Antonin Artaud

"The metaphors that Artaud uses to describe his intellectual distress treat the mind either as a property to which one never holds clear title (or whose title one has lost) or as a physical substance that is intransigent, fugitive, unstable, obscenely mutable. As early as 1921, at the age of twenty-five, he states his problem as that of never managing to possess his mind "in its entirety." Throughout the nineteen-twenties, he laments that his ideas "abandon" him, that he is unable to "discover" his ideas, that he cannot "attain" his mind, that he has "lost" his understanding of words and "forgotten" the forms of thought.

In more direct metaphors, he rages against the chronic erosion of his ideas, the way his thought crumbles beneath him or leaks away; he describes his mind as fissured, deteriorating, petrifying, liquefying, coagulating, empty, impenetrably dense: words rot. Artaud suffers not from doubt as to whether his "I" thinks but from a conviction that he does not possess his own thought. He does not say that he is unable to think; he says that he does not "have" thought—which he takes to be much more than having correct ideas or judgments.

"Having thought" means that process by which thought sustains itself, manifests itself to itself, and is answerable "to all the circumstances of feeling and of life." It is in this sense of thought, which treats thought as both subject and object of itself, that Artaud claims not to "have" it. Artaud shows how the Hegelian, dramatistic, self-regarding consciousness can reach the state of total alienation ( instead of detached, comprehensive wisdom )—because the mind remains an object.

The language that Artaud uses is profoundly contradictory. His imagery is materialistic (making the mind into a thing or object ), but his demand on the mind amounts to the purest philosophical idealism. He refuses to consider consciousness except as a process. Yet it is the process character of consciousness—its unseizability and flux—that he experiences as hell. "The real pain," says Artaud, "is to feel one's thought shift within oneself."

The consequence of Artaud's verdict upon himself—his conviction of his chronic alienation from his own consciousness—is that his mental deficit becomes, directly or indirectly, the dominant, inexhaustible subject of his writings. Some of Artaud's accounts of his Passion of thought are almost too painful to read. He elaborates little on his emotions—panic, confusion, rage, dread. His gift was not for psychological understanding (which, not being good at it, he dismissed as trivial) but for a more original mode of description, a kind of physiological phenomenology of his unending desolation. Artaud's claim in The Nerve Meter that no one has ever so accurately charted his "intimate" self is not an exaggeration. Nowhere in the entire history of writing in the first person is there as tireless and detailed a record of the microstructure of mental pain.

The quality of one's consciousness is Artaud's final standard. thus, his intellectual distress is at the same time the most acute physical distress, and each statement about his body. Indeed, what causes his incurable pain of consciousness is precisely his refusal to consider the mind apart from the situation of the flesh.

The difficulties that Artaud laments persist because he is thinking about the unthinkable—about how body is mind and how mind is also a body. This inexhaustible paradox is mirrored in Artaud's wish to produce art that is at the same time anti-art. The latter paradox, however, is more hypothetical than real. Ignoring Artaud's disclaimers, readers will inevitably assimilate his strategies of discourse to art whenever those strategies reach (as they often do ) a certain triumphant pitch of incandescence.

Artaud's work denies that there is any difference between art and thought, between poetry and truth. Despite the breaks in exposition and the varying of "forms" within each work, everything he wrote advances a line of argument. Artaud is always didactic. He never ceased insulting, complaining, exhorting, denouncing—even in the poetry written after he emerged from the insane asylum in Rodez, in 1946, in which language becomes partly unintelligible; that is, an unmediated physical presence. All his writing is in the first person, and is a mode of address in the mixed voices of incantation and discursive explanation. His activities are simultaneously art and reflections on art. In an early essay on painting, Artaud declares that works of art "are worth only as much as the conceptions on which they are founded Artaud's criterion of spectacle is sensory violence, not sensory enchantment; beauty is a notion he never entertains. The experience of his work remains profoundly private. Artaud is someone who has made a spiritual trip for us—a shaman. It would be presumptuous to reduce the geography of Artaud's trip to what can be colonized. Its authority lies in the parts that yield nothing for the reader except intense discomfort of the imagination.

Artaud's work becomes usable according to our needs, but the work vanishes behind our use of it. When we tire of using Artaud, we can return to his writings. "Inspiration in stages," he says. "One mustn't let in too much literature."

All art that expresses a radical discontent and aims at shattering complacencies of feeling risks being disarmed, neutralized, drained of its power to disturb—by being admired, by being ( or seeming to be) too well understood, by becoming relevant. Most of the once exotic themes of Artaud's work have within the last decade become loudly topical: the wisdom (or lack of it) to be found in drugs, Oriental religions, magic, the life of North American Indians, body language, the insanity trip; the revolt against "literature," and the belligerent prestige of non-verbal arts; the appreciation of schizophrenia; the use of art as violence against the audience; the necessity for obscenity.

Both in his work and in his life Artaud failed. His work includes verse; prose poems; film scripts; writings on cinema, painting, and literature; essays, diatribes, and polemics on the theater; several plays, and notes for many unrealized theater projects, among them an opera; a historical novel; a fourpart dramatic monologue written for radio; essays on the peyote cult of the Tarahumara Indians; radiant appearances in two great films (Gance's Napoleon and Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc) and many minor ones; and hundreds of letters, his most accomplished "dramatic" form—all of which amount to a broken, self-mutilated corpus, a vast collection of fragments. What he bequeathed was not achieved works of art but a singular presence, a poetics, an aesthetics of thought, a theology of culture, and a phenomenology of suffering.

Artaud in the nineteen-twenties had just about every taste (except enthusiasms for . comic books, science
fiction, and Marxism ) that was to become prominent in the American counterculture of the nineteensixties, and what he was reading in that decade—the Tibetan Book of the Dead, books on mysticism, psychiatry, anthropology, tarot, astrology, Yoga, acupuncture—is like a prophetic anthology of the literature that has
recently surfaced as popular reading among the advanced young."

Susan Sontag


It's the penetral spider's web,
the onor hairess
from or-or the sail,
the anal plate of anileyou.
(You take nothing from it, god,
because it's me.
You never took anything like that from me.
I am writing it here for the first time.
I am finding it for the first time.)

(The Return of Artaud the Mômo)

Who am I?
Where do I come from?
I am Antonin Artaud
and if I say it
as I know how to say it
you will see my present body
fly into pieces
and under ten thousand
notorious aspects
a new body
will be assembled
in which you will never again
be able
to forget me.


I, Antonin Artaud, am my son,
my father, my mother,
my self;
leveller of the imbecile periplum rooted
to the family tree:
the periplum papamummy
and infant wee,
crud from the ass of granmummy
and much more than pa and ma.

To Have Done With The Judgement Of God

Madman/theorist/philosopher/playwright Antonin Artaud's final work was a radiophonic creation
entitled "To Have Done With The Judgment Of God." It was written after several years'
internment in psychiatric institutions which roughly corresponded to the duration of WWII.
During his stay at the asylum, Artaud's behavior was characterized by delusions, auditory
hallucinations, glossolalia and violent tantrums. He underwent a myriad of bizarre treatments for
this behavior including coma-inducing insulin therapy and electroshock therapy. "Pour En Finir
Avec le Judgement de Dieu" is a heretic's scatalogical tirade at the extreme of the linguistic
lunatic fringe. It was perhaps Artaud's electronic revenge against his incarcerators-- an invective
broadcast from the end of the mind.

It was commissioned in 1947 by Ferdinand Pouey, the director of dramatic and literary
broadcasts for French Radio. The work defies description, and although it was actually recorded
in the studios of the French Radio at the end of 1947 and scheduled to be broadcast at 10:45 PM
on February 2, 1948, the broadcast was cancelled at the last minute by the director of French
Radio, Vladimir Porche. Citing Artaud's scatalogical, vicious and obscene anti-American and
anti-Catholic pronouncements as something that the French radio audience could do without, he
upheld this censorship in the face of widespread support from many culturally prominent figures
including Jean Cocteau, Jean Louis Barrault, Rene Clair and Paul Eluard. Pouey actually quit his
job in protest. Artaud died a little over a month later, profoundly disappointed over the rejection
of the work. It was not broadcast over the airwaves until thirty years later.

In the actual text of "To Have Done With The Judgment Of God" America is denounced as a
baby factory war-mongering machine. Bloody and apocalyptic death rituals are described. Shit is
vividly exalted as evidence of life and mortality. Questions about consciousness and knowledge
are pursued and answered with more unanswerable questions. It all dead-ends in a scene in
which God itself turns up on an autopsy table as a dissected organ taken from the defective
corpse of mankind. In the recording all this would have been interspersed with shrieks, screams,
grunts, and an extensive vocabulary of nonsense words-- a glossolalia of word-like sounds
invented by Artaud to give utterance to the dissociation of meaning from language.

One would be hard pressed to find anything like Artaud's work being broadcast on radio or TV
now, but to get an approximation of an idea of it, do this: turn on the radio to any station (except
WFMU of course), turn on the TV with the sound up and the picture off, smoke a joint and just
listen to the glorious sound of the babbling media. As good as electroshock therapy.

Maria Levitsky

NOTE: The information for this article was lifted directly from Alan Wiess' chapter entitled
"Radio, Death and the Devil" in The Wireless Imagination: Sound Radio and the Avant Garde,
edited by D. Kahn and G. Whitehead.


"L'atelier de Charles Dullin" (Chroniques); "La bouteille et le Verre", "Verlaine boit",
"Mystagogie", "Madrigaux"; poèmes, in Action no. 6
"L'antarctique" (poème), in Action no. 10

"Bar Marin", "Aquarium"; poèmes, in Action, mars-avril

Douze Chansons (Maurice Maeterlinck: prologue d'Artaud), Collection Les Contemporains,
Stock, Paris.
Tric-Trac du Ciel, poèmes, Galerie Simon

"Boutique de l'ame", poème in CAP no. 1

"Sur le suicide" in Le Disque Vert, no. 1
"Le Mauvais Rêveur" in Le Disque Vert, no. 2
"Avec moi dieu-le-chien, et sa langue", "Poète Noir", "L'arbre", "La rue", "La nuit opère", "Vitres
de son"; poèmes, in Le Disque Vert, no. 3
"Textes surréalistes", Réponse à l'enquête sur le Suicide", Rêves", in La Revolution Surréaliste
no. 2
"L'activité du Bureau de recherches surréalistes", Lettre aux Recteurs des Universités
Européennes", Adresse au Pape", "Adresse au Dalai-Lama", "Lettre aux Médecins-Chefs des
asiles de fous", in La Revolution Surréaliste no. 3

Le Pèse-Nerfs, suivi de Lettres de ménage (couverture de André Masson), impr. de Leibovitz,
L'Ombilic des Limbes, NRF Gallimard, Paris
L'Ombilic des Limbes, suivi des fragments d'un Journal d'Enfer, éditions des Cahiers du Sud,
"Nouvelle lettre sur moi-même", in La Revolution Surréaliste no. 5
"La vitre d'amour", in La Revue Européenne [N.D.]

"L'Enclume des forces", "Invocation à la Momie"; poèmes, in La Revolution Surréaliste no. 7
"Lettre à la voyante", "Uccello le poil", in La Revolution Surréaliste no. 8

A la grande nuit, ou le Bluff surrealiste, Paris (l'auteur)
Correspondance avec Jacques Rivière, NRF, Gallimard, Paris
Point final, Paris (l'auteur)

"Le clair Abélard", in Les Feuilles Libres, dec. 1927 - janv. 1928
"L'Osselet Toxique", in La Revolution Surréaliste no. 9

L'Art et la Mort, Denoël, Paris

Le Théatre Alfred Jarry et l'Hostilité Publique (en collaboration avec Roger Vitrac), Paris

Monk Lewis, Le Moine, trad. Antonin Artaud, Denoël et Steele, Paris

Ludwig Lewisohn, Crime Passionel, trad. Antonin Artaud, Denoël et Steele, Paris

"Le théatre de la cruauté", in 14 Rue du Dragon, no. 2
"Le temple d'Astarté", in in 14 Rue du Dragon, no. 4
"Le vieillesse précoce du cinéma", in Les Cahiers Jaunes, no. 4

Heliogabale ou l'Anarchiste Couronné, Denoël et Steele, Paris

Les Nouvelles Révélations de l'Etre, Denoël, Paris

Le Théatre et son Double, Gallimard (collection 'Métamorphoses'), Paris

Révolte contre la Poésie (amis de l'auteur), Paris

D'un Voyage au Pays de Tarahumaras, éditions de la Revue 'Fontaine', Paris

Lettres de Rodez, impr. G.L. Mano, Paris
Xylophonic contre la Grande Presse et son Petit Public ('Histoire entre le Groume et Dieu'
par A. Artaud; 'Apoème' par Henri Pichette) impr. Davy, Paris
"Le Théatre et l'Anatomie", in La Rue, juillet
"Les Mères à l'Etable", in L'Heure Nouvelle
"Centre-Noeuds", in Juin no. 18 (juin 18) "Lettre sur Lautréamont", in Cahiers du Sud, no. 275

Portraits et Dessins (poème de l'artiste), Galerie Pierre, Paris
Artaud le Momo (illustré de 8 dessins de l'auteur), Bordas, Paris
Ci-git, précédé de la Culture Indienne, impr. D. Viglino, Paris
Van Gogh, le suicidé de la scieté, K éditeur, Paris
"Les Malades et les Médecins", in Les Quatre Vents, no. 8
"L'aveu d'Arthur Adamov", in Cahiers de la Pléiade, avril
"Main d'Ouvrier", "Coleridge le Traitre" et "Il faut avoir l'envie de vivre", in Revue K, no. 1

Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de Dieu, K éditeur, Paris
Ci-git, précédé de la Culture Indienne, K éditeur, Paris
Le Théatre de Séraphin, collection "l'air du temps", Paris
"Aliéner l'Acteur" et "Le Théatre et la Science", in L'Arbalète no. 13
"Introduction à la lecture de son oeuvre", in Critique (octobre)
"Lettre à Peter Watson", in Critique (octobre)
"Paris - Varsovie", in 84 nos. 3-4
"Douze Textes inédits",in 84 nos. 5-6
"Le Chevalier Mate - Tapis" d'après Lewis Carroll, trad. Antonin Artaud, Cahier du Sud

Supplement aux Lettres de Rodez, suivi de "Coleridge le Traitre", G.L. Mano, Paris
Lettre contre la Cabbale, Jacques Haumont, Paris
"Les dix-huit secondes", "La pierre philosophale", "Le Théatre de Séraphin", "La où j'en suis", in
Cahiers de la Pléiade, printemps
"Suppôts et supplications" (extraits) in Les Temps Modernes (février)
"Il y a une vielle histoire de singes carbonisés", in 84, no. 7
"Inédits", in 84, nos. 8-9 et 10-11

Le Théatre de Séraphin, Bettencourt, Paris
(Prével, J. De Colère et de haine) Avec un poè par Antonin Artaud, éditions du Lion, Paris
"La Mort et l'Homme", in 84, no. 13
"Lettre à ladministrateur de la Comédie Francaise", in 84, no. 13
"Je n'ai jamais rien étudié...", in 84, no. 16

"Suppôts et supplications" (extraits) in La Nef (décembre-janvier)

Lettres d'Antonin Artaud à J.L.Barrault, Bordas (documents de la revue thátrale), Paris
(La bouche ouverte, conte de Marcel Béalu) Commenté par A. Artaud, Paris
"Trois lettres adressées à des médecins", "Lettre à la voyante", "L'eperon malicieux", "Le double
cheval", in Botteghe Oscure, no. 8

Vie et Mort de Satan-le-Feu, suivi de "Textes mexicains pour un nouveau mythe", éditions
Arcanes, Paris
"Trois textes", Le Disque Vert no. 4

"Le Théatre et la Science", in Théatre Populaire [n.d.]

Début de la publication des oeuvres complès d'Antonin Artaud, Gallimard, NRF (à 1965: Tomes

Autre chose que l'enfant beau (pointe-sèche originale de Pablo Picasso), L. Broder, Paris

"Lettre à Pierre Loeb", in Antonin Artaud, par Georges Charbonnier (Poès d'aujourd'hui:
Seghers, Paris)

"Chiote à l'esprit", in Tel Quel (printemps)

Heimdallr, 1999