Rimbaud – Intermediary Militant by Howard Slater

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The question of how to subvert power, to live a life, was a problem that Arthur Rimbaud didn’t so much formulate as enact. Reading his poetry again, a poetry of improvisational emotion, it’s possible to be struck by a forceful contemporaneity that has such works as ‘Season In Hell’ read, now, like a political manifesto. But it is a politics of a different kind, a politics that has given up any redemptive vectors. Instead Rimbaud seeks to create an exodus, a chimerical materiality of the possible, that can lead us to a politics of becoming. As he drifts towards the end of the word Rimbaud takes us on a detour through composite cities and countryside trysts, passed colonial beachheads and debauched bars, and delivers us into the company of quotidian messiahs; revolutionaries of everyday life whose unaimed benevolences reek of crimes against self-interest. Accompanying Rimbaud in his flight from a permanent state of emergency based upon this ‘right of self-interest’, we can get an inkling of what we can leave to politics: national origin, institutional representation, inherited morality, wage-labour, Christ, Satan, wise-guys. But Rimbaud’s exodus, his self-abandonment, is not a bid for a transcendence that would posthumously mark him out, but a deep, nomadic immersion in the social unconscious. Thus, with Rimbaud, there is the inkling of a preemptive strike on a pleasure-principle that would, like the politics of security based on a disavowed abundance, make pleasure and pain equate to an equilibrium that is made indicative of a death drive – a return to an inanimate state; the fear of experience that fuels a legislated neutralisation of life. Instead Rimbaud surmounts sociable equidistance and Caucasian equations through an inveigling of death; he took the piss out of its politicised threat, facing up to death-in-life with a surfeit of energy that turned trauma into the will to experience, into autotraumatisation: “I summoned my executioners so that I could bite their rife butts before I died”.

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