Balladeer’s Blog concludes its examination of the macabre 1868 French language work The Songs of Maldoror. (“Mal d’Auror”, meaning Evil’s Dawn or The Dawn of Evil.)
CANTO SIX: STANZA TEN
Today it ends. A moral, ontological and supernatural battle that has raged since the dawn of creation comes to a close in the heart of Paris.
God – be he Creator or Demiurge, compassionate deity or power-crazed sadist – meets for the last time in combat with Maldoror.
When this day is over one of these two beings will never again walk the Earth.
In the previous Stanza Maldoror, now definitively revealed as one of the angels who remained neutral in the war between God and Lucifer, launched what he thought was a fatal assault on the 16 year old named Mervyn. Unknown to Maldoror that young man survived due to God’s direct intervention and has spent the last three days convalescing at his parents’ home in the Rue Lafayette, heartbroken and embittered by Maldoror’s betrayal.
We learned that Mario, the one-time Angel of the Sea who had loved Maldoror, had repented and returned to God ages ago and had returned to the Earth elevated to Archangel. His attempt to capture Maldoror on God’s behalf last time around failed and Maldoror bound the defeated Archangel (trapped now in the form of a hermit crab) to an anvil and dropped both into the Atlantic Ocean.
At the bottom of the Ocean off the coast of France the Archangel now stirs but remains bound to the anvil and trapped in crab form. With its claws it reaches a fish-tail – the remains of some sea-creature’s meal – and affixes similar leftovers in the form of two albatross wings to the fish-tail.
Next the former Angel of the Sea infuses the makeshift beast with intelligence and sends it to inform God that Maldoror had defeated him, unaware that God had already observed this from Heaven.
The Archangel’s flaw was in bestowing intellect on this beast, for, as we have seen throughout this long examination of The Songs of Maldoror it is from humanity’s intelligence that its capacity for refined, spiteful evil springs.
Maldoror himself had posed as a tutelary deity for various Secret Societies over the years, and claimed credit for shepherding human beings through the Enlightenment, and especially to the type of rational thought that leads to rejection of religious superstition.
Thus, the intelligence of the Archangel’s messenger leads it to Maldoror, not God, and thus alerts our main character to the Archangel’s survival. Infuriated, three days later the vengeful Archangel causes a poison dart to pierce the turncoat sea-being, killing it.
The thousands of other angels who remained neutral in the war between God and Lucifer have noted this from their home in the Grail Castle. That green stone Castle (in the Lapis Exillis sense) figuratively erupts with the fury of those assembled angels: fury over the fact that an Archangel sent down by God has killed.
God, for his part, rages at the angels in the Grail Castle, pointing out that they’ve never stirred themselves into outrage over the countless atrocities perpetrated by Maldoror (the renegade member from their ranks) but one questionable act from the submerged Archangel has prompted this indignant outburst. He roars that the slaying of the fishtail/ albatross hybrid was justified.
The chastened angels fall silent. Meanwhile, ready for a final battle with Maldoror, God stalks the streets of Paris, having assumed the form of a giant rhinoceros, the way Satan had assumed the form of a giant boa constrictor for his most recent clash with our main character.
In the preceding three days, while Mervyn has been convalescing, an apocalyptic cult of sorts has formed because of the widely-witnessed seaside battle between Maldoror and the Archangel. Pilgrims from all over France are enroute to the spot. The cult is more work of Maldoror, preying as he loves to do on the inherent stupidity of humanity; the stupidity that has fueled his hatred for eons.
Meanwhile, Mervyn’s parents have taken to wandering the streets of Paris in crazed despair over their son’s condition and his refusal to speak to them about the cause.
The Archangel has managed to free itself and come ashore. Mounting a horse the figure plans to rally the pilgrims who are on their way to the site of his battle with Maldoror, in hopes of using them as an army against the fiend. Unfortunately, they will be unable to decide on a course of action in time to affect the events of the day.
As for Maldoror himself, he has dispatched his pawn – the madman Aghone – on a special mission. The angels in the Grail Castle, still clinging to their neutrality, have deigned to act indirectly by having their Earthly acolytes take action. Those acolytes are the Freemasons (see below for more about this), who have gathered at the Masonic Lodge to prepare for battle with Maldoror.
Aghone, still wearing a chamberpot as a crown, has sealed all the doorways of the Lodge, which he now sets on fire. The trapped Freemasons all perish in the flames until nothing is left but ashes. Next Aghone gathers up a length of sixty meters of rope that he had kept on hand for when Maldoror needed it for the next part of his plan.
Maldoror has flown to the top of the column in the Place Vendome, which affords him a spectacular view of the streets of Paris as events come together. He sees that Mervyn’s parents have rallied around God in his rhinoceros form as the odd trio make their way toward Maldoror’s location. Aghone arrives at the Place Vendome ahead of them. The madman has – per his master’s orders – abducted Mervyn from his sickbed and forced the still-battered youth to walk with his hands bound behind his back to this site of his planned execution.
As Mervyn’s parents rush forward with the giant rhino to try to save their son, Maldoror – still atop the column – calmly produces his revolver and aims it at the approaching God. Believing the deity to be the best hope for halting the execution of their son, Mervyn’s parents throw themselves in front of God, sacrificing themselves by taking the bullets. Maldoror is amused by this pointless sacrifice since the bullets could not have harmed God anyway, and is delighted that it is now just him and his archrival.
God – still in his giant rhinoceros form – rises up on his hind legs, bringing him face to face with Maldoror atop the column. Aghone and the bound Mervyn look on from below. With God prepared for another of the physical battles that he and our main character have engaged in so often in the past, Maldoror attacks from a completely unexpected angle: he fills God with an epiphany of the pain and wrongdoing that Mervyn might well inflict and commit if left alive, since the youth is, after all, human – with the usual human capacity for heinous actions.
Tragically and horrifically, God surrenders to Maldoror’s contemptuous view of humanity. In that nightmarish worldview it is only circumstance that separates the perpetrators of atrocities from the victims of them. God, now accepting that if the situation was even slightly different Mervyn would happily be in Aghone’s place with Aghone in his, renounces any further effort to intervene in the world. There is no “good” humanity to defend, merely animals in arbitrary roles of victim and victimizer. In despair God leaves the Earth, never to return.
For untold centuries Maldoror has tried but failed to convince sufficient numbers of superstitious humanity to lose its faith in God. His triumph comes instead through convincing God to lose faith in his creations. In this context it is irrelevant whether “God” is the benevolent deity believed by many or is the insane Demiurge. What matters is that he will no longer oppose Maldoror’s actions on Earth, rendering himself as harmless as Satan in Hell when it comes to thwarting Maldoror.
Unchallenged now, Maldoror carries out Mervyn’s execution. He has Aghone bind the boy’s feet together like his hands and, from his perch atop the column in the Place Vendome, Maldoror drags the boy upward in an upside-down position. Mervyn pitifully grabs at a handful of the flowers called immortelles as he is dragged to his death.
In a bit that would look very silly if rendered on film Maldoror uses his supernatural strength to spin Mervyn’s bound form around and around, until he has achieved sufficient momentum and then hurls the boy toward a distant target. Maldoror invokes comet imagery for one last time, comparing the sight of Mervyn’s hurling form with the rope trailing behind it to a comet and its tail.
The distant target – the Paris Pantheon – is reached and the impact kills Mervyn, leaving him dangling upside down from the rope that has become tangled around the spire at the top of the Pantheon. (Yes, Tarot enthusiasts, this would mean he’s in the position of the Hanged Man of the Major Arcana) There he hangs like Maldoror’s perverse inversion of Christ crucified.
Maldoror’s selection of this building as the site of Mervyn’s death was a masterstroke of symbolism. The Paris Pantheon’s construction – patterned after THE Pantheon in Greece – was ordered long ago by Louis XV as a church. He did this out of his belief that direct intervention from God had saved his life from an illness. Maldoror figuratively mars this concept (like defacing it with graffiti) by leaving Mervyn’s corpse hanging from the top of that building as a reminder that (in this fictional context at least) God will no longer intervene on behalf of his creations.
We are told that Mervyn’s body is left in that position to decay into eventual skeletal form, the immortelles in the youth’s unliving hands also shriveled and dead to demonstrate the falsehood of their own promise.
To the author Isidore Ducasse we live in that cold world. For God no longer walks the Earth. We are alone and at the mercy of the violent ones who surround us. There is nothing to stop the conductors of pogroms or the activities of the Jeffrey Dahmers or H.H. Holmeses of the world. No Earthly or Unearthly power will stay their hand. Our only options are to be the victims of the Maldorors around us or to be the victimizers ourselves.
Or, since Maldoror’s actions have so often called to mind modern serial killers specifically, we could instead say “When the smiler with the knife comes calling … all we can do is die.” +++
** Q: Why Freemasons? A: Because in Freemasonic lore going at least back to Medieval times the romantic (but silly) notion was that the Freemasons and Rosicrucians were to be the forces of “Good” that would stand against the forces of “Evil” at the end of the world.
In the 1800’s this was still taken somewhat seriously. We think of Freemasons as pudgy businessmen and politicians with absurd rituals and pointless handshakes, but throughout The Songs of Maldoror Ducasse has taken the concept of Secret Societies very seriously. As Maldoror was the tutelary entity for Diabolists, the Grail Angels were the tutelary entities for the Freemasons. Hence, though the Grail Angels still refuse to violate their eternal neutrality they cheat a little by telling their proteges the Freemasons to prepare for action.
Q: What’s up with Aghone? A: Once again Maldoror’s attitude toward humanity throughout the book needs to be remembered. By this point he has so much contempt for the likelihood that humans could interfere with his plans that he doesn’t even bother attacking them directly. His underling Aghone succeeds at thwarting human interference.
Aghone’s status as a lunatic reflects Maldoror’s often-stated sentiment that insane individuals can impact the world far more than the mass of humanity can.
If I’ve left anything unclear let me know in the comments or in emails. Some critics compare this final installment of The Songs of Maldoror to the final episode of Patrick McGoohan’s series The Prisoner in that everything is conveyed in symbolic terms. Ducasse has played fair, however, in that he has used only imagery invoked by Maldoror throughout the book to make his closing points, pessimistic as they are. (Even the rhinoceros bit showed up awhile back when Maldoror was lost in the Valley of Unreality.)
You want to know what I feel decisively demonstrates that the metaphorical language of poetry is more effective than prose? Consider this: the actual closing Stanza of The Songs of Maldoror is composed of FEWER WORDS than this summarization of it.
A NEW SATURDAY FEATURE BEGINS NEXT WEEK!
FOR PART ONE OF MALDOROR CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2015/02/28/maldoror-a-neglected-masterpiece-of-surreal-horror/
FOR OTHER PARTS OF MALDOROR CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/maldoror/
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