Thousand Times Broken brings together three extraordinary, previously untranslated books in which Henri Michaux's art and poetry merge in ways never seen before, composing a journey in which we––with the great visionary Michaux as our guide––are invited to hover between reading and looking, between the ineffable and the known, between body and spirit into a realm where it is possible to perceive "what one otherwise doesn't perceive, what one hardly suspects at all."
Written between 1956-1959, during Michaux’s mescaline experiments, all three books engage a dynamic struggle between the mark and the word as Michaux searches for a medium up to the task of expressing the inexpressible. Included are Four Hundred Men on the Cross, a ghostly, enigmatic contemplation of Michaux’s loss of faith, Peace in the Breaking, written under the influence of mescaline, its title poem of pure ascension sent flowing into the same spine-like furrows of Michaux’s India ink drawings, and Watchtowers on Targets, a singular, automatic collaboration with surrealist and abstract expressionist painter Roberto Matta. Translated from the French by noted poet Gillian Conoley.
"To record the ineffable is Michaux's paradoxical project in these stunning works from the mid- to late-50s. Central to his oeuvre, to his life-long effort to come to terms with faith, they radiate an uncommon immediacy and conviction. Conoley's excellent selection—combining drawings, asemic writings, poetry, and prose commentary—offers the variety of perspectives required to appreciate the true scope of his project, and her translation keeps the writing—with all its eclectic vocabulary and dressage pacing—vibrantly alive. This is an invaluable addition to Michaux's works in English, filling an important gap with a vivid, vibrant linguistic performance."—Cole Swensen
"The remarkable and singular Michaux: poet, visual artist, travel writer, novelist, "all intimately related," as Octavio Paz once noted. In his quest for the inexpressible, Michaux represents the ultimate paradox, at once visionary mystic and rationalist, as he seeks to chart the journey without end. Gillian Conoley’s skilled and vital translations, as well as her deeply illuminating commentaries on the three extraordinary volumes collected here, are indeed a revelation and a gift."—Michael Palmer
"In Gillian Conoley's committed, devoted translation, with her thoughtful introduction, appear three visionary works from Henri Michaux. Michaux’s turbulent but nuanced struggle with the cosmic defamiliarization of verbal and visual art registers risk wherein alphabetical signs become marks or figures, and figures become signs, become words. Dynamic, provocative relationships seek and meet exquisite encounters, a little black angel, the secret of life, 'this tree with fine branches.' Evolving thematic concerns such as body, spirit, faith and fate sing with an electric charge."—Norma Cole
"Henri Michaux was a poet's poet and also a poet's artist, yet he was also, as John Ashbery so beautifully put it, "hardly a painter, hardly even a writer, but a conscience –– the most sensitive substance yet discovered for registering the fluctuating anguish of day-to-day, minute-to-minute living." In these three remarkable works from the late fifties, in which the activity of inscription inhabits the abstract mark as well as the signifying word, Michaux "perceived what one otherwise doesn't perceive, what one hardly suspects if at all." Now, through Gillian Conoley’s impassioned translation, Anglophone readers can perceive it too."—Barry Schwabsky, poet and critic for The Nation
One of the most influential French writers and visual artists of the twentieth century, Henri Michaux was known for his explorations of perception and consciousness. Translator Gillian Conoley is the author of seven books of poetry and edits the long-running journal Volt.