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Maldoror: (Les Chants de Maldoror) (New Directions Paperbook) Paperback – January 17, 1965
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“I like Lautreamont a lot. He taught me how important and how possible it was to write a sentence that is just gorgeous. Actually, I’m about overdue for a rereading of Maldoror I’d like to pick up a few tricks from that book again.”
- William T. Vollmann, The Paris Review
“The expression of a revelation so complete it seems to exceed human potential.”
- André Breton
About the Author
Little is known of the author of Maldoror, Isidore Ducasse, self-styled Comte de Lautréamont, except that he was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1846 and died in Paris at the age of twenty-four.
Guy Wernham, perhaps best known for his definitive translation of Maldoror, was associated with the Beat Poets.
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It's very difficult to even talk about this book due to the many levels of meaning contained within it. Additionally, this book is a collection of "songs"/poems that are each complete within themselves and can be read in any order; the individual prose-poems have enough in common to form a cohesive work, yet each is different enough to make generalizations of the work extremely difficult.
Another intriguing aspect of the work is how Ducasse speaks to the reader both as the author and as his anti-hero, Maldoror, blending the two "voices" in a way that is often disconcerting. I won't go too far into interpreting the book, but what some people seem to miss is that Ducasse uses Maldoror to represent some of the worst character traits of humanity in general. Maldoror is not some isolated evil individual at odds with mankind, but rather a symbolic character image of the intrinsic and often widespread evil that IS mankind!
This book is an intimate portrait of humanity's self-loathing, and yet it's far more than that. The way that Ducasse weaves together disparate ideas and images is extraordinarily beautiful. I see this book as a celebration of life through art, the triumphal beauty of the human imagination over the darkness that has characterized so much of human life and human history.
Lautremont's epic prose poem dedicated to the subject of evil is probably one of the best surrealist works we've been lucky enough to have bestowed on us. It jumps all over the map, but it never once loses steam or sags under the weight of its subject matter. This is actually the only book I stopped reading halfway through and went back to the beginning so I could underline all the good parts. And there are a LOT of good parts. Even if you could give a whit about evil, you must sit in awe of the pure grace and strength of Lautremont's writing. It's like a pie made from the flesh of angels.
So dig in.
Not my kind of reading.
Maldoror lacks the humour of, say, A Season In Hell or Gerard de Nerval's poetry. It's difficult to read despite its dark and fantastic subject matter. Occasionally Maldoror is flat-out boring, although it's unfailingly brilliant. (Believe me when I write that I have NEVER had this reaction before!) Brilliant doesn't always translate to likeable, I guess.
The shorter piece of writing in the book, Poesies, is highly amusing. Overall I rate the collection three stars because it just didn't do it for me. I recommend Selected Writings by Gerard de Nerval instead of Maldoror.