerk off, or break their heirlooms. He wasn’t a very nice guest. Read More:http://www.glreview.com/article.php?articleid=141
Henry Miller:‘Until I ran across Rimbaud it was Dostoievsky who reigned supreme. In one sense he always will, just as Buddha will always be dearer to me than Christ. Dostoievsky went to the very bottom, remained there an immeasurable time, and emerged a whole man. I prefer the whole man. And if I must live only once on this earth, then I prefer to know it as Hell, Purgatory and Paradise all in one. Rimbaud experienced a Paradise, but it was premature. Still, because of that experience, he was able to give us a more vivid picture of Hell. His life as a man, though he was never a mature man, was a Purgatory. But that is the lot of most artists. What interests me extremely in Rimbaud is his vision of Paradise regained, Paradise earned. This, of course, is something apart from the splendor and the magic of his words, which I consider incomparable. What defeats me is his life, which is at such utter variance with his vision. Whenever I read his life I feel that I too have failed, that all of us fail. And then I go back to his words – and they never fail.
Why is it then that I now adore him above all other writers? Is it because his failure is so instructive? Is it because he resisted until the very last? I admit it, I love all those men who are called rebels and failures. I love them because they are so human, so “human-all-too-human”.’ Read More:http://thegatesofdamascus.wordpress.com/2010/11/page/3/
Rimbaud descends into the disorder of his mind, apprehends the images as sophistries, as symptoms, and then grieves for the loss of his innocence. And then, bidding farewell to the world he has known, waking from his sleep in a way, he meets his heart’s desire:
“O may it come, the time of love,
The time we’d be enamoured of.”
Rimbaud seeks love, connection with the greater other – what he could not utter to anyone in his life, what in fact he demeaned to people whenever he could. But now memory is extinguished and “All fears and all wrongs?To the heavens have fled.”
Importantly, Rimbaud’s yearning for love, is not for the state of innocence he spoke of a few lines earlier. This yearning for a time of love does not discount the path he has traveled in his exploration of thanatos: He wants a season of love even “While all my veins burst/With a sickly thirst.” He glimpses love as a meadow at once filled with incense, flowers, tares (weeds) and filthy flies. This is a psyche in which the shadow has become intergrated. In fact, he reiterates the entire idea in the next few lines but grasping clearly that his psyche’s telos, its quest, has been to travel blindly toward the sun, the god of fire – an almost precise duplication of Jung’s own travel toward the sun god.
It seems to me that these few lines from Une Saison capture the essence of the nekyia, the journey to the underworld that Rimbaud comprehended at 19 — years before Freud. Other poets were long themselves in appreciating his genius. After he finished Une Saison, Rimbaud convinced his mother to publish the book at her own expense and went to Paris to see how people reacted. He intended the book partly as an apology to the poets he had mercilessly tormented, a statement of the maturing of his vision. Read More:http://www.soulworks.net/writings/essays/site_038.html