Book Review

Maldoror and Poems by Lautréamont

Photo on 09-06-2013 at 20.01 #2

Maldoror is a fucking weird book. It was written in the late 1860s by Isidore Ducasse, a young South American-born Frenchman who chose to publish under the pseudonym “Le Comte de Lautréamont”. It is a proto-surrealist (according to the Surrealists) series of prose poems dealing with the various interactions between Maldoror (essentially evil incarnate, but not Satan, separate, but similar) and his two foes – God and Man. It is violent, sexually explicit (sexualised violence, too – at one point a woman is gutted through her vagina…), confusing, conflicting, baffling, but quite compelling…

Although it pertains to have an ongoing plot, it is really more a series of weird set pieces. I’m not well-versed in the literature of the French Surrealist movement, but I certainly saw a lot in this than I recognised from the Beats, who were familiar with Breton et al. Maldoror is reminiscent of Burroughs, a bit like a deliberately anti-accessible Howl… Lautréamont’s reader is thrown from idea to action to philosophy to horror to sex to humour to (when written) scandalising blasphemy with little warning. Though as a whole it is a rather draining piece to read (not really one meant to be consumed over a Summer weekend), there were some fantastically imaginative images created that will certainly stick with me…

Such as:

-Man shitting on the face of God, who has passed out drunk in the street;

-A hair of God, left in a seedy brothel after an intense rutting, grows to the size of a person and tries to hide its true identity;

-Maldorar finds his match in evil, a female shark who he assists in a fight then has “chaste”, years long, sexual congress with under the waves;

-Maldorar digs a pit and fills it with lice, which he harvests in hewn out cubes and disperses en masse to cities in order to have the flesh of Man eaten to the bone…

It is a bizarre, a strange, and a weird text. (Tautology, I know…) If you like your poetry dense, your pornographic sadism intellectually justifiable… Why not, give it a go. When it’s good, it’s interesting, funny, perceptive. When it’s bad, it’s confusing. If it sounds like your kind of thing, it probably is.

7 comments on “Maldoror and Poems by Lautréamont

  1. I added this to my list of books to read. I don’t know why. It sounds dark, deranged, and oddly exotic (the shark part at least), but I think you got me with ‘idea to action to philosophy to horror to sex to humour to (when written) scandalising blasphemy’. So thanks, I think.


  2. I’m not really sure you can compare Lautréamont to the beats, even though it could look like a good thing to do first. Honnestly, I reckon Lautréamont is just himself ; you can not compare him to other authors. Of course he had a bug impact on the litterature all around the world,e specially with the surrealiste movement, but I cannot classify him in a category. With this kind of man you have to think (really, it’s not only an image) outside the box. When you read surrealist litterature (I’m french, so I canr ead it without a traduction, and have a real idea of the text), you find some weird image, exactly as weird as the images you can find in Maldoror, nonetheless, it doesn’t have the same “touch” on me …
    I suppose Lautréamont is what he is : the kind of men you’ll never really understand even after a decade of hard studying.
    Good review, good (future) lectures, thanks for reading french litterature


    • Found out about this through Nurse with wound. The name of their first album “Chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.” Which I thought was the oddest album title I’d ever seen, and after finding out it was a quote from this book I had to get my hands on it.

      What a wild ride, start to finish. Reading books after this I’ve been quite bored because they just seem so one dimensional and safe. I own the Alexis Lykiard translation which I hear along with this one is the best and it’s annotated and has the added poesies. It’s incredible how well read he was for such a young guy and that after Maldoror was published he was interested in writing only positive themed literature.

      Too bad he never lived to write it, it would have been an interesting contrast to these “poison filled pages.”


  3. Fucking weird books it is. And amazing too. I have just finished reading it and it feels like emerging from an lsd trip. Ducasse was a genius way ahead of his time. If anyone is interested, the book of short stories “Todos los Fuegos el Fuego” by Cortazar contains some references to Lautréamont, especially in “El otro Cielo”. Thanks for the review, regards from Buenos Aires.


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