Maldoror – Ode to Mathematics

From: Le Chants de Maldoror, 1876, Le Comte de Lautreamont

O stern mathematics, I have not forgotten you since your learned teachings, sweeter than honey, filtered through my heart like a refreshing wave. From the cradle I instinctively aspired to drink from your spring more ancient than the sun, and, most faithful of your initiates, still I continue to tread the sacred court of your grave temple. There was a haze in my spirit, something indefinable, smoky-thick, but I knew how to cross – religiously – the steps that lead to your altar, and as wind drives off the fritillary, so you have cleared this dim mist. In its place you set excessive coolness, a consummate prudence, and an implacable logic. With the aid of your strengthening milk my intellect developed rapidly and acquired immense proportions amid the entrancing clarity that you prodigally present to those who love you with a sincere love. Arithmetic! Algebra! Geometry! Grand trinity! Luminous triangle! He who has not known you is a dolt! He deserves the test of the greatest tortures, for in his ignorant thoughtlessness there is blind contempt. But he who knows and appreciates you wants naught else of the world’s chattels; is content with your magical ecstasies; and, borne on your sombre wings, desires nothing more than to rise in gentle flight, describing an ascendant helix, toward the spherical vault of the heavens. Earth shows him only illusions and moral phantasmagorias, but you, O concise mathematics, by the rigorous series of your tenacious propositions and the constancy of your iron laws, dazzle the eyes, shining forth a powerful reflection of that supreme truth whose imprint is discernible in the order of the universe. Yet the order that surrounds you, represented particularly by the perfect regularity of a square – Pythagoras’ friend – is greater still, for the Almighty revealed himself and his attributes completely in this memorable task which consisted in bringing forth from the bowels of chaos your treasures of theorems and your magnificent splendours. In bygone days as in modern times, more than one ggreat mind saw its genius awe-stricken on contemplating your symbolic figures traced upon fiery paper and living with a latent breath like so many mysterious signs not understood by the vulgar and profane, signs merely the brilliant revelation of eternal axioms and hieroglyphics pre-existent to the universe, and which will outlast it. On the precipice-brink of a fatal questionmark, the mind wonders how mathematics happen to contain so much commanding importance and so much incontestable truth, while comparison between mathematics and man only uncovers the latter’s false pride and mendacity. Then this superior intellect, saddened, and through the noble intimacy of your counsels made still more sharply to feel humanity’s pettiness and incomparable folly, bows grizzled head upon emaciated hand and remains rapt in supernatural meditations. To you he bends the knee, and his reverence pays homage to your divine features as though to the very image of the Almighty. During my childhood you appeared to me one moonlit May night, in a verdant meadow by the banks of a limpid brook, all three equal in grace and modesty, all three full of majesty, like queens. You took a few steps towards me, with long robes floating like mist, and enticed me to your proud breasts, as a blessed son. Then I readily drew close, my hands clenched on your white bosom. I fed gratefully upon your fruitful manna and felt humanity grow within me, and improve. Since that time, O rival goddesses, I have not abandoned you. Since that time, how many energetic projects, how many sympathies – whose outlines I thought I had graven upon my heart’s pages as on marble – have you not slowly erased from my disillusioned reason as daybreak dispels the shadows of night! Since that time I have seen death – with a view (visible to the naked eye) to populating the tombs – ravage battlefields fertilised by human blood, and make morning flowers sprout over the funereal bones. Since that time I have witnessed the revolutions of our globe: earthquakes, volcanoes with their blazing lava, the desert simoon and the storm’s shipwrecks – of these my presence has been impassive spectator. Since that time I have seen several generations of humans in the morning raise their wings and eyes toward space with the inexperienced joy of the chrysalis hailing its last metamorphosis, and in the evening, before sunset, die, heads drooping like wilted flowers which the wind’s plaintive whistling sways. Yet you remain the same forever. No change, no pestilential blast grazes the steep rocks and vast valleys of your identity. Your modest pyramids will endure longer yet than the pyramids of Egypt, those anthills reared by stupidity and slavery. The end of time will see – still erect on the ruins of ages – your cabalistic numbers, laconic equations, and sculptural lines enthroned on the avenging right hand of the Almighty, while the stars plunge desperately like waterspouts into the eternity of a horrible, universal night, and humanity, grimacing, dreams of settling accounts with the last judgment. Thank you for the countless services you have rendered me. Thank you for the unfamiliar qualities with which you have enriched my intellect. But for you, perhaps I might have been defeated in my struggle against man. But for you, he would have made me roll in the sand and kiss the dust of his feet. But for you, he would have scored my flesh and bones with treacherous claw. But I stood on my guard like an experienced athlete. You gave me the coolness arising from your sublime conceptions that are free of passion. I made use of it when disdainfully rejecting the ephemeral joys of my short voyage, and in order to turn away from my door the sympathetic yet mistaken offers of my fellows. You gave me the stubborn prudence deciphered at each step in your admirable methods of analysis, synthesis, and deduction. I made use of it to outwit the pernicious wiles of my mortal enemy, attacking him adroitly in turn and plunging into man’s vitals a keen dagger to stay embedded in his body forever, for it is a wound from which he shall not recover. You gave me logic, the very soul of your wise instruction, and through its syllogisms whose involved maze makes them still more comprehensible, my intellect felt its bold strength redouble. With the aid of this redoubtable ally, I discovered in mankind (while swimming down to the depths opposite the reef of hatred) black, vile wickedness wallowing amid noxious miasmas and contemplating its navel. I was the first to discover in the darkness of man’s bowels this baneful vice – evil! – stronger in him than good. With the poisoned weapon you lent me I forced to descend from his pedestal constructed by man’s cowardice – the Creator himself! He gnashed his teeth and bore this ignominious injury, for he had to reckon with an adversary stronger than he. But I cast him aside like a ball of string, that I might descend in my flight…. Descartes the thinker once made the reflection that nothing solid has been built upon you – an ingenious way of making it clear that your inestimable worth could not be discovered all at once by just anybody. Indeed, what could be more solid than the three aforenamed principal qualities which rise up intertwined like a unique crown upon the majestic summit of your colossal architecture? A monument ceaselessly growing via daily discoveries in your diamond-mines, and scientific explorations among your superb domains. O holy mathematics, would you might, by your perpetual commerce, console my remaining days for the wickedness of man and the injustice of the Most High!

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