Reader, perhaps it is hatred you wish me to invoke at the outset of this work! What makes you think that you will not sniff - drenched in numberless pleasures, for as long as you wish, with your proud nostrils, wide and thin, as you turn over on your belly like a shark, in the beautiful black air, as if you understood the importance of this act and the equal importance of your legitimate appetite, slowly and majestically - its red emanations. I assure you, they will delight the two shapeless holes of your hideous muzzle, if you endeavour beforehand to inhale, in three thousand consecutive breaths, the accursed conscience of the Eternal One! Your nostrils, which will dilate immeasurably in unspeakable contentment, in motionless ecstasy, will ask nothing better of space, for they will be full of fragrance as if of perfumes and incense; for they will be glutted with complete happiness, like the angels who dwell in the peace and magnificence of pleasant Heaven. (p. 30)Note: This originally was intended to be part of a private correspondence, so there will be a slightly different slant here, not to mention that it's much shorter than what I typically write these days.
I am glad that I was made aware of this proto-surrealist work by Isidore Ducasse/Lautréamont. Written in the late 1860s, it is in turns shocking, repulsive, and grotesquely fascinating. It is the literary equivalent of the prurient adult who rubbernecks to see the horrendous automobile crash. It is a novel for those who want to hate the misanthropic narrator, while they end up finding themselves horrified by the reactions that the novel inspires in them. There is such an element of decadence in this story that it anticipates the Decadents themselves by a generation. No wonder Maldoror has influenced Dali, Ernst, and Verlaine.
The eponymous narrator reminds me of a more world-weary Melmoth the Wanderer. He's done all things, fucked all things, and ennui washes all over him. He is the spirit of Rebellion against order and morality (interestingly enough, Lautréamont, using his real name of Ducasse, writes a complete rebuttal that is attached as an appendix of sorts to the English-language translation, called Poems). There is no "plot" to speak of in this quasi-poem told in six books. Maldoror glories in his perversions in such a way that the reader perhaps might find him/herself unwittingly cheering him on. It is a very unsettling book, one that (at least in English translation) uses the elevated language of the Romantics to create a character who shifts with the tides of time, one who the authorities are hunting down but who will never be caught, a sort of a darker and yet more romanticized version of Milton's Satan.
It is certain to haunt my dreams. I suspect it'll continue to provide inspiration for dozens of illustrators and artists who want to touch upon that dark quality that makes this work unsettling 140 years after its publication.