GUEST REVIEWER – Surly Joe
- Title: A Night of Serious Drinking
- Author: René Daumal
- ISBN: 0715632752 (ISBN13: 9780715632758)
- Series: Stand Alone
- Published: May 2004 by Gerald Duckworth & Company, Ltd. (first published 1938)
- Genre/s: 20th Century Literature/Philosophy
SYNOPSIS – (From Goodreads) A Night of Serious Drinking is among Rene Daumal’s most important literary works. Like Daumal’s Mount Analogue it is a classic work of symbolic fiction. An unnamed narrator spends an evening getting drunk with a group of friends.; as the party becomes intoxicated and exuberant, the narrator embarks on a journey that ranges from seeming paradises to the depths of pure hell. The fantastic world depicted in A Night of Serious Drinking is actually the ordinary world turned upside down. The characters are called the Anthographers, Fabricators of useless objects, Scienters, Nibblists, Clarificators, and other absurd titles. Yet the inhabitants of these strange realms are only too familiar: scientists dissecting an animal in their laboratory, a wise man surrounded by his devotees, politicians, poets expounding their rhetoric. These characters perform hilarious antics and intellectual games, which they see as serious attempts to find meaning and freedom.
This is going to be easy, I thought. It’s a short book, less than one hundred and twenty pages. It’s got a great title – A Night of Serious Drinking. Sounds amusing, probably a bit comical. I’ll read it in a few days, think about it for a couple more, then pound out a review and maybe celebrate with a drink or two of my own.
Don’t be so quick to judge, the book said back. Just because I’m a small book, don’t assume. You have no idea what you’re in for. First of all, my author, Rene Daumal, who wrote me in 1938, was completely anti-establishment, a poet, a philosopher and a bit drug-addled. Probably on the thin edge between genius and lunacy. So don’t expect anything linear or basic. Second, despite my amusing title, I’m way more complicated than you realize. Sure I appear to have on a superficial level, a tale of a twenty-four hour alcoholic binge, where a group of very drunk people discuss all kinds of topics in a very drunk way, where nothing makes sense but everyone thinks they’re spewing brilliance. That’s the point of Part One, “A laboured dialogue on the power of words and the frailty of thought”.
But when I get into Part Two – “Delusions of paradise” – this is where the satire and the drunken hallucinations begin, the indecipherable scenarios and the made-up words, the strange guided tour to the top of a hill with a view of “palaces in every style, stations, lighthouses, temples, factories, and miscellaneous monuments”. This is where the Fidgeters and Fabricators and Clarificators live, through whom I critique modern society. Sure we’re in an age of progress, but so much is meaningless. We have all kinds of material goods that are loved by the masses, “who worship them without having any idea why”. We have artists and cinema and dance. It’s all “the art of making useless gestures”. We have education, where kids learn everything they need to know through books without ever having to actually experience anything. We have religion, with churches being nothing more than “holy water factories”, where, as you read, the people “were carrying out rites without understanding them, others were explaining rites without performing them”. Do you see what I mean about the complications of this book? It’s like looking at a painting by Dali. If you stare long enough, the clock dripping off the table might just start to make sense. But then it won’t.
And then it’s over. The epic binge is over. After all the philosophizing, the dreaming, the hallucinations, real life commences. As the narrator states, “There were many things to be done towards the business of living”. Part Three is the final part. It is the painful post-drunk emergence into “The cold light of day”.
Was I worth it? The short hundred and twenty pages that you underestimated and assumed would be quick and simple and probably didn’t understand? Read me again and find out. Just like a surrealist painting, I’ll probably be totally different the second time around.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
In his late teens his avant-garde poetry was published in France’s leading journals, and in his early twenties, although courted by André Breton co-founded, as a counter to Surrealism and Dada, a literary journal, “Le Grand Jeu” with three friends, collectively known as the Simplists, including poet Roger Gilbert-Lecomte . He is known best in the U.S. for two novels A Night of Serious Drinking and the allegorical novel Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing both based upon his friendship with Alexander de Salzmann, a pupil of G. I. Gurdjieff.
Daumal was self-taught in the Sanskrit language and translated some of the Tripitaka Buddhist canon into the French language, as well as translating the literature of the Japanese Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki into French.
He married Vera Milanova, the former wife of the poet Hendrik Kramer; after Daumal’s death, she married the landscape architect Russell Page.
Daumal’s sudden and premature death of tuberculosis on 21 May 1944 in Paris may have been hastened by youthful experiments with drugs and psychoactive chemicals, including carbon tetrachloride. He died leaving his novel Mount Analogue unfinished, having worked on it until the day of his death.
In his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom. His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side. After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia, circumstance led to a career back in Toronto. He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.