They Can Talk About Me Plenty When I’m Gone

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.


4 thoughts on “They Can Talk About Me Plenty When I’m Gone

  1. good stuff, nina. thanks. and what about those backup girls screamin’ “oh yeah” after the line from which you jump off? seems to me that it’s a nice, knowing wink from bob to us through them, as it were.

  2. Nina,

    In Chronicles: Volume One, on page 124, Dylan writes, “I wasn’t going to go deeper into the darkness for anybody. I was already living in the darkness.”

    It seems to be Conrad’s darkness that he is alluding to, as Dylan make plain in a passage on the next page.

    Chronicles: Volume One, page 124:
    “Eventually different anachronisms were thrust upon me — anachronisms of lesser
    dilemma — though they might seem bigger. Legend, Icon, Enigma (Buddha in European Clothes was my favorite) — stuff like that, but that was all right.”

    Dylan’s favorite anachronism is right out of Heart of Darkness. At one Marlow is described as having “…the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes…”

    I touch on this briefly here:

  3. I noticed a few typos in my previous comment. The passage regarding “the darkness” is actually on page 123 and I intended to write “At one *point* Marlow is described…”

    Thanks again for a good read.

  4. Kind gentlemen, thank you for your comments.
    David G–Yes! That is Bob, making fun of himself by having his backup singers make fun of him! A wonderful point. And a lovely twist to the Greek Chorus role backup singers can take sometimes.

    And Mr Warmuth–Willkommen and gracias! As always, your archaeology opens up uncanny and exciting new windows to Dylan. This time I get to feel a little personally gratified by your uncoverings–and miffed that I didn’t notice the Buddha in European clothes reference in Chronicles. This connection is terrific: somehow I get to put Rimbaud and Conrad on one of Dylan’s wonderfully twisted Family Trees. Thank you so much. And to everyone: if you are not familiar with Scott Warmuth’s remarkable work in tracing this Family Tree, you must check out his link above.

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