1 Sep 2010

Deranging Ourselves. Arthur Rimbaud. Letter To Georges Izambard. 13 May 1871. And Letter to Paul Demeny. 15 May 1871

by Corry Shores
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[The following is summarizes selected parts of the letter. I give my deepest thanks to the source of the image:
H. Lewandowski / www.histoire-image.org
Image credits given below.]

Deranging Ourselves

(Thanks H. Lewandowski / www.histoire-image.org)

Arthur Rimbaud
Letter To Georges Izambard
13 May 1871


Letter to Paul Demeny
15 May 1871

What’s this Letter Got to do with You?

We often think that we will fashion ourselves into the person we want to be. We see ourselves as having potential, or perhaps as being flabby, physically or mentally, and needing to be put in shape. So our ego or our I has a concept of who we want to be, and we then act upon ourselves to make ourselves according to our self-conceptions. Rimbaud wants to be a poet. But he does not associate with the ego that conceives himself as a poet. Rather, he relates himself to the unformed matter of his selfhood. For this reason, he more strongly feels himself to be other. So we too, when thinking we will undergo a pre-conceived change we too can see ourselves as being other to ourselves in this form/matter way.

Brief Summary

In the first letter, Rimbaud tells an old acquaintance that he is trying to become a poet. He feels himself to be like the matter which will receive the form of poet. The formal side is like the concept of who he will become, and his material side is like the disordered state he is in now (a state of derangement of all his senses). Hence he claims “I is an other” / “Je est un autre”.

In the second letter, he reiterates this point.

Points Relative to Deleuze
[Under Ongoing Revision]

Deleuze will locate the empty form of time at the basis of our selfhood, which is self-difference. It is not merely us changing through time. Rather, it is us being different from ourselves (our unity of self-consciousness being different from our self-appearings)– this self-difference goes hand-in-hand with the empty form of time, through which changes appear, including our own changes. So as a condition for us to change through time and to appear to ourselves, we need already to be internally distinguished as being both a) the pre-established unity of all our acts of consciousness to which we b) as appearances will appear. Our two main different self-expressions are internal to us, so they are not spatial. So as different, they cannot be different on the grounds that they occupy two different spatial places within us. Rather, they must be separated by temporal succession. So the grounds for our internal self-difference is successivity itself, or the form of succession, the formal relation that different internal things will take so that they may stand apart from each other. This is the empty a priori form of time. Thus at the heart of our selves, we are both pure difference and pure time.

Arthur Rimbaud
Letter To George Izambard
13 May 1871

Izambard has taken a teaching position at a university. Rimbaud on the one hand seems to congratulate him, but on the other he seems to criticize Izambard as well. This ambivalence extends also to what seems to be both a critique of Izambard’s poetic tastes, but also a criticism of his own tastes as well. “One day, I hope – many others hope the same thing – I will see objective poetry according to your principle, I will see it more sincerely than you would!” (303d)

Rimbaud explains that he wants to become a poet. So there is this idea already that he is unformed, in a way. He has not yet fully taken-on the form of a poet.
I want to be a poet, and I am working to make myself a seer: you will not understand this, and I don’t know how to explain it to you. It is a question of reaching the unknown by a derangement of all the senses. (303d)
Je veux être poète, et je travaille à me rendre voyant : vous ne comprenez pas du tout, et je ne saurais presque vous expliquer. Il s’agit d’arriver à l’inconnu par le dérèglement de tous les sens. (302d)
He goes on than to evoke an Aristotelian distinction between form and matter in order to describe how he is other to himself.
I is someone else. It is too bad for the wood which finds itself a violin (305a)
Je est un autre. Tant pis pour le bois que se trouve violon (304a)
We might look at part of Aristotle’s Metaphysics for context:
Therefore, as we say, generation would be impossible if nothing were already existent. It is clear, then, that some part must necessarily pre-exist; because the matter is a part, since it is matter which pre-exists in the product and becomes something. (Book VII, 1032b, from www.perseus.tufts)

Deleuze will contrast Rimbaud's form of self-division from the Kantian kind. For Rimbaud, he is like formless human matter that will one day find himself formed as a poet. He takes the perspective of the matter, and considers his I to be what provides the thoughts that form the raw matter of his self. Deleuze explains:
Aristotle tells us that there is matter and then there is form which informs [informe] matter. Matter is the copper, the bugle is the copper which has been poured into this form. Nothing could be more classical, and Rimbaud assimilates himself to a matter and says: thought forms me. (Cours Vincennes - 21/03/1978)
Aristote nous dit qu'il y a la matière et puis qu'il y a la forme qui informe la matière. La matière c'est le cuivre, le clairon c'est le cuivre qui a été coulé dans cette forme. C'est on ne peut plus classique, et Rimbaud s'assimile à une matière et dit : la pensée me forme. (Cours Vincennes - 21/03/1978)
Kant’s form of I is other is even more profound than Rimbaud’s. We will find that for Kant, it is not an I who is forming a self from raw self-matter. Kant’s I is just the unity of consciousness; it is found along with every concept we conceive, but the I itself is not however a concept. So Kant’s I is not a formative principle. And the self is not an object that is being formed by something. The self appears to consciousness. We sense ourselves. These appearances are in continual variation. We are constantly a divergence between our unity and our self-appearings. That is to say, below the unity of our consciousness there is a deeper internal self-differentiation.

Letter To Paul Demeny
15 May 1871

Rimbaud discusses with Paul Demeny the history of poetry and the evaluation of Romanticism. He then repeats his point from the previous letter. He goes on to elaborate on this idea that our I is there for the creation of our self-hood, as if it were a preexisting principle or concept that helps form ourselves from our raw self-matter.
For I is someone else. If brass wakes up a trumpet, it is not its fault. This is obvious to me: I am present at this birth of my thought: I watch it and listen to it: I draw a stroke of the bow: the symphony makes its stir in the depths, or comes on to the stage in a leap. (305d)
Car Je est un autre. Si le cuivre s'éveille clairon, il n'y a rien de sa faute. Cela m'est évident: j'assiste à l'éclosion de ma pensée: je la regarde, je l'écoute: je lance un coup d'archet: la symphonie fait son remuement dans les profondeurs, ou vient d'un bond sur la scène. (304d)

But the soul must be made monstrous: in the fashion of the comprachicos, if you will! [Editor's footnote: Comprachicos: kidnappers of children who mutilate them in order to exhibit them as monsters]. Imagine a man implanting and cultivating warts on his face.
I say one must be a seer, make oneself a seer.
The Poet makes himself a seer by a long, gigantic and rational derangement of all the senses. All forms of love, suffering, and madness. He searches himself. He exhausts all poisons in himself and keeps only their quintessences. Unspeakable torture where he needs all his faith, all his superhuman strength, where he becomes among all men the great patient, the great criminal, the one accursed – and the supreme Scholar! – Because he reaches the unknown! Since he cultivated his soul, rich already, more than any man! He reaches the unknown, and when, bewildered, he ends by losing the intelligence of his visions, he has seen them. (307c.d)
Mais il s’agit de faire l’âme monstrueuse : à l’instar des comprachicos, quoi ! Imaginez un homme s’implantant et se cultivant des verrues sur le visage.
Je dis qu’il faut être voyant, se faire voyant.
Le Poète se fait voyant par un long, immense et raisonné dérèglement de tous les sens. Toutes les formes d’amour, de souffrance, de folie ; il cherche lui-même, il épuise en lui tous les poisons, pour n’en garder que les quintessences. Ineffable torture où il a besoin de toute la foi, de toute la force surhumaine, où il devient entre tous le grand malade, le grand criminel, le grand maudit, - et le suprême Savant ! Car il arrive à l’inconnu ! Puisqu’il a cultivé son âme, déjà riche, plus qu’aucun ! Il arrive à l’inconnu, et quand, affolé, il finirait par perdre l’intelligence de ses visions, il les a vues ! (306c.d)

Aristotle. Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vols.17, 18, translated by Hugh Tredennick. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1933, 1989.
Passage from: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0052%3Abook%3D7%3Asection%3D1032b

Rimbaud, Arthur. Rimbaud: Complete Works, Selected Letters. Transl. Wallace Fowlie. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1966.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cours Vincennes - 21/03/1978.
French: http://www.webdeleuze.com/php/texte.php?cle=59&groupe=Kant&langue=1
English: http://www.webdeleuze.com/php/texte.php?cle=67&groupe=Kant&langue=2

Image obtained very gratefully from
Thanks H. Lewandowski
© Photo RMN - H. Lewandowski

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