Posts Tagged ‘Arthur Rimbaud’
March 23, 2016 | by Max Nelson
The long tradition of outlaw poets.
Max Nelson is writing a series on prison literature. Read the previous entry, on Austin Reed’s The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict, here.
Early in the first volume of Panegyric—the bad-tempered, ironically self-deprecating eulogy he wrote for himself in the late eighties—Guy Debord sang the praises of a kind of writer he knew he could never become. “There have always been artists and poets capable of living in violence,” he wrote. “The impatient Marlowe died, knife in hand, arguing over a tavern bill.” Five hundred years earlier, in the picture Debord goes on to imagine, the medieval poet François Villon presided over a cluster of writers who lived raggedly and riskily at the banks of the Seine. These were outlaw poets, “devotees of the dangerous life”—starved, browbeaten figures for whom pariahdom, persecution, imprisonment and homelessness were both facts of life and the materials out of which they made their art.
Outlaw poets are what certain prison writers become when their term is up—when they’ve been let loose into a world that spurns them and whose values they reject. In some cases, the poetry they write from this position turns out bitter, sour, and defiantly indigestible, full of lines that dare their civilized, comfortable readers to tolerate rude language, unhinged imagery, and wild variations in refinement and shape. In others, it comes off as a seductive, pining lament, a plea for pardon or a performance of rueful self-blame. Some of the great outlaw poets shuffle unpredictably between these two tones. “I’d like to hold my head up and be proud of who I am,” Merle Haggard sang in 1967, less than a decade after the end of his two-year term in San Quentin: “but they won’t let my secret go untold; / I paid the debt I owed ’em, / but they’re still not satisfied; / Now I’m a branded man / out in the cold.” He could write an equally convincing song that placed the fault on precisely the opposite side: “Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied; / that leaves only me to blame ’cause Mama tried.” Read More »
March 7, 2016 | by Sarah Cowan
Joe Gibbons on his drawings from Rikers Island.
Over a forty-year career, Joe Gibbons has become a legend in the world of experimental film. His work so thoroughly wrinkles the cloth woven by art and life that the question of which imitates which becomes moot. In his 1985 film Living in the World, he stars as a working stiff named Joe Gibbons, just trying to make it through the eight-hour day with his dignity intact. Existentially bereft, he laments, “I read the paper and there’s so much going on that I have nothing to do with.” He quits his job and turns to crime to make ends meet.
When the real Gibbons made headlines last year in an unlikely heist story, that same voice was quoted in the papers as evidence of his moral degeneracy and criminal intent. FORMER MIT PROFESSOR “ROBS” BANK, FILMS “HEIST,” the New York Post said. And, later, in the New York Times: FILMMAKER JOE GIBBONS GETS A YEAR IN PRISON FOR A ROBBERY HE CALLED PERFORMANCE ART. Read More »
March 3, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- In the long car ride we call life, Andrew O’Hagan has eschewed the driver’s seat for the passenger seat, and he’s loving every minute of it: “In my natural state, I possess the habit of saying no to everything, but all the requesting party has to do to make me say yes is to send a nice car. In my youth, I often daydreamed of a driver picking me up from school. It was Scotland, and it was winter, which meant it got dark about three o’clock in the afternoon … Being driven is luxurious because it is a step back into the realm of personal freedom, which—when it comes to all areas of good service—is the freedom to enjoy an outcome without being responsible for it. People seek their freedom in different ways, of course, and some want an open top and their own foot on the gas, but for me the liberty to disengage is everything.”
- As if to rebuke all the ambitious young white dudes presently working away at their doorstep debut novels, a Russian scientist named Vladimir Aniskin has designed what he asserts to be the world’s smallest book: it’s seventy by ninety micrometers and takes as its subject, appropriately enough, a flea’s shoes. Readers must exercise extreme care: “The text is printed using the lithographic process onto sheets of film just three or four microns thick. Aniskin said that the most difficult part of the process was binding the pages together so they can be turned. He used tungsten wires with a diameter of five microns as the “springs” for the pages, placing the finished books into half a poppyseed, displayed on gold plates. The pages, which have text on both sides, can be turned using a sharpened metal needle.”
- The line between persecution and a persecution complex can be razor thin. Just ask early Christians, who went to great lengths to highlight their sense of embattlement. Tom Bissell writes: “While some Christians were martyred for their faith, and even thrown to lions, the earliest Christian accounts of martyrdom fail to make clear one interesting wrinkle: killing men and women for perceived apostasy was highly uncommon among pagans, and most ancient-world authorities were inclined to be lenient toward Christians, many of whom, like Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, demanded Martyrdom, then, is a difference-obliterating mind-set that leaves death as the only thing to venerate.”
- Garth Greenwell wrote a forty-one-page paragraph. Not as a standalone, mind you—it’s at the center of his novel What Belongs to You. “I wrote the section very quickly, in a kind of white heat, mostly on the backs of napkins and receipts and other scraps of paper someone might mistake for trash. I numbered these as I wrote and put them in a pile, and it was only when I finished and typed them up that I understood the form of what I had made … [The paragraph] is also a declaration that the text won’t obey the usual rules of logic or sequence, that its allegiance is to other modes of conveying experience. Or maybe less its allegiance than its submission.”
- Today in adaptations of translations: A Brooklyn theater collective has turned John Ashbery’s translations of Rimbaud into Rimbaud in New York, a play designed never to let you forget that it’s rooted in text: “The play is about myths, to be sure, but it’s also concerned with the pleasure of the text and emotions and thoughts that words can and cannot illuminate. Ashbery not only captures that French renegade’s intensity and playfulness in his translation, he does so with an urgency that reminds us that Rimbaud left the form that he helped create—modernism—as a disenchanted young man, while Ashbery, never a cynic, works in his own vibrant space, one that goes on and on.”
October 20, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
From a letter by Arthur Rimbaud to his family, dated November 17, 1878, and sent from Gênes. After a disastrous affair with Paul Verlaine, Rimbaud, born on this day in 1854, left France to travel the world, eventually setting up shop in Ethiopia, where he sold coffee and arms before falling gravely ill. This note chronicles his harrowing journey through the Gotthard Pass, in the Swiss Alps. It’s translated from the French by Wyatt Mason, from I Promise to Be Good: The Letters of Arthur Rimbaud.
As for how I got here, it was full of wrong turns and sporadic seasonal surprises … for after a certain point no carriage could get through with an average of fifty centimeters of snow and a storm brewing. The Gothard crossing was supposed to be the route; you can’t get through by carriage in this season, and so I couldn’t get through either.
At Altdorf, on the south side of lake Quatre-Canton along the border of which we strolled through steam, the Gothard road begins. At Amsteg, fifteen kilometers from Altdorf, the road begins to climb and follow the contours of the Alps … At Göschenen, a village that has become a market town because of the affluence of its workers, you see the opening of the famous tunnel at the back of the gorge, the studios and canteens of businesses. Moreover, this seemingly rough-hewn countryside is hardworking and industrious. Even if you can’t see the threshers going in the valley, you can hear the scythes and mattocks against the invisible heights. It goes without saying that most of the local industry manifests in wood. There are many mining operations. Innkeepers show you mineral samples of every variety, which Satan, they say, buys on the cheap and resells in the city. Read More »
March 4, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Fiction has seen a preponderance of nameless narrators lately—in stories of the apocalypse, stories of exile, and/or stories of just about anything else. “The first few months of 2015 alone have brought us the following books with nameless protagonists: Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island, Ben Metcalf’s Against the Country, Greg Baxter’s Munich Airport, Daniel Galera’s Blood-Drenched Beard, Deepti Kapoor’s A Bad Character, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, Alejandro Zambra’s My Documents. Surely others have escaped my notice. It’s an epidemic of namelessness.”
- In 1880, Rimbaud arrived in Ethiopia—it was called Abyssinia then—“sick and completely helpless.” He was twenty-six and had taken on a job “consisting in receiving shipments of bales of coffee”; he lived in a house of clay walls with a thatched roof. But really he was seeking something more metaphysical: “I sought voyages, to disperse enchantments that had colonized my mind … My life would always be too ungovernable to be devoted to strength and beauty.” He had a great time until his leg had to be amputated.
- Yasmina Reza on the title of her new book, Happy Are the Happy, which comes from Borges and came to her on an airplane: “The condition of being happy, in other words, can only be obtained by those who are happy. This is so paradoxical, so enigmatic, so Borges. You can turn that idea over and over in your mind.” (Read her interview with the Daily here.)
- On copyediting and class: a copy editor’s job can be “a soul-crushing enterprise … Magazines are rigidly hierarchical places … the work of the copy editor is largely disdained. And because their work is so undervalued, copy editors (and fact checkers) routinely work significantly longer hours for much less money (sixteen-hour days without overtime pay aren’t uncommon) … they’re often dismissed as fussy or obsessive … In the Calvinistic world of magazines, maladjusted grammar weirdos simply fall to their natural station.”
- “Here is a good example of how inconsistently the term transgressive is applied to some and not to others—that V.C. Andrews in Flowers in the Attic wrote about brother-sister incest (and a semiforced initial coupling at that) and that book sold over forty million copies. More and more I’m coming to think that labeling certain writers as transgressive, or ‘outside traditional writing,’ is a construct perpetrated by reviewers and editors. I really believe that the reading public is far more accepting of the so-called extremes in literature than the gatekeepers of taste give them credit for.” An interview with Matthew Stokoe.
January 13, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Inspired by Rimbaud—“who essentially believed a poet had to descend into the depths of all that was bad and report back”—an MIT visual arts and film professor held up a bank in Chinatown. “I stood outside the bank talking into the camera for quite a while … going over the different reasons to do it and not to do it.”
- In the mid-nineteenth century, on the other hand, women were scarcely allowed to visit the post office, which was “frequently made rendezvous for interdirected communication and illicit pleasures.”
- But today, in the age of big data, everyone is welcome in museums—especially if you bring your smartphone. “From the minute you enter the building—before, if you bought tickets online—you are also contributing personal information to the museum’s newly minted ‘engagement’ department. Don’t be surprised if, while you linger in front of a Caravaggio, a coupon for a cappuccino in the museum café pops up on your phone … When data mining turns a museum into a frequent-flier program, the result is commerce, not culture.”
- In 1966, a British magazine illustrator went on the set of 2001 and drew what he saw. “Kubrick [wanted] illustrated production stills of what happened on his set, rather than having a photographer take noisy and distracting photographs. The illustrations … would then be sent out in press kits to publications and other media outlets that could promote the film.” None of his images were published at the time, but now you can see them here.
- Don’t just judge a book by its cover—judge it by two. Compare U.S. and UK editions of last year’s books.