I received life like a wound, and I have forbidden suicide to heal the scar. I want the Creator – every hour of his eternity – to contemplate its gaping crevasse. This is the punishment I inflict on him. (90)
I’m continuing last week’s Satanic theme, where the reader encountered the devil in person in James Hogg’s slippery novel, and heard rumors of the devil in Arthur Machen’s silly story. I do not believe that the devil gets more than a nod in Les Chants de Maldoror (1869) by Le Comte de Lautréamont, but the novel or prose poem is genuinely Satanic, a sustained, brilliant, insane attack on God. Not God as a concept, which is taken for granted, but God as an existing being, or perhaps a character.
I am pretty sure that the intellectual content of Maldoror is standard reverse theodicy, or whatever the right term is. Rather than justify the existence of evil in the face of God’s omnipotence, Lautréamont and his stand-in Maldoror blame God for all evil, and thereby embrace evil as the proper means of worshipping God. Or of attacking God, which, by Satanic logic, might be the same thing. By the time he was writing, this was a long French literary tradition.
So the malodorous Maldoror spends his time, just as example, mocking the victims of shipwrecks as they try to reach shore, a form of evil stolen directly from Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). Since mocking is insufficiently evil, Maldoror begins shooting the swimmers. “From this murder I did not receive as much pleasure as one might think” (75), so something more is necessary. And thus, Maldoror leaps into the sea in order to copulate with a giant female shark:
A pair of sinewy thighs clung to the monster’s viscous skin, close as leeches; and arms and fins entwined about the loved one’s body, surrounded it with love, while throats and breasts soon fused into a glaucous mass reeking of sea-wrack. In the midst of the tempest that continued raging. By lightning’s light… At last I had found someone who resembled me! (77-8)
The book is governed by images of sea creatures (and birds) which culminates in Maldoror transforming into a giant octopus and attempting to consume God himself:
How astonished he was to see Maldoror, changed into an octopus, clamp eight monstrous tentacles about his body: any one of these strong thongs could easily have spanned the circumference of a planet. Caught off guard, he struggled for several moments against this viscous embrace which was contracting more and more… (82, ellipses in original)
Almost halfway through Les Chants de Maldoror, I should have been prepared, but I, too, was astonished and caught off guard. Every five or ten pages, I was caught off guard, like the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella, which is, of course, why I was reading the book in the first place.
Richard of Caravanas de Recuerdos suggested that I spent a month on Lautréamont, but in fear for my soul, health, and sanity, I doubt I’ll write about him for even a week. I could, though. Holding a head whose skull I gnawed, I could.