Rene Daumal: From surrealist states of the unconscious to conscious states of being

Date of Completion

January 2003


Literature, Comparative|Religion, Philosophy of|Philosophy




The poet René Daumal engaged in a unique form of experiential metaphysiques, revealed in his writings and his life. He and his youthful band of poet mystics known as Le Grand Jeu actively explored every para-psychic avenue in order to experience super-ordinary dimensions of reality. They shared an obsessive aim with the Surrealists: to transform their bourgeois existence through the pursuit of the radically unconventional; to meld life and art, the dream world and the quotidian; to impact society socially and politically, and to seek out super-sensory states. These initial surrealist impulses continued to inspire Daumal throughout his life. ^ Through his own psychic experiences Daumal soon realized that it was not automatic writing and the probing of the unconscious but rather deliberate disciplined focus and conscious effort that was needed. More than anything, non-attachment and self-abnegation were necessary to attain a state more intensely spiritual in character than that described in the Surrealist manifestos. ^ Early on, while exploring typical surrealistic avenues, he began a parallel track of studying Sanskrit. We will see how Hindu metaphysics and the writings of the Hinduist René Guénon inspired him to differentiate between true and false metaphysical states. Daumal then probed the essence of Hindu philosophy and poetics himself, and apply these concepts to his own essays, poems, novels, and translations. ^ Finally Daumal became an active participant in the rigorous life teaching of the modern philosopher, G. I. Gurdjieff. As a result of these influences and his own personal exploration of depersonalization and non-attachment, he no longer sought an “other-worldly state” but a more intensely conscious state of being in the here-and-now. ^ We will provide a biographical profile and describe in detail his Surrealist exploits, focusing on the subtle contrast with André Breton and his followers. We will highlight the salient points of his Hindu studies and his affiliation with the Gurdjieff Teaching. Finally, we will examine Daumal's collected poetry, Le Contre-Ciel and his two novels, La Grande beuverie and Le Mont analogue, in light of these influences and his own innate aim of seeking consciousness in the moment. ^