The Abyss and the Mountain


Henri Michaux

Not only prophets have visions. Poets also are « seers ». Thus, Henri Michaux. He has gone up to the « silent theater of the heights (…) towards the beyond that appears, disappears and reappears.”i

But what did Michaux really « see »?

The afterlife is not within everyone’s reach. One needs calm eyes, gentle nerves. Rare are the direct witnesses, those who have seen the beyond of the world, the infinite, acute, nascent, initial abyss, rising straight up beyond the heavens, effortlessly eluding all known peaks.

The effort is above all in coming back. The memory is overwhelmed. Intelligence wavers in its doubt. Faith is blind. Returning, whoever has seen it recognizes it here and there, in obscure verses, heard silences, allusive sentences.

In the middle of a page, a word, an echo perhaps, an infinitesimal resonance.

« Perhaps the heavens are opening up.”ii This is not a hypothesis, it is an observation. « An Auguste Presence came to the destitute.” The following question is not formal:

« For the daughter of the mountain

secret, reserved

the apparition was a person,

a goddess? » iii

Then comes the answer:

« especially light,

only light

as light it remained ».

Only word, only light. It’s not much, but it’s everything. Without end, this key opens all doors. Millions of doors.

« Simultaneously

as the ground on the slopes of an awakening volcano tears away

the general unzipping inside and around it took place.

singular retrenchment, unknown

that can’t be compared to anything

……..……………………………… » iv

Michaux, who knows the weight of words, finally gives up and multiplies the « suspension points », as many points as it takes to equal the last line.

Perhaps they are more suitable than ‘unzipping’?

The poet takes the risk of words. He tries to say what he may not have seen, what he may have sensed. He embarks on a narrow path, in the Paris of the avenues, the city of lights. He calls for his help, the skilful writer, words in capital letters:

« In the young and pure face, the initiated gaze,

Mirror of Knowledge

contemplation of the True, ignored by others ».v

The ‘True’! The ‘Knowledge’!

How daring to say these words in a nominalist time!

Capital letters are used to dot the page:

LAMP vi

How could Michaux, with his capital letters, have lived in « modern » times? There is so much inaudibility, so much darkness in the false lights.

And who is this « daughter of the mountain »?

Perhaps it is Pârvatî, daughter of Himavân (the Himalayas), and wife of Çiva? Indeed, in Sanskrit Pârvatâ means « of the mountain ».

Perhaps Lokenath Bhattacharya had spoken about her to Michaux?

Or, more likely, was it Rita of Cascia, born in Umbria in the Middle Ages, and beatified by Urban VIII?

The end of the text is in fact hagiographical, and includes some elements from the life of the saint:

« Near the inert stranger

became helpful

we come for LIFE.”vii

Capital letters, again, this is a serious matter. Michaux found his mistress in vision, without mescaline, — and he asks questions:

« To whom does the supernatural appear?

Commonly to children, not at all brilliant, far from the cities, from the walls. Not very enviable, one would not distinguish them, neither too studious, nor very pious, without any special quality, from a modest environment, knowing especially the discomfort, in a small lost village. They are not liars.”viii

But the appearance does not stop there. The vision is only a step. There is the rest. The healing, which strikes the crowds, and even the devious clergymen:

« And who heals? In whom does the supernatural healing take place? »

We are no longer in the realm of convention. Already in their afterlife.

« In a multi-religious country, while many pious people pray in vain near the tomb of a Catholic monk, as they themselves are, a Shiite woman who knows nothing about the Christian religion is healed in the moment (but does not convert). She had confidence and a faith as one should have it, overwhelming, a rare, exceptional treasure.”ix

Michaux wonders: « In whom exactly did she have faith? Secret.”x

Can « modern » people help to see things clearly?

« What about scientists?

One day perhaps, taking the embarrassing problem from another angle, science will find in the brain, thanks to a more precise location of a point in the organism that controls a self-healing function (under the effect of intense emotion), and will in turn approach the miracle with its own means and will even want to produce it coldly, in some cases replacing in its own way the exaltation of faith. Spoiling here, improving there in the unexpected, opening the door to new mysteries.”xi

Miracle, exaltation, unexpected, mystery: all the words point to still other questions. There is never an end to it. It’s better this way. The victories (in this case putative) of science would be, in this matter, pyrrhic. Or a miracle point nested at the bottom of the pineal gland. What if it is? Why does this point activate? Under the effect of an « intense emotion »? But where does this emotion come from? What creates it, what gives it its energy? The body is not an island. The soul is linked to the body, a little, and to the beyond, even more so, if we believe the « daughter of the mountain ».

Not that she said anything later. She discouraged questions. She avoided declarations of faith. Her silence still speaks.

« If she doesn’t speak any more,

it is out of respect

for Unknown Beauty

from the sight of which she was gratified

to which it was united, conjugated

Beauty as knowledge

a higher degree of knowledge. »xii

Michaux. Pârvâti. Rita.

An improbable line linking worlds, times. This great poet, lost in the century, wanders for a long time in « abysses », and recognizes the strength of what is born of the mountain.

_____

iHenri Michaux. Fille de la montagne. (1984) [Text dedicated to Lokenath Bhattacharya]. (in Œuvres complètes, t.3, Gallimard, 2004, p.1290)

iiIbid. p.1291

iiiIbid. p.1291

ivIbid.p.1291

vIbid.p.1292

viIbid.p.1292

viiIbid.p.1293

viiiIbid.p.1298

ixIbid.p.1299

xIbid.p.1299

xiIbid.p.1299

xiiIbid.p.1292

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