Life in the Folds by Henri Michaux, translated by Darren Jackson / ISBN 9781939663061 / small 168-page paperback with flaps from Wakefield Press
Life in the Folds, originally published in French in 1949, is the Belgian-born author and artist Henri Michaux’s (1899-1984) most direct exploration of the many forms of suffering, a laboratory of fantastical, destructive energies in which the poet presents his methods for dealing with the world around him. The first two sections offer such items as the Slapping Gun and the Man Sling and present scenarios that call for defensive measures such as the "Constellation of Jabs" or “The Trepanned Patient.” Also included is one of Michaux's more complex fantastical-anthropological travelogues, “Portrait of the Meidosems,” an account of the ways and manners of a population of vague ectoplasmic figures, anguished filaments of sorts that struggle to exist but are never allowed to sit still. This volume charts a turning point in Michaux's life and in the world, where his earlier depictions of visualized psychology and suffering found representation in a traumatized Europe. Imbued by the war years, the Occupation and the horror of the concentration camps, Life in the Folds also bears the scars of Michaux’s own personal catastrophe—the loss of his wife, who had died of “atrocious burns” the previous year—and concludes with the autobiographical text, “Old Age of Pollagoras,” a wearied testament uttered before a haunted “plain of death.”
Through travel journals, prose poems, and incantatory exorcisms, Henri Michaux (1899–1984) built an unsettling world of aggression, fear, hostility, and paranoia, whose fantastical landscapes and fabulist beings delineate a space of psychological and cognitive discomfort all too contemporary. In 1956 he continued his controlled explorations of the self with a series of mescaline experiments, which he documented in a series of books over the next decade. Michaux’s writing was paralleled by his lifelong commitment to painting and drawing.
“[A] masterpiece of concision and pain. It is a literary achievement that can stand with the best works of Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline.”
—Karl Wolff, New York Journal of Books
“[A] collection of prose poems and nightmarish travelogues deftly translated by Darren Jackson.”
—Dan Shurley, The Los Angeles Review