Maldoror – Insomnia


From book five of Les Chants de Maldoror, Le Comte de Lautreamont, 1876

The intermittent annihilation of human faculties: whatever your thought may lead you to suppose, these are not mere words. At least, they are not ordinary words. May he who thought he would be accomplishing an act of justice in asking some executioner to flay him alive, raise his hand. May he who would offer his bosom voluntarily to the bullets of death, raise his head with a sensual smile. My eyes will seek the marks of scars; my ten fingers will concentrate the sum total of their attention upon touching carefully the flesh of this eccentric; I shall ascertain that splashes of brains have fallen upon my satin brow. Is it not true that in the entire universe a man could not be found who would live such a martyrdom? I do not know what laughter is, it is true, having never experienced it myself. Yet how imprudent it would be to maintain that my lips would not widen if it should be granted to me to encounter someone who claimed that such a man existed? That which no one would desire for his own existence has fallen to me by an unequal destiny. It is not that my body floats in the lake of sorrow; that would be all right. But my spirit withers by reason of a condensed and continually strained reflection; it cries out like the frogs in a marsh when a flock of voracious flamingos and starving herons descend amid the rushes along its banks.

Happy is he who slumbers peacefully in a bed of feathers torn from the breast of the eider, without being aware that he is betraying himself. It is thirty years now since I have slept. Since the unprounceable day of my birth I have sworn an irreconcilable hatred against the slumberous couch. It is I who desired this; let none other be accused. Quickly—let all men be cleared of abortive suspicion. Do you observe upon my brow the pale crown? Tenacity weaved it there with its pale fingers. As long as trace of burning sap runs through my bones like a torrent of molten metal I shall never sleep. Each night I force my livid eyes to stare at the stars through the panes of my window. In order to be surer of myself I prop my swollen eyelids open with splinters. When dawn breaks it finds me in the same attitude, my body resting in a vertical position erect against the cold plaster of the wall. Yet it happens sometimes that I dream, but without losing for an instant the lively sense of my personality or the free faculty of movement: know that Nightmare hides himself in the phosphorescent crannies of darkness, while Fever fingers my face with its stump, and every unclean beast brandishes it claws—very well, it is my will that keeps them going round and round in order to provide solid nourishment for its perpetual activity. Indeed, atom that wreaks revenge by its extreme weakness, free will does not fear to maintain with strong authority that it does not include sottishness among its sons: he who sleeps is less than an animal castrated yesterday. Although insomnia bears towards the depths of the grave these muscles which already exhale the odor of cypress, never will the white catacomb of my intelligence open its sanctuary to the eyes of the Creator. A secret and noble justice, towards the open arms of which I instinctively fling myself, commands me to hunt down without quarter that ignoble punishment. Fearful enemy of my imprudent soul, I forbid my unhappy loins to repose upon the dewy grass at the hour when they light up the lantern on the coast. Conquerer, I reject the ambush of your hypocritical opium. Consequently it is certain that my heart, that starving thing that feeds upon itself, has matured its plans by that weird struggle. As impenetrable as a giant, I have lived ceaselessly with the sockets of my eyes gaping. It is averred that at least during the day one may offer triumphant opposition to the Great Outside Object (who is not familiar with his name?); for then the will watches over its defenses with remarkable tenacity. But as soon as the vaporous veil of evening descends, even upon the condemned men about to be hanged, (O! to see one’s intellect in the hands of a sacrilegious stranger!) an implacable scalpel probes into its dense underbrush. Consciousness exhales a long death-rattle of cruel lacerations. Humiliation! Our door is open to the ferocious curiosity of the Celestial Bandit. I have not deserved this infamous torture, hideous spy upon my causality! If I exist, I am not someone else. I will not admit any equivocal plurality within myself. I wish to dwell alone within my intimate reason. Autonomy . . . or let them change me into a hippopotamus. Bury yourself in the earth, O anonymous stigma, and appear no more before my haggard indignation. My subjectivity and the Creator: this is too much for one brain. When night obscures the flight of hours, who is he who has not fought against the influence of sleep in his bed dampened with glacial sweat? That bed, clasping dying faculties to its bosom, is nothing but a tomb composed of boards of scantling pine. The will vanishes insensible, as if in the presence of an invisible force. A viscous wax dulls the crystalline substance of the eye. The eyelids seek one another like two friends. The body is no better than a breathing corpse. Finally four enormous stakes transfix the four limbs to the mattress. And observe, if you please, that the sheets are nothing but shrouds. There lies the censer where the incense of religions burns. Eternity rumbles like a distant sea and approaches rapidly. The room has disappeared: prostrate yourselves, human, in the fiery chapel! Sometimes, in a useless effort to overcome the organism’s imperfections in the midst of the profoundest sleep, the hypnotized sense perceives with astonishment that it is nothing but a gravestone, and argues admirably and with incomparable subtlety: “To leave this bed is a problem more difficult than one would think. Seated upon the tumbril I am drawn toward the twin posts of the guillotine. Curiously, my arm has wisely taken on the rigidity of a stump. It is a very bad to dream one is marching to the scaffold.” Blood flows in great waves across the face. The bosom heaves repeatedly and wheezes as it swells. The weight of an obelisk stifles the expansion of rage. The real has destroyed the dreams of slumber! Who is unaware that when the struggle is prolonged between the ego, full of pride, and the terrible growth of catalepsy, the hallucinated spirit loses its judgment? Gnawed by despair, he abandons himself in his misery until he has conquered nature and until sleep, seeing its prey escaping from it flees forever from his heart with angry and shameful wing. Throw some ashes upon my flaming orbit. Do not stare into my eye, which never closes. Do you understand the suffering I endure? (though pride is satisfied). When night exhorts humans to repose, a man whom I know walks rapidly throughout the countryside. I fear that my resolution may succumb to the ravages of old age. Let that fatal day when I shall fall asleep arrive! When I wake, my razor, opening up a passage across my neck, will prove that nothing indeed was more real.

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