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This article is taken from PN Review 138, Volume 27 Number 4, March - April 2001.

Feast at the Spectres Nicolas Tredell

GRAHAM ROBB, Rimbaud (Picador) £20.00

No image of the poet dominated twentieth-century Europe more than that of Arthur Rimbaud. Other bodies of poetry, especially those of T. S. Eliot, have proved more pervasive, even if their empires are now crumbling; but it is Rimbaud above all who has vividly exemplified a quest for a kind of extreme (im)perfection of the life and of the work, in which the two contraries of a dichotomy formulated by Yeats in a later era, but in a more antiquated idiom, are wrenched right up-to-date and shoved ahead of their time, written and lived to their limits of silence and death. The polarities of Rimbaud's work and life have been refracted, split and reassembled through the prisms of a range of twentieth-century cultural perspectives: these include a residual Romanticism, still enthralled by the myth of the doomed, outcast poète maudit, a Christianity that highlights suffering, transgression, salvation and charity (François Mauriac's Rimbaud); a late Imperialism whose epic hero, Lawrence of Arabia, bears some key resemblances to Rimbaud; a modernism that sought to push the representational powers of language up to and beyond their limits while demonstrating, contra Romanticism, that an innovative poet may be an efficient businessman (Wallace Stevens); existentialism, of both the secular and visionary varieties, with its strenuous, thriller-like ethic of minute-by-minute self-creation by word and deed; the Beat movement, with its rejection of the middle class calculus of success and happiness through conformity, and its attempts to extend or ...

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