I can't begin writing about Kristin Ross's The Emergence of Social Space without saying how exciting I found it. No dry literary and cultural criticism, Ross lets the dynamism of her subjects come through in her writing, presenting unique insights along the way. Ross writes of two events, linked by time, that transform the notion of space: the Paris commune and Arthur Rimbaud's poetic life. I say linked by time and not by direct participation because rather than try to present her own take on the debate over Rimbaud's presence at the Paris commune, she eschews this question altogether by focusing on the similarities between the commune and Rimbaud in terms of changing attitudes toward society.
I have to admit that my knowledge of the Paris commune is weak, and ironically, it has all come through Rimbaud in some form, such as other biographies and studies of his life and works. I can't comment of the accuracy of Ross's description and, thus, her analysis, but I can say that she manages to tie in her view exceptionally well with Rimbaud. Her basic conclusions are that the Paris commune was a revolution in not just the physical sense, but conceptually as well. It presented a new conception of social space by changing the relationship of public and private spaces, the definition of work, and the ideas of time and space. While time was regularly measured, space as a social fact was brought into prominence. She brings in numerous figures to indicate this shift, such as Paul Lefargue and Pierre Clastres, who wrote about these new conceptions and relationships.
Ross takes a similar approach to her examination of Rimbaud, treating his life as not just the ground of his poetic works, but as an intertwined relationship with life and poetry related as event. She provides detailed readings of his works, related to both his life and the predominant ideologies of his time. She examines numerous themes of Rimbaud, such as laziness, intoxication, his visions of the city, and she relates these to dominant ideas of the commune. Gone is the idea of the Rimbaud writing in a void, distanced from society. This is replaced by a socially conscious individual who participated in a rational rejection of the base conditions around him. This is much like his "rational derangement of the senses" that he wrote about in his so-called Letter of a Seer. The rational element of Rimbaud's thought is often ignored, despite it being a word he himself employed. In all, Ross presents one of the most unique and satisfying analyses of Rimbaud I've encountered, and one any admirer of him must read.
In closing, I must add that one can safely skip Terry Eagleton's foreword of the Verso edition which almost prompted me to put the book down before entering Ross's text. Unlike the clarity and straightforwardness of Ross, Eagleton is obfuscating and rather than sum up either the work in question or the importance of it, it manages to add nothing.