BOOK REVIEW: Rimbaud
by James MacLaren
Graham Robb, 2000, W.W. Norton & Co.
Ah, Rimbaud. Quite the icon.
Beloved by the avant-garde no matter what the decade, century, or even
One hell of a human being, in many ways still ahead of his time. And behind,
too. Especially the tidbits dealing with such delightful goings-on as the East
African Slave trade in the 1800’s.
No matter. A nimbus of myth has grown and entwined itself around Rimbaud,
effectively cloaking an already mysterious personality in a further shroud of
mystery. And nonsense, too.
The motherfucker could invent, completely destroy, and then reinvent himself
with the ease that a chameleon changes color. When the colors disagree with
the mindset of whatever individual is examining Rimbaud, yet another tendril
of fog further encloses this human mystery, wrapped in an enigma, inside a
So then, it comes as a welcome blast of fresh air to discover that somebody
has finally decided to hack through the murky underbrush and attempt to
discover the source of all the fuss, without using preconceptions to do it.
Thank you Graham Robb.
As straightforward a biography as it gets, Rimbaud is an attempt to just knock
off all the goddamned bullshit, examine the FACTS/ARTIFACTS with clinical
clarity, and then tell the tale.
Rimbaud had a preternatural ability to outrage and annoy as a child, kept it
throughout his life, and he retains this power over a hundred years after his
untimely demise. The outrage and annoyance reside ENTIRELY within the minds of
whomever is examining the little demon, and it shifts, shimmers, and flickers
from one thing to another, entirely depending upon exactly WHO is being
outraged and annoyed.
Conservatives don’t like the pederasty.
People with too-literal minds don’t like the poetry.
Commies, liberals, and that bunch, don’t like the sharp business dealings in
a savage landscape.
Religious types don’t like the blasphemies.
Christians don’t like the Muslim guise.
NOBODY likes the godforsaken part of East Africa he seemed to thrive in, prior
to his cancerous undoing.
People who sleep under freshly laundered bedsheets don’t like the filth and
It’s VERY easy to get lost in a shapeshifting hall of mirrors when
attempting to examine Rimbaud.
Take this book with you when you do. It’s much much better than a map and