An introduction to a great Mauritian writer, Malcolm De Chazal (1902-1981)

The selections below are taken from the English translation by Irving Weiss of Sens-Plastique (Paris: Gallimard, 1948) by the great Mauritian writer and painter Malcolm de Chazal (1902-1981).

The first translation appeared in 1971 with a foreword by W.H. Auden, who considered Chazal "the most original French writer to emerge since the end of the Second World War." An expanded translation, still available, was published in 1979. Chazal's aphorisms are considered by literary critics to express the most remarkable correspondence between words and things, between language and nature, ever attempted. Chazal's paintings celebrate the magical island spendor of Mauritian sunlight, flora, fauna that inspired his observations.

No matter how much leaves are fixed face to face they always look at each other aslant, whereas all fruits end up head-on however carelessly jumbled. A bunch of flowers is a house of colored cards. A heap of fruit is a hive of colored bees." (p. 149)

"Flowers are both knowing and innocent, with experienced mouths but childlike eyes. They bend the two poles of life into a divinely closed circle." (p. 7)

"All flowers have two eyes like us, but one is on the obverse, the other on the reverse side. On the obverse the flower's eye is wide open, on the reverse its lids are lowered - but as with the eye of the seraph its gaze burns on behind the apparent curtain. The reason flowers have no real back is that their back-to-back eyes make a circular face." (p. 114)

"The flower has no weekday self, dressed as it always is in Sunday clothes." (p. 27)

"The eyes takes good color pictures but wretched technicolor movies. It's impossible to grasp the movement of forms without letting some color escape." (p. 17)

"The crown of petals is the flower's panties. Rip them off and you will have public indecency. They were the pre-adamic fig leaf of nature before the first Eve wore that leaf as her own crown of petals." (p. 117)

"The light would reach us more quickly in the morning and fade more slowly at night if the whole earth were divided into vast flower beds that called forth the light at dawn and clutched it longer at nightfall. Nature instituted summer for flowers long before man took summer over for his own uses." (p. 40)

"Flowers are always peerlessly dressed, formal in splendor, at the height of elegance on all occasions except at the first appearance of the fruit when they change into something skimpy." (p. 56)

The butterfly swims with its legs and tail, tries to crawl with its body, and beats its wings - the threefold progress of fish, reptile, and bird all in one. Tripartite kingdom. An isoceles triangle of animal." (p. 47)