There are certain books that once began are impossible not to conclude ,there is a compulsion,a desire , an inner need to go further and deeper in to the labyrinth, to continue the adventure, the illumination, and to take in those words and ideas and emotions that are generated by these incredible minds that lead us to new realms of poetry and imagination.And as Andre Breton once said “Beauty shall be convulsive or cease to be “.
The Following Books which are all novels ,where for me at certain stages in my life, at once an illumination and a realisation that there are minds and souls who can illuminate and express those things that seem inexpressible ,some how through the alchemical arrangements of words and semantics these artist harvest new and previously unknown elements that lay locked within our minds and through there words we can feel them being unlocked.It was difficult to just highlight a few novels as I could have chosen many more works that have been both an inspiration and an influence on my work and ideas such as those by ,Francois Rabelais,William Blake ,Antonin Artaud ,Charles Baudelaire Arthur Rimbaud ,Philippe Soupault ,Raymond Roussel, Henri Michaux , Vladimir Mayakovsky ,Cesare Pavese ,George Bataille ,Charles Bukowsky , Clark Ashton Smith William Burroughs ,Bryon Gysin or J G Ballard to name but a few of the more well known writers and thinkers that made there mark upon myself and a generation of other Artists ,but given the limitation of space I was ask to work within ,so I choose several books and authors that from my personal point both thrilled me and influenced the way I thought about ontology.I had to omitted from my list the works of Certain Occultists ,Hermes Trismegistus,Eliphas Levi, Alistair Crowley,Kenneth Grant,Michael Bertiaux ,Paschal Beverly Randolph ,Psychologists ,Wilhelm Reich ,Carl Jung and Philosophers such as D .A .F. De Sade whose “Dialogue between a dying man and a Priest ” laid the corner stone of Existential thought and which I recommend as a quintessential text ,W F Hegel , G I Gurdjieff , P D Ouspenksy , Henri Bergson , Emanuel Swedenbourg Gilles Deleuze ,Jacques Derrida,Jean Baudrillard ,Walter Benjamin,Philip Foucalt Bernard Stigler ,whose ideas and philosophical concepts have opened new ways in thinking , as it is to complex to illuminate the meanings and depth of their works within the context of this piece, but having stated this ,the following works are by no means less meaningful, they have a complexity and a depth that connects in a multi dimensional and intuitive way to all the Individuals I have named in this introduction.
Les Chants De Maldoror 1868 / 1869 Comte de lautreamont / isodore Lucien Ducasse
This novel or long prose poem defies any kind of literal description ,it is more a kind of illuminated hallucination, a nightmare/dream unfolding as each page turns.We can not explain this work in terms of conventional thinking or psychological analysis , as it is unique in the annals of literature ,no previous works or those that came later could match the radical newness that was born upon its release,only in the writings of De Sade ,Jarry ,Bataille,Artaud,Gerard De Nerval,Blaise Cendras or Rene Daumal can we find connections that evoke Les Chants De Maldoror and mirror its uniqueness, for it stands at the threshold and continues to shine in the Dark abyss of the soul.
Les Chants de Maldoror (The Songs of Maldoror) is a poetic novel (or a long prose poem) consisting of six cantos. It was written between 1868 and 1869 by the Comte de Lautreamont the pseudonym of Isidore Lucien Ducasse. Many of the surrealists (Salvador Dalí, André Breton, Antonin Artaud, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Max Ernst, etc.) during the early 20th century cited the novel as a major inspiration to their own works.Les Chants de Maldoror is considered to have been a major influence upon French Symbolism, Dada, and Surrealism. Several editions of the book have included lithographs by the French symbolist painter Odilon Redon. Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí also illustrated one edition of the book. The Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani used to carry a copy around in Montparnasse and quote from it. The outsider artist Unica Zürn was also influenced by it in writing her “The Man of Jasmine”. William T. Vollmann mentioned it as the most influenced book for his writing life.
The Songs of Maldoror presents an essentially occult view of the world, for good and evIl are seen as equally Important and mutually linked forces in Nature, divorced from the moral content given to them by man. The name of the book’s hero, Maldoror, is a pun on mal
d’ aurore (evil of the dawn) combining darkness and light. The book Invokes Science, in its attempts to impose a static and rational order upon Nature, and attacks the belief of humanity that it is superior, when in fact it is subject to the same laws as the lowest animals. Religion is seen as an absurd delusion, the results of hypocritical aspiration, and God is an unworthy, ineffectual, pathetic drunkard, scorned by the animals he is meant to have created.
Lautreamont may have been influenced by the Marquis de Sade, whose writings influenced many French radical thinkers in the nineteenth century as well as the twentieth (for example, Baudelaire is known to have read him). De Sade reacted against the eighteenth century idealisation ( of Nature, and the idea that Man was innately good which had been proposed by Rousseau and others. De Sade, like the Romantics who followed him, tried to redress this imbalanced view by showing the ; perverse, irrational and cruel forces in Man and Nature, which become all the more dangerous if suppressed by ideals or the idea of God. He ( suggests that the more we aspire to unrealistic ideals and maintaining , a rational society at the expense of our instincts, the latter will , eventually engulf us. De Sade was a philosopher, not a pornographer. , He used pornography in Juliette to attack religion, which he saw as having a sexual basis (since it is concerned with the origins of humanity and providing sexual taboos to be adhered to).
Religion, to de Sade, is the basis of civilisation. Anticipating Freud, de Sade suggests that rational society is maintained through the
,control of sexuality, and in particular women’s sexuality since they are “”defined by their biological function. He thus attempted to negate this. Thus Les Chants de Maldoror became a sort of surrogate Bible for the surrealists, Andre Gide once saying: “Now here is something which excites me to the point of delirium”. Octavio Paz adored the book as well for what he perceived as its uncompromising romanticism.And doubt Philip Soupault and Andre Brettons “The Magnetic Fields” would have been written without Lautreamont. Louis Aragon, a surrealist would later become an apostate and then Prodigal Son, once said that “one does not pause before the Comte De Lautreamont; one kneels in adoration.” Andre Breton wrote that Maldoror was “the expression of a revelation so complete it seems to exceed human potential.”Repugnance is the sentry standing right near the door to those things we desire the most. ‘ “The magickal ecstasy liberated by union with grotesque or hideous images usually associated with aversion, revulsion, or horror, is super abundant compared with that released by the union of opposites”. Liber Aleph, Crowley. De Sade disrupted traditional literary genres by mingling pornography with philosophy in his novels, attacking hierarchy by showing how the base and the elevated can be combined, and implying that their separation is mere artifice. Freud had also discussed the notion of sexuality as being the unconscious motivating force behind all creative and artistic impulses. Benjamin Peret, wrote ‘It is necessary to admit that a common denominator unites the sorcerer, the poet and the madman which is none other than magik. It is the flesh and blood of poetry. ”The man of genius differs from the dreamer and the fool in this only, that his creations are analogous to truth, while those of the fool and the dreamer are lost reflections and betrayed images.Analogy is ‘sole possible mediator between finite and infinite,’ and ‘Analogy yields all the forces of Nature to the Magus. Analogy is the quintessence of the Philosophical Stone, the secret of perpetual motion, the quadrature of the circle … the science of good and evil. It is a congealing of the marrow, an absence of mental fire, a lack of circulation of life, the absence of hole, of a kind of cold suffering without images, without feeling, like the indescribable shock of abortions.
Lautreamont, aka Isidore Ducasse,s last work , as he only wrote two, the former being the Les Chants de Maldoror ,Was Poesie,s which is a series of “Maxims” which entirely renounces “Maldoror” and extols virtue.Isodore Lucien Duccase died at the age of 24.The Comte De Lautreamont lives on.
The Bindings of Mary Louise Reynolds,” Case 8, Ryerson & Burnham Libraries, January 20-March 23, 2015
Gestes et opinions du docteur Faustroll, pataphysician (The Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, Pataphysician) by Alfred Jarry. Paris: Librairie Stock, 1923.
The Exploits and Opinions of Dr Faustroll (a neo Scientific Novel ) 1898 . Alfred Jarry
Alfred Jarry became famous by writing the father Ubu trilogy, considered the first absurdist theatre plays. He also wrote “Gestes et Opinions du Docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien” (Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, pataphysician) in 1898, published posthumously in 1911.
In this book, he inserted his main ideas on the Science of imaginary solutions in a strange symbolist tale where Doctor Faustroll navigates through land, using a
scieff ,which he explains is like a sieve / mesh that lays on top of the surface of the water ,accompanied by 27 ‘Livres Pairs’ (equivalent books), his ape-servant Bosse- de-Nage, who could only express himself with the words “Ha ha” (probably meant as a pun to insult Jarry’s Belgian friend Christian Beck who used this as a meaningless expletive) and a bailiff named Panmuphle. They travel from island to island, each one populated by a writer contemporary of Jarry and his microcosmos. In the end Faustroll goes on a little killing spree after having seen a horse’s head, the surface of god is calculated and Faustroll himself appears to be the book in which his adventures are told. All of it extremely bizarre to most people, and written in an impeccable erudite French influenced by François Rabelais,French philosophy and Strange scientific facts.Jarry had studied the Upanishads and alchemical literature as well as the works of The Comte De Lautreamont.
Rabelaise major work Gargantua and Pantagruel ,The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel (French: La vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel) is a pentalogy of novels written in the 16th century by François Rabelais, which tells of the adventures of two giants, Gargantua and his son Pantagruel. The text is written in an amusing, extravagant, and satirical vein, and features much crudity, scatological humor, and violence (lists of explicit or vulgar insults fill several chapters). The censors of the Collège de la Sorbonne stigmatised it as obscene, and in a social climate of increasing religious oppression, it was treated with suspicion, and contemporaries avoided mentioning it. According to Rabelais, the philosophy of his giant Pantagruel, “Pantagruelism”, is rooted in “a certain gaiety of mind pickled in the scorn of fortuitous things” Rabelais had studied Ancient Greek and he applied it in inventing hundreds of new words in the text, some of which became part of the French language Wordplay and risqué humor abound in his writing.
Alfred Jarry was a totally unique artist,For me one of the most important artists in the development of Modern Art and in my own personal development in the formation of a new way of thinking and looking.
Alfred Jarry is perhaps the least known among the important writers of his generation. Both Burroughs and Ballard were inspired by him, he had a profound influence on the British authors associated with New Worlds magazine, and was admired by artists from Duchamp to Paolozzi as well as any number of playwrights, including Artaud, Beckett and Ionesco. His posthumous Exploits and Opinions of Dr Faustroll, Pataphysician has been cited by several of today’s most innovative authors but yet still remains not properly recognised as one of the most influential writers of modern times.
He remained in obscurity until the 1920s when the dramatist Antonin Artaud acknowledged Jarry as an inspiration for many of his theories and works. In 1949 the modernist writers Boris Vian and Eugene Ionesco honoured Jarry’s invention of pataphysics by instituting the Collège du Pataphysique (“College of Pataphysics”), declaring that it “refused to serve any purpose, refused to save mankind, or what is even more unusual, the world.” Despite such assertions, the College’s official publications, such as Les Cahiers du Collège de Pataphysique (The Notebooks of the College of Pataphysics), have consistently been among the best available sources of criticism on Jarry, and its members have made many valuable contributions to Jarry scholarship. Today an increasing number of critics consider Jarry as important an author as Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud, and the study of his writings has accelerated in recent years. As critical controversies surrounding Jarry’s works are more closely examined, readers may more fully comprehend his “daring and enigmatic works,” written, as Linda Klieger Stillman has pointed out, “at a critical moment in the history of man and of literature: the inauguration of what we now call the modern age.”
Jarry is most famous for his satire/farce Ubu Roi (King Turd), which ignited a scandal when it was first performed in 1896, and hasn’t exactly been embraced by the mainstream in the century since. He is also known as the founder of ‘Pataphysics’. ‘Pataphysics’, Jarry wrote, ‘is the science of imaginary solutions…extending as far beyond metaphysics as the latter extends beyond physics.’ The science of imaginary solutions. Two notions were behind Pataphysics: that of equivalences and the clinamen or slight decline of atoms falling.
In 1893, Jarry attributes to Ubu Roi the invention of Pataphysics, ‘a science that we have invented and which is generally felt to be needed’, but the real founding text is another: ‘Les Gestes et opinions du docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien’, a work finished in 1898 and published in 1911, four years after Jarry’s death.
Book II, titled ‘Elements de pataphysique’ only occupied two pages but is of primary importance because it contains the first definition of Pataphysics: ‘Pataphysics is the science that added to metaphysics, either in itself or outside itself, and extends as far beyond metaphysics as the latter extends beyond physics. Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions that symbolically attributes to the feature the properties of the objects described according to their virtuality’. The doctrine cannot actually be explained. Let us add that this science is also presented as the science of the particular and it deals with the rules governed by exceptions. Naturally the rule is ‘an exception to the exception’. In other words, everything is pataphysics. The pataphysical dialectic revolves around itself like the ubic (spiral-shaped) navel that is its emblem.
“It is conventional to call monster any blending of dissonant elements. I call monster every original inexhaustible beauty.”
― Alfred Jarry (1873 to 1907)
Portrait of Guillaume Apollinaire 1914 Georgio De Chirico
Les Onze Mille Verges 1907 Guillaume Apollinaire
Les Onze Mille Verges ou les amours d’un hospodar (The 11 Thousand Rods [Penises], or The Loves of a Hospodar) (novel), 1907
Guillaume Apollinaire (French: [ɡijom apɔlinɛʁ]; August 26,1880 in Rome – November 9, 1918 in Paris) was a French poet, playwright, short story writer, novelist, and art critic of Polish descent. His novels were mostly erotic.
Apollinaire is considered one of the foremost poets of the early 20th century, as well as one of the most impassioned defenders of Cubism and a forefather of Surrealism. He is credited for coining the term Cubism (1911) to describe the works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, the terms “Orphism” (1912) to describe the works of Frantisek Kupka, and the term “Surrealism” (1917) to describe the works of Eric Satie. He wrote one of the earliest works described as Surrealist, the play The Breasts of Tiresias (1917), which was used as the basis for the 1947 opera Les mamelles de Tirésias.
Les Onze Mille Verges ou les Amours d’un hospodar is a pornographic novel published in 1907 over his initials “G.A.”. The title contains a play on the Catholic veneration of the “Eleven thousand Virgins” (French: les onze mille vierges), the martyred companions of Saint Ursula, replacing the word vierge (virgin) with verge (rod) due to a slip of the tongue by the protagonist and as an omen of his fate. The use of the word verge may also be considered as a pun for it is used as a vulgarism for the male member.
Les Onze Mille Verges tells the fictional story of the Romanian hospodar Prince Vibescu Mony, in which Apollinaire explores all aspects of sexuality: sadism alternates with masochism; ondinism / scatophilia with vampirism; pedophilia with gerontophilia; masturbation with group sex; lesbianism with homosexuality. The writing is alert, fresh and concrete, humour is always present, and the entire novel exudes an “infernal joy, which finds its apotheosis in the final scene.Admirers of Les Onze Mille Verges included Louis Aragon, Robert Desnos and Pablo Picasso, who dubbed the novel Apollinaire’s masterpiece.
1970 rear cover of the Doubleday ‘Projections’ edition of Cendrars’ Moravagine
MORAVAGINE 1926 Blaise Cendrars
One of the greatest literary injustices of our time is the relative obscurity of the French writer Blaise Cendrars, poet, novelist, soldier, mechanic, traveller, film-maker. He deserves to be recognised as one of the most original and outrageous writers of the early twentieth century.
Swiss poet and novelist, who wrote in French and spent much of his life traveling restlessly. Blaise Cendrars did his best to fictionalise his past and his biographers have had much difficulties separating fact from fabulations: “truth is imaginary”, he once said. Cendrars’s most famous novels, Sutter’s Gold and Moravagine, both from 1926, have been translated into more than twenty languages.
Cendrars was considered along with Apollinaire, whom he deeply influenced, a leading figure in the literary avant-garde before and after World War I. In his early experimental poems Cendrars used pieces of newsprint, the multiple focus, simultaneous impressions, and other modernist techniques. La prose du Transibérien et de la petite Jeanne de France (1913), a combination of travelogue and lament, was printed on two-meter pages with parallel abstract paintings by the Russian-born painter Sonia Delaunay.The semi-autobiographical novel Moravagine (‘Death to the vagina’),which followed a madman, a descendant of the last King of Hungary, and a young doctor on their worldwide adventures from the Russian Revolution and to the First World War. Moravagine’s madness becomes comparable with the dissolution of world and the chaotic disorder of life. “There is no truth. There’s only action, action obeying a million different impulses, ephemeral action, action subjected to every possible imaginable contingency and contradiction. Life.” Moravagine dies in an another asylum and the manuscript of the story finds it way to Cendrars, one of the characters in it.
Existence, Cendrars wrote, is “idiotic, imbecile and vain” while consciousness is “a congenital hallucination.” And yet, as this pioneering novel shows, he recognised the virtues in the fact there is nothing else to turn to, and so developed an intricate relish for the All, evil not left out. Moravagine — the very name is like a hell, coupling as it does the Latin for delay with the Latin for sheath to produce a slow birth — Moravagine is a demented hymn to Creation, a seminal work in which a semi-gangster mentality anticipates many of the ironic-fantastic literary modes of our own day , no one has quite equalled.
Blaise Cendrars (Frederic Sauser) is not a familiar name to the reading public or, for that matter, to many people of advanced or specialised taste. The publicity machines have done nothing for him since the Twenties and Thirties, when, in fact, he published himself with a satanic gusto that’s rare even today. Having fled from his parents at fifteen, he sampled Russia, China, Persia, New York and Paris, then joined the French Foreign Legion and lost an arm in World War I, always refusing an artificial limb. Thereafter he conducted his harum-scarum career with even greater panache. He commuted regularly between Paris and South America, taking along an Alfa Romeo racing car whose body had been designed by Braque. He got himself painted by Leger, Modigliani, and Chagall, and helped “discover” jazz, Negro art, Henry Miller, and the innovative music of Les Six. Proudly one-handed at everything except, perhaps, the clap, this ferocious Scottish literary nomad was one of the most original and anarchic of the surrealists, and ranks among those who have made a career of their temperaments. He died in 1961, aged 74.
Moravagine, first published in 1926, is an extraordinary and unnerving fusion of rant and pensiveness, plot and schizophrenia, impassioned lucidity and deadpan itemisation. It’s a short history of the world embodied in a magniloquent ogre called Moravagine, a convicted murderer horribly stunted in physique who pours out his soul in several languages in a manner both farcical and odiously poignant. Sole descendant of the last King of Hungary, mad, and an anarchist as well, he enables Blaise Cendrars to compose an alias autobiography as well as to hold a distorting mirror up to the first decade of the twentieth century. The result is farouche, hypnotic, and deliciously vile, for if Cendrars felt anything steadily (beyond the urge to shift about and the compulsion to test his physical prowess) it was modern civilisation pullulating all round him while he tried to wolf it down. Modernism flows into Moravagine’s head like a sargasso from Hades; he cannot resist it, but,
Canute-like, tries to, only to end up submitting completely to the destructive ecstasy it provokes in him. Moravagine is the man who ate Zeitgeist and died of it.
The novel opens with a garotting and ends with Blaise Cendrars’s “discovery” that the Nazis have destroyed the cache of his hero’s manuscripts. In between, as it were in demonstration of Remy de Gourmont’s dictum that “a brain isolated from the world can create the world for itself,” the narrator explains how he helped Moravagine escape from an international sanitarium (where he first saw him, in the act of masturbating onto a goldfish in its bowl) and toured the world with him for ten years. The whole thing takes place in Cendrars’s head, and Moravagine is just as much in touch with the world when incarcerated as when out on the run.
All that is lacking is the commonplace or, rather, a commonplace response to it: Moravagine — who once cut the eyes out of his family portraits and his dog, who became sexually involved with a stovepipe and a lead ingot, and then disembowelled his mistress — now enrols at the University of Berlin, there combining meditation with exploits worthy of Jack the Ripper. Then he and Cendrars are in Russia on the eve of the 1904 revolution, forever retreating along some Trans-Siberian Railway of the mind that eventually gets them to the Finland Station, Liverpool, New York, New Orleans, Arizona, the Gulf of Mexico and thence, through shipwreck, up the Orinoco, where they encounter Blue Indians (who all suffer, as they’re almost bound to in a Cendrars novel, from a skin disease of syphilitic origin). Then they are back in Paris, with Moravagine planning to fly round the world while Man-Friday Cendrars enlists in the French army. Their odyssey ends in 1917 when Moravagine, believing he is on the planet Mars, dies in the same room as did the Man in the Iron Mask.
These picaresque ballistics are exhilarating, but the book’s appeal is in Cendrars’s indefatigable mental exhibitionism, lugubrious and caustic, bigoted and visionary, in turn. He spares nothing — women, politicians, psychiatrists, the law, Jews, paper money, Sarah Bernhardt, funerals, the French family, the USA — and yet in his tirades is always grateful because his very antagonism warms his mind, as do thoughts of the bellies of aphrodisiac honey ants, “these Sacred Heart medals, these Lizst rhapsodies, this phosphate, these bananas,” an early airplane (“the most beautiful possible projection of the human brain”), a large reddish orang-outang clad in white flannels and a Byronic shirt; Alfred de Vigny’s Poet’s Diary; morphine and madness, vowels and vertigo, and Kay-ray-kuh-kuh-ko-kex (the only word in the Martian language, at least according to Moravagine).
Existence, Cendrars wrote, is “idiotic, imbecile and vain” while consciousness is “a congenital hallucination.” And yet, as this pioneering novel shows, he recognised the virtues in the fact there is nothing else to turn to, and so developed an intricate relish for the All, evil not left out. Moravagine — the very name is like a hell, coupling as it does the Latin for delay with the Latin for sheath to produce a slow birth — Moravagine is a demented hymn to Creation, a seminal work in which a semi-gangster mentality anticipates many of the ironic-fantastic literary modes of our own day with a bumptious, carefully deployed bitingness no one has quite equalled.
A HAPPY DEATH 1936 / 38 Albert Camus
A Happy Death (original title La mort heureuse) was the first novel by French writer-philosopher Albert Camus. The existentialist topic of the book is the “will to
happiness,” the conscious creation of one’s happiness, and the need of time (and money) to do so. It draws on memories of the author including his job at the maritime commission in Algiers, his suffering from tuberculosis, and his travels in Europe.
Camus composed and reworked the novel between 1936 and 1938 but then decided not to publish it. It was eventually published in 1971, more than 10 years after Camus’ death. The English translation by Richard Howard appeared in 1972.
A Happy Death is clearly the precursor to Camus’ most famous work, The Stranger, published in 1942. The main character in A Happy Death is named “Patrice Mersault”, similar to The Stranger’s main character “Meursault”; both are French Algerian clerks who kill a man in cold blood. A Happy Death is written in the third person, while The Stranger is written in the first person.
I read the outsider at an early age ,the classic existential Novel ,but it was Camus first draft of the Novel The Happy Death printed after his Death that effected me
more ,written when he was in his early twenties and retrieved from his private papers following his death in I960, Albert Camus laid the foundation for The Stranger, focusing in both works on an Algerian clerk who kills a man in cold blood. But he also revealed himself to an extent that he never would in his later fiction. For if A Happy Death is the study of a rule-bound being shattering the fetters of his existence, it is also a remarkably candid portrait of its author as a young man.As the novel follows the protagonist, Patrice Mersault, to his victim’s house — and then, fleeing, in a journey that takes him through stages of exile, hedonism, privation, and death -it gives us a glimpse into the imagination of one of the great writers of the twentieth century. For here is the young Camus himself, in love with the sea and sun, enraptured by women yet disdainful of romantic love, and already formulating the philosophy of action and moral responsibility that would make him central to the thought of our time.
“Just as there is a moment when the artist must stop, when the sculpture must be left as it is, the painting untouched – just as a determination not to know serves the maker more than all the resources of clairvoyance – so there must be a minimum of ignorance in order to perfect a life in happiness. Those who lack such a thing must set about acquiring it: unintelligence must be earned.”
― Albert Camus, A Happy Death
MOUNT ANALOG A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing. 1952 Rene Daumal
Sometime in the year 1924 a French poet named René Daumal had a mystical experience that became the determining event of his life.Soaking a handkerchief in carbon tetrachloride— a powerful anaesthetic he used for his beetle collection— the sixteen-year-old Daumal held it to his nostrils and inhaled. Instantly he felt himself “thrown brutally into another world,” a strange other dimension of geometric forms and incomprehensible sounds, in which his mind “traveled too fast to drag words along with it” (Daumal, Powers of the Word ).It was his first encounter with what he would later call “absurd evidence”— “proof” that another existence lies beyond the conscious mind. Obsessed with the mystery of death, René was determined to peek at “the great beyond.” When the anaesthetising effects of the fumes proved too great, René’s hand would drop from his face. He would then regain consciousness, his mind reeling— and his head aching— from its recent plunge into somewhere else.René repeated his experiment many times, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, always with the same result: the conviction that he had briefly entered“another world,” one infinitely more real than our everyday reality. He may have taken his trip hundreds of times, and it is almost certain that his repeated use of carbon tetrachloride started the weakening of his lungs that led to his death from tuberculosis in 1944 at the age of 36. If all René Daumal did in his short life was to experiment with drugs and write poetry, he probably would not be remembered today, except by students of obscure French literature. But unlike so many other youthful travellers into “the beyond,” before his death Daumal managed to capture some of the insights gleamed from his dangerous interior journeys. Nowhere did Daumal come closer to communicating most clearly something of the strange “other” reality that he observed in his harmful adolescent experiments and dedicated his life to penetrating than in his last, unfinished novel, Mount Analogue (1952).Symbolising a “way to truth” that “cannot not exist,” Mount Analogue towers above the everyday world like a spiritual Everest. An ardent climber, by the time he tried to make this metaphysical ascent, Daumal had added a few items to his alpinist’s gear. Jettisoning the uncertain “heights” of drugs by 1939, when he first contemplated the novel, Daumal had been for many years a student of the teachings of the enigmatic Armenian G. I. Gurdjieff, communicated through Gurdjieff’s long time disciples Alexandre and Jeanne de Salzmann.
Subtitled A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing, like all good parables, Mount Analogue resists final interpretation. A riveting adventure story, it is also a modern day Pilgrim’s Progress. The plot is simple. Led by the Professor of Mountaineering, Pierre Sogol (de Salzmann), eight adventurers board the yacht Impossible to discover the invisible but “absolutely real” Mount Analogue. Though it is hidden from ordinary eyes, Sogol pinpoints its location through a series of supra-logical deductions involving the curvature of space.
Convinced of the necessity of Mount Analogue’s existence, the crew eventually arrive, set up camp, and begin the ascent, along the way discovering the strange, nearly invisible crystals called “peradams.” These symbolise the rare and difficult truths discovered on the spiritual path, and reflect Daumal’s own lucid, limpid prose. There are insightful studies of the different voyagers— embodying Gurdjieff’s classification of types— a fascinating portrait of de Salzmann, and penetrating analyses of Western civilisation. Although the book’s fragmentary character is in keeping with Gurdjieff’s “work”— Ouspenksy’s own masterpiece In Search of the Miraculous was
originally titled Fragments of an Unknown Teaching— the fact that Daumal did not live to complete it is a tragedy. And yet, when we look at Daumal’s brief but eventful life, it somehow seems fitting that this spiritual voyage of discovery would be cut short. There is no question of Daumal’s dedication to his goals or the integrity of his pursuit. But his approach to the higher regions took more perilous routes than were necessary.Of his youthful drug experiences, Daumal (Powers of the Word ) wrote that, if “in return for the acceptance of serious illness or disabilities, or of a very perceptible abbreviation of the physical life-span, we could acquire one certainty, it would not be too high a price to pay.” In scaling Mount Analogue, Daumal was as courageous as any terrestrial climber, yet there is a strain of spiritual and physical masochism in his credo. Others who followed Gurdjieff’s Spartan path were similarly neglectful of the flesh.
For Daumal, the idea that the absolute was some inaccessible region started early. That a teenage Daumal would make “crazy” attempts to reach “the beyond”is understandable.The fact that the heights of Mount Analogue are invisible, and the yacht his adventurers board is named Impossible, argues that even after Daumal had moved beyond his experiments with drugs, he continued in the same mind. In choosing a mountain as the locale of his last, great effort, Daumal certainly had the rigors of Gurdjieff’s “work” in view. Sadly, it may have been precisely this punishing attitude to attaining the spiritual heights that helped bring about his tragic,untimely death.Since its rediscovery in the 1960s, Mount Analogue has remained one of the classics of “metaphysical adventure,” a spur to thousands of spiritual travellers, prodded out of their armchairs by its surprisingly restrained account of Daumal’s last conscious excursion into the unknown. Perhaps aware that he would soon be taking an even more mysterious voyage, Daumal made sure that he left as clear a trail as possible for those who followed.
Before his death, he left an outline of the novel’s remaining chapters. “At the end,” he said, “ I want to speak at length of one of the basic laws of Mount Analogue. To reach the summit, one must proceed from encampment to encampment. But before setting out for the next refuge, one must prepare those coming after to occupy the place one is leaving. Only after having prepared them, can one go up” (Mount Analogue 104). The title of this last chapter was to be “And You,What Do You Seek?” For all his detours and wrong turnings, with Mount Analogue Daumal undoubtedly left a valuable way station for all who would come after him.
“Art is here taken to mean knowledge realised in action.”
― René Daumal, Mount Analogue
Finally I had to end this piece with a extract from Antonin Artaud , who has continued to inspire and illuminate me through many decades and remains one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.
HERE WHERE OTHERS …
Here where others offer up their works I pretend to nothing more than showing my mind.
Life is a burning up of questions.
I can’t conceive of a work detached from life.
I don’t love detached creation. I can no longer conceive of the mind as detached from itself. Each of my works, every one of my maps, every one of the glacial blooms of my inner soul dribbles all over me.
I recognise myself as much in a letter written to explain the intimate shrinkage of my being and the insane castration of my life, as in an essay exterior to myself that seems to me like an indifferent pregnancy of my mind.
I suffer because the Spirit is not in life and life not in the Spirit. I suffer from Spirit as organ, Spirit as translation, Spirit as intimidation-with-things, in order to make them enter into the Spirit.
I suspend this book in life, I’d like it to be bitten by external things, and first of all by all the fits and starts, all the twitching of my future self·
All these pages are leftover icicles of the mind. Excuse my absolute freedom. I refuse to make distinctions between any of the minutes of myself. And I don’t recognise the existence of any map of the mind.
You have to do away with the mind, as with literature. I say the mind and life communicate at all levels. I want to make a Book that will derange men, that will be like an open door leading them where they would never have consented to go. A door simply ajar on reality. A.A.