Rimbaud and the New Inquisition

Une Saison en enfer

an essay by Paul Stubbs, first published in The Black Herald, issue 2 – September 2011

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in arguing that the Western world was essentially dominated by the so-called ‘last people’—those who, without the arrow of propulsive time, saw only the pointless drudgery of repetition—could well have been paving the way for the young author of A Season in Hell, whom Nietzsche might also have aligned with his post-Christendom depiction of Christ as a ‘holy anarchist’, whose one apocalyptic aim was to ‘demonstrate how one ought to live’. The year is 1873 and the spectral holocaust of the Prussian war still hangs over and haunts the half-ruined and bombed-out facades of the buildings of Northern France. With the publication of this scorching book no attempt should be made by a reviewer to understand its contents by any means of a perspicacious or conventional critical approach, nor should anyone try to enlighten the reader on the author’s compulsion to embark on what can only be described as a ‘spiritual hunt’.

The book is constructed and welded together in nine sections, all of which are contained within their own imaginative eco-systems. Imagine a giant iron gate before each section with the same inscription as at the entrance to Dante’s Hell: ‘Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’intrate’ (‘All hope abandons ye who enter in’.) For very soon we are witness to the first derisive scene where the author tells us:

‘One evening I sat Beauty on my knees—And I found her bitter—And I reviled her.’

« Un soir, j’ai assis la Beauté sur mes genoux. – Et je l’ai trouvée amère. – Et je l’ai injuriée. »

None of the ideas seem independent from the brain that constructed them. The multiple ranges of reference are constantly extinguished, vaporized and overtaken by the flaming dart of the poet’s thought. Beauty has been reviled, so what next? Society is being surpassed by images that, in a traditional poetical sense, refuse to purge themselves of the atoms that lead to the creation of the poet’s hand. Each palm hovers like a crow above the page, unsheathing every word like a claw in the bitter moonlight. The banality of everyday reality has reduced Rimbaud to an insoluble and metaphysical alien, his own vacuity retaining only the nullity of its own first mental disembowelment:

‘I managed to erase in my mind all human hope. Upon every joy, in order to strangle it, I made the muffled bound of the wild beast. (…) And spring brought me the hideous laugh of the idiot.’

« Je parvins à faire s’évanouir dans mon esprit toute l’espérance humaine. Sur toute joie pour l’étrangler j’ai fait le bond sourd de la bête féroce. (…) Et le printemps m’a apporté l’affreux rire de l’idiot. »

The saved can no longer be saved, the soul like a gland has stopped suddenly palpating, the mind now panchromatic begins to crawl back into the rotten stone edifice of a crumbling syntax. Each vertiginous abyss opening up now before him, Rimbaud abseils and lowers himself down into using God’s own umbilical cord. Contradictions are re-wombing ancestry, and we are in the company of the most savage kind of choreographer, a diagnostician of heaven and hell and, fighting an intractable battle, a poet who is constantly in the death-throes of some otherworldly and disjunctive discourse, endlessly re-stretching himself upon the rack of his own vertebrae, screaming out into the known and unknown plaines of the mind’s ontology: ‘I stretched myself out in the mud. I dried myself in the air of crime. And I played some fine tricks on madness.

Traditions in literature are of course the last bloody yard fought for on the battlefield in the war between writers of a mediocre talent and those of a convulsively dull one. And Rimbaud seems to have learned at a ferocious pace that these people are beyond persuading and are best left to swing themselves from the gallows of their forever fixed mind-states. His is a poetry re-housing the creative classroom to an eroding cliff-edge, hurling the desk of the final pedagogue onto the rocks below. For when a poetry as radioactively new as this arrives it singes the follicles of the soul, forces the etymologist to reconstruct his own jaw at the potter’s wheel of his imagining, freeing up language and releasing the vision from the semantic enclaves and fissures of the human skull. But Rimbaud’s ecstasy in vision is clearly not due to any feelings of poetical success, no, it is merely the anti-exaltation of the irrational made quite violently true; that which jolts this poet into readdressing the use even of his own exterior form in society, kicking loose his now involuntary limbs from the manacles of both the genealogical and the quotidian world…



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  1. […] about language and poetry ‘coming into being’. Stubbs is here working within the tradition of Rimbaud and the contemporary Chinese poet Bei Dao in attempting to compress history, civilization and myth […]

  2. […] paulstubbspoet.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/rimbaud-and-the-new-inquisition/ Share this:ShareTwitterFacebookLinkedInEmailStumbleUponPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Leave a Comment by pstubbspoet on November 2, 2011  •  Permalink Posted in Black Herald Press publications, Poetry / Poésie Tagged Arthur Rimabud, The Black Herald […]

  3. […] Rimbaud and the New Inquisition (by Paul Stubbs) […]

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