Arriving from always, you’ll go away everywhere.
We are modern. We are so because Rimbaud commanded us to be.
It is one of those curious accidents (but are they really accidents?) that I have resumed my de Kooning studies at the exact same time I decided to buy Ashbery’s translation of Rimbaud’s Illuminations, a book that had been on my wishlist for eight years.
I have never made a conscious connection between the painter and the poet. In fact I’ve been a student of de Kooning’s work for many years whereas for the same amount of time my knowledge of Rimbaud has been a ragged tissue of cultural cliches. As a teenager I read translations of Rimbaud’s poetry that were already dated and none of the poems took hold on my imagination. Essentially Rimbaud has been little more to me than a name one sees dropped over and over, registering absolute zero, like a distant bell that keeps ringing and one no longer hears.
Ashbery’s translations have changed that for me. Though one can still place most of the poems in 19th century Europe, the language is fresh, often startling, and the brilliance of the poems comes through. More to the point of my theme today, I couldn’t help but contrast and compare what I was reading there with my meditations on de Kooning. Because it seems to me that one sense of the modern as Rimbaud commanded it reached full flower in de Kooning. And yet another sense of the modern that comes out of Rimbaud was antagonistic to de Kooning’s attitude toward art. For there are two senses of the modern, two divergent streams that both have their source in Rimbaud. They are not always easy to disentangle (a bit of one always remains in the other) but each one taken as an individual track leads to a very different place than the other.Continue reading