Maldoror is Not Surrealism


If this video weren’t already long enough, I could have, if I wished to be helpful, drawn more comparisons between Maldoror and Surrealism, something about how Breton surely recognized the Sadean character of Maldoror, about how he wanted as badly as Lautréamont did to avoid the world’s categories. But, on the one hand, Surrealism has enough supporters in this world, and, on the other hand, I’m more interested in addressing the facile readings that plague this book. Francis Ponge was actually a member of the Surrealist group, yet no one thinks of calling his work Surrealism. No doubt this has something to do with the fact that Ponge lived long enough to speak for himself, while the dead (Lautréamont died at 24) are at the mercy of others. How ironic, that the poet who wanted nothing more than to be his own man and to teach others how to do the same is to this day corralled in with a literary movement that is so much smaller in its aims and accomplishments than what he did, as a boy, with one book.



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9 Responses to Maldoror is Not Surrealism

  1. Susan Scheid says:

    Mark: So pleased you posted this. The Ashbery discussion group I’m participating in is looking at poems from Hotel Lautréamont just now. You are sorely missed, for many reasons, but an important one is insight into Ducasse’s Maldoror, with which I am familiar, and only slightly as yet (a thing on the list I hope one day to correct) only through you. I passed on your great Hybrid Locations essay on Ashbery’s book (which I find more probing and insightful on every reading), and I’ll be passing this on now as well. I love the way you “wind up” the reading. Right to the point!

    • ‘Hotel Lautréamont’ might be my second favorite of his collections of shorter poems (‘A Wave’ being the first). Is that a Facebook group?

      • Susan Scheid says:

        Mark: I would have alerted you earlier, but it’s a ModPo discussion forum (not part of the course, just doing it on our own, a wonderful “classmate” is moderating it). Anyway, I have assumed that only those who are enrolled in 2014 ModPo can get in to the site, but as 2015 is open for enrollment, maybe that can give access too. Anyway, here’s the link: Must check out The Wave, I see! I have marked in my JA volumes the poems on your “favorites” list, BTW. I always look for that as I move on to another one.

  2. hedgewitch says:

    “Mark, this is a truly riveting reading. There is indeed a terrible danger always lurking to ‘inadvertantly take on the thoughts of others..’ that struck me instantly, then the passage you read–certainly not what I would associate with the concept of the Surealistic, any more than The Tell-tale Heart is surreal– it had great organization and point, with some incredible gems of thought and your observation at the close about turning the usual trope of opening one’s soul to Satan turned into instead the same horror of succumbing to the dangers of god terribly apt for me–those last lines of the living death bed where sleep is a surrender of self to a monstrous control and the equivalent of extinction–whoa– “..there lies the censor where the incense of religion is burned…’ indeed. Thanks for posting.

  3. angela says:

    cannot wait to listen to this – must not tonight, early morn – you were on my mind today, as I am going through Bataille’s book on the Myth of Surrealism (ironic, no) – the introduction is mind boggling though it helps me to understand what you have written above ~

    • I haven’t read Bataille’s essays that make up this book, but Richardson’s introduction does clarify a couple of things (while leaving others, inevitably, perhaps, considering what kind of writer Bataille was, vague). The difference between Sade and Bataille that he describes, for example, is useful to see the difference between Lautréamont and Surrealism–Lautréamont was closer to Sade than Bataille or the Surrealists were. Things get a little murky when we consider Bataille’s view of poetry, or rather his use of poetry (he didn’t respect it in practice). The idea that poetry always points to an experience outside words needs amplification. Revolt too is a point the Surrealists had in common with Lautréamont. But as Richardson rightly points out, the Surrealists didn’t know where to go with it. Bataille, and it must be said Lautréamont too, had a lot more to offer….

      • angela says:

        Listened…then drove to the local used bookstore in hopes of finding Maldoror – never do find it (always search after one of your posts). Did find old Artaud book that curiously I thumbed right to points on Lautreamont. Your last comment re:God really hit home. I find the dialogue on Surrealism so confusing – Bataille goes after Breton often in Absence of Myth, yet there oft is this waffling of thought. Interesting that you speak of poetry for one of his essay’s now has me seeking J. Prevert’s poetry (a poet he greatly admired). Your exploration of subject makes me wish I had more time to dedicate to the study of Bataille – in time…. Please continue to offer your critiques, most inspiring ~

  4. ManicDdaily says:

    Hi Mark–I found your video discussion and reading super interesting. In part simply because the voice of the poet feels both so young and so French to me– I have spent a great deal of time arguing about sleep with people–i.e. my husband–who has a very different (and more mature) point of view and is perfectly happy to have an uncontrolled devil or God enter into his consciousness, rather than be on the alert for what may be passing by. The discussion of automatic writing is also quite interesting–I only know it very tangentially, through Yeats, etc. and in my own way of working sometimes– I have to confess in general, I am not captured by a sort of surrealist taste–maybe because of the realistic part–I did a large project involved with collectors of surrealist type art–and it did grow on me–of course, I admire the skill, but it does not speak to me visually in the way that plain old abstraction or abstract expressionism does–and the literary work seems continental in a way that is interesting, but somehow doesn’t speak to me very directly. (Maybe it also feels rather male to me.) I don’t know. But your discourse about it is very interesting, and I greatly admire your knowledge and attention. K.

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