- A Reading of Rimbaud's 'Bateau ivre'
Editor's Note to "A Reading of Rimbaud's 'Bateau ivre'"
Jesi opens his important early essay Le connessioni archetipiche1 with these words: "In examining folkloristic materials from various sources, and especially compositions of popular literature, one perceives the constant presence of 'common places': motifs that are repeated in the different forms through which we apprehend each story, at times remaining formally unaltered, at times being modified." In the note to his 1970 poetry collection, L'esilio,2 he claims "the usability of each poetic 'precedent' as a repertoire of anonymous common places." And finally, in a letter to Giulio Schiavoni dated 31 October 1972, he writes: "I'm in the middle of an essay on Rimbaud, on the Bateau ivre to be precise […]. I've long had outstanding business with the 'common place,' and this might be the time for a reckoning."
Such 'reckoning" will be made possible by the elaboration of the "mythological machine model" appearing for the first time in the following essay; but this will also be the time for Jesi's reckoning with his book Spartakus. The Symbology of Revolt,3 written in 1969 and long left unpublished owing to unfortunate circumstances (it would be published posthumously by Bollati Boringhieri, as late as 2000). Jesi includes in this essay (paragraphs 7 & 8) some pages taken verbatim from the book, and develops its central themes starting from the new orientation given by the mythological machine. A Reading of Rimbaud's "Bateau ivre" was first published in the magazine Comunità (168, 1972).—Andrea Cavalletti
Some works of art have the privilege of being made out of the matter of common places and of themselves becoming a common place on the surface of an artist's creation. In these works, the apparent progress from the novelty par excellence of the in flagranti creative operation to the non-novelty par excellence of the statue erected by posterity to the creator is in fact enclosed in a single point: a sort of dark pustule on the marble surface, in which all the impurities of the stone are gathered—a [End Page 1003] salient blemish, a reference point. It is not true that the artist has taken possession of the common places and made use of them. Rather, he has opened himself to them, put herself at their disposal: they have come, they have taken possession of the creative experience and made use of it, so that at the moment of its actualization it would also become, in its totality, a common place. Bad money drives out good. Non-novelty, as soon as it is put into circulation, drives out novelty, and does so in the most radical way, actualizing the non-existence of novelty simply by appearing, as non-novelty, in the field of poetry: "calme bloc ici-bas […]." And it is true, as these words by Mallarmé state in no uncertain terms, that, marked by such monuments, the field of poetry bears a strong resemblance to a graveyard. We said: "some works of art have the privilege," but also: "bad money." Our discourse shows an oscillation of values regarding the concept of common place, and such oscillation appears as a veritable semantic oscillation of the expression common place/commonplace. The same oscillation characterizes the presence of monuments in the graveyard of poetry: if on the one hand they warrant the objectification of the novelty par excellence in the novissima, the "things of the ultimate end," and thus color it with prophecy, on the other hand they move us to remember that novissimi, in Latin, can also mean the rear guard.
A very similar—in fact in some ways coinciding—oscillation characterizes the notion of the condition of childhood. Not only is there a symmetry between acknowledging childhood as endowed with autonomous values, a realm that is other, and poetry as a realm peopled with other inhabitants, but it is within one and the same process that these acknowledgements of otherness are achieved—subsequently leading to techniques of exploitation of the others. The others do not exercise power, but they do have one power available. The State...