‘Therein lies in its unclean virginity…’


Sorry for the radio silence of late–I’ve been busy with my internship for the Center for Cartoon Studies, trying to get an apartment sorted out, and trying (albeit unsuccessfully) to get a couple of different projects off the ground.

Found this doing image research for one of the aforementioned projects.

Terrifying? Yes.

But thank God for Creative Commons!

Also pretty dang unnerving is the book I’ve been reading: Les Chants de Maldoror by le Comte de Lautréamont. Would you care for a morsel?

“Therein lies in its unclean virginity, a thriving mine of lice. It fills the bottom of the pit and thence snakes out in great dense streams in every direction. Here is how I built this artificial mine:. I snatched a female louse from the hair of humanity. I was seen to lie with her on three successive nights and then I flung her into the pit. The human fecundation, which would have been ineffective in other similar cases was accepted this time by fate and at the end of several days thousands of monsters, swarming in a compact knot of matter, were born to the light of day.”

–de Lautréamont, Trans. Wernham, Guy. Les Chants de Maldoror, p. 84.

It naturally gets more stomach-churning from there, but I’ll spare you.

What initially drew me to this book was the Merzbow/Mike Patton collaboration ‘Maldoror,’ which is, of course, difficult to listen to and at times exceedingly ridiculous. Once I delved into the research behind the weird title of the audio Maldoror (“What the hell are they trying to spell here? ‘Malodorous?’ The record’s not THAT bad…”) I discovered that the duo had taken the name from de Lautréamont’s work, first published in 1868-9 in Paris.

de Lautréamont, whose real name was Isidore Ducasse, penned Maldoror when he was in his early twenties, which is pretty impressive if you consider the importance the book had to the early Parisian Surrealists, and that he didn’t have a whole lot of time to revise it (he died at the age of 24). The work itself is a celebration of the principle of evil, with our titular character embodying some of the worst human attributes (pride, arrogance, misanthropy, misogyny, etc., etc.) and guiding us through a series of feverish soliloquies and narratives that range from unsettling to sacrilegious to downright gross, often in the same paragraph:

“Thus, one day, weary of trudging up the steep pathway of the earthly journey, and of passing, staggering like a drunken man, through the catacombs of life, I slowly raised my mournful eyes, ringed with great bluish circles, towards the inverted bowl of the firmament, and dared try and penetrate, young as I was, the mysteries of heaven. Not finding what I was seeking I raised my staring eyes higher …higher yet…until at last I perceived a throne of human excrement and gold upon which was throned with idiot pride and robed in a shroud made from unlaundered hospital sheets, that one who calls himself the Creator!

“In his hand he held the decaying trunk of a man and he lifted it successively from his nose to his mouth, where one may guess what he did with it. His feet were bathed in a cast morass of boiling blood to  the surface of which there suddenly arose like tapeworms in the contents of a chamber-pot, two or three cautious heads which disappeared instantly with the speed of arrows; for an accurate kick on the nose was the well-known reward for such a revolt against the law, caused by a need to breathe the air, for men are not, after all, fish!”

—ibid., p.76

(This one also gets a lot nastier.)

In our limited wisdom, we are of course forced to wonder to what extent Garth Ennis has been cribbing de Lautréamont.

The book, if not entertaining, is at least interesting–it’s widely regarded as one of the first pieces of Surrealist writing, and a lot of the themes are pretty transgressive as well–aside from our narrator’s hatred of God and Man (in the species sense. ‘God and Human’ doesn’t sound as good, imho), there are pretty obvious and casual references to murder, pedophilia, self-mutilation, bestiality, etc., etc. This leads me to question (if only jokingly) if I perhaps will travel through time at some point in my life to publish books in 19th century Paris.

Though hopefully my prose would be a little less purple than de Lautréamont’s.

(tl;dr: Read Les Chants de Maldoror only if you have a pretty strong stomach and are extremely patient. It’s tough going at some points.)

I’m traveling for the next couple of weeks to all (or at least two) corners of this weird polyhedron we call the United States, but I’m going to bring my small scanner and laptop with me so as to be, you know, productive or something.

Guy Wernham’s translation of Les Chants de Maldoror is ©1965 by James Laughlin. 1966 New Directions paperback edition referenced.


3 Responses to “‘Therein lies in its unclean virginity…’”

  1. Blah blah blah when are you in Texas blah blah blah if I’m back from NYC we should high five or something.

    Wait putting “blah blah blah” in there doesn’t really work if you use full sentences in between the blah blahs does it? Henrietta Pussycat has left me with some big shoes to fill.

    • I get back to the TX on 31 July, but I’m only there for four days! As noted on facebook, bustle, hustle, and muscle. Or Mescal. Or something.

      • Oh, I’m not back until August anyway.

        You should come to this real person city that I’m in right now.

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