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This article is taken from PN Review 154, Volume 30 Number 2, November - December 2003.

Meditations on the Exote: Victor Segalen John Pilling


For more than thirty years after the partial retrievals of the 1950s and 1960s it seemed so little of Victor Segalen had survived as common property that he might almost as well have passed unlamented into obscurity. Only in 1995 - Segalen was born in 1878 and died in mysterious circumstances in 1919 - did a two-volume Oeuvres completes become available, admirably and faithfully edited, though not perhaps quite the Complete Works it claims to be, and so in its way something of a testament to the incompleteness to which Segalen was always temperamentally attracted. As with all exclusively posthumous reputations - Segalen's is by now effectively post-posthumous - left behind is not just what has come to light but also an unresolved residue of enigma. This is perhaps most dramatically illustrated by the case of Rimbaud, a perennial ignis fatuus for biographers, even when memorably reconstituted by Enid Starkie, Charles Nicholl, Graham Robb and others. Their efforts notwithstanding, and even with his own photographic selfportraits to ponder, Rimbaud remains in large part impervious to a secure retrieval of man and motive. Segalen wrote an essay on 'Le Double Rimbaud' for Mercure de France, and saw in him, if not exactly an alter ego or 'double' of himself, at least a fellow traveller of sorts, although not one that Segalen would have wanted to travel with, either literally or figuratively. In Segalen's view Rimbaud had ruptured his project into exclusivity, by separating absolutely his life as a poet ...


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