Balladeer’s Blog resumes its examination of the macabre 1868 French language work The Songs of Maldoror.
THE GREAT TOAD-ANGEL
This stanza opens up with the supernatural being Maldoror contemplating the worms he pulls from the swollen belly of a dead dog. Slicing the worms into small bits he philosophizes on how human beings should learn a lesson about their own mortality from the state of such dead, worm-riddled bodies.
Night is falling. In the distance he spies a horse-sized toad with white wings flying down from the sky and landing on the road he is traveling. As the two draw nearer to each other Maldoror senses something familiar about the creature and reflects that its face is “as beautiful as suicide”. He resents the being over how beautiful it looks even in its massive ugliness and the halo over the toad’s head tells him it has come from Heaven and his archrival God.
Maldoror being Maldoror he tells the Toad-Angel how much he loathes it and berates it for the manifest unfairness and injustice of the world that God has created. He taunts the being that it is only what Maldoror perceives as the deity’s “might makes right” attitude that lets him inflict so much punishment on hapless humanity while feeling no regret.
At length the Toad-Angel reminds Maldoror that the two have met before. Once he was an ordinary bufo alvarius (a species of toad whose skin secretions are hallucinogenic and usually fatal) that Maldoror used to lick for psychotropic inspiration. Just as our vile protagonist received mind-altering visions from oral contact with the toad the eldritch chemicals in Maldoror’s mouth eventually elevated the common toad into the higher being it is now.The two have mutually benefited from their prior relationship and the Toad-Angel has come to advise Maldoror to give up his lifelong rampage of murder, rape and torture. His supernatural existence has become pointless and his mere presence in this world fills human beings with dread and horror.
With great insight the Toad-Angel tells him “Your mind is so sick you are not even aware of it and you imagine you are profound whenever you give utterance to words full of insanity.” It calls Maldoror the “sad relic of an immortal intelligence” and asks him “By what right do you come upon this Earth to make a mockery of those who inhabit it, rotten derelict that you are?”
Next comes the most startling and revealing exchange thus far in The Songs of Maldoror, at least as far as the enigmatic title figure goes. The Toad-Angel implies that Maldoror – or at least his soul – comes from a higher plane of existence or an entirely different planet (the language is typically vague where anything regarding Maldoror’s exact nature is concerned).
Since he finds human beings so distasteful and deserving of contempt there is a simple solution. The being tells our protagonist he should leave the Earth to return to wherever his home is (“direct your upward flight toward your own world”), or travel to any of a variety of worlds where the inhabitants are much higher-evolved than they are on Earth. He also implores Maldoror to “display at last your godlike essence, hitherto concealed.”
This section is an interesting departure from what Maldoror has told the reader about himself thus far. As I mentioned long ago Maldoror lies and then lies about the lies, so we are left wondering if the Toad-Angel has provided us with more accurate hints about our vile main character’s nature or if, since Maldoror is our narrator, it is just more misdirection.
Regardless, I’m always intrigued by this notion of Maldoror as some sort of pre-Lovecraftian malign intelligence from another world, somehow garbed in human flesh. His contempt for the world and his enmity with God (think Demiurge) and the Toad-Angel’s hint that Maldoror could, at will, return to his race’s malevolent version of the Pleroma adds a nice strain of Sethian Gnosticism to the proceedings.
Furthermore the reference to whatever insight our vile narrator received from hallucinogenic stimulation can’t help but remind me of the many, many ancient religions whose “holy men” practiced the ritual use of such psychotropic drugs either from mushrooms, cacti, or in this case – toad-secretions.
The induced “visions” from such drug use were, of course, superstitiously regarded as contact with the Divine and account for who knows how many of the bizarre story elements considered canon in the world’s various belief systems.
Regarding hallucinogens specifically some forms of Gnosticism maintain that the seemingly “real” world is the true illusion and that it is only under the influence of psychotropic drugs that the human mind gets glimpses of the true reality. The modern offshoot of Sethian Gnosticism called Discordianism reflects a preference for LSD in its rituals. (With Chaos being the Pleroma, while Order and Disorder are merely illusions superimposed over Chaos the way the Demiurge imposed the illusion of the physical universe over spiritual matter in straightforward Gnosticism.)
To return to Maldoror: the Toad-Angel eventually abandons its efforts to persuade him and returns to Heaven, where it plans to spend eternity praying that God will forgive Maldoror for his countless sins.
EPILOGUE: The author Ducasse pronounces everything we’ve read until now to be merely the close of the First Canto. There are five more to go and much of the most depraved violence is still ahead of us.
Ducasse, our self-titled Count de Lautreamont, closes with some references to his Montevideo home and the war that raged between Uruguay and Argentina awhile back.
I WILL RESUME THIS LOOK AT THE SONGS OF MALDOROR SOON. CHECK BACK ONCE OR TWICE A WEEK FOR NEW INSTALLMENTS.
FOR PART ONE 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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