Just a few lines here about Henri Michaux, a writer who really seems a genius - but, oh, what a quaint and peculiar genius! Some years ago I read his A Barbarian in Asia, and there was a sentence in there - "It would disgust me to own a house" - which serves as the perfect point of entry into the travelogue Ecuador, a thin and fragmentary book based on a journey made in 1927, to which I'd like to turn here.
There is so much I like in this work! His exasperation at Europe, his longing to talk to animals, to love something else than friends and women. And not least, his dread of cities, of vaults:
A mind of a certain size can only feel exasperation towards a city. Nothing can drive it more fully to despair. The walls first of all, and even then all the rest is only so many horrid images of selfishness, mistrust, stupidity, and narrow-mindedness.
No need to memorize the Napoleonic code. Just look at a city and you have it.
Each time I come back from the country, just as I am starting to congratulate myself on my calmness, there breaks out a furor, a rage…
And I come upon my mark, homo sapiens, the acquisitive wolf.
Cities, architectures, how I loathe you!
Great surfaces of vaults, vaults cemented into the earth, vaults set out in compartments, forming vaults to eat in, vaults for sex, vaults on the watch, ready to open fire. How sad, sad… (p.60)
Openness.... and claustrophobia. A theme, it seems to me, that is central to Michaux, or at least to the Michaux that speaks throughout these pages.
And money, there's another theme:
Money, money, one of these days I will say something about you. There is not in this century one poet who will not attribute his actions to the pressure of money. As far back as you want, my life has been in this straitjacket. (p. 63)No, he doesn’t want to accept any gifts, not of things too heavy to carry. He wants to escape. Wish you success, Henri. I hope you still live there somewhere, outside the vaults.
Michaux, Henri (2001) Ecuador: A Travel Journal, Evanston: Northwestern University Press.