the malady/greatness of arthur rimbaud by georges bataille


Man’s direction in life, as far as nature is concerned, is essentially negative. It goes from argument to argument and is made of rapid, quickly broken movements, exhilaration, and depression.

The movement of poetry arises from the known and leads to the unknown. If it is achieved, it touches on madness. But at the approach of madness, the tide recedes. Poetry is almost entirely a receding tide: the movement towards poetry, or towards madness, aspires to remain within the limits of the possible. At any rate, poetry is a negation of itself: it denies itself as it preserves itself and surpasses itself.

However, negation surpassing poetry comes from consequences other than receding tides. In approaching madness, the poet sinks into darkness. Still, madness does not have the means to maintain itself by itself any more than poetry does. Since there are poets and madmen–as there are monkeys of one type or another–poets and madmen exist only during certain moments. The limit of the poet is similar to that of the madman in that it affects one’s personal life but not human life in general. These fixed points in time give shipwrecks the means to maintain themselves on their own. Thus, the movement of water around such shipwrecks is only a belated instant.

The following text indicates an awareness of personal collapse as well as the impersonal movements that follow it. It expresses poetry engaged in its own negation. But what touches on knowledge of one’s self is simply desire, evocation; it’s the void, the chaos, leftover from poetry. Any distinction can be made between madness (to which poetry succumbs) and the rational exhaustion of the possibilities of the being. Madness is masked by the appearance of a will for experience, and this will is disguised by a derangement. The inability to survive comes from excess of desire, which goes in many directions at the same time. The collapse felt during exhaustion keeps the mind from surpassing desire, and exacerbates it.

Failure is the measure of the wager. Exhilaration is the promise of depression. Poetry is denied by displacement. The poet is no longer destroyed language reshaping a false world through deconstructed symbols, but is the man, who, weary of the game, wants to make a real conquest from this realm of madness. What collapsed through anticipation, which the seer cannot see, is the difference between enduring collapse (madness, or its equivalent, pure negation) and searching for the possible beyond that collapse. These two moments merge into one, as with poetry.
Rimbaud’s greatness is having led poetry to its own failure. Poetry is not a knowledge of one’s self.

translation by Mark Spitzer and Emmanuelle Pourroy