Abstract

This article offers an alternative history of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854–91) and his late nineteenth century life in Harär. It introduces Rimbaud not as a poet or humanist who travelled to Harär due to his inherent attraction to the exotic Orient, but as a white merchant and colonialist who desired to become rich in a colonial context. Examining Rimbaud's integration with the denizens of Harär and his refined writing from the town, it is clear that unlike many of his European colleagues, Rimbaud did not portray a binary reality of civilized West and barbaric Orient, and his case thus demonstrates the dynamism and variation of the travel writing genre, an integral part of its reciprocal relations with the indigenous sphere. The article also examines current research that characterizes Rimbaud as a memory agent of Harär, and analyzes the city's Rimbaud Museum as a site of memory. It thus deals with the “museumization” of Rimbaud in Harär as another aspect of the “orientalization” of his image and the instrumentalization of the town as an Oriental stage for the “poet” character.

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