Rimbaud’s “rose-orange sands”: outside of visual art, there are no such sands except in the imagination —— the imagination of language. 

    Could not wet sand reflect rose-orange clouds? Yes, student in front. Yes; what a reasonable reading —— of what is meant to be unreally real. 

Rimbaud’s daring lay in promoting what only the imagination could make real. For instance, irreconcilable terms. “Oh! the flag of red meat over the silk of the seas . . . / Happiness!” (“Barbarism,” in Wallace Fowlie’s translation): here is the image as the impossibly assured. It quashes timid ordinary reality. It is a new and superior reality. 

   To emphasize the red rawness of the only-to-be-imagined meat, Rimbaud needs the (what is it doing here?) “silk of the seas.” In the wet sloppy stuff of inanimate matter, and accompanying raw meat, lies—you can reach out and stroke it—something manufactured, something ever so smoothly spun, elegance worm-genius, the creamy stuff of the gaze. Seas can appear silken, of course, and what a withholding of turmoil is that halcyon unbrokenness. But these seas are the silk, by grace of the imagination that is exclusive to language). The other texture, the implicit, meat-sticky one, potential home to fly eggs and rot, is still there in this new space for simultaneities, the co-existence of opposites. Potentially, as a flag, the meat bears a wave-like suppleness of its own. But it is only a cut, a piece, not an endless bolt of cloth; only a gross chunk of corruptible flesh, it survives its own baseness as a symbol of a vital force. Here, in “Barbarism,” or rather in the untamed space that expands from the small integral group of lines on the page, the meat flies like a lofted fabric, whereas the water-silk equates with the unquantifiable heaviness of multiple seas. The strong-arming boldness of it all shocks. The air remains jangled, alive. 

   The words I have left out of Rimbaud’s line are the concluding ones, “and the Arctic flowers”: the meat flags over the silk of the seas and the Arctic flowers. Of this trio, meat, seas, and flowers, only the last objects are truly alive, but they are less alive as an image, being plainly literal, not holographic. To be sure, they carry their own contradiction: life reproducing itself in a freezing environment. They, too, defy the odds of being alive in the imagination’s combinations of incompatibles, as well as in actuality. They, too, are noisy with the unlikely. Which is why Rimbaud completed his sentence (on further thought) with the parenthesis “elles n’existent pas”: they do not exist. It is not a gloss, but a complaint. Thus, in a trice, the imagination takes away what it has given: existence. 

      Rimbaud goes to the limit, as a creator-god, in making the imagination an imperious force that sweeps away the petty pales and objections of reason, the killing finitude of “conditions.” He is peremptory, rude, lawless, joyous. To join together opposites without changing them, crushing them, or preferring one to another, without apology, without faltering, indeed with a joy of newness importantly, if barely, removed from desperation —— that is his genius at its ripest. But at their highest, such triumphs are themselves exceptions in his work, the work’s Arctic flowers. We have, most unforgettably, “Barbarism” and “Genie.” 



     In “Barbarism,” the imagination is the future time of time, and the further space of space. It puts one “Far from the former assassins”; “Far from the old places and the old fire we [actually] hear and smell.” 

     Thanks to it, we are beings-of-distance, and at the same time immediate to being. We exist (but do not exist) in its virtual environment, where something like the life of life itself can flag and silken-out and flower. Here, we are now barbarians, new and strange people, who, though we can still remember where the actual body lived, still smell and hear its fires, are now privileged to be thrown into a condition whose only condition is the courage to endure new laws. “Here, forms, sweating, hair and eyes, floating. And white tears, boiling—O happiness!” 



     A flag, then, without a country. A people without a government. 

    But where there is a flag there must be, in proximity, a community as well as an exultation in extremity. 

    “O happiness O World O music.”






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