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The Depraved Book That Teaches You How To Be The Cruelest Person On Earth

 

A few years ago, when the movie The Purge was released, many people started asking themselves, what would you do if, for a few hours, no crime was punished? The film takes this idea to the extreme by showing that while most people would hide in their houses, others would go on a killing spree. That premise has left me wondering, are we human beings really that violent? Do we really need rules to restrict our cruelest drives? Just think about it: even with the rules we have, there are people out there committing atrocities, so what are these norms and social restrictions actually doing?

 

Before the extent of human cruelty was explored in cinema, literature provided us with important takes on the subject. The Marquis de Sade is, perhaps, the most famous author who dealt with this topic. For instance, his 120 Days of Sodom is basically a catalog of the greatest perversions he could come up with. However, he is not the only one who has dared to explore the worst side of the human mind.

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Some decades after de Sade, between 1868 and 1869, Uruguayan-born French author Isidore-Lucien Ducasse, better known as Comte de Lautréamont, created, among his few works, a poetic masterpiece that remains to this day one of the most important reflections on misanthropy and the limits of human cruelty. Les Chants de Maldoror or The Songs of Maldoror is a book with no logical plot, divided into six cantos that focus primarily on the cynic Maldoror, an incarnation of evil who openly rejects God and humanity, so he openly talks about how he witnesses crimes and also commits them.

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“God grant that the reader, emboldened and having become at present as fierce as what he is reading, find, without loss of bearings, his way, his wild and treacherous passage through the desolate swamps of these somber, poison-soaked pages; for, unless he should bring to his reading a rigorous logic and a sustained mental effort at least as strong as his distrust, the lethal fumes of this book shall dissolve his soul as water does sugar.”

 

From the beginning, Maldoror addresses the readers, telling them about what they’re going read in the following pages and inviting them to be as defiant and rebellious as him. Readers are supposed to understand his reflections and follow his instructions to the letter. Ironically, Maldoror insinuates that humanity is so biased by morals and rules that his reflections will end up being either too disturbing to understand, or too enticing and capable of encouraging the most twisted minds to do what they please. Although each episode deals with different instances of cruelty, in most of them Maldoror narrates with an almost religious devotion the suffering of others, how he rejoices in it, and how his condition as an outcast has allowed him to be free from the rules and morality that define society.

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Although the book went almost unnoticed when it was first published, it was rediscovered around the turn of the nineteenth century. In that moment, it set the foundation for Surrealism with its illogical structure, scandalous principles, and bizarre figures of speech. Take for instance how he describes himself:

I am filthy. I am riddled with lice… A family of toads has taken up residence in my left armpit and, when one of them moves, it tickles. Mind one of them does not escape and come and scratch the inside of your ear with its mouth; for it would then be able to enter your brain. In my right armpit there is a chameleon which is perpetually chasing them, to avoid starving to death…” 

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Not only is this character physically stomach-churning, but he also seems to not care about it. His casual tone, his lack of disgust, and the indifference with which he describes himself in a condition that many would consider nauseating is just a taste of the way he reacts to everything bad, including the suffering of others, as well as his. However, as you keep reading Maldoror’s ponderings and views on life, you realize he is actually criticizing the hypocrisy of traditions and established notions of good and beauty. His views are truly extreme. Nevertheless, it’s up to the reader whether they use them as food for thought or as an actual manual on how to be the cruelest person alive.

 

Lautréamont’s greatest work, as well as other writings dealing with similar topics, can be seen as inspiration for great masterpieces, as it was for the Surrealists who read him. They interpreted it as an expression of the human mind without inhibitions. On the other hand, one can also find in Maldoror a role model. Is cruelty inherent to us human beings? A book is not to decide that, but what one decides to do with it.

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Illustrations are from René Magritte’s version of Les Chants de Maldoror

  

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