A BEACH READ FOR SURREALISTS. Just the thing to tuck into while nibbling your lobster-telephone roll. “Blood Sports In A Starched Collar: Surrealist Etiquette.”
TIME CONSERVATION KEYWORDS: Rimbaud’s table manners, Emily Post, anarcho-dandyism, The Chap Manifesto: Revolutionary Etiquette for the Modern Gentleman, the death of manners, “mental hygiene” movies in postwar Amreica, the political history of “please” and “thank you,” when to make fun of people who doff their hats at passing funerals, how best to inform the host you regret you have no intention of sleeping with him/her, the dinner party as revolutionary cell.
Lloyd directs our attention to Arthur Rimbaud, the wild-haired feral child of Symbolist poetry who “made himself immortally insupportable”—summa cum laude, in Surrealist charm schools. Invited to sup with his mentor and sometime lover Paul Verlaine at the home of Verlaine’s biographer Edmond Lepelletier, the poet earned his reputation as an enfant terrible—and then some. Sitting tight-lipped, he broke his sullen silence only to snap orders for bread or wine, as if he were in a restaurant. When the burgundy took effect, he grew combative, baiting his companions with “challenging paradoxes and apothegms purposed to provoke contradiction,” in Lepelletier’s account of events. A funeral passed, and Lepelletier doffed his hat in respect, which elicited a punk-rock razzberry from the vociferously anti-bourgeois Rimbaud, who mocked his host as a “saluter of the dead.” An incensed Lepelletier, whose mother had died recently, told Rimbaud to “keep silent on the subject” (translation: shut up), a reprimand his obstreperous guest “apparently took in bad part, for he arose from the table and advanced towards me in a menacing fashion, nervously and senselessly holding a dessert knife, no doubt as a weapon…” For the Surrealist, table manners are a blood sport, it turns out; knowing which knife to use may be a matter of life and death.