Friday, October 26, 2012

books we love

Insolent and defiant, the Chants de Maldoror, by the self-styled Comte de Lautreamont (1846-70), depicts a sinister and sadistic world of unrestrained savagery and brutality. One of the earliest and most astonishing examples of surrealist writing, it follows the experiences of Maldoror, a master of disguises pursued by the police as the incarnation of evil, as he makes his way through a nightmarish realm of angels and gravediggers, hermaphrodites and prostitutes, lunatics and strange children. Delirious, erotic, blasphemous and grandiose by turns, this hallucinatory novel captured the imagination of artists and writers as diverse as Modigliani, Verlaine, Andre Gide and Andre Breton; it was hailed by the twentieth-century Surrealist movement as a formative and revelatory masterpiece.

Although MALDOROR's most immediate pleasure is its naked nastiness - rape, murder, torture, blasphemy etc. - the truly unsettling nature of the book is its textual instability, the violence of its language, the horrible, concrete, surgical beauty of its images, the haunting effect of its descriptions, its foregrounding and destabilising of slowly compelling narrative, its clashing of tones, moods, viewpoints, narrators, targets, sympathies. French literature produces a lot of books like this, wherein a madman shouts the reader out of his complacency (e.g. Rimbaud, Corbiere, the Gide of FRUITS OF THE EARTH). This is better than most because its disgust is funny and a thrill.

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