Monday, February 05, 2007

Césaire on Lautréamont

"And Isidore Ducasse, Comte de Lautréamont!

In this connection, it is high time to dissipate the atmosphere of scandal that has been created around the Chants de Maldoror.

Monstrosity? Literary meteorite? Delirium of a sick imagination? Come now! How convenient it is!

The truth is that Lautréamont had only to look the iron man forged by capitalist society squarely in the eye to perceive the monster, the everyday monster, his hero.
No one denies the veracity of Balzac.

But wait a moment: take Vautrin, let him be just back from the tropics, give him the wings of the archangel and the shivers of malaria, let him be accompanied through the streets of Paris by an escort of Uruguayan vampires and carnivorous ants, and you will have Maldoror.

The setting is changed, but it is the same world, the same man, hard, inflexible, unscrupulous, fond, if ever a man was, of "the flesh of other men."

To digress for a moment within my digression, I believe that the day will come when, with all the elements gathered together, all the sources analyzed, all the circumstances of the work elucidated, it will be possible to give the Chants de Maldoror a materialistic and historical interpretation which will bring to light an altogether unrecognized aspect of this frenzied epic, its implacable denunciation of a very particular form of society, as it could not escape the sharpest eyes around the year 1865.

Before that, of course, we will have had to clear away the occultist and metaphysical commentaries that obscure the path; to re-establish the importance of certain neglected stanzas--for example, that strangest passage of all, the one concerning the mine of lice, in which we will consent to see nothing more or less than the denunciation of the evil power of gold and the hoarding up of money; to restore to its true place the admirable episode of the omnibus, and be willing to find in it very simply what is there, to wit, the scarcely allegorical picture of a society in which the privileged, comfortably seated, refuse to move closer together so as to make room for the new arrival. And--be it said in passing--who welcomes the child who has been callously rejected? The people! Represented here by the ragpicker, Baudelaire's ragpicker:
Paying no heed to the spies of the cops, his thralls,
He pours his heart out in stupendous schemes.
He takes great oaths and dictates sublime laws,
Casts down the wicked, aids the victims' cause.

Then it will be understood, will it not, that the enemy whom Lautréamont has made the enemy, the cannibalistic, brain-devouring "Creator," the sadist perched on "a throne made of human extrement and gold," the hypocrite, the debauchee, the idler who "eats the bread of others" and who from time to time is found dead drunk, "drunk as a bedbug that has swallowed three barrels of blood during the night," it will be understood that it is not beyond the clouds that one must look for that creator, but that we are more likely to find him in Desfossé's business directory and on some comfortable executive board!"

--Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism (trans. Joan Pinkham) p. 65-67

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