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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

Miserable Miracle

Henri Michaux

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To purchase Miserable Miracle

Title: Miserable Miracle
Author: Henri Michaux
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1956 (Eng. 1963)
Length: 182 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Miserable Miracle - US
Miserable Miracle - UK
Miserable Miracle - Canada
Misérable miracle - Canada
Misérable miracle - France
Unseliges Wunder - Deutschland
  • French title: Misérable miracle
  • Translated by Louise Varèse
  • Includes Addenda from 1968-1971, translated by Anna Moschovakis
  • With an Introduction by Octavio Paz
  • With numerous illustrations

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting -- to the extent that drug-experience accounts can be

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       In Miserable Miracle, Henri Michaux describes his almost clinical experiments with mescaline (much as Aldous Huxley did in his drug-books). A visual artist, poet, and writer, he describes himself as "more the water-drinking type" than someone who casually or frequently indulges in any sort of intoxicants. But he's willing to explore, and he begins with the explanation:

This book is an exploration. By means of words, signs, drawings. Mescaline, the subject explored.
       What is presented here is, as he admits, a text refashioned out of the original manuscript, written -- or scribbled and drawn -- while under the influence, "more tangible than legible." Numerous drawings and several of the written pages are, fortunately, reproduced, and they are among the most impressive things in the book, suggesting more than the almost neutral printed words can how his body and mind were affected.
       The text offers descriptions of his drugged state, with marginal explanatory annotations. There are some interesting observations: the dominance of colour, for example, and with it a loss of sound: "Sensibility on one side calls for insensibility on the other" (though Michaux does not wonder whether it is because he is a visual artist (rather than, say, a musician) that this is his experience).
       The drug is a powerful thing, but he is more disturbed by it than pleased, especially its unforgiving purity. In his case, he finds that the effects are "so wholly visual that they are vehicles of the purely mental, of the abstract " -- which isn't his cup of tea at all. He condemns mescaline -- though note that others might not find these to be faults:
     Mescaline diminishes the imagination. It castrates, desensualizes the image. It makes images that are a hundred percent pure. Laboratory experiments.
       As the reader may have guessed, Michaux finds: "this is not the drug for me." (The lingering effects also don't help.) Michaux wants something else: "My drug is myself, which Mescaline banishes."
       After the mescaline experiments, Michaux describes trying hashish -- for comparative purposes, of course. It's an effective contrast. Nevertheless, he tries mescaline again, though this time: "through an error of calculation I swallowed six times what is for me a sufficient dose." The megadose leads, along with some of the expected results, to unexpected ones as well. For one: "the miserable becomes the appalling miracle".
       The experience is even more unsettling, and fairly well conveyed. Additional remarks, and the Addenda (from 1966-71) add to overall picture. Michaux moves along fairly quickly, not lingering tiresomely over some of these experiences -- and conveying some of the frenzy and intensity he was confronted with. Again: the pictures (vibrating, often vaginal ink drawings) and the reproduced scrawled notes help give a very good idea of what he is talking about.
       As far as drug-flights-of-fancy go, Michaux's book is fairly successful. Varied, not too long, sensibly critical (or at least suspicious), he's a decent guide (though that six-times-over dose is highly questionable). But here, as elsewhere, he's still more impressive as a visual artist than writer.

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Miserable Miracle: Reviews: Henri Michaux: Other books by Henri Michaux under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French poet and painter Henri Michaux lived from 1899 to 1984.

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© 2004-2010 the complete review

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