6 April 2018

René Daumal: La Grande Beuverie | A Night of Serious Drinking (1938; repr. 1966)

My translation of the back page, which sums up the content so well:

'A descent into the lower depths. René Daumal explores those of the materialist world, and also those which each one of us conceals in himself. Thoughout the drinking session, the author [well, the narrator] visits the counter-celestial Jerusalem, where the Escaped people live. Artists, scientists and fake sages get drunk on artificial paradises. Then comes the awakening. [The narrator] has to learn to understand himself better, to deepen his introspective path.'

Daumal was very much concerned with the discrepancy between words and thought, of how inadequate language is to express thoughts. La Grande Beuverie (translated as A Night of Serious Drinking) is one of the few works published in his lifetime, and is full of many quotable sentences, of which this is also mentioned on the back cover: 'Whereas philosophy teaches man how he claims to think, drinking demonstrates how he really thinks.'

The parasurrealist, novelist and poet René Daumal (1908–44) died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-six, and his health couldn't have been helped by his various experiments with drugs, including the very dangerous carbon tetrachloride.

This then, is a long drinking session, but one in which fantasy plays a great part, thus allowing Daumal to indulge in some strong satire of the present and predictions of the future, and in places reads a little like Jules Verne brought into the twentieth century. Very odd indeed.

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