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Daumal, René

Category: Writer

René Daumal (16 March 1908 – 21 May 1944) was a French “para-surrealist writer” and poet, best known for his posthumously published novel Mount Analogue (1952). He was, according to Wikipedia, a practitioner of pataphysics.  According to Wikipedia:
“Pataphysics is a philosophy or media theory dedicated to studying what lies beyond the realm of metaphysics. The concept was coined by French writer Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), who defined pataphysics as the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments".

I am afraid I can provide no further help on this because I do not understand this definition.  Perhaps more important is that Rene Daumal was a sniffer of volatile substances.  And I now quote:

Lachman, Gary. "Climbing Mount Analogue." Quest  89.5 ( September-October 2001): 166-171.
Sometime in the year 1924 a precocious French poet named René Daumal soaked … a handkerchief in carbon tetrachloride— a powerful anaesthetic he used for his beetle collection.  The sixteen-year-old Daumal held it to his nostrils and inhaled. Instantly he felt himself “thrown brutally into another world,” a strange other dimension of geometric forms and incomprehensible sounds, in which his mind “traveled too fast to drag words along with it” (Daumal, Powers of the Word 164).
It was his first encounter with what he would later call “absurd evidence”— “proof” that another existence lies beyond the conscious mind. Obsessed with the mystery of death, René was determined to peek at “the great beyond.” When the anaesthetising effects of the fumes proved too great, René’s hand would drop from his face. He would then regain consciousness, his mind reeling— and his head aching— from its recent plunge into somewhere else.
René repeated his experiment many times, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, always with the same result: the conviction that he had briefly entered “another world,” one infinitely more real than our everyday reality.

The impression may be given from the above that Daumal suddenly took it into his head to experiment, but this was not strictly true.  He had had a rather morbid interest in spiritual aspects from an early age:

Daumal had  an obsession with death, which started when he was six years old …. René kept himself awake, caught in a stranglehold of “nothingness.”  This early confrontation with the void led to exhausting experiments with entering dreams while still awake and strenuous attempts at “lucid dreaming,” It would also lead to his teenage attempts at suicide, as well as the basic themes of his first collection of poetry, Counter Heaven, for which he won an esteemed literary prize in 1935.

Daumal was born in Boulzicourt, Ardennes, France.  Daumal’s paternal grandfather, Antoine Daumal, was a Mason who began his own esoteric lodge. When Daumal's family moved to Reims and entered the boy in the lycée, René met Roger Vailland, Robert Meyrat, and Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, who with René started the Simplists.  The Simplists conducted various experiments in parapsychology and magic, what the group called “experimental metaphysics,” some of which included the use of hashish and opium. In one experiment, Daumal walked alone for hours with his eyes closed, avoiding the obstacles in his path.

Other experiments included out of body, shared dreams, precognition, and a form of second sight the group called “paroptic vision.”  The last type of experiment was often conducted under the supervision of their lycée professor, René Maublanc. Maublanc had himself conducted experiments with the author Jules Romain, who had found that if the eyes were closed or blindfolded, a kind of sight could develop.

What is clear from the many descriptions of Rene is that he was actually naturally gifted and his use of inhalants and drugs was not, in some senses needed. 

In the experiments he undertook with his teacher, for example, René was able to determine the identity of objects whilst wearing tight-fitting, thick, blackened glasses, rather like underwater goggles. During these sessions Maublanc would hypnotise René, who would then hold his hands near the objects. Daumal could not only “see” the objects, but also see the images on book covers and even sense colours.

In 1925, René entered the prestigious Lycée Henri-IV in Paris, to prepare for examinations to enter the École Normale Supérieure.  Along with his work in mathematics, philosophy and science, Daumal also studied Sanskrit, mastering the language in three years, composing a grammar and beginning several translations. Daumal also read the works of René Guénon and wrote a series of essays on Indian aesthetics, posthumously published as Rasa (1982). 

As a consequence of a fall in 1927, Daumal had a period of amnesia, which prevented him from taking his entrance examinations, so he began a course of “free studies” in philosophy at the Sorbonne. There he met the Siberian-born, naturalized American Vera Milanova, who would later become his wife.

Lanza Del Vasto, Véra & René Daumal (1941).

With the poet André Rolland de Reneville and the other Simplists, the nineteen-year-old Daumal started the literary review Le Grand Jeu (The Big Game).  The founders [all much the same age as Daumal] called for a “Revolution of Reality returning to its source” and claimed to speak the same word as “uttered by the Vedic Rishis, the Cabbalist Rabbis, the prophets, the mystics, the great heretics of all time and the true Poets” (Daumal, Powers of the Word 6).

The Surrealist André Breton, openly criticised Le Grand Jeu for its ideological failings, but the review was relatively short lived anyway. By 1929, Daumal's childhood friend Roger Gilbert-Lecomte had succumbed to the drug addiction that would eventually kill him. Daumal himself was barely scratching out an existence, living in poverty, losing his teeth, and feeling the ravages of his various experiments. The third issue of the review would be its last.

Lachman, Gary. "Climbing Mount Analogue." Quest  89.5 ( September-October 2001): 166-171.
If all René Daumal did in his short life was to experiment with drugs and write poetry, he probably would not be remembered today, except by students of obscure French literature. But unlike so many other youthful travelers into “the beyond,” before his death Daumal managed to capture some of the insights gleaned from his dangerous interior journeys. Nowhere did Daumal come closer to communicating most clearly something of the strange “other” reality that he observed in his harmful adolescent experiments ... than in his last, unfinished novel, Mount Analogue (1952).
Symbolizing a “way to truth” that “cannot not exist,” Mount Analogue towers above the everyday world like a spiritual Everest. .... Jettisoning the uncertain “heights” of drugs by 1939, when he first contemplated the novel, Daumal had been for many years a student of the teachings of the enigmatic Armenian G. I. Gurdjieff, communicated through Gurdjieff’s long-time disciples Alexandre and Jeanne de Salzmann.

which does not sound too promising.  De Salzmann’s relationship with Gurdjieff was ‘ambiguous’. At the time of the former’s death, Gurdjieff had cut off all communication with him.  When the twenty-one-year-old Daumal met de Salzmann, the latter was making a living as an interior decorator and antique dealer. Despite this  ‘René and Vera spent endless nights talking with de Salzmann about Gurdjieff and the work’.  Salzmann appears in fictional form in two of Daumal’s allegorical novels, A Night of Serious Drinking (1938) and Mount Analogue.

All during this time Daumal’s health was deteriorating further— his rotting teeth were pulled and he became deaf in his left ear. He earned his keep by contributing to L’Encyclopédie Française and through freelance translation. Among other works, he translated D. T. Suzuki’s three-volume Essays on Zen Buddhism into French. 

In 1938 Daumal was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He rejected treatment and flatly refused to enter a sanitarium. In 1940 Germany invaded France. Vera was Jewish, and for his remaining years, Daumal eked out an increasingly precarious existence, constantly on the run from the Gestapo and the Vichy government.  In 1941 tubercular arthritis developed in his left foot. Two years later a synovial tumour erupted and the resulting infection caused excruciating pain. For the last six months of his life Daumal was unable to walk. In the end malnourishment and a punishing habit of chain-smoking Gauloise cigarettes killed him. In April 1944 Daumal died.

Daumal - Powers of the Word
if in return for the acceptance of serious illness or disabilities, or of a very perceptible abbreviation of the physical life-span, we could acquire one certainty, it would not be too high a price to pay.

 

References

  • Mount Analogue is subtitled A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing - Led by the Professor of Mountaineering, Pierre Sogol, eight adventurers board the yacht Impossible to discover the invisible but “absolutely real” Mount Analogue. Though it is hidden from ordinary eyes, Sogol pinpoints its location through a series of supra-logical deductions involving the curvature of space.  The crew eventually arrive, set up camp, and begin the ascent, along the way discovering the strange, nearly invisible crystals called “peradams, ” which are intended to symbolize the truths discovered on the spiritual path. 
    Mount Analogue was never finished, but before his death, Daumal left an outline of the novel’s remaining chapters. “At the end,” he said, “ I want to speak at length of one of the basic laws of Mount Analogue. To reach the summit, one must proceed from encampment to encampment. But before setting out for the next refuge, one must prepare those coming after to occupy the place one is leaving. Only after having prepared them, can one go on up"
  • A Fundamental experiment - describes his experiences with the inhalants

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