- Henri Michaux.
- Henri Michaux: Experimentation With Signs | Royal Holloway, University of London
- Michaux, Henri 1899-1984
- Henri Michaux.
Basel, Sandoz From a young age, Henri Michaux b.
His life and work were based on a constant process of self-exploration. This Didaktika online section explores his forays into the subconscious, his bonds with other cultures, and the importance he placed on music, written language and the painting medium. Do you want to learn what your self is? Withdraw to your inside. An important part of this search focused on finding ways to establish a connection with his subconscious, in an attempt to free himself from self-control and to experiment with the artistic creativity that such introspection can lead to. To that end, Michaux experimented with a variety of techniques, such as meditation and guided daydreams, which allowed him to reach altered states of consciousness.
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He also engaged occasionally in a controlled consumption of substances such as mescaline, in collaboration with professionals in the field of psychiatry, and notably doctor Julian de Ajuriaguerra, whom he befriended in Paris in the s. Michaux did not paint directly under their influence; the speed and dynamism of the visions he experienced made such an attempt difficult.
He was, however, able to jot down some notes that only he could understand, and would paint once the effects had become minimal or had subsided, as a memory and testimony of the experience. He met Michaux in Paris and collaborated on his mescaline experiments by documenting and analyzing the effects of this substance on the artist.
Based on these experiences he wrote and published, together with F. Mescaline is a psychoactive substance obtained from plants that can be found in certain varieties of cactus, such as peyote cactus, which has been used by Native Americans for both medicinal and ritual purposes. Consumption of this substance—which can have adverse effects—extended to Western society in the 19th century, around the time of the birth of psychiatry as a field of medicine.
Doctors, thinkers, and artists would use it in numerous experiments. At last his voyage[ As a young man, Henri Michaux discovered that in order to progress towards self-knowledge he would first need to free himself of the socio-cultural barriers that shaped his way of thinking. This would lead him to explore non-western cultures and primitive art, and to become a tireless traveler who would journey through various continents.
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Of all his travels, his trip to Asia in —31 would have the strongest effect on his work. It also sparked his lifelong interest in Eastern art, culture, and philosophy. Music, the art of behavior […] Eight minutes of folk music say more about an unknown people than a hundred pages of notes and writings. By means of words, signs, drawings. Mescaline, the subject explored. An exploration or an encounter? An encounter with mescaline: an encounter with our own selves, with the known-unknown. A great gift of the gods, mescaline is a window through which we look out upon endless distances where nothing ever meets our eye but our own gaze.
There is no I: there is space, vibration, perpetual animation. Battles, terrors, elation, panic, delight: is it Michaux or mescaline? It was all already there in Michaux, in his previous books. Mescaline was a confirmation.
Michaux can say: I left my life behind to catch a glimpse of life. It all begins with a vibration. An imperceptible movement that accelerates minute by minute. Wind, a long screeching whistle, a lashing hurricane, a torrent of faces, forms, lines. Everything falling, rushing forward, ascending, disappearing, reappearing. A dizzying evaporation and condensation. Bubbles, more bubbles, pebbles, little stones. Rocky cliffs of gas. Lines that cross, rivers meeting, endless bifurcations, meanders, deltas, deserts that walk, deserts that fly.
Disintegrations, agglutinations, fragmentations, reconstitutions. Shattered words, the copulation of syllables, the fornication of meanings. Destruction of language. Mescaline reigns through silence - and it screams! A return to vibrations, a plunge into undulations. Repetitions: mescaline is an "infinity-machine". Nothing is fixed. Avalanches, the kingdom of uncountable numbers, accursed proliferation.
Henri Michaux: Experimentation With Signs | Royal Holloway, University of London
Gangrenous space, cancerous time. Battered by the gale of mescaline, sucked up by the abstract whirlwind, the modern westerner finds absolutely nothing to hold on to. He has forgotten the names, God is no longer called God. The Aztec or the Tarahumara had only to pronounce the name, and immediately the presence would descend, in all its infinite manifestations. Unity and plurality for the ancients.
For us who lack gods: pullulation and time. All we have left is "causes and effects, antecedents and consequences". Space teeming with trivialities. Miserable miracle. Michaux's first encounter with mescaline ends with the discovery of an "infinity-machine".
Michaux, Henri 1899-1984
The endless production of colours, rhythms and forms turns out in the end to be an awesome, absurd flood of cheap trinkets. We are millionaires with vast hoards of fairground junk. The second series of experiments L'infini turbulent provoked unexpected reactions and visions. Subject to continuous physiological discharges and a pitiless psychic tension. The exploration of mescaline, like a great fire or an earthquake, was devastating; all that remained intact was the essential, that which, being infinitely weak, is infinitely strong.
What name can we give this faculty? Is it in fact a faculty, a power, or is it an absence of power, the total helplessness of man? I am inclined to believe it is the latter. This helplessness is our strength. At the last moment, when there is nothing left in us - when self is lost, when identity is lost - a fusion takes place, a fusion with something alien to us that nonetheless is the only thing that is truly ours. 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. 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. Michaux wants something else: "My drug is myself, which Mescaline banishes. 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. For one: "the miserable becomes the appalling miracle".