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"Crow Fair" by Thomas McGuane
Set in Thomas McGuane’s accustomed Big Sky country, with its mesmeric powers, these stories attest to the generous compass of his fellow feeling, as well as to his unique way with words and the comic genius.
"The Songs of Maldoror" is not a book--it is a searing, rambling, poisonous "derangement of all the senses" in masquerade. After more than a century it still has the power to shock, startle and repulse. Precisely imagined, "Maldoror" is a fairly obscure classic of late 19th century French literature, and is on par with Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Mallarme, etc. You must read this if you love those writers! Maldoror is the narrator, and sometime character when the narrative shifts unexpectedly into third person, and the alter ego of the mysterious young Comte de Lautreamont--which was the pen name of Isidore Ducasse. Dead by 24, he left behind this time-bomb. Maldoror is a sadist, a murderer, a philosopher, an outcast from the normal order of life. He encourages readers to kidnap a child and torture it, to taste its tears and its blood--all within the first 30 pages. Right on! You are not dealing with a rational, predictable mind here. One of the book's most fascinating aspects is its continuous imagery of animals, both everyday and exotic, majestic and absurd: sharks, turkeys, crabs, eagles, octopi, tigers, wovles, insects, serpents. These creatures are presented with the sharp eye of the biologist. By likening humanity to animals, Lautreamont achieves a double effect: man comes off as debased and at the same time, elevated: to be like an animal man must be rid of all his pretensions and vanities. It is this pretense to culture and civilized behavior that sicken Lautreamont/Maldoror. Many passsages still shock and disgust--and yes, entertain with their feverish intensity, particularly the one in which Maldoror copulates with a man-eating shark.Read more ›
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"maldoror" is one of the most intriguing, weird little books i've ever read. every surrealism fiend (like myself) should buy numerous copies of this book. lautreamont advances on every form of authority and convention with an aggressiveness and deadly seriousness that would have made jim morrison shudder, and we find ourselves shivering during parts of this dark but beautiful pearl of a book. maldoror, the outcast monster, is perhaps every alienated person we have scorned and ostracized because of their individuality or uniqueness. he is a furious and vicious being of total revolt, and by the end of this strangely dreamlike, automatic text, we have seen every barrier of civilization and every moral that lays the foundation of society trampled and spat upon. look especially for the scene where maldoror guns down some swimmers in the ocean and then proceeds to have sex with a whale. (i wonder if he wrapped it up!) when andre breton said this book seemed to exceed the limits of human capacity, he wasn't joking. if you're a misanthrope and a disaffected weirdo like myself, you simply cannot miss this. a sometimes startling yet essential celebration of ultimate freedom and absolute rebellion.
As English editions of 'Les chants de Maldoror' go, this is the best translation available today. Don't bother with the Wernham- the language is stilted and captures little of the book's fury that is driven equally by content and by its linguistic style. Because I am in the process of a new translation myself, I am perhaps overly critical. That said, avoid the Wernham.. Lykiard has a far better sense of Lautréamont's poetic project and includes appendices that are truly helpful. For the moment, I think that this is the best bet for English readers. (And yes, the book is incredible, the four stars are for the translation not for the book itself, which defies comparison: a contemporary of Baudelaire, Lautréamont/Ducasse is usually given more credit as a ranting eccentric than a prodigious poet. Later cited by the Surrealists as an important influence, I consider this work to be far more complex and original than the majority of the Surrealist's own work. For an interesting theoretical study of the book, try Alex de Jonge's 'Nightmare Culture' or Paul Zweig's "Lautréamont: The Violent Narcissus'.)
Lautreamont's *Maldoror* is legendary for its bold and complex phrasing and imagery, for its reputation of embodying Surrealism *avant la lettre*, and for its remarkably extreme, savage imagery. Less frequently remarked is its obvious debt to the earlier literature of the *Frenetiques*, such as Petrus Borel. Given the very few English translations of the latter, one may pardon those who do not read French for overestimating the originality of *Maldoror*. Francophones such as the Surrealists and Lykiard, however, have no such excuse.
The descriptions of *Maldoror* in the various Amazon reviews describe the content and style of the work perfectly well, so I shall neither repeat them nor try to outdo them. Instead, I shall offer a slightly less breathlessly adoring view of the work, in general, and of Lykiard's translation of it, in particular.
My view of *Maldoror* is that it is primarily a parody of the extreme tendencies of the "dark side" of Romanticism, in general, and of Byron, in particular. Although Lykiard dismisses Mario Praz's view of Lautreamont and *Maldoror* rather abruptly, Praz's observations seem quite germane, to me:
"[Lautreamont/Ducasse is] a macabre humorist in whom it is impossible to distinguish where sincerity ends and mystification begins".
Those who doubt this observation should have a look at Ducasse's extant letters, many of which bear witness to his desire merely to be a successful writer, and to be judged by the literary critics of the day. In a word, Ducasse/Lautreamont appears to have been precisely the sort of careerist *litterateur* whom the Surrealists excoriated and excommunicated from their ranks with tedious regularity!Read more ›