(Highlight of the week: sitting in the Rockford Fosgate SoundLab pressure chamber – which has built-in panic buttons! – at the NY Auto Show: you can feel the air in your throat vibrating as the bass slams all the organs in your chest cavity up against your ribs. Recommended!)
When René Daumal was a teenager, he once walked with his eyes closed – this is according to his friends in the club they called the Simplists – for hours, somehow avoiding the objects in his way, weaving between the trunks of trees. In the years before the tuberculosis that would kill him (at 36, in May 1944) made it impossible, he took up mountain climbing as the most deliberate possible motion. “Left foot, right hand, walking stick here, right foot, walking stick there, body weight left, left hand,” he wrote – his letters about mountain climbing are masterpieces of meticulous, delighted attention (to his friend André Rolland de Renéville, he describes ten different kinds of snow). Studying with Jeanne de Salzmann, “at each step, the whole problem is posed,” to consciously take a step and then the next, raise your hand, write a word. Above all he wanted to be awake.
His was one of those strangely marginal lives that seem particularly open to serendipities and dreamlike events. At 19, he survived a brutal fall that left him with amnesia, derailing a promising scholarly career – a devoted student of Sanskrit, his essays on Indian aesthetics were posthumously published – but leading to his meeting with Véra Milanova, the brilliant journalist who would become the love of his life, for whom he was already waiting based on a dream he’d had years before. He translated Suzuki’s Essays on Zen Buddhism, parts of the Tripitaka Buddhist canon, and Hemingway, befriended and fought with the Surrealist circle, and wrote and wrote, all while leading a life of such precariousness and obscurity it seemed at any time he might vanish for good. He lost teeth, scrimped for postage, walked for miles rather than take the train in his threadbare clothes, while remaining unfailingly generous: “Those who loved him,” wrote Monny de Boully, “felt a reticence to speak because we knew that he would never refuse anything that was asked of him.”
“When your feet will no longer carry you, you have to walk with your head”: the unfinished novel he was writing at his death was called Mount Analogue, a parable of sorts, the story of an expedition to find and climb a hidden mountain with an inaccessible peak. It forms a companion piece, a paradiso to the inferno of his novel A Night of Serious Drinking, a book about an endless party, an entire interior universe of dim, smoky rooms in rooms filled like honeycomb with the wriggling larval forms of self-obsessed addicts, drunks, ego-monsters, resentful wannabes, feverish players of pointless games, and parodies of Daumal himself. (He wrote it while struggling to get by as a failing press secretary in New York City.) Analogue is about lucidity, attention, the work of staying awake to others and the world, and everything that may have to be left behind to find that state. Lucidity and attentiveness even, especially, to suffering and hardship – written as he and Véra, who was Jewish, were starving in hiding in occupied France, as tubercular arthritis destroyed his foot and left him unable to walk, and a synovial sarcoma kept him in terrible pain.
In the story, the discovery of precious objects is part of the way of life on the mountain: stones Daumal calls peradams, clear – with an index of refraction very close to air – and extremely hard “curved crystals,” visible only by a brilliant sparkle like that of a dewdrop, and primevally old, with a “secret and profound complicity” with us. (I’ve always hoped to eventually be able to write in a peradamite style, that clear and that outside of human time, gleaming in the ordinary daylight to the eye.) The other crucial aspect of the climb is that others have gone before us; Daumal’s climbers can see the fine streak of smoke from the camp farther up ahead, keeping up morale. Our responsibility is to prepare the camp for those who will follow us, in turn, to sweep up and leave it ready for them, as Daumal, I think, tried to do with his story that ends with a comma in the middle of a sentence, and in the last poem he wrote for Véra:
“I am dead because I have no desire,
I have no desire because I think I possess,
I think I possess because I do not try to give;
Trying to give, we see that we have nothing,
Seeing that we have nothing, we try to give ourselves.
Trying to give ourselves, we see that we are nothing,
Seeing that we are nothing, we desire to become,
Desiring to become, we live.”
Destroyer, “Your Blood.” Off Destroyer’s Rubies, a song for everything coming out in flower, out in bloom, streets full of sunlight and ambition.
“Mantra for Healing Personal and National Economies,”, courtesy of the “Ascended Masters” by way of Elizabeth Clare Prophet – whom you may recall from Sounds of American Doomsday Cults Vol. 14, or her work using clairvoyant powers to locate Soviet submarines from the apocalyptic bunker she and her armed followers built just north of Yellowstone in the late 1980s. (If you’ve never heard Elizabeth and her husband Mark use glossolalia to summon seraphim and Hercules to destroy Pat Benatar and Huey Lewis, well, you’re in for a treat. Wait ’til they start listing the fallen angels! This might be one of the greatest recordings of any kind.)
(Thanks for reading, as ever.)
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