Après le Deluge

ernst semaine flood

[Max Ernst - Une Semaine de Bonte - scanned by me]

I picked up Rimbaud's Illuminations on a whim this weekend and read it cover to cover out in the sunshine with three cats and a dog at my feet. (I also finished Kierkegaard for class, papier-mâchéd three boxes which turned out horribly and will be scrapped, watched 4 movies -- Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore, 3:10 to Yuma and Charlie Wilson's War, continued to work on my current embroidery project -- a version of the 'Keep Calm' poster in thread, and made three new mix CDs ... I'm very productive when I have the house to myself ... ).

I wanted to comment on this passage, from one of Rimbaud's letters to Paul Demeny which is included in the New Directions edition as 'A Sort of Preface'

These poets are going to exist! When the infinite servitude of woman shall have ended, when she will be able to live by and for herself; then, man – hitherto abominable – having given her her freedom, she too will be a poet. Woman will discover the unknown. Will her world be different from ours? She will discover strange, unfathomable things, repulsive, delicious. We shall take them, we shall understand them.

I don’t know how I feel about this passage -- it reminds me of the surrealist notions of woman as a sort of portal to the unknown, to the edge of irrationality. The problem I had with their notions was that despite professing to liberate woman from her bondage, they shackled her to an unlivable sort of existence. Women were only valuable insofar as they were hysterical, insofar as they had left the world of reason and existed in the topsy-turvy world of inspiration and insight. They were tools in a sense, valuable, even necessary tools, but still to be used, to be for some purpose.

Rimbaud seems to be more interested in an actual liberation – living by oneself and for oneself – but I still don’t know what to make of that last line. Who is the ‘we’? If it’s the same ‘we’ in the line “Will her world be different from ours?’ then it is a male ‘we.’ And in that case, what does he mean by saying ‘we shall take them, we shall understand them.’? It can’t be a simple appropriation, but it does sound more like the notions of the surrealists. Woman as only useful insofar as she is a symbol.