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  Summer 2012
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Malcolm de Chazal's Sens-Plastique

Jeffery Beam

Malcolm de Chazal.
Green Integer, 2008.
774 pages, $25 (paperback).
ISBN: 1933382678

This work, published in 1948 in France by Mauritian writer Malcolm de Chazal, consist of over two thousand aphorisms and pensées collected from smaller collections published during his life. This is the first complete English translation. Translator Irving Weiss, quotes Chazal elsewhere regarding the creation of this work:

My philosophical position in this work derives from the principle that man and nature are entirely continuous, and that all parts of the human body and all expressions of the human face, including their feelings, can actually be discerned in plants, flowers, and fruits, and to an even greater extent in our other selves, animals. And although minerals are usually considered inanimate, death-like rather than life-like, I would have them also tend towards that supreme synthesis, the human form, especially when they are in motion. "Man was made in the image of God," but beyond that I declare that "Nature was made in the image of man."

But I could never have done this by reasoning. I had to rely on subconscious thinking, the only intuitive resource available to humans—which few of us ever use in an entire lifetime . . . I should add that I could never have learned to think subconsciously without years of ascetic withdrawal. Depriving my body, isolating my self, concentrating my mind and spirit . . . until by stages I had perfected what I consider to be a totally new method of writing.

Words not too surprising from a visionary who can claim a Swedenborgian uncle; whose work was immediately championed by writers such as Auden, Breton, Ponge, and Bataille; and who has been compared to Lautréamont, Rudolf Steiner, and Goethe. Diving into this massive Green Integer "pocket" edition is like diving into a dream, or an Irish healing well. Unlike many aphorists de Chazal's works swims with metaphors and images and vibrant leaping associations. Antonio Porchia's work comes to mind—leaving behind bon mots for sensual epiphanies, crystalline visions, and surrealist revelations. My copy is bejeweled by post-its and slips of torn paper. How does one remember these fantastical insights into a personal, but seductively and generously offered world? De Chazal's is perhaps the most original literary voice I know, beyond Pessoa, beyond Michaux, beyond Blake, beyond Beckett. A taste and I'll just grab from within the first 100 pages:

Our fingers see the night like cats, but we never know it. In order to learn visual information from our fingertips we would have to shut our physical eyes into a psychic gaze as the blind do.

Sexual enjoyment is a greyhound race in which the pursuer collapses in front of the finish line always short of the prey.

Pride tingles the nape of the neck, vanity tingles the loins.

Some day dresses will be woven of glass crystals, shaped into multicolored garments responding to every angle of light. And since color affects form, the hips and breasts of women will become elastic in the sun, heightening man's desire to make him even more passion's slave.

It would be impossible to feel a caress in the round: the axes of perception would cancel each other. Proof a priori is the relatively imperceptible caress of the eyelid on the globe of the eye.

To see absolute black the eye would need a sun in it and an absolute moon to see pure white.

Taste is a one-room house—the mouth. Hearing has the boudoir of the ear, the eyes have the parlor of the cornea, and smell has the long hall of the nose. But the poorest lodged is touch, who lives on the naked plains of the skin like a vagabond in the streets.

We learn most about ourselves only in the school of others. We learn most about others when we face ourselves alone, when we send our innermost being off on vacation. The world is the school of the self; solitude is the school of others.

. . .