Master and Slave

The Time of the Assassins is Henry Miller’s study of Rimbaud, but in it he loops in all manner of late-nineteenth century tragic figure – Van Gogh, Dostoevsky, Gogol – he even mentions Jesus Christ in a way that completely makes sense. He’s talking about poetry, genius, death and magic. From page 96:

Always it is some invisible wand, some magic star, which beckons, and then the old wisdom, the old magic, is done for. Death and transfiguration, that is the eternal song. Some seek the death they choose, whether of form, body, wisdom or soul, directly; others approach it deviously. Some accentuate the drama by disappearing from the face of the earth, leaving no clues, no traces; others make their life an even more inspiring spectacle than the confession which is their work. Rimbaud drew his death out woefully. he spread his ruin all about him, so that none could fail to comprehend the utter futility of his flight. Anywhere, out of the world! That is the cry of those for whom life no longer has any meaning. Rimbaud discovered the true world as a child; he tried to proclaim it as a youth; he betrayed it as a man. Forbidden access to the world of love, all his endowments were in vain. His hell did not go deep enough, he roasted in the vestibule. It was too brief a period, this season, as we know, because the rest of his life becomes a purgatory. Did he lack the courage to swim the deep? We do not know. We know only that he surrenders his treasure – as if it were the burden. But the guilt which he suffers from no man escapes, not even those who are born in the light. His failure seems stupendous, though it brought him through to victory. But it is not Rimbaud who triumphs, it is the unquenchable spirit that was within him. As Victor Hugo said: ‘Angel is the only word in the language that cannot be worn out.”

“Creation begin with painful separation from God and the creation of an independent will to the end that this separation may be overcome in a type of higher unity than that with which the process began.”* [The Mystic Will, by H.H. Brinton]

At the age of nineteen, in the very middle of his life, Rimbaud gave up the ghost. “His Muse died at his side, among his massacred dreams,” says one biographer. Nevertheless, he was a prodigy who in three years gave the impression of exhausting whole cycles of art. “It is as if he contained whole careers within himself,” said Jacques Riviere. To which Matthew Josephson adds” “Indeed literature ever since Rimbaud has been engaged in the struggle to circumvent him.” Why? Because, as the latter says, “he made poetry too dangerous.” Rimbaud himself declares, in the Season, that he “became a fabulous opera.” Opera or not, he remains fabulous – nothing less. The one side of his life is just as fabulous as the other, that is the amazing thing. Dreamer and man of action, he is both at once. It is like combining Shakespeare and Bonaparte. And now listen to his own words… “I saw that all beings are fatally attracted to happiness: action is not life, but a way of dissipating one’s strength, and enervation.” And then, as if to prove it, he plunges into the maelstrom. he crosses and recrosses Europe on foot, ships in one boat after another for foreign ports, is returned ill and penniless again and again; he takes a thousand and one jobs, learns a dozen or more languages, and, in lieu of dealing words deals in coffee, spices, ivory, skins, gold, muskets, slaves. Adventure, exploration, study; association with every type of man, race, nationality; always work, work, work, which he loathed. But above all, ennui! Always bored. Incurably bored. But what activity! What a wealth of experiences! And what emptiness!

Read the whole thing; buy extra copies for your friends.

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