Monday, September 10, 2007

Literature: Antonin Artaud (1896-1948)

Date Of Birth: 4 September 1896, Marseille, France
Date Of Death: 4 March 1948, Paris, France

Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud, better known as Antonin Artaud was a French playwright, poet, actor and director. At the age of four, Artaud had a severe attack of meningitis. The virus gave Artaud a nervous, irritable temperament throughout adolescence. He also suffered from neuralgia, stammering and severe bouts of depression. Artaud's parents arranged a long series of sanatorium stays for their disruptive son, which were both prolonged and expensive. They lasted five years, with a break of two months, June and July 1916, when Artaud was conscripted into the army. He was allegedly discharged due to his self-induced habit of sleepwalking. During Artaud's "rest cures" at the sanatorium, he read Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and Poe. In May 1919, the director of the sanatorium, Dr. Dardel, prescribed laudanum for Artaud, precipitating a lifelong addiction to that and other opiates.

In March 1920, Artaud moved to Paris. At the age of 27, Artaud sent some of his poems to the journal "La Nouvelle Revue Française"; they were rejected, but the editor wrote back seeking to understand him, and a relationship in letters was born. This epistolary work, "Correspondence avec Jacques Rivière," is Artaud's first major publication.
In November 1926, Artaud was expelled from the surrealist movement, in which he had participated briefly, for refusing to renounce theater as a bourgeois commercial art form, and for refusing to join the French Communist Party along with the other Surrealists.
Artaud cultivated a great interest in cinema as well, writing the scenario for the first Surrealist film, The Seashell and the Clergyman, directed by Germaine Dulac. He also acted in Abel Gance's Napoleon in the role of Jean-Paul Marat, and in Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc as the monk Massieu. Artaud's portrayal of Marat used exaggerated movements to convey the fire of Marat's personality.
In 1926-28, Artaud ran the Alfred Jarry Theater, along with Roger Vitrac. He produced and directed original works by Vitrac, as well as pieces by Claudel and Strindberg. The Theater was extremely short-lived, but was attended by an enormous range of European artists, including Andre Gide, Arthur Adamov, and Paul Valery. The 1930s saw the publication of The Theatre and Its Double, his most well-known work. This book contained the two manifestos of the Theater of Cruelty, essential texts in understanding his artistic project.
1935 saw the premiere of Artaud's production of his adaptation of Shelley's The Cenci . The Cenci was a commercial failure, although it employed innovative sound effects and had a set designed by Balthus. After the production failed, Artaud received a grant to travel to Mexico where he gave lectures on the decadence of Western civilization. He also studied the Tarahumaran Indians and experimented with the drug peyote, recording his experiences which were later released in a volume called Voyage to the Land of the Tarahumara. The content of this work closely resembles the poems of his later days, concerned primarily with the supernatural. Artaud also recorded his horrific withdrawal from heroin upon entering the land of the Tarahumaras; having deserted his last supply of the drug at a mountainside, he literally had to be hoisted onto his horse, and soon resembled, in his words, "a giant, inflamed gum". Having beaten his addiction, however, Artaud would return to opiates later in life.
In 1937, Artaud returned to France where he obtained a walking stick of knotted wood that he believed belonged to St. Patrick, but also Lucifer and Jesus Christ. Artaud traveled to Ireland in an effort to return the staff, though he spoke very little English and was unable to make himself understood. The majority of his trip was spent in a hotel room that he was unable to pay for. On his return trip, Artaud believed he was being attacked by two crew members and retaliated; he was arrested and put in a straitjacket.

The return from Ireland brought about the beginning of the final phase of Artaud's life, which was spent in different asylums. When France was occupied by the Nazis, friends of Artaud had him transferred to the Psychiatric hospital in Rodez, well inside Vichy territory, where he was put under the charge of Dr. Gaston Ferdière. Ferdière began administering electroshock treatments to eliminate Artaud's symptoms, which included various delusions and odd physical tics. The doctor believed that Artaud's habits of crafting magic spells, creating astrology charts, and drawing disturbing images, were symptoms of mental illness. The electro-shock treatments have created much controversy, although it was during these treatments--in conjunction with Ferdière's art therapy--that Artaud began writing and drawing again, after a long dormant period. In 1946, Ferdière released Artaud to his friends, who placed him in the psychiatric clinic at Ivry-sur-Seine. Artaud was encouraged to write by his friends, and interest in his work was rekindled. He recorded Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de dieu (To Have Done With the Judgment of god) between November 22 and November 29, 1947. This work was shelved by Wladimir Porché, the director of the French Radio, the day before its scheduled airing on February 2, 1948. The performance was prohibited partially as a result of its scatological, anti-American, and anti-religious references and pronouncements, but also because of its general randomness, with a cacophony of xylophonic sounds mixed with various percussive elements. While remaining true to his Theater of Cruelty and reducing powerful emotions and expressions into audible sounds, Artaud had utilized various, somewhat alarming cries, screams, grunts, onomatopoeia, and glossolalia. As a result, Fernand Pouey, the director of dramatic and literary broadcasts for French radio, assembled a panel to consider the broadcast of Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de Dieu. Among the approximately fifty artists, writers, musicians, and journalists present for a private listening on February 5, 1948 were Roger Vitrac, Jean Cocteau, Paul Eluard, Raymond Queneau, Jean-Louis Barrault, René Clair, Jean Paulhan, Maurice Nadeau, Georges Auric, Claude Mauriac, and René Char. Although the panel felt almost unanimously in favor of Artaud's work, Porché refused to allow the broadcast. Pouey left his job and the show was not heard again until February 23, 1948 at a private performance at the Théâtre Washington.
In January 1948, Artaud was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. He died shortly afterwards on March 4, 1948. Artaud died alone in his pavilion, seated at the foot of his bed, allegedly holding his shoe. It was suspected that he died from a lethal dose of the drug chloral, although whether or not he was aware of its lethality is unknown. Thirty years later, French radio finally broadcast the performance of Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de Dieu.

  • Oeuvres complètes, tomes I à XXVI (Gallimard, Paris, 1956-1994)
  • Lettre contre la Cabbale (Jacques Haumont, Paris, 1949)
  • Vie et Mort de Satan le feu, suivi de Textes mexicains, (coll. "Voyants", Arcanes, Paris, 1953) Les Tarahumaras (L'Arbalète, Décines, Isère, France, 1955)
  • Lettres à Génica Athanasiou (coll. "Le Point du jour", Gallimard, Paris, 1969)
  • Lettres à Annie Besnard (Le Nouveau Commerce, Paris, 1977)
  • Nouveaux écrits de Rodez, suivi de Six lettres à Marie Dubuc, présentation et notes de Pierre Chaleix ( Gallimard, Paris, 1977)
  • Antonin Artaud : dessins : [exposition], 30 juin-11 octobre 1987, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d'art moderne. (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1987)
  • L'arve et l'aume, suivi de 24 lettres à Marc Barbezat (L'Arbalète, Décines, Isère, France, 1989) Van Gogh, le suicidé de la société (Gallimard, Paris, 1990)
  • Héliogabale ou L'anarchiste couronné (Gallimard, Paris, 1994)
  • Nouveaux écrits de Rodez : lettres au docteur Ferdière, 1943-1946, et autres textes inédits. [Suivis de] Six lettres à Marie Dubuc, 1935-1937 (Gallimard, Paris, 1994)
  • L'ombilic des limbes. [Précédé de] Correspondance avec Jacques Rivière (Gallimard, Paris, 1994)
  • Le théâtre et son double. [Suivi du] Théâtre de Séraphin (Gallimard, Paris, 1994)
  • Cinquante dessins pour assassiner la magie (Gallimard, Paris, 2004)
  • Suppôts et suppliciations (Gallimard, Paris, 2006)
Pour En Finir Avec Le Judgement De Dieu
The Vice Of Surrealism
Artaud Et Le Peyotl
70 Dessins (resolution: 300dpi) (password: interzona23)

1 comment:

TheTradeling said...

i highly recommend this short biographical sketch of Artaud. i've put the links in order because they are hard to find on youtube:

and this is a link to
La coquille (seashell) et le clergyman (1926),
the film by Artaud and Germaine Dulac: