The black fingers
by Jean-Michel MAULPOIX
Rimbaud seen by Pierre Michon
à propos Rimbaud, the son, Gallimard, 1991
Translated from the original French by Catherine Wieder
Pierre Michon tells the story of the boy with the black fingers, with laundry-women reddened hands : And it's already with the choice of these very colours the profile of a strange boy being delineated and escaping at the same time. Michon doesn't indeed really tell such a story, he observes it surge and surrounds it. What have we still to learn today about the boy from Ardennes, but that very way he had come, never waited, demanded immediately from poetry, and left ? At what cost do words deserve to rime together ? Is the game of language still worth the candle ? Can living be something else than a mistake ?
Michon tells Rimbaud-the-derangement ; he doesn't add a few chapters to the traditional Vulgate. He comments it a little, and writes his own Gospel. Henceforth, he edges his way into the wrath of the difficult rascal, watches both Charleville and Paris with his own eyes and understands why it could not work long enough : it was a matter of verse one was expecting lights from that which would not be. It had been meant to fall short, useless and unbearable as it was.
Rimbaud carries on his face that kind of sulky heart which remains incarcerated within the poem. His countenance lodges its complaint. Having become legendary, his ill-tempered life indeed tells how tiring it may have become to dream one's own existence. And what is interesting for Michon is both this grumbling chap, as much as his beggar's bag of day-dreams. He thus becomes the provincial grand-nephew trying to explain the fate of the grand-uncle by groping about inside his own self rather than rummaging through his books.
For Arthur's story is quite an ordinary one for he who is used to pen-pushing : it is the story of a cantilevered life unable to find any place to dwell and settle. The son of a ghost and an anathema, Rimbaud never knew comfort and grew up keeping for himself far too much love. Hence his chronicle of a doomed character obediently turns to myth : he embodies the forces that compel a man to grasp a pen and sit beauty on his lap.
To tell Rimbaud's story means writing the genesis of one's own desire to write. It also means checking that one should not expect too much from language, that usurer. One day, just like that, you entrust her with your treasury in order to run freely along the roads and she never pays you back. You ask for food and shelter and she sends you someone who immediately fires you. You are never at home with her, you never leave unscathed from her black fingers, you are compelled to leave behind what you used to protect with both heart and faith. Any love language is set language, one has to put up with it and, as long as you can, try and pretend you don't suffer from it.
Rimbaud offers the example of he who would let himself be rolled like meatballs in flour by poetry which is both a matter of solitude and of cliques : it is quite difficult to find oneself out between heart beats and arms flourishes, difficult indeed not to leave behind one's patience after one's virginity. Michon understood it quite well : what is most interesting is not the Poet but what remains in the latter of a precarious and approximate man under his handsome school guise.
Thus does the boy from Ardennes ask the question of what may we exactly know about him whose identity is always magnified on the great Register of Literary History, hence neglecting his own finitude. What kind of a childhood doomed to die was really his life ? Two kinds of poems may exist : the latter printed on black and white and those which fill out the kind of hieroglyphics of the fate of he who writes, being far more encoded, riming and fearing. Michon, the biographer, uses all the patience of his prose at the service of this inaudible poem of that man made both of flesh and desire, with his black fingers of a laundry-woman's hands. He doesn't erect him any tombstone : for him he only inflates his voice a little, then lies down close to his sleep.