Richard Wu's Reviews > Miserable Miracle

Miserable Miracle by Henri Michaux
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Bar none the most vestigial I’ve read to date is the INTRODUCTION BY OCTAVIO PAZ, which in no way disqualifies the superiority, in every aspect, of his translated subject to Huxley’s earlier, and by comparison relatively fraudulent treatment. Still, readers suffering aphantasia are encouraged to skip this volume entirely; the fun consists in imagining images:
Sometimes a glass stairway, a stairway like Jacob’s ladder, a stairway with more steps than I could climb in three entire lifetimes, a stairway with ten million steps, a stairway without landings, a stairway up to the sky, the maddest, most monstrous feat since the tower of Babel, rose into the absolute. Suddenly, I could see it no longer. The stairway had vanished like bubbles of champagne, and I continued my navigation, struggling not to roll, struggling against suctions and pullings, against infinitely small jumping things, against stretched webs, and arching claws. [p.37]
As you can see, Michaux’s prose quality is adequate to the task of conveying psychedelic phenomena, although of course language at its best can only ever trace the shadow of experience, right? Not quite; but more than most should ask for, for who would want to poke a blood-drenched just-birthed fetus in a bathroom sink with a stick, even in hallucination, as our author did one page later: perhaps more horrifying when you link this scene to his earlier comments on the effects of mescaline, which for him immanentizes linguistic reifications, sews together mind and matter in phenomenal space, yes, he (or some part of him) wrote that baby there—and then it was.
Endlessly broken up, our attempts at composition admit only this one constant… Very… It is very… Everything is very… [p.70]
A fruitful syntactic analysis may be performed on Michaux’s pronoun usage, as all three of “I,” “we,” and “he” occur throughout to refer—ostensibly—to himself; I suspect they serve as distance modifiers for (patterns of) thoughts he would prefer us more or less to associate with him, that is, his central self:
More than anything else Mescaline demolished some of my effectual barriers, the ones that make me myself and not one of the others among my possible “me’s.” It took me weeks and weeks to reconstruct them and to shut myself inside them again. [p.82]
Additionally, scanned pages from Michaux’s tripping notebooks are scattered in groups, always interrupting the flow of text from the page before. From these I found “chaque foi” and “une cigarette”; but I am not here to scavenge scraps of coherence from illegibility, nor to entertain methodological conceits regarding the mechanism of conceptual access:
Coming out of Mescaline you know better than any Buddhist that everything is nothing but appearance. [p.80]
I am here, apparently, to mine for quotes (which I can then deploy in opportune contexts); Miserable Miracle is by and large a juicy vein:
What is it in life that is most exhausting and that leads surely to madness? It is to stay awake. It is to remain too long at one’s instrument panel. [p.154]

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Reading Progress

February 17, 2018 – Shelved
February 17, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
July 26, 2018 – Started Reading
July 28, 2018 – Finished Reading

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