Sorry Poets

March 3, 2009

posted & written by Caroline Picard

Re: Assasins


I’ve been enjoying Time of The Assasins quite a lot, perhaps in particular because there is an unapologetic celebration of poet/artist-angst that I tend to attribute to the Modernist frame of mind. I wonder if there is a way to reincorporate some flavor of that hell-bent superfluousness in our post-modernisms. I can’t help but think we’d be better for it; I feel like the artist of today must spend hours within his/her practice justifying the merit of his/her work. Defining it categorically, placing it in a theoretical context etc. It seems inadequate to do something for its own sake. Because the absolute Forms of Beauty, Eros, Pathos, Thanatos, Philos etc., have been torn down, stomped into the ground and supplanted by relativisms, slippery human (i.e. politics) issues, concepts (art about art).


Time of the Assasins is pretty amazing- Nick Sarno lent me a copy years ago and I finally picked it up. The premise is that Rimbaud is a genius. Henry Miller loves Rimbaud, and in fact, sees themselves as twins in a way–both were terrible children, bother are plagued with the obsession to return to the womb (somehow), both misanthropic etc., I just can’t get over the wonderful gaul to say “What a jolt I got when I read that Rimbaud, as a young man, used to sign his letters–‘that heartless wretch, Rimbaud.’ Heartless was an adjective I was fond of hearing applied to myself.” In such moments you hear Miller’s exuberance as he feels closer to his hero. In fact, it’s not really about Miller at all–the parallels he proposes between their lives serve more as an underlying architecture than anything else. Rather the account of Rimbaud becomes something personal, where Miller can talk about the poet as if he knew him.


The bold assumptions of Milelr would likely upset our timid contemporary mind.  The Modernist has become a bad thing, in a way, associated with will to power, the need to conquer, the single man against the world–

And while I understand those critiques, while I see that precisely the thing that makes such lonely, self-constructed martyrs contemptable is also the same that makes them loveable; the Romantic is at once laughable and lovely. Nevertheless, the alternative seems a little drivelling and small.

I quite enjoy the contemporary stuff. I love it–as is evidenced by the Green Lantern for sure. But I can’t help feeling like artists of today bear this existential weight about what they are doing, what they are contributing to society. I feel that burden might be lifted a little if there was a larger faith (or hope?) in the capacity for ones own greatness–a greatness that the world may not understand.

Darger is a more recent example of someone who escaped into a world of his own–not that we should be like Darger. But Darger-the-artist had a constant communion with his art practice, outside of the real world where Darger-the-janitor lived. Having that private space gave him room to trespass societal taboos and, as a result, create something wholly original, strange and captivating. But, because he was not trying to justify himself to the world, he was able to make something for its own sake–which may be part of what Miller is talking about when he describes the poet taking flight and finding himself alone but sustained by his works.

I’m not sure. I’m not sure about any of this. But these days, Greatness feels like a dirty word. And I don’t know why exactly- Is it because we want everyone to be equal? Is that realistic? By what criteria?


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