Thursday, June 10, 2010

We do not have the right to question the Creator on anything whatsoever - the contradictory Isidore Ducasse

Reviewing what I wrote yesterday, a mistake at the best of times, I see I left something out.

A young man writes a book in which he argues with God, accusing him of cruelty.  He includes all sorts of outrageous and shocking things, demonstrating his courage and independence.  Now, this had happened before, and has happened since.  Why, then, do I wonder about what Isidore Ducasse actually means in Les Chants de Maldoror?  Why not: "he means what he says"?

Well, Ducasse says many things:

If one recalls the truth whence all the others flow, God’s absolute goodness and his absolute ignorance of evil, sophisms will collapse of their own accord.  At the same time there shall collapse the rather unpoetic literature which relied upon them.  All literature which debates the eternal axioms is condemned to live only off itself.  It is unjust.  It devours its liver.  The novissima Verba make the snotty third-formers smile haughtily.  We do not have the right to question the Creator on anything whatsoever. (49)

This is from Canto I of Poésies (1870), Ducasse’s second and final book.  Poésies, whatever one might gather from the title, is a collection of aphorisms, many of them plagiarized, and often subtly modified, from Blaise Pascal or one of the other great French aphorists.  (“Plagiarism is necessary.  Progress implies it.” (67))

So we now have the Ducasse of Poésies directly contradicting, and perhaps even condemning, the Ducasse of Maldoror, which, I remind myself, was supposedly authored by the Comte de Lautréamont.  Perhaps in the months between the two books, Ducasse had some sort of conversion experience, but I doubt it.  The real ideas of Ducasse are, I suspect, conceptual rather than philosophical.  The truth lies in combining the two books, perhaps with another book or two that is now, with the early death of Ducasse, purely imaginary.

Penguin Classics helpfully publishes both Ducasse books in one volume, but I am using the admirable translations of Alexis Lykiard, this time from his little edition of Poésies.  The book also includes the letters of Ducasse, some reminiscences by school chums, and, amusingly, Lykiard’s corrections to his translation of Maldoror! Here’s my favorite:

Page 174, line 32: delete crusty

No, this is my favorite:

Page 209, line 1: For fulgorous glow read lantern

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