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Why Not Adventure Elsewheres (with Michaux!)

By Harriet Staff

Claude Cahun - Henri Michaux 1691

Ah, Paris—the city of heavenly delights! Why not take a voyage there, with Hyperallergic, to find the new Henri Michaux retrospective: “Adventure of the symbols.” (Looks don’t disappoint!) From Hyperallergic

PARIS — Mind-blowing drugs are nothing new in French culture. Indeed, Simone de Beauvoir reported in The Prime of Life that Jean-Paul Sartre had a medically supervised mescaline injection in 1935, along with an unnamed intern. Sartre reported seeing lobsters, orangutans, and houses gnashing their jaws. The intern reported virtually romping through a meadow of nymphs. The following year, in 1936, Antonin Artaud, through his friend the painter Federico Cantú Garza, went to Mexico to live and study the ways of the Tarahumaran people. There he took peyote, recording his experience in a volume called The Peyote Dance. But apparently things really took off in the middle of the dreadfully conservative 1950s.

In Adventure of the symbols, a retrospective show of thirty India ink drawings by poet, journalist, and artist Henri Michaux at Galerie Berthet-Aittouarès, I found Michaux building on his mid-1950s mescaline inspired breakthrough drawings loosely called “Dessin mescalinien” (Mescaline Drawing) (1956–57). They are shimmering dark drawings done during various phases of neurological excitement induced by mescaline. That the work was electrified by ingesting mescaline (the active ingredient of the peyote cactus) is well known through Michaux’s own 1950s books: Miserable Miracle: Mescaline (originally published in French in 1956 and first translated into English in 1967), Turbulent Infinity (1957) and Paix dans les brisements (1959). (For more on the neurological excitement induced by mescaline in the 50s as it may affect the creative mind, see Aldous Huxley’s 1954 publication The Doors of Perception, a well-known account Huxley wrote after taking mescaline in 1953 under the guidance of the Canadian psychiatrist and researcher Humphrey Osmond.)

Adventure on in the land of magic—to Hyperallergic!

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, June 5th, 2014 by Harriet Staff.