Robert St. Clair
Associate Professor of French
French and Italian
- B.A. Knox College
- Licence, Université de Paris VII
- M.A. Université de Franche-Comté
- Ph.D. University of Minnesota
Poetry, Politics, and the Body in Rimbaud: Lyrical Material (Oxford University Press, 2018).
Bodies abound in Rimbaud's poetry in a way that is nearly unprecedented in the nineteenth-century poetic canon: lazy, creative, rule-breaking bodies, queer bodies, marginalized and impoverished bodies, revolting and revolutionary, historical bodies. The question that this book seeks to answer is: what does this sheer, corporeal density mean for reading Rimbaud? What kind of sense are we to make of this omnipresence of the body in the Rimbaldian corpus from the earliest poems celebrating the simple delight of running away from wherever one is and stretching one's legs out under a table, to the ultimate flight away from poetry itself? In response, it argues that the body appears – often literally – as a kind of gap, breach, or aperture through which Rimbaud's poems enter into contact with history and a larger body of other texts. Simply put, the body is privileged "lyrical material" for Rimbaud: a figure for human beings in their exposed, finite creatureliness and in their unpredictable agency and interconnectedness. Its presence in the early work allows us not only to contemplate what a strange, sensuous thing it is to be embodied, to be both singular and part of a collective, it also allows the poet to diagnose, and the reader to perceive, a set of seemingly intractable, "real" socio-economic, political, and symbolic problems. Rimbaud's bodies are, in other words, utopian bodies: sites where the historical and the lyrical, the ideal and the material, do not so much cancel each other out as become caught up in one another.
Reviews of Lyrical Material
Marshall Olds, H-France, Review of Poetry, Politics, and the Body...
Daniel Finch-Race, Esprit créateur, Review of Poetry, Politics, and the Body...
Thomas C. Connolly, French Forum, Review of Poetry, Politics, and the Body...
Renaud Lejosne-Guigon, Acta Fabula, Review of Poetry, Politics, and the Body...
Frédéric Thomas, dissidences, Review of Poetry, Politics, and the Body...
"Voilà le peuple: Reading and the Politics of Literature (on Reading Flaubert in the Dark)," Romanic Review, special issue: Les prophètes du malheur/Prophets of Doom, Julien Lefort-Favreau and Eric Trudel, eds. (forthcoming 2023).
"Le peuple au palais: notes sur le pouvoir d'un signifiant (Kant, Flaubert, Marx)," Critique historique, idéologie, interprétation: le XIXe siècle de Steve Murphy, Judith Wulf, ed. (Paris: Classiques Garnier, forthcoming 2023), 15pp.
"A Victor Hugo, cygné Baudelaire: Notes on a Hauntopoetics of the Political in the Tableaux parisiens," Baudelaire and Philosophy, Julia Ng and Alberto Toscano, eds. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming, 2023), 26pp.
"Parā," Rimbaud et Verlaine. Un devoir à chercher (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2023), 15pp.
"The Commune, Today," Nineteenth-Century French Studies—Special Issue: La Commune n'est pas morte…49:3-4 (Spring-Summer 2021), 151-161.
"Départs: entretien avec Jacques Rancière," Nineteenth-Century French Studies—Special Issue: La Commune n'est pas morte…49:3-4 (Spring 2021), 162-172.
"Known Unknowing: Review essay of Poetry's Knowing Ignorance," H-France Review , 10pp
"Material Inscriptions - Charles Baudelaire and the Poetry of the Modern World," The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to World Literature, vol. 4, 1771-1919 (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2020), 12pp.
"Manières d'écrire, manières d'être (ensemble): l'Album zutique et la poésie de l'impropre," in Rimbaud, Verlaine et zut: hommage à Jean-Jacques Lefrère, S. Murphy, ed. (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2019), 451-466.
"Nature, the City, and Other Lyrical Material: Baudelaire with Rimbaud," L'Esprit créateur 58:1 (2018), special issue: Baudelaire and Other People, Maria Scott and Alexandra Wettlaufer, eds., 59-73.
"Dérèglements des sens de l'histoire: poétique et idéologie," Parade sauvage - numéro spécial: herméneutiques rimbaldiennes, Alain Vaillant, dir. (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2018), 69-87.
"Failure is Our Only Option: Or, Some Thoughts on Reading" - Incipit: Reading (Chambers), Nineteenth-Century French Studies, 45:3-4 (Spring-Summer, 2017), 122-130.
"Introduction: Time for Idleness..." (with Dr. Audrey Evrard, Fordham University), Nottingham French Studies 55:1 (March 2016), 1-4.
"Zut pictura poiesis: Lyric Relations and Legacies in Coin de table and the Sonnet du trou du cul," in Poets as Readers in Nineteenth-Century France: Critical Reflections, Joseph Acquisto, Adrianna Paliyenko, and Catherine Witt, eds. ( London: IGRS, 2015), 149-168.
"Reframing the Commune: Violence, Intertextuality, and Event in Tardi's Cri du peuple," Romance Notes, 55:1 (2015), 147-159.
"Écrire, la main dans la main: de la fleur parodique au communisme littéraire – 'Le Sonnet du trou du cul'," Parade sauvage 25 (2015), 69-104. (Highly commended for the Society of Dix-neuviémistes Publication Prize - best journal article by an early career researcher, 2016)
"Misères de la poésie – microlecture des économies de la violence dans Les Yeux des pauvres," Lectures du Spleen de Paris, Steve Murphy, ed. (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2014), 307-320.
"Laughing Matter(s): Poetics, Politics, and Ethics of the (Utopian) Body in Rimbaud's Effarés,"Romanic Review 104.1-2 (2014), 83-104. (Official Commendation, Malcolm Bowie Prize 2014)
"Writing Poetry Against the Grain – or, What Can Be Seen in Les Yeux des pauvres," French Forum 39.1 (2014), 49-63.
"The Bomb in (and the Right to) the City: Batman, Argo, and Hollywood's Revolutionary Crowds," The International Journal of Žižek Studies 7:3 (Oct. 2013).
"Le Désordre du val: réflexions sur la blessure de l'histoire et le temps révolutionnaire dans un sonnet de 1870," Parade sauvage 23 (2012), 25-45.
"Le Moderne absolu ? Rimbaud et la contre-modernité," Nineteenth-Century French Studies 40: 3-4 (Spring-Summer 2012), 307-326.
"'Soyons chrétiens!'? Mémoire, anticapitalisme et communauté dans Paris," La poésie jubilatoire: Rimbaud, Verlaine et l'Album zutique, Seth Whidden, ed. (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2010), 241-260.
"Jules Vallès," "Gustave Courbet," "Prosper-O. Lissagaray," "Haussmann/Haussmannisation," "Coin de table", in Le Dictionnaire Verlaine, Arnaud Bernadet, ed. (Classiques Garnier, forthcoming 2023).
"Regimes of Art," in Understanding Rancière, Understanding Modernism, Patrick Bray, ed. (Bloomsbury Press, 2017), 255-260.
Vanderbilt University, W.T. Bandy Center: "Romantic Beats: Some Notes on Poetry and (Literary Communities) from the Beat Hotel to the Hôtel des Etrangers...", 01 December, 2021
Works In Progress
My second book, Constellations of Loss: Nineteenth-Century French Counter-Modernities, is under contract with Oxford University Press and will be forthcoming in 2024. A study of the forms, figures, and meanings of (historical) loss and defeat in French literary modernity, Constellations of Loss focuses in particular on Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine (part 1: The Uses of Poetry Against Oblivion) and Flaubert (part 2: History from the Loser's Point-of-View) and is a book of literary criticism exploring a counterview of modernity in late nineteenth-century French literature (1848-1891), one that discerns an interlocking set of figures, events, and narratives of historical loss or failure at the heart of literary modernity. Stated simply, it is about the view of progress as seen from below, from the 'loser's point of view,' that we find in the works of poets like Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud as well as the novelist Gustave Flaubert. But if this book is in some broad sense preoccupied with the meaning of the failures that stick with us—that is, with the potential political resources, the potential other narratives of the present opened up by loss and defeat, failure and error—we ought to note that what brings together this corpus of writers is not reducible to the biographical; it goes beyond the uneven successes, financial hardships, and, in one case, outright failure (i.e., Rimbaud) shared by the authors in the literary market of their lifetime. At stake in this study is not an account of the ironies of literary history, wherein, to gloss Walter Benjamin's take on Baudelaire, one given era sees little to care about in an artist in which a later epoch recognizes the genius of modernity. Rather, what my book demonstrates is how each author in this critical corpus insists on tarrying with history as an experience of irrevocable loss: each lingers with history as a force of negations, and thereby insists on the significance of historical setbacks and political defeats that seem to affect—if not more dramatically wipe out (cf., Flaubert, Baudelaire, Rimbaud)—the collective hopes of entire generations. Each one gives us losers as subjects who matter in the nineteenth century (Baudelaire, Flaubert, Rimbaud), narratives of historical defeat that are as negative as they are meaningful (Verlaine, Baudelaire, Flaubert), or the contours of events whose meanings and narratives are themselves lost (Baudelaire, Rimbaud), whose meanings remain, in other words, perhaps less absent than open-ended: a possible grammar for what may come next, when hope seems lost and dreams dashed. Indeed, as Constellations of Loss seeks to show, it is precisely in its representation of history as a dilemma or undoing of meaningfulness, a problem of legibility and not-knowingness, that we can most fully recognize the formal calling-cards of literary "modernity": ironic undecidabilities and difficulties, open-ended interpretability and the dissolution of previously stable cultural and historical narratives, formal breaks with semantically oriented modes of representation, and so on.
The principal claim of this book is that what we find in these works is thus a form of 'writing against the grain' of history: not the elegant lyricism of history's victors, but a use of literature against the erasures of past injustices and for those 'lost futurities' (A. Gordon) upon which the order of the present is founded. What we find in the works of these authors is a critical literary archive of the powerless that persists in contesting the legitimacy of the powerful, which persists in haunting the nineteenth century every bit as much as it does our own achingly out-of-joint present. The story tells is, in other words, about the meaning of loss, and the significance of losers as possible figures of opposition to the dominant order, in nineteenth-century French literature that is also a story about modernity as an aesthetic politics.
Co-editor-in-chief, Parade sauvage (international journal of Rimbaud studies)
Edited Volumes and Translations
La Commune n'est pas morte - a special issue of Nineteenth-Century French Studies, co-edited with Seth Whidden.
Nottingham French Studies 55: 1 (March 2016) - co-edited with Dr. Audrey Evrard (Fordham University).
Benjamin Fondane, "Baudelaire and the Experience of the Abyss (excerpts)," in Baudelaire and Philosophy, Julia Ng and Alberto Toscano, eds. (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming 2023).
Jean-Luc Nancy, "Stoma," in Corpus III (New York: Fordham University Press, 2023), 63-95.
Anne-Emmanuelle Berger, "Reading and its Discontents," Oxford Literary Review 44:2 (Dec. 2022), 165-191.
Sylvain Lazarus, Chronicles of the Present (excerpts), Crisis and Critique 9:3 (2022), 227-247.
Jean-Claude Milner, "The Poet on Strike against Society," Crisis and Critique: The Present of Poetry, 9:2 (2022), 301-305.
Jean-Luc Nancy, "Hegel at 250/ The Philosophy of Right," Crisis and Critique 8:2 (2022), 249-254 (with Emily Laurent-Monaghan).
Jean-Luc Nancy, "Still too Human," Crisis and Critique 7:2 (2020), 265-270.
Jelica Šumič, "The For-All: Grappling With the Real of the Group," Crisis and Critique 06:1 (2019), 313-339.
Peter Brooks, “À la barre de l’Histoire,” Lectures de L’Éducation sentimentale de Gustave Flaubert, S. Murphy, ed. (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017), 359-381.
Daniel Zamoura, “When Exploitation Replaces Exclusion: The Condition of the Surplus Population under Neo-Liberalism,” nonsite.org (Fall 2013), 21pp.
Christian Haines, “Oscillations prolétaires: poésie du travail et travail de la poésie chez Whitman et Rimbaud,” Parade sauvage 23 (2012), 65-101.
Bruno Chaouat, “Have French Jews Veered to the Right?,” Politics and Culture 3:4 (January, 2011), http://www.politicsandculture.org/2011/01/18/have-french-jews-veered-to-the-right/
Fethi Benslama, “The Agony for Justice,” in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in the Francophone World,” Nathalie Debrauwere-Miller, ed. (New York and London: Routledge, 2010), 123-141.
Anny Dayan Rosenman, “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in France: A Conflict in Search of Novelistic Representations,” in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in the Francophone World,” Nathalie Debrauwere-Miller, ed. (New York and London: Routledge, 2010), 81-93.