Maldoror Lurking in the DeepApril 30, 2007
The writing in the Comte de Lautreamont’s Maldoror reminds me of entering an elaborate maze. His sentences are often exceedingly lengthy and frequently lurch in unexpected directions midway through a thought. A long passage that starts out with a straightforward description of a crane, may soon branch out to discuss all birds, then more specifically their flight patterns. Then the writing reigns back in to a specific crane, an old crane, the leader who maneuvers “with wings no larger than a sparrows” (Lautreamont 28). The writer nests this description into an opening warning against the reader continuing the journey. This bird, “being no booby” (Lautreamont 28), chooses to take a safer more philosophic course. The writer warns you to go back, these are dangerous paths the reader is treading.
The opening of Maldoror reads like an extensive warning to the reader against proceeding further into the book. It reminds me of old ghost stories that start by cautioning one of the evils that lurk for those who are unwilling to heed their counsel. This warning works as a hook pulling the reader forward to prove their mental courage against the hinted at murky depths of the story. The imagery that the writer explores throughout his maze of logic is bizarre and amazing. Maldoror opens with the following lines: “May it please heaven that the reader, emboldened, and become momentarily as fierce as what he reads, find without loss of bearings a wild and abrupt way across the desolate swamps of these somber, poison filled pages. For unless he brings to his reading a rigorous logic and mental application at least tough enough to balance out his distrust, the deadly issues of this book will lap up his soul as water does sugar” (Lautreamont 27).
There is something simple and evocative about the idea that the reader’s soul will be eroded and washed away by the simple act of reading Maldoror’s tale. The simile implies that one’s soul will simply dissolve and become one with the evilness of the story. One’s soul, like the sugar, has no structural strength of its own and will simply be swept up with the flow of the tale, never to be the same again. The way the opening is structured is a definite challenge to the fortitude of the reader. It is bold and challenging, almost like a dare.
Throughout the tale, Maldoror talks about the effects of this writing on the reader. He desires to ensnare the reader in the story and to corrupt their very nature. He writes: “… it is not enough to dissect nonsense and mightily stupefy the reader’s intelligence with renewed doses, so as to paralyse his faculties for the rest of his life by the infallible law of fatigue; one must, besides, with good mesmeric fluid, make it somnambulistically impossible for him to move, against his nature forcing his eyes to cloud over at your own fixed stare” (Lautreamont 214).
The Comte de Lautreamont’s writing style is like mesmeric fluid. There is harmoniousness and lulling to his prose that carries the reader into discordant places that the reader might not otherwise go. One gets caught up is the rolling flow of the writing that explores images such as bird-like or fish-like humans from the deep, that culminate in Maldoror’s murder or mutilation fantasies of the innocent. The reader is carried along by the dark beauty and uniquely bizarre juxtaposition of imagery. In Maldoror’s words, “The Mind, overstimulated to its very core, retreats like one defeated, and once in a lifetime may fall into the aberrations you have witnessed” (Lautreamont 121). In ending, Maldoror warns the reader that they must concede, “He has considerably cretinised me. What wouldn’t he have done had he lived longer?” (Lautreamont 214)
I am interested in the way Lautreamont captured the bizarre dreaminess of his logic in Maldoror. I think this feeling he evokes in his writing is similar to what I would like to explore later on in Stalking America. There is this portion where my main character enters a dream space in an underwater cave towards the end of my book. In this cave he discovers a place where dreams and scenarios from movies have collected and pooled over the years. I would like to model this scene loosely on Plato’s Cave with a hint of Lautreamont’s surreal logic. Thoughts and words can be like a densely heavy mesmeric fluid that pools into depressions and valleys in the landscape or perhaps evaporates airily into the ether.