The Art of Hermeneutics

As with any obscure text, the Illuminations has received numerous esoteric interpretations that make everything clear: each element of the text – at least each problematic element – is replaced by another which is drawn from some variant of the universal symbolism, from psychoanalysis to alchemy. The strange “son of the Sun” of “Vagabonds” is really oneness, or love, or a pharaoh; the rainbow in “After the Flood” is the umbilical cord; the “Flowers” are the pure substance contained in metal. These interpretations are never confirmable, or refutable either, which gives them minimal interest; in addition, they translate the text bit by bit, with no attention to its articulation, and the final result, perfectly clear, provides no explanation for the initial obscurity: why would Rimbaud have found it amusing to encode these rather ordinary thoughts?

Tzvetan Todorov, “A complication of text: the Illuminations”

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