Traveling on with Rimbaud is tiring work. I have to beat exhaustingly against a current that many people have beat against or turned and and swam with in the past. The current is the temptation of making Rimbaud’s factually outrageous life into a fantabulous myth-dream of the Fallen Angel Madman Artist. I swam a little too comfortably with the current in the last post. So, the title of today’s post, this deceptively haha line from Brownsville Girl, seems a natural. Until I noticed the word plenty. You hear this song 137 times, and when he rolls this line off like an old comic, you hear “plenty” to mean as much as you want, your gossip can’t nettle me when I’m gone. But plenty means enough. Abundant. Plenty is munificent and satisfying. Plenty doesn’t need to be big ideas, images, distorted facts. Plentiful talk may be thoughtful and generous. Talk about me plenty when I’m gone, and you can bring some wisdom and vision to my memory.
Since the myth of Mr. Bob Dylan’s life so far (supernova 1964-1966, then the light dimming, then the occasional brief flare-up) is the current I beat against with my little, albeit tireless, paddle, one can imagine all my uncanny thrill at finding the archetype of this mythologizing business in Rimbaud. How hard to resist the temptation to take his life away from his living of it, and make a story of colossal genius colossally disillusioned, and the self-poisoning creature who remained after the poet had fled, alone, embittered, his dying a hell no derangement could have imagined. But as I read about his life in Africa, a whole other memory started in me. The details started to seem like candles lighting something else, something I knew well before I even met Rimbaud. He’s got that image himself in his poetry of a light moving about in another room, and that’s how this felt: Arthur Rimbaud in Harar, the man of surly temper and impressive intelligence. Arthur Rimbaud in Harar whose European hands write down lists and sums, and turn the work of African hands into streams of money. Arthur Rimbaud who despite this profiteering also earns the respect of Africans whose languages he has a remarkable gift for learning. Arthur Rimbaud fearlessly and compulsively venturing into the searing land in Harar– and there’s an occasional whiff of this man’s peculiarly interesting past involving…books he has written? Poems, is it? Arthur Rimbaud, lanky and strange in white pajamas of his own design. I know this man–I mean, I have known him very well for a very long time.
I saw him open his mouth wide—it gave him a weirdly voracious aspect, as though he had wanted to swallow all the air, all the earth, all the men before him.
I always dine on air.
The top line is Conrad, the bottom is Rimbaud. It’s Conrad’s Kurtz, down to the white cloth about his skeletal body and the irreproachable reports to the homeland, that came together as the shadow behind Rimbaud’s life. To meet Rimbaud after decades of knowing-studying-teaching Kurtz makes a terrible vertigo. The inspired fiction shrank instantly for me to a toy, a caricature. The artful myth which I truly loved was in one moment obliterated by the deeper, and real, mystery of Rimbaud’s life.
There is no one here and there is someone.
I’m not there.
The top line is Rimbaud, the bottom line is the only artist whose life and art offer equivalent bottomless, and treacherous invitations to us to capture-explain-imagine. One hundred years from now I expect there will be all kinds of inspired artful business on the topic of the second fellow’s life. From where I stand right now, the one artful business that does some justice to the ineffable is Todd Haynes’ movie. By doing violence to fact and then doing violence to his own fictions, he does demonstrate the impossibility of knowing a life, and then invites us to consider some of the Truths of that life. So I will hope that future inspirees may find that to talk plenty about this immeasurably great life, you might want to work with fragments and holes.