Originally from Charleville, France, Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud was born in 1854 to mother Marie-Catherine-Vitalie Cuif and father Frédéric Rimbaud, an army officer of bourgeois standing. Rimbaud’s rebellious, vagabond lifestyle fueled by absinthe and hashish has excited generations of writers.
Described by Victor Hugo as “an infant Shakespeare,” Rimbaud’s following has been enraptured by his scandalous behavior, substance abuse, wanderlust and ability to still produce profound poetry. Historian Jerrold Siegel describes bohemians as located “in a twilight zone between ingenuity and criminality” (4), mirroring Rimbaud’s impish, libertine nature and cavernous individuality and creativity.
In his letters to friend Paul Demeny, Rimbaud contends his musings on poetry and life as an aspiring poet. Expounding on his philosophies and analysis of poetry, Rimbaud “feels himself to be like the matter which will receive the form of poet.”
Rimbaud proceeds to declare “Je est un autre” translating literally to “I is an other.” This quote has continued to inspire writers, philosophers and historians with the profound concept of separating from oneself by constructing “I” as a separate entity. Rimbaud’s idea of the “I” construct, the duality in the human experience, is immensely dense. The ideas and literature of which pushed the boundaries of literary, psychological, and social constructs, coming from an individual so young, render Arthur Rimbaud’s prodigal nature.
Moreover, his relationship with poet Paul Verlaine and their experimentation with discourse and sexuality, narrating their experiences and issues surrounding their travel, provided a great deal of insight for the writer. Rimbaud and Verlaine’s anti-establishment beliefs and abstract thinking influenced dadaism, surrealism and symbolism. Their coexistence was clamorous, mysterious and violent.
While dying from cancer at only 37 years old Rimbaud’s influence encompassed modern literature, music and art throughout the decadent movement, prior to abandoning poetry to travel Africa and mentor the Koran. Ending up in Aedan where he traded coffee, and later, guns. The teenager who graffitied his hometown with “Shit on God,” ran away to Paris and promoted anti-establishment virtues was now a lapsed poet and literary genius, who played into the capitalist culture he once despised.
The quote depicted in the graphic represents formally “the concept of who he will become” and materially “the disordered state he is in now (a state of derangement of all his senses).” Individuals constantly see themselves as becoming of a desired person, or affected by some other circumstance that can be reached or escaped. Recognizing the egotistical nature of constructing an alternate being or reflection of oneself from their self-perceptions, Rimbaud—an aspiring poet—disassociates himself with internal perception of himself as a poet—supporting his feeling of being othered. My alternative representation of the quote and author were inspired by some of the literary and art movements influence by Rimbaud. The illustration and typography are meant to reflect the importance of his youth and his poetry. Having tried to understand the meaning behind this quote and studying Rimbaud’s intense, paradoxical life, “Je est un autre” is a very fitting description for his turbulent and lasting antics.
Jerrold Seigel, Bohemian Paris. Culture, Politics, and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life, 1830–1930. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.