Daumal, René 1908–1944

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Daumal, René 1908–1944

PERSONAL: Born March 16, 1908, in Boulzicourt, France; died of tuberculosis, May 21, 1944, in Paris, France; married; wife's name Vera.

CAREER: Novelist, poet, essayist, dramatist, and short-story writer. Cofounder of literary journal Le grand jeu, 1928–c. 1930.

AWARDS, HONORS: Jacques Doucet Prize, 1936, for Le Contre ciel.


Le Contre ciel (poems), Université de Paris (Paris, France), 1936, published as Le contre-ciel: suivi de les dernieres parole du poete, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1970, translated by Kelton W. Knight as Le contre-ciel, Overlook Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Le grande beuverie (novel), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1938, translated by David Coward and E.A. Lovatt as A Night of Serious Drinking, Random House (New York, NY), 1979, reprinted, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2003.

La guerre sainte, Fontaine, 1940, translated by Peter Levi as The Holy War, illustrated by Alan Johnston, Morning Star Publications (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1995, translated by Louise Landes-Levi as The Sacred War, Coronamundi (Bangor, ME), 1997.

(Translator, with Jean Herbert and Camille Rao) Aurobindo Ghose, La Kena upanishad, A. Maisonneuve (Paris, France), 1943.

(Translator) Ernest Hemingway, Mort dans l'aprè-midi = Death in the Afternoon, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1949, published in Nouvelles et récits, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1963.

Le Mont Analogue (novel), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1952, translated by Roger Shattuck as Mount Analogue: An Authentic Narrative, Stuart (London, England), 1959, published as Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1960, reprinted, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2004.

Essais et notes (essays), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1953, reprinted in two volumes, 1972.

Chaque fois que l'aube paraît, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1953.

Poésie noire, poésie blanche (poems), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1954.

(With Carlo Suarès and Joë Bousquet) Critique de la raison impure: et les paralipomènes de la comedie psychologique, 1955, reprinted, Stock (Brussels, Belgium), 1975.

René Daumal: letters à ses amis, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1958.

Le lyon rouge: suivi de la empete des cygnes, Collège de Pataphysique (Paris, France), 1963.

René Daumal, edited by Jean Biès, Seghers (Paris, France), 1967.

Tu t'es toujours trompé, Mercure de France (Paris, France), 1970, translated by Thomas Vosteen as You've Always Been Wrong, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1995.

Bharata: l'origine du théâtre: la poésie et la musique en Inde, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1970.

L'évidence absurde (1926–1934), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1972.

Les pouvoirs de la parole (1935–1943), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1972.

Le grand jeu: collection complète (collection of articles), 1977.

Mugle (also see below), Éditions Fata Morgana (Montpellier, France), 1978, reprinted, 1995.

René Daumal; ou, Le retour à soi: textes inédits de René Daumal: études sur son oeuvre, L'Originel (Paris, France), 1981.

Rasa; or, Knowledge of the Self: Essays on Indian Aesthetics and Selected Sanskrit Studies, New Directions (New York, NY), 1982.

La Langue sanskrite: grammaire, poésie théâtre, L'Originel (Paris, France), c. 1985.

A Fundamental Experiment, translated by Roger Shattuck, Hanuman Books (New York, NY), 1987.

The Lie of the Truth: And Other Parables from The Way of Liberation, translated by Phil Powrie, Hanuman Books (New York, NY), 1989.

The Powers of the Word: Selected Essays and Notes, 1927–1943, translated by Mark Polizzotti, City Lights Books (San Francisco, CA), 1991.

Correspondence, three volumes, edited and with annotations by H.J. Maxwell, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1992–96.

Je ne parle jamais pour ne rien dire: lettres de René Daumal à Artür Harfaux, Éditions Le Nyctalope (Amiens, France), 1994.

Fragment inédits, 1932–99: Premiere etape vers la grand beuverie, Eolienne (Arcueil, France), 1996.

René Daumal's Mugle; and, The Silk, E. Mellen Press (Lewiston, NY), 1997.

Chroniques cinématographiques: 1934 (Aujourd'hui), Au Signe de la Licorne (Clermont-Ferrand, France), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: René Daumal is known for his writings on spirituality and perception. He spent his youth in the company of several artists called Simplists, who delved into psychological exploration and used drugs. Daumal's own use of carbon tetrachloride, though nearly fatal, later inspired him to write A Fundamental Experiment, an essay in which he traces the expansion of his consciousness from simple awareness to drug-induced intuition to a renewed consciousness in which his perceptions were rationalized.

Daumal continued to concern himself with spiritual matters and altered states of consciousness in Le Contre ciel a collection of poems which earned him the Prix Jacques Doucet. By this time Daumal, under the tutelage of Gurdjieff disciple Alexandre de Salzmann, had taught himself Sanskrit and established himself as a Hindu scholar with translations of several sacred texts. But his greatest achievement from the 1930s is probably Le grande beuverie (later translated as A Night of Serious Drinking), a satire on French society in which the author poses the ascendance of a higher spiritual plane as an alternative to a superficial life. At his death, Daumal left unfinished Le Mont Analogue (translated as Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing), a novel in which he contends that transcendental knowledge is attained through an understanding of reality and communion with others.

A Night of Serious Drinking and Mount Analogue remain Daumal's most accomplished works, though since his death in 1944 many of his other writings have been published. While Michael Wood, writing in the New York Review of Books, pointed out that Daumal was not the equal of satirist Jonathan Swift, he added in his review of Le grande beuverie that there are "remarkable moments" in the book and some "fine touches of visionary realism." Reviewing the English translation of this book, Listener critic Malcolm Bowie asserted: "It is extraordinary that a work as intelligent as this, and one that enlists wit and satire in such a variety of unusual causes, should have had to wait so long before gaining, even in France, a more than minimal readership." Several critics of Mount Analogue have commented, too, that as a literary work it has some shortcomings. However, as Leon S. Roudiez stated in the New York Times Book Review, "the mature reader will be more intrigued by the mind of the author than impressed by his literary accomplishments." New York Herald Tribune Book Review writer Vernon Hall, Jr. praised the "wit and clarity of the prose, [which] reads as easily as a superior piece of Science Fiction."



Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Volume 14, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.


Choice, March, 1980, review of A Night of Serious Drinking, p. 79; January, 1996, F.C. St. Aubyn, review of You've Always Been Wrong, p. 798.

Listener, November 22, 1979, Malcolm Bowie, "Raising the Glass," review of A Night of Serious Drinking, pp. 712-713.

Modern Language Review, October, 1999, Jocelyn Dupont, review of René Daumal's Mugle; and, The Silk, p. 1111.

Nation, August 20, 1960, David L. Norton, "Return to the Heart's Longing," review of Mount Analogue: An Authentic Narrative, pp. 95-96.

New York Herald Tribune Book Review, August 14, 1960, Vernon Hall, Jr., review of Mount Analogue, p. 6.

New York Review of Books, April 17, 1980, Michael Wood, "The Great Game," review of A Night of Serious Drinking, pp. 41-43.

New York Times Book Review, July 10, 1960, Leon S. Roudiez, review of Mount Analogue, p. 26.

Publishers Weekly, August 27, 1979, review of A Night of Serious Drinking, p. 373.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 2005, Tim Feeney, review of Mount Analogue, p. 141.

Times Literary Supplement, October 25, 1996, Ian Pindar, "The Guru and the Gas," review of You've Always Been Wrong, p. 26; October 17, 1997, Ian Pindar, "The Last of Nath," review of Correspondance, p. 13.

Village Voice, February 11, 1980, Robert Richman, "Pwatt's Progress," review of A Night of Serious Drinking, pp. 40-41; October, 1989, Sally S. Eckhoff, "Little Bits," review of A Fundamental Experiment, p. 67.