Graham Robb's article in the new TLS on Rimbaud is quite delightful, especially on the scholarship that underlay his poetry, but particularly the ravenous sense of learning he possessed:
My own copy of Rimbaud's Complete Works remains at home, largely unread. I suspect now that if I did read it, I could enjoy a lot of his work - the imagistic and imaginary advances he made were, in a certain sense, merely a cover for the linguistic and structural innovations he made in, say, the synaesthetic 'vowels' sonnet, or the knowing and deliberate mismatch of subject matter and form in work like the 'arsehole sonnet'. What I recognise most, though, is that hunger to learn: the need to know and investigate as much as possible. Oddly, when I first read Rimbaud, this is exactly what I associated with him, thinking him some kind of kindred spirit: the lower middle-class devouring and outpouring work, the 'guerilla intellectual' living 'on the edge' (of course, Rimbaud's career ended conveniently early - convenient for him, as no-one ever had to witness the possible descent in talent with age, and convenient for me, because I could assume my own 'career' (ha!) could end similarly early. I was not, as they say, a happy teenager.) The taking-up of Rimbaud by later, especially punk, artists - Dylan, Patty Smith, Crass, etc. - added a further frisson to it. Well, things change. Bohemia pales, and requires rejection. Rimbaud was in part responsible for the idea, still current among many of my peers in Creative Writing, of the artist as chaos: 'passionate', a 'rebel', drunkard, drug-addict, copulator, seeking a 'derangement of the senses' in order to to create. The kind traded in now is, of course, polite, well-dressed middle-class rebellion. As K-Punk has said, via Zizek, the very notion of rebellion, and passion has now become the exclusive property of the spectacle (cf. Steven Sonderbergh's recent Hollywood-glossy Che films. It can't be too long before someone takes out an option on the Rimbaud biopic). It is a matter, now, of finding a different kind of subversion: not simply seeking for the ever-more-underground - as some critics are wont to do - but championing a path that attaches to some more evanescent, more uncategorisable, and, for that very fact, more powerful. And the scholarship of those for whom learning was never to be part of their inheritance - the lower-class autodidacts, the self-taught - will have a lot to do with it.
There is something autodidactically earnest about almost all his projects. His first known letter, written to his favourite teacher at the Collège de Charleville, includes a list of books that would be “very useful to me”: “1. Curiosités historiques, 1 vol. by Ludovic Lalanne, I think. 2. Curiosités bibliographiques, 1 vol. by the same. 3. Curiosités de l’histoire de France, by P. Jacob, 1st series”, etc.
Even at school, he was devouring digests and dictionaries, gobbling up all the miscellaneous wisdom that would explode in Une Saison en Enfer: “Oh! la science! . . . Géographie, cosmographie, mécanique, chimie! . . .” Parts of Une Saison en Enfer sound like a cautionary tale of the boy who read too much. If one had to name a fault, says Guyaux, it would be his excessively intellectual approach to art. Arrayed on shelves, the books that Rimbaud is known to have read would easily have covered all the “flaking plaster” of the room in the family farmhouse where he wrote most of Une Saison en Enfer.