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having arrived in the real

August 1, 2010

[TLS] The opening lines of Ducasse’s first canto come at the reader like the onslaught of some famished bulldog, and my rendering does scant justice to the original’s acerbic snarl:

“May it please the heavens that the emboldened reader, for the time being every bit as ruthless as the text he is reading, should succeed, without forfeiting all sense of direction, in sustaining a fierce and headlong momentum across the desolate swamps of these dark and poison-drenched pages. For unless he bring to his reading a rigorous logic and a mental concentration at least as great as his fear of being fooled, . . . the toxic emanations of this book will saturate his soul like sugar dissolving in water.”

From here on, there will be no let-up. The voice that narrates the ensuing six cantos is unremitting, a kind of rasping whisper which insinuates itself into the reader’s mind, alluring, provocative, contemptuous, possessive, dictatorial. Maldoror is firmly in charge and we must believe him when he speaks of making wild love to a female shark, of feeling a spiritual affinity with the “silken-eyed” octopus, or how he just managed to stop himself from torturing a ten-year-old girl who happened to ask the time. The implied reader becomes a helpless weakling who cannot look away from Maldoror’s boastful parade of monstrosities and atrocities, and who thereby becomes a guilty accomplice, fatally enmeshed in the cruel imaginings of a restless, sharply purposive discourse. Naturally, actual readers are at liberty to toss the book aside and declare their immunity to another’s will: yet, in practice, we do tend to read on, and to connive in the corruptive processes that Les Chants enact. To read this book is to suspend not only our disbelief but also our private morality. Complicity and connivance become inseparable from the reading process, for the whole strategy of the writing is to undermine our defences and draw us into the system of evil. As the narrator assures us, in a disgusting passage about a giant tarantula creeping snugly close to its sleeping victim, “we are no longer inside narration . . . Alas! We have now arrived in the real.” (read)

One Comment leave one →
  1. monkeyGrove permalink
    August 1, 2010 10:56 am

    Thank you for your sharing.

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