Capturing any moment with words is a difficult, possibly impossible thing to do. This idea is described by Iris Murdoch’s Hugo Belfounder, Wittgenstein in his later years, and critics in their criticisms of how effectively an artist has conveyed his or her intentions. I feel that Henri Michaux’s Miserable Miracle is in a sense, an attempt to convey a phenomenon through language, to convey his experience with psychedelic substances through words. In his experience with not one but two hallucinogenic substances, Michaux’s recounting seems like a dialogue on so many levels and different manners in trying to accurately re-explain his original, “tangible” text (Michaux 5).
This conveyance seemed to be clearest when Michaux tries to describe for the reader such things as “what you see ...view middle of the document...
However, these vivid descriptions are often followed by abstract notions, specifically in this case the crystallization of “any amount of crystals”; this is one way in which I am often left grasping (or gasping) for a semblance of logic or reason in Michaux’s recounting (Michaux 58).
Reading this work is a wonderful experience or a nightmare, depending on the purpose of reading required. On the one hand, as a highly descriptive account of a personal experience of the drug mescaline, Michaux’s work seems a masterpiece. With three works written over the course of three years, a psychoanalyst might consider this book a treasure trove of insights into the inner workings of various mental disorders and experiments, as Michaux himself notes. However, I am left with so many loose ends when attempting to make some, any kind of literary sense of this work.
The foreword is a mystery, insofar as the opening sentences that introduce the book are convoluted and fragmented: “by means of words, signs, drawings. Mescaline, the subject explored” (Michaux 5). Yet, Michaux not only explores mescaline and its effects, but seems almost to develop an entity within the drug itself. In the imperative voice of language, we often find that the subject of a command is implicit, yet unwritten. In the same sense, Michaux almost converses with the entity of the experience of mescaline, evident in his responses of “Enough. I’ve understood…don’t give it ideas”; “Mescaline will realize them”; and “Never offer yourself…for what Mescaline does to it is frightful” (Michaux 11, 65, 129). That a drug is not only personified, but reacts, enacts, and “undulates” Michaux is a strange idea that makes us question whether the purpose of his work was not merely to explore, but to create in a literary sense.