ADSactly Literature: The Count of Lautréamont or a Poetry of the Future (Part II)

in literature •  3 months ago 

Editorial cover of The Songs of Maldoror in English, 2012 Source

Following Characterization of the art of the Count of Lautréamont see


Poetic conception

Without separating this from the philosophical conception, as far as his poetic conception is concerned, Lautréamont inaugurates (or renews, depending on how one sees it) with his The Songs of Maldoro a poetics of the disproportionate and of the scream, which takes shape in the grotesque, the cruel, the exacerbated, the desperation, feelings that come out of the character's saying. But this will be a strategy of the author, who will recognize it in one of his letters:

Singing evil as Mickiewicz, Byron, Milton, Southey, A. de Mussett, Baudelaire, etc. have done. Naturally I exaggerated the tuning fork to create something new in the sense of that sublime literature that sings of despair only to torment the reader and make him desire good as a remedy.

We are, then, before an extreme or radical use of irony (as Octavio Paz points out, the fundamental axis of modern consciousness), since the author, through the speaking subject of his work, who describes and stages absurdity and cruelty, wants to create its opposite effect: his rejection of them. This is what Pellegrini calls "constructive pessimism", which I will refer to at the end of this post.

He seeks this through exasperation and the overflow of language, which probes the logical or illogical, the nightmare, the delirious and hallucinatory (typical of the semi-consciousness of sleep, of feverish states or of the effect of certain substances), but, curiously, within a very calculated, rational vision.

Portrait of the Count of Lautréamont from Livre des masques (vol. II, 1898) by Remy de Gourmont. Source

To do so, he resorts to a very particular symbolism, where modern everyday life, the mythical and the allegorical are mixed, which is nourished by the most diverse sources: natural sciences, religious texts, literature, etc.

We have to the serious and the mocking are confused, because the contradictory character is typical of Ducasse's vision. So that these oscillations and fusions are inherent to the work. Such a conjunction is achieved in The Songs of Maldoror by a singular exercise of black humor, which, as we know, is not easy to laugh at but a corrosive effect.

Three final aspects are key to highlight: the intertextuality, the self-reflexivity and the relationship with the reader, very connected between them.

We alluded to the use of various sources. In some cases, it is a tradition used to be questioned; in others, it has a sense of affirmation. This phenomenon is what we usually call intertextuality (being more current: transtextuality), which can be of different types: linguistic, tonal and conceptual, and behaves in Lautréamont, mainly, as a parody, as the specialized critic has pointed out. Thus, it is an imitation and transformation of writers such as Homer, Shakespeare, Goethe, Sade, Poe, etc., or of texts such as the Bible or the Divine Comedy, but also of popular literature, of scientific reasoning.

All this has led to the formulation that one of the great contributions of Lautréamont would be the proposal of the literary college (also ahead of the plastic arts), as Pellegrini and other scholars recognize. In this sense, the quotation from Song Six (part 1) is emblematic:

Oil on canvas on famous phrase from The Songs of Maldoror (Song VI-§1) Source

It's beautiful (...) like the chance meeting on a dissection table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella.

In this particular fragment -besides the logical sense, close to the unconsciousness of the dream-, a great part of the recognition that Dadaism and Surrealism, in the first decades of the 20th century, will make of Lautréamont, and that will lead them to take it as a precursor and master.

The second aspect, self-reflexivity, present in The Songs and in Poetries (we dedicate at the end some lines to that book), constitutes another contribution, of great value of Ducasse for modern literature. When included in his text, through the character-spoken, Ducasse speaks of himself and of the work itself. The self-awareness that this author has of his production and of the role it will have in literature is surprising, and, at the same time, illuminating of all that tradition that will come a long time later, especially in that literary production baptized as "post-modern", appeared, with relevance, from the 80s of the 20th century.

Such self-awareness will be manifested in -third and last aspect- the attitude towards the reader. This is a very clear illustration of what linguistics in the 20th century called "pragmatics"; that is, the author appeals directly to the reader as if he or she were present before the text: he or she warns, questions, even insults, and finally seduces and calms him or her.

(Continues...)

Bibliographical references

Count of Lautréamont (1979). *? Complete works (3rd ed.). Introduction and translation: Aldo Pellegrini. Spain: Edit. Argonauta.
Friedrich, Hugo (1974). *? Structure of modern lyric. Spain: Edit. Seix Barral.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comte_de_Lautr%C3%A9amont

Written by: @josemalavem



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In my opinion, self-reflexivity is one of the most interesting literary mechanisms in modern literature. To know, not only what the writer or narrator thinks of the literary work, but what he may think he knows about the reader, as if he were reading the reader's mind, is a very intelligent game of complicity. As for intertextuality, it should be said that I have read some studies that have taken this resource as a form of plagiarism in Lautréamont. It is a pleasure to read you always, @josemalavem

I agree with you that conscience of intertextuality and the exercise of self-reflexivity are two of the main contributions of literary modernity. And both have in Lautréamont one of their most radical proponents. The preclarity of Lautréamont is so great that, with a provocative sense, he says in Poesías: "Plagiarism is necessary. It is implicit in progress".
Thanks for your right comment, @nancybriti. Greetings.

Fascinating. It is usually the case with literary movements (and artistic movements in general) that someone will be ahead of their time and produce works of art that do not quite fit their contemporaries, but anticipate new things to come.
I like the idea of the collage as something pre-post-modern and at the same time characteristic of post-modernism.
Looking forward to reading the next post.

Thank you for your assessment, @hlezama. That's right, and Lautréamont was one of the most advanced radicals, a true avant-garde. And he's not only modern, but even postmodern. About the advance of collage, I thought that it is as if Lautréamont had ironically updated the idea of the "still life" or "still life" before the painting of the Middle Ages. Until the next publication. Greetings.

Hi, @adsactly!

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