An American Abroad

Rimbaud Speaks of Bangkok

I’ve been struggling to understand why I didn’t take photos in Bangkok, why I can’t even seem to write much about it. Something about the too-muchness of that city shuts me down. Then in one of those weird coincidences of literature, I found an answer.

I’ve been reading Rimbaud’s Illuminations on and off for awhile now. Today I came upon this:


Seen enough. The vision was encountered in every kind of place.

Had enough. City uproar, in the evening, in the sunlight, and forever.

Known enough. The interruptions of life. —Oh uproar and visions!

Departure in the midst of new involvements, new sounds!

Rimbaud knew a thing or two about excess. Here, even he seems incapable of describing what he saw, heard, felt, tasted, smelled. There are no concrete nouns, no metaphors or similes. If even he could be shut down by the sensory overload of city life, then maybe I can forgive myself for not being able to commit Bangkok to words and pictures.

I was feeling wiped out after my trip to the Similan Islands yesterday. Spent most of the day in my hotel, just trying to get my digestion and temperature regulation and energy levels back to normal. A friend suggested that I had “overwhelmed my immune system.” Perhaps. But that phrase stuck with me as I considered Bangkok. After all the travel I’ve done in the last 20 months, I do feel pretty much immune to the ways that new places can assault my senses. But Bangkok seems to be an exception. I’m not immune to it yet. It infects me and stops me up.

Someday I’ll go back and figure out how and why.


  1. donna cameron-carter says:

    great citation from Rimbaud. Literature and good reading, and other cultural events are like that I find: sometimes I can’t figure out how I am feeling, but I am unsettled or restless, and then someone with insight explains it to me, in their medium. Dance, ballet in particular, often does that for me. I don’t go to the ballet enough, and yet I was brought up in a ballet school, the National Ballet School of Canada. Now, with age and having raised a family, I find I am gravitating back to my roots. It is nice to go “home.”

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