The critic Bernard Shernmaker is teasing Quiggen about his mercenary considerations as editor of Fission: “Gauguin abandoned business for art, JG, you’re like Rimbaud, who abandoned art for business.” [BDFR 148/138]
Readers probably need no introduction to the painter Paul Gauguin (French 1948-1903), who abandoned his job as a stockbroker (not to mention his failed marriage and five children, abandoned even earlier) in order to pursue his fabled career in painting and printmaking. Nor is there any work of art to cite here, but it is probably worth mentioning that Gauguin seemed to live prominently in Powell’s imagination. On the opening page of his memoir, To Keep the Ball Rolling, Powell ponders his own unpromising beginnings thus: “Why, one wonders, did it all come about? Like Gauguin’s picture: D’ou´ venon-nous? Que sommes-nous? Ou´ venons nous?; a journey in my own case, tackled under the momentum of a slow pulse, lowish blood pressure, slightly subnormal temperature.”
In Gauguin’s masterpiece, now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, a slow pulse and lowish blood pressure seem to be the perks of an idyllic island existence that Gauguin helped mythologize.
Arthur Rimbaud (French 1854-1891) began his career as a precocious poet wunderkind and precursor of Symbolism and Surrealism, and ended it as a coffee merchant in the Middle East. His name also appears in Powell’s memoir, but perhaps only as a reminder of Powell’s omniverous reading habits and deep cultural literacy.