Balladeer’s Blog has done a comprehensive examination of The Songs of Maldoror, often referred to as just Maldoror. The original 1868 French language work by the self-designated Count de Lautreamont (real name Isidore Ducasse) was in verse form, which is great for poetry geeks like me but if you prefer prose there are plenty of prose translations available.
This work of surreal horror was so far ahead of its time that the author himself, in one of the few existing copies of his correspondence, expressed fears that he might be jailed or thrown into an insane asylum and requested that the publisher literally “stop the presses.” Just 88 copies of the book were completed in that initial run and for a few decades The Songs of Maldoror languished in obscurity.
By the 1890s those few copies of Maldoror had been circulating among the more adventurous literati of the time period and the work began to be hailed as a forgotten masterpiece by Maeterlink, Bloy, Huysmans and de Gourmont. This new acclaim ultimately resulted in a new run of copies – this time in the thousands instead of dozens like the first run. This also accounts for why some reviewers mistakenly refer to The Songs of Maldoror as an 1890s work, despite its original publication date of 1868.
Ducasse had died in 1870 at the age of 24 so he never got to appreciate the new life given to his dark, twisted book of horror and his vile protagonist Maldoror. Virtually nothing is known about the author except that he was of French descent but born in Montevideo, Uruguay, and that he was educated in Paris, where he died. The Songs of Maldoror, a few letters and an introduction to a never-penned (or now lost) second volume of poetry is all that survives of Ducasse’s writing. The monstrous character Maldoror is better known in Europe, where there is even a Death Metal band that goes by that name and another band that goes by the name The Maldoror Collective.
CAUTION: By coincidence a DIFFERENT man also named Isidore Ducasse was, for a time, mistakenly believed to be the same man who wrote Maldoror. A biography of that Ducasse was written, covering his involvement in French revolutionary politics and its alleged influence on his “writings”. It has since been established that they are two entirely different Isidore Ducasse’s but copies of that biography are still being sold on-line AS IF it is the same man. Don’t bother buying them unless you just want to laugh at the earnest way the author mistakenly thinks he’s answering the historical mysteries about the author of The Songs of Maldoror.
* THE SONGS OF MALDOROR *
The opening few poems of The Songs of Maldoror serve as a First Person introduction from the story’s malevolent main character. Maldoror as an entity is a true enigma. He states he is of human origin but the cause of his transformation into his present state and the source of his supernatural abilities is revealed very slowly over the course of the lengthy work. As fans of a certain Time Lord from Gallifrey know, Rule Number One is: The Doctor lies. Rule Number One in The Songs of Maldoror is: Maldoror lies. Then lies about the lies. So never take his first answer about anything as the definitive answer.
Maldoror’s personal enmity toward God is his central driving force. He declares himself even above Lucifer because he tells us he is much more of a threat to God’s sovereignty than that fallen angel trapped in Hell could ever be. This odd grudge match plays out simultaneously as part of the narrative and also in a decidedly “meta” way.
Much of Maldoror’s bitter and hate-filled remarks about God read like they might be fueled by a personal religious crisis that the author Isidore Ducasse experienced after a painful personal tragedy. Just as Shakespeare pointed out that “as flies to wanton boys are we to the gods” Ducassse points out that God can inflict indiscriminate pain on us simply because he created us and the world we live in.
Ducasse seems to relish using Maldoror to inflict pain, defeat and humiliation on “God” in the fictional realm that HE (Ducasse) has created. At one point Maldoror encounters God in a cheap brothel where the deity is having sex with the prostitutes and brutally killing one of the male clients. During other confrontations with God throughout the lengthy story Maldoror’s attitude of “as you have done unto us, so I shall do unto you” often reads as Ducasse’s cathartic way of enacting revenge (albeit fictional) on God for whatever pain he blamed his alleged “creator” for.
Not that Maldoror is a hero or even an anti-hero. He glides through the world with a serial killer’s attitude and eyes all other living things – even children and animals – as nothing but potential victims to be killed, mutilated or raped depending on his mood. The narrative nudges the reader to compare Maldoror’s predatory attitude to what Ducasse saw as God’s own.
Pop culture comparisons may seem glib but they get the job done. Try to think of this 1868 character Maldoror as containing elements of Freddy Krueger, Coffin Joe, Jeffrey Dahmer, Aleister Crowley, Friedrich Nietzsche and Lestat, if Anne Rice had kept Lestat as a bad guy. Heath Ledger cultists might even ponder if he based part of his depiction of the Joker on Maldoror, since Ducasse’s monstrous entity enjoys giving multiple contradictory explanations for his facial scars. And if ever a figure just wanted “to watch the world burn” that would be Maldoror.
Now that the opening introductory poems from The Songs of Maldoror have been examined, next time we can move onto some of the meatier parts of the story. Check back once or twice a week for further installments.
FOR MORE PARTS OF MALDOROR CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/maldoror/
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