Britain's first book blogger (November 2000)

Friday, November 09, 2007

A different kind of success


The Sharp Side tells the seductive story of Rimbaud the modern poet, the story he sought to end:
The inner logic of modernism is silence. But whereas almost all modernists attempt to write about their engagement with that logic, seeking out 'a different kind of failure', Rimbaud accepted it. He gave up on literature.
Well, to paraphrase that old rejoinder to people who say they are not interested in politics, Maurice Blanchot says literature is interested in Rimbaud's silence. The silence depends on an interest in literature; indeed the most passionate interest and engagement in the promise of communication offered by literature.

Rimbaud's abandonment of poetry is, it seems, his supreme literary act. And he's a modernist first and foremost because literature mattered to him; mattered enough to provoke such a revolt.

I've quoted from Blanchot's essay before and, having forgotten about it until reminded by Google, wish to quote from it again. The wish is due not to Rimbaud's poetry - with which I'm not familiar - but with a preoccupation with what is revealed by literature; what it promises to reveal and the contradictions this preoccupation evokes.

Blanchot discusses the contradictory movements of A Season in Hell and Illuminations, asserting in typically paradoxical fashion that though the latter may have been written last, they are anterior to the former. The poems of Illuminations, he writes, have as their movement the most direct and most decisive attraction toward a possible centre; a lightening flash that in illuminating draws back to its originary site.
The Season on the other hand, a simultaneous affirmation of all the contradictory positions held to and an ordeal undergone with the most acute contrariety, is the experience of a thought driven and expulsed from its centre; a centre it discovers to be 'the impossible' and to which it draws impossibly near, precisely in the divergence that pushes it away, dispersed, toward the outside.
The impossible being everything we want literature to reveal, the centre to which we wish to draw closer. By not writing, Rimbaud merely approached the centre differently; in part by imposing silence on his work to the utmost degree. Is it ironic that our fascination with this silence demands that we break it?

2 comments:

  1. No. Not ironic. Silence is always and only a response, imposed itself as a grand metaphor, on poetry. or speaking really in any form, but only after it has already committed itself. Rimbaud just goes down in history as a useful example, for authors driving even further into the mysteries of an existence in which they always find themselves talking, first. Always there is this profound disparity between the expression made and something still unsaid, or unfulfilled. Footnotes 38, on Keats, and 39, on Rimbaud, in Bartleby & Co. by Enrique Vila-Matas, merrily skim over this: with the main point being that we are born speaking, and writers can quit only after having spoken. Therefore I question the idea that we ever break silence out of mere fascination; it is more that we return to speaking--or don't.

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  2. "Always there is this profound disparity between the expression made and something still unsaid, or unfulfilled."

    Indeed Lloyd, that sounds very Lacanian to me--which--to me at least--happens to be the best light to read Rimbaud in. Where does one go and what does one do after having exhausted the central nervous system to such a degree that Rimbaud did in his maniacal search for new connections, new meanings, new ways of experiencing language? I think what was revealed to him was a giant lack at the middle of it all--and so, one turns to find the lack not just in language but in all things. He accepted his (ours too) condition and moved along into silence--actually not silence so much as a morose sentimentality as evidenced from his "post-writing/silence" letters home.

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