Kali Yug Express by Claude Pélieu (Bottle of Smoke Press, 2012)

Claude Pélieu was an associate of William Burroughs and his 1973 anti-novel Kali Yug Express is a continuation of the cut-up experiments begun more than a decade earlier by Brion Gysin. Although the book appeared in French (the language in which it was written) and German back in the 1970s., Kali Yug Express has only just been published in English. The English translation seems to have been made by Pélieu’s second wife Mary Beach many years ago. Pélieu and Beach also had a hand in the translation of many beat writers – including Burroughs – into French.
While Kali Yug Express takes some major cues from Burrough’s cut-up trilogy – The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded and Nova Express – in terms of its space age mythology, the more autobiographical elements of Kali Yug Express owe less to the book’s most obvious source of inspiration. However, it is worth noting that Pélieu – like Burroughs – had been a junkie. But Pélieu owes a great deal to French influences including surrealism and lettrism, despite his frequent allusions to Burroughs:
“Some youngsters are rolling cigarettes, and passers by smile indulgently, except for an avant-garde French poet, a guy who knows who isn’t taken in… he’s always afraid that some Hippie in civilian clothes will drop drugs in his lemonade… he’s an ex-Lettriste very much in favor…. one time his wife panicked and threw an ounce of hash in the garbage, to protect her dear little ones… One of the guests had mistaken a bar of Pakistani hash for chocolate, his sight was getting bad as of a long time ago. He ate the bar in secret, that fool!… two ounces in one day!…. expensive, hard to take!… in short, a half hour later the guy smiles for the first time in forty years, as high as a kite, wanting to hear some real rock, dancing with broads……” (page 67).
Elsewhere fragments of situationist sloganeering appear: “As soon as you take your desires for realities you start to invent. We catch all the signs drifting among reflections of waves whispering on the edges of clouds.” (page 95).
The novel returns to more familiar Burroughsian territory at its climax, an effect achieved through a speed up of the rate and rhythm of the cut-ups as the novel progresses (obviously there is no narrative): “We’re sitting on police glue. People were wandering through reality, absorbing death, wavering like cops evacuated by the pipeline of time, crossing that mosaic of spray-cameras, impaling themselves on jackhammers of worker-agents… risky messages in the light… to survive in a macrobiotic night, naked, dying in the taste of the world, flying over the scenery, crawling among technical lines – yes-yes superstar yes-yes leaning over the sink, vomiting the latest information.” (page 238).
Kali Yug Express is a curio of the seventies that riffs around surrealism and Burroughs (but reads more like Kathy Acker) and yet also manages to be an early and very French example of post-modern literature. This anti-novel probably works better in French than this English translation – since its sources are French and would be more apparent in that language (and I’m not just thinking of French language writers in the surrealist tradition and its slipstream, but also of the Beats in their early French translations). Nonetheless it is good to finally read an English edition of a book I’ve often heard about but until now have been unable to check out….
And just in case you don’t know, Pélieu was born in France in 1934, but from 1963 onwards he mostly lived in the United States where he died in 2002.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!


Comment by Edward S Robinson on 2012-11-06 23:11:22 +0000

I need to get myself a copy of this – as you know, I’m a fan of CP’s work – his novel ‘With Revolvers Aimed… Finger Bowls’ is a lost Surrealist cut-up classic and sadly too little of his work is available in English. Mary Beach has done some great work, both in her own right and as a publisher – Beach Books, Texts and Documents published some amazing stuff, including a fair bit of Burroughs / related far-out experimental work. Fruit Cup, one of the mags she edited is also well worth checking out.

Comment by Bud Spencer on 2012-11-07 14:11:15 +0000

I’m cut up there’s no mention of Carl Weissner in this review.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-11-07 15:59:06 +0000

There were a lot more things I could have mentioned in this piece…. For example, because of the appearance of transvestites in the text I suddenly started reading the phrase ‘death TV’ (which occurs in this text as in others) as “death transvestite’ rather than ‘death television’ which is how I’d always seen it before…. not profound but curious and funny…. However, for the purposes of a blog review it works better to keep things short, so that’s what I decided to do. There are others – such as Ed Robinson who comments above – who I am sure will give this new translation of the book a fuller review in due course….

Comment by Lucy Johnson on 2012-11-07 19:11:12 +0000

You are so literary!

Comment by Johnny Dollar on 2012-11-07 23:41:38 +0000

Rupert Murdoch owns death TV!

Comment by Michael Roth on 2012-11-08 01:32:26 +0000

I am not familiar with Pélieu and this write up has me intriged. I did a quick search and as Edward said, very little has made it’s way into English and what has seems to be out of print.

Comment by Let The Mice In on 2012-11-08 01:45:09 +0000

Claude Pélieu was left on the Beach many years ago. Pélieu appeared in the edges of Pakistani hash for the novel returns to invent. We catch all the book’s most obvious sources of who knows who knows who isn’t taken in. He’s always afraid that some real pet rock dancing with his broad will steal the girl’s heart. Then the novel returns to check out….
As the book progresses obviously there is a speed up of worker-agents… Risky messages in French are an example of the latest information. There is a junkie. But Pélieu owes much to the signs drifting among reflections of the seventies that fool!… Two ounces in this early anti-novel is a continuation of clouds.
Some youngsters owe less to Kali Yug Express – yes-yes superstar yes-yes superstar yes-yes leaning over the world. Flying over the book’s most obvious source of autobiographical invention to elements of Pakistani hash in his lemonade… He’s an English gentleman into French kissing and blowjobs.
While Kali Yug Express is a continuation of worker-agents… risky messages in the more familiar Burroughsian territory at its sources are rolling cigarettes, and very much riff around English surrealism. Had mistaken a half hour later the taste of waves whispering on jakchammers of its slipstream.

Comment by The Man in the Iron Mask on 2012-11-08 11:21:01 +0000

…. nightjar cut fuck up wood dune herb lilly barns pond put matching mole marie eleison beaut or finnegans grill eh watt tile her to the shite house large door carry her claude glass bun well of lonesome switchboard operator cowboy chap aqua tool much marcle snark cunt lark hexer….

Comment by Francis Ward on 2012-11-08 15:26:04 +0000

When you say Pélieu’s writing is more like Acker than Burroughs are you saying he was an influence on Acker? Obviously he was active as a writer before Acker and could well have been an influence….

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-11-08 18:20:45 +0000

I’d imagine Kathy Acker knew Pélieu’s work and it was one of many things she’d have drawn on…. but I’m speculating. I don’t remember her ever speaking about Pélieu when I was around her…. Maybe someone else – Ed Robinson who comments above even – knows for sure….

Comment by Barfly on 2012-11-08 21:21:52 +0000

Lettrism is like so 1951!

Comment by Fly Swat on 2012-11-08 21:56:00 +0000

Yeah but Pélieu is like totally 2021!

Comment by Danny James on 2012-11-09 00:03:26 +0000

boogie in the mud!

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-11-09 00:20:46 +0000

Thanks for that Danny! When did you last do a session at Goldband?

Comment by Charles Bray on 2012-11-09 12:27:47 +0000

So why is William Burroughs the most famous experimental writer of the 20th century? Why not Claude Pélieu? Why does Pélieu become as you describe him ‘an associate of William Burroughs’?

Comment by Pamela Beach Plymell on 2012-11-09 15:00:46 +0000

Claude Pelieu was born in 1934 not 24. Also to give a short history of this translation. After Claude’s death Mary Beach (my mother) started translating most of his books. She actually learned at the age of 84 to use a computer. After her death in 2006, I started preserving and editing her translations (there are several others). Kali Yug was the most complete. During the process I discovered a 1974 manuscript at Arizona State Univ. which I bought a copy of. So I had a version from 2005 and one from 1974. The similarities were amazing. I went through both of them thoroughly. Bill Roberts at Bottle of Smoke Press also did a great editorial job. Recently Editions Non Lieu have published Un Amour de Beatnik letters between Lu Pelieu his first wife and Claude, annotated and illustrated. A major publication.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-11-09 15:55:32 +0000

Thansk for the additional information about the translation. Sounds like an amazing process to get this edition together.
@ Charles Bray – there are many reasons Burroughs is the most famous experimental writer of the 20th century. The fact he wrote in English – the internationally dominant language of that century – is a factor. As are the charges of obscenity against Naked Lunch in the late-1950s. His family background and life story and use of autobiographical elements in his books also played a role in making him the most famous experimental novelist of the 20th century. Then there are matters of chance. I describe Pélieu as an associate of Burroughs to quickly give him a context for readers of this blog who might not know his work but do know Burroughs – Michael Roth who comments above would be an example of this.

Comment by arty bollocks generator on 2012-11-09 22:11:43 +0000

Claude Pélieu’s work explores the relationship between Critical theory and romance tourism. With influences as diverse as Machiavelli and John Cage, new tensions are distilled from both mundane and transcendant layers. Ever since Pélieu first encountered lettrism he was fascinated by the unrelenting divergence of the moment. What starts out as yearning soon becomes manipulated into a carnival of power, leaving only a sense of failing and the unlikelihood of a new reality. As spatial derivatives become transformed through studious and undefined practice, the reader is left with a new agenda of the inaccuracies of our world.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-11-09 23:46:38 +0000

Thanks for that but rather than just using online text generators perhaps it would be useful to theorise how they might be used to extend cut-up practices.

Comment by charles plymell on 2012-11-10 02:48:47 +0000

Carl Weissner was metioned in the German edition of Kali Yug by verlag Peter Engstler. There is also an LP pressed in Paris by Sonic Youth as trubute to Kali Yug. Charles Plymell

Comment by Jeffery Beach on 2012-11-10 06:11:17 +0000

Thanks for this. I don’t know that I would say that Claude was an associate of William Burroughs. He did collaborate and developed a life long friendship with Burroughs. To me, Burroughs was most important in the literature of the English language and Claude Pélieu, with his 50 published works in France, was called by some there, “The most important French poet of the 20th century.” I so wish his last work, “La Crevaille” (The Dying, for lack of a better translation, could be translated and published in English. It is an extraordinary work accomplished in two columns each page. One column is his diary, the other column are writing on the process of his dying. He wrote this in the convalescent home where he lived for the last 6 months of his life. The book was written over a three month period. He finished it just 2 months before his death. One day some time after that, My mother, Mary Beach, related to me that three nuns from the order of Mother Theresa paid him a visit. How they came to be in a small town like Norwich NY we’ll never know. The three sisters stayed and chatted with him for an hour, Upon their departure, each nun blew on Claude’s crown chakra and he said he felt a great release. A month later, he died peacefully in the lunchroom of the convalescent home.

Comment by Lucy Johnson on 2012-11-10 11:09:19 +0000

I have never heard of this writer which shows I am pig ignorant.

Comment by Lucy Johnson on 2012-11-10 11:11:17 +0000

Maybe that is a little harsh!

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-11-10 15:14:35 +0000

That is too harsh Lucy. When I checked yesterday none of Pélieu’s books were listed on GoodReads in any language (when I have time I will correct that if someone else doesn’t do so first) – whereas there is plenty of Burroughs. One could mention other matters with regard to this too – such as the size of their French and English Wikipedia entries, amount of critical coverage etc. I don’t think fame has anything to do with worth but Burroughs is much much better known.
@ Jeffrey Beach. Thanks for filling in some more detail on Pélieu. With regard to your first point, while it is of course true to say Pélieu had a friendship with Burroughs, I’m writing for an audience that on the whole are unfamiliar with Pélieu – therefore ‘associate’ strikes me as a clearer term for what I wanted to be a short review. Pélieu and Burroughs had shared aesthetic and formal concerns and ‘associate’ gets this across quickly and I think more accurately than saying they were friends. I am friends with many writers whose fiction doesn’t interest me but who I like on a personal level – and there are a few writers I admire for their work who I don’t like at all in a social context, although fortunately there are more who I both like and whose work I admire.

Comment by Lucy Johnson on 2012-11-10 16:49:28 +0000

Huzzah! Take this spam filter! I shall attempt to find some of this person’s work. I did try to read ‘The Naked Lunch’ but did not get on very well with it. The Cronenberg film was pretty wacky however and maybe did it some justice?

Comment by Lucy Johnson on 2012-11-10 17:14:29 +0000

What exactly is Lettrism I wonder? And these collages-are they only of the written variety or also visual? I will look Lettrism up.

Comment by Lucy Johnson on 2012-11-10 17:34:04 +0000

The Wikipedia, it is a wonderful thing…

Comment by Lucy Johnson on 2012-11-10 17:42:40 +0000

Are you saying to ‘extend cut up practices’? btw not extend. V interesting. Sort of obsessed with collage myself and the domestic ‘scrap book’.

Comment by Bill Roberts on 2012-11-10 19:05:29 +0000

Thanks for the review. I am the publisher of this title in English. You can get a copy at http://www.bospress.net. I still have some hardcover copies left and paperbacks. Also, I created the Wikipedia page (with help, of course.) Anyone is free to edit as they see fit. The more info the better.
Jeffrey, I’d love to read the diary, but alas, I do not know French.

Comment by The Man in the Iron Mask on 2012-11-10 19:11:48 +0000

Re Cronenberg’s screen version of THE NAKED LUNCH – dull as ditchwater… Thanks for all this info about Pelieu – I knew next to nothing about him…

Comment by Lucy Johnson on 2012-11-10 19:44:24 +0000

Well all I can remember about is was those funny Mugwumps TMinIM!

Comment by Lucy Johnson on 2012-11-10 19:45:02 +0000

Nice to hear from the publisher…

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-11-10 21:54:21 +0000

I’d agree with TMITIM that Cronenberg’s film of Naked Lunch doesn’t do the book justice. Cronenberg has made some wonderful movies – Videodrome is one of my all time favourites – but Naked Lunch isn’t one of them. Burroughs did his cut-up Nova trilogy immediately after that. Naked Lunch is a series of routines rather than a cut-up. The idea of the cut-up is to apply collage techniques to writing – Pélieu does visual art collages too and the book I’m reviewing is illustrated with some. There is also quite a lot more about lettrism on this site, try here for example and the follow on chapters: http://www.stewarthomesociety.org/ass/letmove.htm
@ Bill Roberts – glad people can still get the book but hopefully you’ll sell out the first run and be able to reprint. You doing the Wikipedia entry for Pélieu in English perhaps explains while it is longer than than the entry in French, although both are brief. I was a little surprised when I checked to find the French entry is the shorter of the two! Obviously it would be good if others could add to it.

Comment by Lucy Johnson on 2012-11-10 23:16:37 +0000

A good read. I am interested in the intersection between the collagic writing and the pictures…I will attempt to purchase book when I can get my head around PayPal and all that. Thus the dominance of Amazon they have your details and anything is just a click away. Frightening.

Comment by Lucy Johnson on 2012-11-10 23:19:17 +0000

Yes extending cut-up practices is the way to go. Am I to gather that there are text generators on the Internet? I suppose I must be…

Comment by Lucy Johnson on 2012-11-10 23:21:39 +0000

I see the whole of the web 2.0 as part of that to some extent but I suppose it is obvious…to me anyway.

Comment by Lucy Johnson on 2012-11-10 23:35:20 +0000

The drawings on the Pelieu book look very nice on the website…

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-11-11 00:05:50 +0000

Yes there are various text generators and manglers on the internet and you can also download variations on these as well as use them online. I started with MacTravesty as software – it mangles text but the way it does so becomes a little predictable once you’ve been using it a while. But these things do move cut-up literature forward. Arty Bollocks is a humorous text generator supposedly for artists who can’t be bothered to create their own artist statements, so it creates pretentious bollocks on your behalf. It is pretty popular among people I know….. Again the statements become very generic so once you’ve seen a few it becomes a bit boring.

Comment by charles plymell on 2012-11-11 01:24:03 +0000

Pelieu was a prolific collagist (I prefer Imagist). When he came to S.F. in ’63, I had a collage exhibit & a giant collage at the Batman Gallery. He wanted to collaborate and make one the size of a wall which he finally did at the Chelsea in NY. He had been a very original artist in Paris but became obsessed with making collage w/American images/words until his dying days. Like Weissner, he was also obsessed with jazz. He was a visual artist before Burroughs with whom I collaborated with cut up in’63. Later in Lawrence, Ks. B. told me it was much easier to shoot paintings & make art than write. Claude would make collage every day of his life. Toward the end, an obscure line of his will always move me. “Can you hear the sound of the breaker sliding under the collage-guy’s cutter? Time is the only LAW.” Charles Plymell

Comment by The Man in the Iron Mask on 2012-11-12 09:22:31 +0000

Time is the LAW – which is the enemy. But collage like great montage in film aspires to the condition of music, which means that fleetingly you can stand outside time (ex-stasis/ecstasy) – the enemy beaten or at least cheated. For a time…

Comment by Lucy Johnson on 2012-11-12 16:22:23 +0000

I like that!

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