René Daumal was a 20th century French poet, novelist, playwright and translator whose work could, mostly, be described as spiritual in nature. Literary critics also used the term para-surrealist. He was well known for his pieces on perception and spirituality and he clearly had strong Eastern influences, being self-taught in the Sanskrit language. He was also a pataphysicist which means that he studied the philosophical possibilities of what might lie beyond the realms of metaphysics. Daumal was an avant-garde poet but he will be best remembered for a novel called Mont Analogue which he was still working on right up to the very day that he died. The book was not published until six years later, in 1952.
He was born on the 16th March 1908 in Boulzicourt, a small town in the Ardennes region of western France. Little is known about his upbringing but he was clearly a serious thinker who had his poetry published in leading French publications while still a teenager. He belonged to a group of like-minded young men called “the Simplists”. One of his colleagues there was the poet Roger Gilbert-Lecomte and they produced their own literary journal which was called Le Grand Jeu. The group specialised in the exploration of psychological mysteries and all were known to have used a variety of mind-altering drugs. Daumal was so affected by his use of carbon tetrachloride that he wrote an essay which translates to A Fundamental Experience. He claimed that he was able to:
In 1936 he won the Prix Jacques Doucet for a collection of poetry called Le Contre-Ciel, all of which were on the theme of altered states of mind and consciousness. Here is a surreal example of his poetry. It is simply called Poem:
His mastery of the Sanskrit language meant that he could be regarded as a Hindu scholar at this time and he was heavily influenced and tutored by Alexandre de Salzmann, a disciple of G I Gurdjieff. He was already responsible for the translation into French of a number of sacred Hindu texts but he published a major piece of work in 1938. The English translation of the book was A Night of Serious Drinking. This was a satirical swipe at what he saw as a mostly superficial French society where the author transcends to a much higher spiritual plane (presumably through drinking excess amounts of alcohol?)
Daumal embarked upon his final novel, Le Mont Analogue, in the 1940s where his message was that:
Unfortunately he was unable to finish this work as he contracted tuberculosis and died suddenly in 1944, leaving others to finish and publish this book in 1952.
René Daumal died in Paris on the 21st May 1944 aged just 36. It has been said that years spent experimenting with mind altering drugs in his younger days could have contributed to a shockingly sudden and premature death.