Letter: Rise of the cult of Rimbaud

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Sir: You are in my view to be highly commended for publishing the recent article by Roger Clarke on Rimbaud, as Rimbaud's enormous influence in modern culture is generally under-rated in Britain. For this reason I do not wish to appear churlish, but I feel bound to express dissent from two ideas suggested in the article.

The first is that the American "Beats" in some way transformed the cult of Rimbaud in the 1950s and 1960s. The cult of Rimbaud was formed while the poet was still alive and it mushroomed rapidly in the early part of the century, as Etiemble's tedious, but painstaking bibliography, Le Mythe de Rimbaud. Genese du mythe, 1869-1948 (2nd edition, Gallimard, 1968) testifies. Indeed the influence of both Rimbaud's poetry and his life was essential to most of those movements now known as the historical avant- garde, from Futurism to Dada and Surrealism. During the dark days of the Second World War the by then former Surrealist, Louis Aragon, was even dismissing with the noun "rimbaldisme" what he had come to see as a worn- out and misguided set of ideas. The Beats may have given another lease of life to the Rimbaud cult in the Anglo-Saxon world, but they added very little to it that was new.

Secondly, it is no longer generally believed that Une Saison en enfer was Rimbaud's last work or that it constitutes his "adieu" to literature. It was actually written at some point whilst he was composing his collection of prose poems, Illuminations. His last known poem was in fact the strange ditty from which I extract the following lines - make of them what you will: "Le genie. - Je suis le Roquefort! / - "Ca s'ra not' mort!.../ Je suis le gruere [sic]/ Et le brie!..."


Department of French Studies

University of Manchester