Quand on n’est plus qu’une ligne: The Threatened Subject in the Work of Henri Michaux

Threat: Essays in French Literature, Thought and Visual Culture
Edited by Georgina Evans and Adam Kay
Peter Lang Publishers, 2010

Quand on n'est plus qu'une ligne


“Through its destabilization of space and time, the use of mescaline induces a loss of perceptual autonomy, which catalyzes a disintegration of the subject. This dissolution gives rise to a ‘second state’ removed from the stability of comparison. Images appear in rapid succession, consumed within each other and often indistinguishable from the plane of consciousness; subjectivity becomes the experience of these pulsing rhythms…Under the influence of mescaline, Michaux is able to dive within and coincide with himself, discovering undulations of pure movement he describes as a typhoon: ‘Coïncider, qu’est-ce à dire? Dans ma vie j’essaie (voulant observer), d’approcher le plus possible de mois, mais sans coïncider, sans me laisser aller, sans me donner. Je veux qu’il reste une marge, qui est aussi comme une marge de sécurité.’ The annihilation of a secure margin between ‘observateur-voyeur’ and ‘moi’ coincides with an overwhelming experience of time as exterior to the subject….

This type of experience lends itself to visual representation. Michaux represents the waves of sensation he experiences – oceans and typhoons – with series of lines. These lines are delicate yet cavernous: enormous spidery threads that disappear before looming up in incessant and spacious curves. They materialize an acceleration of time in space; as the subject melts into hallucination, the frequency of the images increase while spaces between lines decrease. By using these lines, Michaux is able to express through his drawings a continuous, accelerating, and all-consuming experience of time through the collapsing of open space. The repetition and patterning of lines, a seismograph recording rhythmic fluctuations of the brain or tremors of the earth, take a fractal form in their statistical self-similarity and impression of being infinitely recursive.”

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