Category: Writing Techniques

Isidore Ducasse ( Comte de Lautréamont )

Isidore Ducasse ( Comte de Lautréamont )

Comte de Lautréamont was the pen name of Isidore Lucien Ducasse (Montevideo, Uruguay, April 4, 1846 - Paris, November 24, 1870), a French poet and writer.

The critic Alex De Jonge writes, "Lautreamont forces his readers to stop taking their world for granted. He shatters the complacent acceptance of the reality proposed by their cultural traditions and make them see that reality for what it is: an unreal nightmare all the more hair-raising because the sleeper believes he is awake." (De Jonge, p. 1)

Lautréamont's writing is full of bizarre scenes, vivid imagery and drastic shifts in tone and style. There are heavy measures of black humor; De Jonge argues that Maldoror reads like "a sustained sick joke." (De Jonge, p. 55)

Biography

Ducasse was born on 4 April, 1846, at 9 a.m.,in Montevideo, Uruguay, to Francoise Ducasse and Jacquette-Celestine Davezac, a French Consular Officer and his wife. Little is known about Ducasse's childhood, although there is a good possibility that his mother committed suicide before Ducasse turned one. (Lykiard, 280) De Jonge writes that he is "one of those rare figures of Western culture, a writer without a biography." (De Jonge, p. 11) It is believed Ducasse moved to France at the age of 10 to attend a Parisian lycée. He left school aged 19 to travel, but soon returned to Paris, where he began writing his seminal work, Les Chants de Maldoror, under the name Comte de Lautréamont (based on the character of Latréaumont, from a popular French 1837 gothic novel by Eugène Sue, which featured a haughty and blasphemous anti-hero similar in some ways to Lautréamont's Maldoror).

The first canto of the book was published in 1868, and the complete work in 1869. The publisher Albert Lacroix however refused to sell the book as they feared prosecution for blasphemy or obscenity. While fighting to have the work published, Ducasse began work on a book of poetry titled Poésies, however this work remained unfinished as the author died under unknown circumstances during the siege of Paris by the Prussians. There is a wealth of Lautréamont criticism, interpretation and analysis in French (including an esteemed biography by Jean-Jacques Lefrère), but little in English.

Les Chants de Maldoror is based around a character called Maldoror, a figure of unrelenting evil who has forsaken God and mankind. The book combines an obscene and violent narrative with vivid and often surrealistic imagery.



The book is often seen as an important work of French symbolism. The artist Amedeo Modigliani always carried a copy of the book with him and used to walk around Montparnasse, quoting from Maldoror. In the 20th century it was acknowledged by the writer André Breton as being a direct precursor to surrealism. Invoking an obscure clause in the French civil code, New York performance artist Shishaldin has recently petitioned the French government for permission to posthumously marry the author.

The title of an object by American artist Man Ray called L'énigme d'Isidore Ducasse (The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse) contains a reference to the writer.

Quote

* « Arithmétique ! Algèbre ! Géometrie ! Trinité grandiose ! Triangle lumineux ! Celui qui ne vous a pas connues est un insensé ! »

— Lautréamont, Les chants de Maldoror

Translation: "Arithmetic! Algebra! Geometry! Grandiose trinity! Luminous triangle! Whoever has not known you is without sense!"

* « la grande famille universelle des humains est une utopie digne de la logique la plus médiocre. »

— Lautréamont, Les chants de Maldoror

* « Beau comme la rencontre fortuite sur une table de dissection d'une machine à coudre et d'un parapluie »

— Lautréamont, Les chants de Maldoror

Translation: "Beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissection table."

* "Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It closely grasps an author's sentence, uses his expressions, deletes a false idea, replaces it with a right one."

* "Poetry must be made by all and not by one."

Sources

* de Jonge, Alex. Nightmare Culture: Lautréamont and Les Chants de Maldoror, Secker and Warburg, 1973
* Ducasse, Isidore. Maldoror & The Complete Works of the Comte de Lautreamont. Alexis Lykiard, trans. Cambridge: Exact Change, 1994.

Category: Creative Writing Techniques