That’s agreed then. Tabula rasa: everything is true — there is nothing else. The great vertigo of Revolt has sent the phantasmagoria of appearances reeling and tumbling. Illusion shredded, the material world deforms, reforms, appears and disappears at the mercy of the rebel. A black gulf now swirls in place of what was the self, consciousness, the autonomy of the individual. His rolled-back eyes look between strained temples to where a vast, empty steppe stretches out, barred at the horizon by the floes of the old, bleached senses.
He who has renounced everything outside himself just as he has everything inside himself — who thus no longer knows how to distinguish the world outside from the one within — will not stop there. In Revolt, such as we conceive of it, the whole being has a need, profound, all-powerful, organic so to speak (as we shall see, it becomes a force of nature), a power of suction, like a famished octopus, and is always looking for something to swallow up.
What is the nature and form of this march of the mind towards its liberation? The revolt of the individual against himself, by means of any regimen of specific ecstasy (use of intoxicants, auto-hypnotism, paralysis of the nerve centres, vascular disturbances, syphilis, dedifferentiation of the senses, and all the contrivances a superficial mind might adopt out of a simple appetite for destruction), taught him his first lesson. He has perceived that the apparent coherence of the external world — the same world that should, it seems, be differentiated from the world of dreams — collapses at the slightest shock. This coherence is only verifiable by the senses; thus it varies with the state of these senses; it is solely a function of the individual himself and everything happens as if projected from the depths of his consciousness on to the outside world. In general it barely serves to mask the terrible chaos of a darkness illumined only by miracles. By “miracles” we mean those instants in which our soul senses ultimate reality and its final communion with it. More separations between interior and exterior: nothing but illusions, appearances, smoke and mirrors, two-way reflections. The first step towards unity is to discover within oneself the same chaos as that which surrounds us all.
What might constitute spiritual progress in this magma which lacks both space and duration? How can we understand the momentum of the soul in revolt as being any different from immobility, since the movement that we want to manifest within it has no meaning, speed or direction? All we can understand of it is that it is a constant turning back on itself. Put differently, everything must always be a rebeginning. The very image of movement is false. Despairingly, towards the dead point, the still point of his own vibrant interior, the “punctum stans” of the old metaphysicians, the absolute star, there is only the furious will of the whole being who has lost his ego. This concept of will resists all rational analysis. The Western mind is unfamiliar with this form of activity. Only by wholly intuitive methods — by analogy, or better, by Swedenborgian correspondences — might one give an account of it.
A few symbols:
In the primordial night William Blake saw the last of the gods, the Madmen creators, whose breath was worlds. Motionless eternity had spewed them forth. Time had not yet begun to flow. Without end, without hope, sweating blood, howling in agony, they pounded the void.
I have known — on a cottage floor — the moulder of stars. Ordinarily, empty shell, dead gaze. Suddenly one night, eating his fists, he turned on himself, caged hyena. At dawn, he fell down. Seizure, rope stretched from neck to heels, digging into his loins, arching his body. For two days and two nights, without let-up, he shivered, like catgut under the bow, trembling to the rhythm of madness. After the third seizure we rolled him up in a large, off-white sheet and pinned a death notice to it.
But he knew that each of the waves sent out by his quivering body through the infinite ether would hit home, moulding the milky vastness of a nebula. Contracting under the shock, the nebula became light, a star.
He died in an astral splattering.
Yet it remains the work of this present solitary, knowing that eternal happiness has nothing to do with merit but comes down to the colour of one’s eyes, to struggle, for years, by sheer force of will, to change the brown of his irises to sky-blue.
Perhaps symbols like these provide a sense of this appalling work which defeats the human mind. The fact remains that in this march of the mind in revolt towards its reabsorption into unity, nothing can ever be taken for granted. The man who, having suffered a thousand successive deaths, believes himself close to the goal, the end of his path, will suddenly find himself, faced with a given action, in the same vegetative stage as the poor unfortunate who has yet to feel the furious jet of revolt well up within him. He believes, for example, that he has long mastered the temptations of suicide which haunted his adolescence when suddenly some new suffering makes him yearn once more for the cold, vicious kiss of the Browning’s little round mouth upon his brow. Thus, while we might like to define this evolution in terms of successive states, we will not give it a schematic, theoretical representation, but rather fix it arbitrarily, and in fact all its parts will always be found to be linked to all the others.
The state of revolt must succeeded by a state of resignation; and rather than being an abjection, this subsequent resignation will be power itself. (René Daumal, “Freedom without Hope”)
The struggle against everything necessarily includes some wonderful and spontaneous outpourings, a reflection of the positive side of this momentum; the negative, however, is continual sacrifice. Anyone with the deep desire to liberate himself must voluntarily deny all in order to purge the mind, and continuously renounce all in order to empty the heart. Little by little, he must bring about a state of innocence within himself, which is the purity of the void. Without ever stopping. Not even in the midst of revolt. The great danger is that one creates idols and prostrates oneself before them. The man in revolt must never consider his current state as an end in itself. Under the scourge of anguish he must flee it, as he has already fled the brutishness which once weighed on his life. For a revolt which prolongs itself risks becoming an aim in itself. He must know to renounce this aim like all the others.
After direct and violent action the man is now in the position of the gentleman who sets up his armchair (in crimson Utrecht velvet) on the pavement of the public square while it bristles with barricades, and who, sprawled solidly on this pedestal amidst the fire and the clamour, the clash of banners and the cannonades, disdainfully observes the civil war’s raging heroes: the freedoms for which they fight are false, the institutions they destroy will be replaced with others just the same, these are naught but feeble little ministerial crises. And all this vain movement because they have not yet attained his beautiful conception of the void. In the name of God, as long as you live, never look back!
The imbecility of individualism.
The power of rage, the dynamism of revolt, its potential energy, these cannot motivate the actions of a resigned man, since, no longer attached to such actions, he can no longer fix anything of his essential ego to them. He simply maintains this force outside of himself (since he does not repress it in his consciousness, and does not apply it to the actions of his body). In a cosmos that is as full as an egg, where everything acts upon and reacts to everything else, this force cannot rest unused, and thus some trigger, some unknown lever, must now unexpectedly divert this current of violence into another meaning. Or rather a parallel meaning, thanks to a shift on another plane. His revolt must become an invisible Revolt. It must undergo something analogous to the phenomenon we term, in biology, sudden variation. Whoever finds the right approach will suddenly pass beyond human activity. Like a reptile which becomes a bird he will pass from discursive knowledge to the limit of striving-after-immediate-omniscience. And his act of revolt will become a natural power, since he has known in himself the meaning of nature. Here alone is the true power, which subjects beings to its law and makes the person who wields it, in the eyes of men, a Living Cataclysm.
But is this the only solution capable of delivering him from this ancient human anguish? To what do we owe our faith in this march toward the absurd, harried by innumerable difficulties which can be avoided only at the cost of what seem, to the Western mind, to be Byzantine subtleties? The answer is simple. Millennia of experience have taught man that the problem of life has no rational solution. We can escape the horror of life only by a faith, an intuition, an ancient instinct which we must learn to recover in the depths of ourselves. Sound the abyss within you. If you feel nothing, never mind. We have discovered the meaning, in ourselves, of the path we are trying to describe in these pages. Calling all men of good will!
The reptile has tirelessly devoured its anterior limbs, which in primitive eras when there was a great zeal for life, always grew back. But its instincts have not deceived it, for suddenly the cells born at the base of the gaping wounds of its trimmed stumps have changed their function. Soon, in place of its short, twisted front legs, two huge wings, conquerors of the air, push forth. But what deep and obscure desire to fly, what courage in self-mutilation, what absurdity — for where is the connection, the intellect would say, between the desire to fly and the fact of eating one’s own limbs? — has enabled the magnificent soaring of this Father-of-all-Birds?
In his current state, man is inevitably damned to a boundless and abject misery. We are at a human stage, and having realised that, we must surpass it. We will not surpass it by exaggerating its specific characteristics. Life proceeds in its evolution by sudden variations. We must change the direction of our whole enterprise, adopt an approach so original that it disrupts our nature from top to bottom.
There is no shortage of signs proclaiming this necessity. It is nothing new to say that all the social institutions of the West, rotten to the core, deserve every kind of revolution. But in another order of ideas, what fate is reserved for discursive science? If its applications still produce interesting results, where, by contrast, is theoretical science headed? Faced with the accumulation of new discoveries, scientists are finding themselves running out of hypotheses; those placed in the spotlight change on a daily basis (didn’t a professor at the Collège de France recently say, at the start of his course, that he didn’t know if what he was going to teach would still be considered true by the end of it?). One is reduced to appealing to contradictory hypotheses in order to explain different phenomena.
The abstract vanity of the endless rotation of a science devoid of both basis and purpose!
Since Rimbaud, have any of the writers or artists who hold any value for us — they will recognise themselves here — had any goal other than the destruction of “Literature” and “Art”?
The work of any mind worthy of the name can generally be seen to be essentially concerned with the destruction of those idols Truth-Goodness-Beauty and of everything which contributes to the pseudo-reality upon which the hydrocephalic brains of a few latecomers still rely.
Everywhere an imminent need for a change of plan. As to what this new scheme will be, in which our lives will be magnified, it is clearly a state which we have not yet achieved, which we can neither understand nor even conceive of, since we have yet to experience it. From the mere fact that it remains the goal towards which we are striving, it currently appears to us as the absolute.
(Le Grand Jeu 1, pp.12-18)