Review of my book: Rene Daumal, The Life and Work of a Mystic Guide

Here is a review of my book on the French Surrealist author: Rene Daumal, The Life and Work of a Mystic Guide, published by SUNY Press in 1999 and in Paris in 1993, Rene Daumal: Au dela de l’Horizon.  I will present it in two successive blogs. Here is the first half. Please share your feedback in the “Comment” box below… That helps the viability of my blog!

Daumal: The Life and Work of a Mystic Guideby Kathleen Ferrick Rosenblatt (NY: State Universityof New York Press, 1999).Reviewed by Lee IrwinAssociate Professor, Religious Studies, College ofCharleston, Charleston, SC (IrwinL@CofC.Edu)This overview by Kathleen Rosenblatt is an excellent introduction to the writing and life of the French avant-guarde poet and esotericist Ren Daumal (1908-1944). While Daumal has received considerable recognition in France, in America this book, a revision of the original French publication, is a primary introduction to his work. Ms. Rosenblatt offers the reader a very well integrated presentation ofDaumal’s life, organized according to the stages of his spiritual development. Drawing heavily on his letters and correspondences, personal interviews with his associates, and his published works (particularly the poetic collection Le Contre Ciel, and his two prose works, La Grande Beuverie (A Night of Serious Drinking)and Mount Analogue), she draws an intimate portrait of his inner development.Daumal’s life passed through a number of stages: from his literary debates with early French surrealists, to his study of Sanskrit and Hindu sacred and aesthetic texts, to the impact of Rene Gunon and later, Alexandre de Salzmann and his wife Jeanne who were followers of the Armenian-Turkish master, George Gurdjieff. Daumal’s tragic death at 36 from tuberculosis during the deprivations of the second world war brought to a sudden end his lifelong quest for the Beyond. In the May 1968 student uprisings at the Sorbonne, the author notes the rediscovery of Daumal, whose iconoclastic quotes were written on the walls and seemed highly appropriate for the tenor of the sixties.The author strongly emphasizes Daumal’s rebellious asceticism, his youthful rejection of convention, and his search for the “experience of the sacredness of the inner self” (p. 32). At the age of seventeen, Daumal experimented briefly with alcohol, drugs (opium), and inhaling carbon tetrachloride whose effects gave him a brief glimpse of “higher levels of consciousness” but at the price of ruining his lungs. As a young experimentalist, he also studied his dreams, successfully learned to initiate out-of-body experiences, and cultivated various psychic abilities. He became increasingly dissatisfied with the
(photo taken three days before his death)
normative state of “common, foggy perceptions” (p. 35) and was convinced that it was possible to live, ascetically, in a more conscious state of being, one that sought to break the bonds of conventional thinking and perceptions. Having rejected drugs and alcohol, Daumal formed a 1927 literary journal, Le Grande Jeu (“The Great Game”), with several young companions whose articles engaged the writers with surrealist authors such as Jarry and Breton, earlier symbolic and hermetic poets and writers (like Baudelaire and Rimbaud with whom Daumal closely identified), and a general malcontent with the conventionality of the times.Daumal experimented with automatic writing, both satirical and absurdist, rejected dualistic thinking, and came increasingly under the influence of symbolic, imaginary thought, termed “pataphysics” (borrowed from Alfred Jarry), best represented in dreams.During this period, Daumal’s psychic sensitivities became increasingly more active, and he recorded techniques for successfully inducing astral or out-of-body experiences. He also became an acutely sensitive telekinetic, able to “read” objects with his fingertips (using what he called “paraoptic” perception). In attempting to close the gap between a psychicmetaphysics and realpolitiks, Daumal became an avowed Marxist but later questioned the efficacy of Marxism in the face of its caricature in French intellectual circles. In 1932 the journal ceased and Daumal turned to other projects…

 

To be continued in the next blog…!                                         Comments below!

2 comments

  1. Patti Green says:

    Dr. Rosenblatt chronology of Daumal’s life is brilliant! As always, she pulls together the different facets of whomever or whatever she’s reviewing or analyzing and presents it in an interesting, cogent and compelling manner.

  2. Leila says:

    I have had a great intro into Rene Dumal, and look forward to the next blog.

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