Antonin Artaud / Ivry – Blows and Bombs; by Stephen Barber

Antonin Artaud; Self-Portrait 1947

When Artaud arrived at the Austerlitz station in Paris and shook hands with Ferdière for the last time, he had twenty-two months still to live. The amount and intensity of work he was to accomplish in that time proved to be enormous. Until that point, Artaud had largely been preoccupied with each of his activities separately: writing, drawing, theatre direction, film projects and acting, and drug intoxication. This changed completely in the last period of his life. Certainly aware that he was pressed for time, he worked constantly, night and day, in all situations and surroundings – on metro trains, in cafes, while eating, while taking drugs. Only the drug comas of the last year of his life began to punch holes into his ferocious rhythm of work. He compacted the various layers of his work together, so that drawings entered his texts and texts entered his drawings; in his recorded work, screams and cries entered the written texts he was performing, and silences entered the screams. Much of Artaud’s work was now made up of gestures. He believed that gesture and dance would remake his broken body, and all of his creative acts were surrounded and penetrated bymviolent gestures – made, and then immediately lost. Sometimes, the sense of gesture in Artaud’s last work can be rediscovered, stuck into the surface of his drawings, or within his recorded scream. It was during these last years, 1946 to 1948, that Artaud came closest to realizing the ideas of urgent, burning gesture which are embedded in The Theatre and its Double. The last part of Artaud’s life had no respite. It was relentlessly incendiary and furious. Artaud intended to produce new images of the human body, and did so. He wrote through extreme illness, ridicule and addiction, until he felt that he had said all that it was crucial for him to say; at that point, he died.

Several of Artaud’s friends were waiting for him at the station in the early morning of 26 May 1946: Jean Dubuffet, Marthe Robert, and Henri and Colette Thomas. (Jacques Prevel, the poet who had written to Artaud at Rodez and was anxious to meet him, intended to be there but failed to get out of bed in time.) Artaud’s friends took him to Dr Delmas’s clinic in the rue de la Mairie (now the avenue Georges Grosnat) in Ivry-sur-Seine, where he was given a room in a new pavilion of the sprawling, austere clinic, which was surrounded by extensive wooded parkland. The clinic was a private convalescence and nursing home, not an insane asylum, and Artaud was delighted with the kind welcome given to him by the elderly Dr Delmas, who also treated James Joyce’s daughter Lucia (Joyce and Samuel Beckett visited her at the clinic in Ivry). Delmas handed Artaud a set of keys to the clinic gates in order to reassure him that he was not being incarcerated in a closed institution, and could come and go as he pleased. On one occasion, Artaud returned to the clinic late at night having forgotten his keys, and had to be helped over the high wall by two policemen. The clinic was situated close to the railway tracks along which Artaud had travelled back from Rodez. The fees charged by Delmas were high, but Artaud’s financial situation was assured throughout the rest of his life from the profits of the auction of manuscripts and the theatre benefit event. Dubuffet administered these funds and paid the clinic fees out of them. (Dubuffet was succeeded in this role by Jean Paulhan and the gallery owner Pierre Loeb.) Artaud received a regular sum of money, equivalent to the wage of an unskilled manual worker of the time, for his personal use. Delmas became aware of the gestures and cries with which Artaud punctuated his writing, and installed a huge block of wood in his room. Artaud struck it with hammers, pokers and knives, finally reducing it to splinters as he tested the rhythm for the poems he was working on. In the evening of his first day in Paris, Artaud walked the streets for hours on end with Henri Thomas, reabsorbing the now-transformed city from which he had left for Ireland nine years previously; Paris gave Artaud ‘an impression of the void’.[1] He was searching for the apartments of friends who had died, or whom he had invented. Henri Thomas finally took him to see André Gide, who had recently returned to Paris after an absence of six years. Artaud recited ‘a very beautiful poem of dereliction and fury’[2] for Gide, who wept. Artaud remarked to Thomas that he believed his return to Paris would go well.

Great upheavals in Parisian life and culture had taken place since Artaud had last been there. After the Liberation from the German Occupation in 1944, the important intellectual figures were Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, both of whom had worked for the Resistance and consequently gained an aura of heroic commitment. Conditions in the city were still grim in 1946. Frequent electricity cuts interrupted the metro, many foods were scarce, the black market was pervasive, and much of Paris’s population was preoccupied with accusing their enemies of collaboration with the Germans during the Occupation. The Surrealist movement attracted little more than feelings of indifference or hostility at this time. André Breton had been absent from the struggle against the Occupation and had spent the war years principally in New York, along with a number of the other Surrealists. Artaud wrote to Breton, who arrived back in Paris five days after him: ‘I, Antonin Artaud, do not want to shoot you in the legs at a moment when everybody else is doing it…’.[3] Artaud largely escaped this animosity, since his Surrealist texts were now long out of print, and he had been expelled from the movement almost twenty years previously.

Man Ray; Antonin Artaud 1926

He was known principally for The Theatre and its Double, which had been re-issued in 1944, and for the Letters from Rodez, which had provoked an impact of disturbed awe on their publication in April 1946. Artaud’s internment was a source of great sympathy and indignation. The poet and film scenarist Jacques Prévert told Roger Blin that what Artaud had lived through was ‘worse than deportation’ to a concentration camp.[4]

Despite the austerity of post-war Paris, a vivid sense of artistic experimentation and rediscovery had flared up after the Liberation. In 1946, Nico Papatakis opened his legendary Existentialist nightclub La Rose Rouge in the new artistic axis of Saint Germain-des-Prés. Many emergent artistic groups were now demanding attention. The Lettrists, led by the young Romanian poet Isidore Isou, were working enthusiastically with disintegrated elements of language. (Isou repeatedly accosted Artaud during this period at the Flore, but found the disinterested Artaud ‘extremely disappointing in his appearance and his behaviour’.)[5] The COBRA group, notably Karel Appel, put together violently coloured, clumsy paintings and sculptures which resembled those of children. At this time, Dubuffet was initiating his ideas for ‘Art Brut’, a concept which gave prominence to the visual creative work of asylum patients and uneducated people. There had been an explosion of small-scale independent publishing after the Liberation, directed by young writers such as Adamov, Thomas and Marcel Bisiaux, who were seeking outlets for their work. Artaud almost always demonstrated hostility or profound indifference towards the culture around him – he told Jacques Prevel: ‘When I hear people talking about a new poet, I want to shoot him at point-blank range’[6] – but it would be largely through these new outlets that his last writings appeared.

Artaud went into Paris daily to meet his friends in the Saint Germain-des-Prés cafes, especially the Flore. He caught the metro from the Ivry town hall (the terminus of one of the lines) each morning after he had been brought his breakfast in his room and had been shaved by the barber in the rue de la Mairie. The friends he saw most frequently during this period were Adamov and Blin (whom Artaud included in his crucifixion narrative as the Good Thief crucified alongside him). He became attached to Jacques Prevel after meeting the young poet on the day following his arrival back in Paris.

Prevel was ill with tuberculosis; he lived in wretched poverty and wrote poems about his incapacity to write poems. He became one of Artaud’s closest associates, and kept a journal in which he recorded all of their meetings. (It was published in 1974 under the title In the Company of Antonin Artaud, and reissued in a more complete version in 1994.) Prevel regularly submitted his poems for Artaud’s grudging appraisal, hoping that he would show them to Jean Paulhan.

Although La Nouvelle Revue Française had been officially suspended (after Gaston Gallimard was unfairly accused of collaboration), and was not published during the last part of Artaud’s life, Paulhan remained a dominant figure in the Parisian literary milieu. Artaud began taking copious amounts of laudanum again after his return to Paris, and he constantly asked Prevel to procure it for him. Prevel spent much of his time with Artaud at Ivry, and on one occasion Artaud demanded that Prevel participate in his cries. Prevel reported what happened in his journal. Artaud said to him: ‘You will not leave this room alive if you do not answer me.’

Antonin Artaud; Portrait of Jacques Prével 1947

And he stuck his knife straight into the table. So I started to shout with him. It relieved me, since I had been hearing him doing it for two hours and I felt the need to do it myself. ‘You have done something very remarkable,’ he told me immediately afterwards. ‘If we had been on a stage, we would have been a great success.’[7]

Artaud met Breton for the first time since 1937 on 1 June 1946, the day after Breton’s own return to Paris. It was a clash of opposed commitments. Artaud wanted Breton to verify his hallucinations about the circumstances of his arrest in September 1937, while Breton patronizingly told Artaud that his adventures had been like a story by Gérard de Nerval.

Over the months that followed, they saw each other often in Saint Germain-des-Prés. The same divergences that had caused their split in 1926 and Artaud’s expulsion from the Surrealist movement now returned with renewed force. Breton was diminished in Artaud’s eyes because he would not take Artaud’s claims seriously. Artaud would tell Prevel: ‘If you dug a little bit into the world of André Breton with a spiked stick, you would find worms.’[8]

On 5 June, Paule Thévenin – the woman whom Adamov had asked to find a suitable clinic for Artaud – went to see him for the first time at Ivry. She was living nearby, over the river in Charenton. Paule Thévenin, whose mother was Algerian, was twenty-four at this time; she had been a medical student and had also considered acting. She had a young daughter named Domnine and had called with her at Ivry on the previous day, while Artaud was out. A friend of Thévenin named Gervais Marchal had suggested that Artaud should do a reading for a literary radio programme, ‘Club d’Essai’, which had been started under the Occupation in 1942, as an outlet for experimental material. Paule Thévenin went to ask Artaud if he would like to make such a recording.

At first, Artaud was suspicious of the radio station’s official aura, and sceptical that he would be allowed to read exactly what he wanted, but Paule Thévenin succeeded in reassuring him. He liked Paule Thévenin, who was fierce-tempered, uncompromising and attractive, and soon incorporated her into his ‘daughters of the heart’. She would be the last woman to be included in that volatile arrangement. They became close friends, and Artaud often made the journey to Charenton to see her (her husband, a doctor, had his surgery in the same building as their apartment). On one occasion, he brought her a huge bouquet of many kinds of flowers, which he had put together as an evocation of her consciousness.

Artaud preferred to dictate his texts, especially for their final version. Paule Thévenin learned how to take his dictation, and typed out his near-illegible manuscripts. Artaud immediately set to work on writing the text for radio transmission. The recording session was only two days away. He produced a text which advocated his belief in the superiority of an ‘anti-social’ state of sickness, over a ‘social’ state of health supported by doctors and human cowardice. His sickness, ‘beautiful only because it is terrible’,[9] would be powerful since it was reinforced by fevers that came from opium, heroin and cocaine. Artaud recorded his provocative text, The Patients and the Doctors, on the morning of 8 June.

Giving his words a strongly rhythmic emphasis, he included elements from his invented language. When he listened to the recording, which was broadcast on the following day, he believed that he sounded like an over-dramatic classical actor, and was horrified. The evening before the recording session, the theatre benefit event organized by Roger Blin had taken place. Breton had made his first public appearance since his return to Paris and had introduced the event. Despite her nervous terror of the occasion, Colette Thomas performed Fragmentations during a power-cut, to great applause, and there were other readings by actors such as Roger Blin (who performed The New Revelations of Being), Louis Jouvet, Charles Dullin, and Jean-Louis Barrault, who later denied that he had appeared. Artaud was not allowed to attend, despite his great desire to do so, since Breton, Adamov and Marthe Robert had decided it would be too much of a shock for him. On 13 June, the auction was held of the donated manuscripts and paintings; the actor Pierre Brasseur served as the auctioneer, assisted by Anie Besnard. Many collectors were present, and a sum of over one million francs was raised for Artaud.

Artaud was now writing a great deal of poetry, for the first time since the Surrealist years. Much of it concerned his return to Paris as someone who was perceived socially as a madman or fanatic. He began to put together a collection of poems entitled Artaud the Mômo – ‘mômo’ was a Marseilles slang word for a fool or village idiot; for Artaud, the word had resonances of many other things, notably mummification and childishness. For these poems, Artaud developed a language which used many violent, excremental and sexual elements; he also soldered words together, and visually emphasized the parts of his poems where he worked with his invented language of incantation. This language was intended to be read aloud and to create immediate sonic impacts, rather than to function through the resemblance of its components to words in the French language (or the Greek, Italian, German and English languages, which were also fed into Artaud’s linguistic furnace):

klaver striva

cavour tavina

scaver kavina

okar triva[10]

Artaud now wanted to reach a wide, non-intellectual audience with his writings. For this reason, he was attracted to the idea of broadcasting his work on the radio, and also to having it appear in mass-circulation newspapers. He wrote a text entitled Madness and Black Magic, which condemned the institution of mental hospitals – he saw them as factories of magical torture. They were instruments of social suppression, and used electroshocks to pacify their victims’ desire for revolution. In this text, Artaud used a style that was rhythmic, flexible and journalistically paced. He sent Madness and Black Magic to two newspapers, Combat (which had been started by the Resistance fighters in Paris and had Albert Camus as one of its leading figures) and Franc-Tireur. They both turned it down. He had been planning to read The Patients and the Doctors again on the radio for the Club d’Essai programme, since he had been so dissatisfied with his first attempt. Now, he changed his mind and performed Madness and Black Magic instead, on 16 July (it was transmitted on the following day). Artaud also included it among the poetic texts he was writing for Artaud the Mômo, and added a section on the Tarahumara Indians.

The book’s publisher, Pierre Bordas, wanted Artaud to persuade Pablo Picasso to illustrate his poems. Artaud arranged numerous appointments with Picasso, who avoided them all. In exasperation, Artaud decided to illustrate the book himself with the drawings he was including in his exercise-books. These drawings were used to punctuate the fragmentary exercise-book texts and to demonstrate what Artaud was writing about with greater visual immediacy – the drawings were of nails, skulls and dancing bodies. He told Bordas that the book would gain force from the incorporation of his ‘totems’ and ‘mysterious, operating machines’.[11] He was also being asked to write new texts by many people, particularly the young writers who had started their own magazines. On 8 July, with his customary rapidity of the time, he wrote a text for Michel Hincker entitled The Theatre and the Anatomy, which explored his ideas of how physical and theatrical spaces should be meshed.

Artaud was offered a contract by Gaston Gallimard on 1 August for the publication of the play he had staged for the Theatre of Cruelty in 1935, The Cenci. Gallimard was also proposing to publish all of Artaud’s previous writings in the form of a Collected Works; this put Artaud into a state of intense activity all through August, making lists of the books he particularly wanted to be re-published. He also began to write new versions of the Surrealist open letters from 1925 to give them a contemporary relevance and incision. He intended to erase their mystical aspects, and to include the events of the intervening twenty years of his life. Two of these open letters, to the Pope and Dalai Lama, would be completed later in the year. Also during August, Artaud wrote an Introduction for the Collected Works. It ranged over his life and work from the time of his arguments with Jacques Rivière, through to his creation of the murdered ‘daughters of the heart to be born’ and his new concept of cruelty:

The theatre is the scaffold, the gallows, the trenches, the crematorium oven or the lunatic asylum. Cruelty: massacred bodies.[12]

Artaud was quickly becoming disillusioned with his new ‘daughters of the heart’, with the exception of Paule Thévenin – in his perception, Colette Thomas had already been divided between a double who existed and whom he had met in his life, and a true Colette who was yet to appear. He resented Marthe Robert’s ironical attitude towards him and her liaison with Adamov. Anie Besnard was now married, and Artaud furiously demanded that she should provide proof of her fidelity to him alone, and that she reject her husband and family, whom he denounced as ‘bastards’ who had seduced her with money:

I have no money but

I am

Antonin Artaud

and I can be rich, immensely and immediately rich if I only wanted to make the effort. The trouble is that I have always had a hatred for money, for fortunes, for wealth…[13]

On 20 August, Artaud began his new series of drawings with a portrait of Prevel’s wife, Rolande. He had previously drawn a strange human figure as part of a dedication to Paule Thévenin, inscribed in her copy of The Theatre and its Double in June. In his drawings from August 1946 onward, Artaud worked almost exclusively on the face, drawing portraits of all of his friends and the people who came to see him at Ivry. For the next nine months, he concentrated a delicate but fiery energy into transforming the faces of the people in his drawings. He tried to execute a bursting of the facial flesh on the surface of the paper; at the same time, he consciously aimed to collapse the aesthetic value attached to the unified physical form and its representation. He dissolved and concurrently reconstructed the face, attempting to get inside its material and to remake it. In these portraits, he cut open a space where a multiplicity of controlled forces was set to work on the image, tearing and harassing it, while also breaking it open for potential corporeal realignment. Artaud scarred his drawings of the face with the evidence of gesture, cancelling and marking the face with his reactivated strength, working to break down what he saw as its layers and screens, until it attained its authentic appearance.

Antonin Artaud, Untitled 1948

Artaud travelled down to the south of France by train on the night of 13 September for a holiday at the resort of Sainte-Maxime. Marthe Robert went with him, and stayed at the same hotel. Paule Thévenin and Colette Thomas followed them to the Mediterranean coast on the next day and stayed in a sea-front villa owned by Colette Thomas’s aunt at La Nartelle, close to Sainte-Maxime. Colette Thomas had had a cosmetic operation, paid for by Artaud, to remove some bones in her feet and make them smaller, and she had been convalescing at Paule Thévenin’s apartment. Artaud was able to see Paule Thévenin and Colette Thomas every day.

Surrounded by his ‘daughters of the heart’, he wrote a great amount of new material in Sainte-Maxime. He produced a text entitled Hammer and Beat in which he declared his contempt for written language: ‘In reality I say nothing and I do nothing. I use neither words nor letters, I never use words and I never even use letters.’[14] Now, his language would be expressed ‘by blows and by screams’.[15] A substantial part of Artaud’s time at Sainte-Maxime was spent in seeing doctors who might prescribe laudanum for him, and in contacting friends in Paris to ask them to send him drugs. The stay in Sainte-Maxime went well, apart from Dubuffet’s initial refusal to release money from Artaud’s funds to enable him to pay Marthe Robert’s hotel bill as well as his own. They returned to Paris on 4 October.

One day soon after arriving back in Paris from Sainte-Maxime, Artaud took a walk in the grounds of the clinic at Ivry, and found a large and derelict hunting pavilion deep in the woods. It dated from the eighteenth century, and its french windows opened out into a garden of wild flowers. Artaud decided that he wanted to leave his new room and live in this pavilion instead. It had no running water, electricity or central heating, and at first Dr Delmas tried to dissuade him. But Artaud insisted: he wanted a sense of isolation from the other inhabitants of the clinic. Delmas arranged for the clinic’s gardener to bring Artaud jugs of water and logs for the huge fireplace, which Artaud liked to say was the only luxury in his pavilion. Delmas also wanted to install central heating, but Artaud refused to move out long enough for it to be done.

The pavilion consisted of two rooms, one of which was very large and gave him space for his drawing, dancing and gestural movements. After so many constrictive hotel rooms and asylum cells, Artaud became attached to his new accommodation; he soon elaborated a story that it was a pavilion in which the poet Gérard de Nerval had once stayed.

Artaud would live there until his death.

Denise Colomb; Interior of Artaud’s room in the psychiatric clinic in Ivry-sur-Seine 1947

Artaud was now receiving frequent requests for texts, and proposals for collaborations with other writers. In September 1946, both Artaud and the young poet Henri Pichette – who would become renowned a year later with the production of his play The Epiphanies – had texts refused by the prominent magazine Arts et Lettres. The co-editor who had commissioned Artaud’s text, Bernard Lucas, resigned from the magazine and published the rejected texts of Artaud and Pichette together in a booklet issued in an edition of fifty copies, entitled by Artaud Xylophony against the Popular Press and its Little Audience. This made Prevel jealous, since he wanted to be seen as collaborating with Artaud. Adamov’s first book, The Confession, about sexual humiliation and despair, was published by Gallimard soon after Artaud’s release from Rodez; in October, Artaud wrote a text entitled Untimely Death and the Confession of Arthur Adamov for Paulhan’s magazine Les Cahiers de la Pléiade, to signal the appearance of Adamov’s book. He wrote that The Confession ‘weeps the prenatal assassination of poetry’,[16] and formulated a denunciation of death as a kind of socially inspired deformation of the human body. Henri Parisot had been in touch with Artaud again, and requested that Artaud write an Introduction for Parisot’s translations of the work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Artaud read Coleridge’s poetry, but disliked it and delayed completing his text until 17 November, by which time it was too late to be included with Parisot’s translations. In Coleridge the Traitor, Artaud created a vision of a virulent poetry composed of blood, mucous, cruelty and insurrection. He believed that in all of Coleridge’s work, only an early fragment (probably Reality’s Dark Dream, from 1803) possessed these qualities. In Artaud’s view, Coleridge had subsequently become scared of his poetic power and had, as a result, lost his claim to a literal physical immortality. Despite the fact that Coleridge, too, had taken opium, Artaud largely overlooked that aspect of his life. He simply asserted that Coleridge’s vital poems had survived solely through their distillation into opium.

Towards the end of 1946, Artaud was working at a furious pace. He produced two long and intricate poems, Here Lies and The Indian Culture, during the course of one burst of writing on 25 November. He arranged for these two poems to appear together in one volume issued by a small publishing company, K, run by Parisot and Alain Gheerbrandt. K was one of the numerous French publishers to reject Samuel Beckett’s fiction during these years. All of Artaud’s books of the last period suffered long delays before they appeared, largely due to the financial precariousness of the publishing companies involved, and their desire to wait and see how much interest Artaud’s return to Paris generated. Much to Artaud’s dismay, his poetry was to appear in expensive luxury editions of several hundred copies, rather than in the massive, accessible editions which he demanded.

Artaud was working on a new book, Henchmen and Torturings; it had evolved from the idea suggested by Adamov, while Artaud was still at Rodez, for the project which had been provisionally entitled For the Poor Popocatepel. Artaud included many of his recent letters in this book, especially those to his new friends and ‘daughters of the heart’, and to well-known figures such as Breton and Georges Braque. The book was intended to form a bridge between Artaud’s incarceration at Rodez and his new life in Paris, and he wanted it to demonstrate his current preoccupations. He signed a contract for the book with Louis Broder and the gallery owner Pierre Loeb, who was renowned for promoting the work of the Surrealists and of artists such as Balthus. At first, a young writer, Chris Marker (later to become a prominent film-maker and digital artist) worked briefly as Artaud’s assistant on the project; Loeb then hired a professional secretary, Luciane Abiet, to work with Artaud. She travelled each morning to Ivry from the end of November 1946 to 8 February 1947, so that Artaud could dictate a sequence of new texts to be included in the book.

He was usually still in bed when she arrived at the pavilion, and he remained there, simultaneously eating his breakfast and spitting out violent text after text from his toothless mouth. He spoke of how malicious beings came to attack him every night and drink his sperm; how he hated sexuality and all the organs of the body – especially the tongue and the heart, which would have to be excised before a true body of shattered bone and nerve could be created; how he opposed all religions; and how, faced with so many assaults, his brain went ‘up in smoke as under the action of one of those machines created to suck up filth from the floor’.[17] When Broder read this material, he suffered a religious crisis and refused to publish the book. The project then passed through the hands of two of Artaud’s other publishers, Pierre Bordas and K. Acutely fragmented and inflammatory on a massive scale, Henchmen and Torturings was not published until thirty years after Artaud’s death. He said himself that it was ‘absolutely impossible to read’ and that ‘nobody has ever read it from end to end, not even its author’.[18]

Throughout his first six months back in Paris, Artaud was considering staging a spectacle that would bring the Theatre of Cruelty back to life. He was contemplating a performance which could be an amalgam of screams and violence, and he initially planned to stage Euripides’ The Bacchae. But his concept of performance had been transformed totally since the time of The Cenci in 1935, and Artaud quickly abandoned the idea of a spectacle which would have any appearance of theatre, and which would be dependent upon the susceptibilities of a group of actors who might disobey him to some degree. As Artaud had written to Roger Blin while still at Rodez, he needed actors who would literally bleed for the Theatre of Cruelty. Only Blin himself and Alain Cuny were fully prepared to do that for Artaud.[19] Artaud then decided to confront his audience alone, on a bare stage, just as he had done at the Sorbonne in 1933, while preoccupied with the desire to express the impact of the plague on the body. The manager of a small theatre in Saint Germain-des-Prés, the Vieux-Colombier, offered Artaud the opportunity to give his performance there; Adamov and the many young writers who were visiting Artaud at Ivry encouraged him to make this first public appearance since the Brussels lecture of 1937. Some of Artaud’s contemporaries, especially Breton, expressed strong reservations about the performance, believing that Artaud was being exploited and put into a situation which would prove to be a destabilizing ordeal. But the event went ahead, and Artaud painstakingly prepared a text which would pin down all of the assaults he had suffered in Mexico, in Ireland, and in the asylums. His many accusations would now be made public, reinforced by his physical presence.

1947 arthur adamov
Antonin Artaud; Portrait of Arthur Adamov 1947

Artaud’s event, which he entitled The Story Lived by Artaud-Mômo, took place on the evening of 13 January 1947. The theatre was overcrowded with spectators, most of whom were young people; several hundred latecomers had to be turned away when the theatre became too densely packed. Numerous friends from all periods of Artaud’s life in Paris were present at the Vieux-Colombier, including André Gide, Jean Paulhan, Roger Blin and Arthur Adamov; Albert Camus and Georges Braque also attended. Despite his reservations, André Breton went to Artaud’s performance and sat at the back of the theatre. Since no sound recording was made of what Artaud said, the most valuable accounts of the event are those by people who wrote down their impressions immediately afterwards, notably Prevel and the journalist Maurice Saillet, whose review appeared in Combat on 24 January. Artaud appeared on stage with a mass of papers which made up his prepared text. He spoke for three hours altogether, from nine until midnight; at first, he was heckled, but Artaud silenced the interruptions with his magisterial gravity. After that, the performance continued with the audience in absolute silence. The heat in the cramped theatre caused people to faint. Artaud was in a highly charged, strained state, and began by reading three poems – two from the collection Artaud the Mômo, and The Indian Culture. His delivery was shredded with silences, and his hands fluttered nervously around his face and gripped it. The poems were almost inaudible, sobbed and stammered out into the room as fragments from Artaud’s survival. According to Prevel, Artaud also performed Madness and Black Magic, with greater coherence. After reading the poems, Artaud stopped dead; an interval of five minutes was called, and Gide climbed up onto the stage to embrace him.

Artaud opened the second half of his performance by starting to read his prepared text. It was concerned particularly with the denial of death which Artaud was formulating at this time. For Artaud, death was always an invented state, imposed by society so that the inert body would become vulnerable raw material for malicious robberies and attacks as it entered a state of limbo, such as he claimed to have experienced during an electroshock coma at Rodez. With a strong enough will to live, and sufficient resistance to social compromise, an independent human body could live forever, powered by anger. But Artaud did not get this far with his reading. He dropped his papers on the floor, and stood acutely exposed, as though paralysed. A long, agonized silence followed; Artaud would later write to Maurice Saillet that ‘what I had to say was in my silences, not in my words’.[20] When he spoke again, it was to begin a wild improvisation, constantly shattered by cries, screams and savage gestures. He ferociously denounced his electroshock treatments at Rodez, accusing Ferdière by name, and constructed fractured narratives of the journeys to Mexico and Ireland which he had undertaken ten years previously. He continued to spit out his fury and incant his stories for two hours. Finally, when he tried to convince the horrified and awestruck audience that he was the victim of a black[-magic bewitchment, Artaud knew that he had reached a dead-end. He said: ‘I put myself in your place, and I see very well that what I’m saying isn’t interesting at all, it’s still theatre. What can I do to be truly sincere?’. He stopped again, and read a last poem from Artaud the Mômo. When he came to the words ‘the filthy carcass’, he aimed them directly at his stunned audience. Then Artaud abruptly left the stage.

Afterwards, Breton told Artaud that it was stupid of him to have undertaken such a performance. Since he had stood on the boards of a theatre, it proved he was still a ‘man of the theatre’, as he had been in 1926 when they had quarrelled over the Alfred Jarry Theatre. Although Artaud had grasped that he could not penetrate through from theatre to life, and had declared this on stage, what Breton said infuriated him.

At the same time, Breton invited Artaud to participate – with either drawings or a catalogue text – in the International Exhibition of Surrealism which he and Marcel Duchamp were organizing at the Galerie Maeght in Paris for the summer of 1947. Breton had decided to use the gallery space to convey a kind of magical initiation in stages. The exhibition would include rooms dedicated to voodoo, the tarot, and the zodiac. These were all now anathema for Artaud, and he refused Breton’s request: André Breton, how can you do this? After reproaching me for appearing in a theatre, you invite me to participate in an exhibition, in an art gallery which is so chic, ultra-successful, affluent, capitalist (even though it has its account with a communist bank), and where all the exhibitions, whatever they are, can only have the stylized, limited, closed, fixed character of an attempt at art.[21]

For Artaud, the exhibition Breton was planning would be aimed against himself personally, with malice, since its emphasis was on the magical. And it would be useless for Breton to exhibit ‘objects which will not wail, reek, stink, fart, spit, will not show wounds, will not receive them’.[22]

Artaud was convinced that his Vieux-Colombier performance had not failed. He believed that it had demonstrated with great immediacy and violence the potential of the new language of blows and screams which he had conceived at Sainte-Maxime, and which he was sure he would soon possess and wield. His experience at the Vieux-Colombier had convinced him of the absolute necessity of attacking society constantly, in all its forms. He wrote to Breton:

No man of the theatre, in the entire history of the theatre, has previously taken the attitude which I had that night on stage at the Vieux-Colombier, which consisted of wailing out belches of hatred, colics and cramps to the limits of blackout, etc, etc. Besides gathering people together in a room, it remains for me to hurl abuse at this society in the street…[23]

So yes, I appeared on a stage, once again, for the LAST TIME, at the Vieux-Colombier theatre, but with the visible intention of exploding its framework, exploding its framework from inside, and I do not believe that the spectacle of a man who wails and yells fury to the point of vomiting his intestines is a very theatrical spectacle… I abandoned the stage because I realised the fact that the only language which I could have with an audience was to bring bombs out of my pockets and throw them in the audience’s face with a blatant gesture of aggression… and blows are the only language in which I feel capable of speaking.[24]

Antonin Artaud; Notebook 1946 (Textes contemporains de la conférence au Vieux-Colombier)

Artaud’s dispute with Breton was still essentially the same as it had been in 1926 – it was over the question of the presence of intention in the creative act, and about revolution and individual action against society. Artaud argued that although his performance had been wild and improvised, it had been so by intention. He lectured Breton on how Surrealism should work: it could only be revolutionary if it constantly interrogated and reinvented everything, from science and medicine to the human body itself. The recriminations continued by letter until May 1947; the final phase of Artaud’s friendship with Breton was now exhausted. Despite his great desire, over the course of twenty years, for Breton to support and empathize with his work, Artaud finally could only push Breton away: ‘I have my own idea of birth, of life, of death, of reality, of destiny, and I do not accept that someone can impose on me or suggest to me any other.’[25]

Towards the end of January 1947, Artaud was working on the final fragments of Henchmen and Torturings, which he had now been dictating for two months. Although Broder had by this time been scandalized by Artaud’s work and wanted nothing more to do with it, Loeb continued to pay the secretary Luciane Abiet to receive Artaud’s dictation every morning. A major exhibition of the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh opened at this time at the Orangerie museum in Paris, and Loeb wanted Artaud to write an essay about it. But Artaud was preoccupied with Henchmen and Torturings, which had now gone far beyond the limits of a publishable book of the time. Loeb finally provoked Artaud by sending him a newspaper cutting, in which a doctor diagnosed Van Gogh in a psychiatric vocabulary very close to that used to define Artaud’s own mental condition at Ville-Évrard and Rodez. Van Gogh’s working methods were treated as diagnostic indicators, to justify the doctor’s position. Loeb’s motivation was unsubtle: he wanted one asylum inmate to write on another. The newspaper article sent Artaud into a state of furious indignation. He quickly abandoned work on Henchmen and Torturings (he would return briefly to it at the end of February, but the book remained in a state of flux), and he asked Paule Thévenin to accompany him to the exhibition on 2 February. He had to go early in the morning and stayed only for a short time, striding at high speed from room to room; the museum became intolerable to him when it filled with people – it was a Sunday – and he soon left. But he had seen enough of Van Gogh’s paintings to generate the most renowned writing of his last years, Van Gogh the Suicide of Society.

By the beginning of March, the text had been completed and dictated to Paule Thévenin. For Artaud, the Van Gogh exhibition was a vital, eruptive event – the exact contrary to Breton’s moribund Surrealist exhibition. Van Gogh’s paintings were socially disruptive, dense objects which still shook nature and rearranged history. After the long and grinding process of writing Henchmen and Torturings, Artaud’s language emerged as a lucid and infinitely flexible material in Van Gogh the Suicide of Society. He could switch rapidly from vivid, journalistic passages which evoked the paintings with precision, to an imagery that compacted together Van Gogh’s work and his own work on the raging human body:

The body under the skin is an overheated factory and, outside,

the sick man blazes,

he glows,

from all of his burst pores.

This is a landscape

by Van Gogh

at noon.[26]

As Pierre Loeb had anticipated, Artaud wrote about his own experiences in parallel to those of Van Gogh, just as he had written himself into the life of Heliogabalus in 1933. Van Gogh the Suicide of Society became an arena in which Artaud worked over his bitterness towards the psychiatrists who had treated him. He described how he had felt the desire to commit suicide because he could not cut their throats. (Despite this, Ferdière spoke of Van Gogh the Suicide of Society with great appreciation, and as Artaud’s finest work.)[27] Artaud reserved his most venomous attack for Jacques Lacan, whom he derided as a ‘filthy vile bastard’.[28]

By this point, Artaud had formulated an entire grouping of poets and writers whose lives and work he allied to his own. They had all been driven to suicide or covertly murdered by a collective social will. In his letters to Breton, Artaud added Lenin to a list which always included the poets Nerval, Baudelaire and Poe. For Artaud, every authentic act was driven by a sense of necessity or desperation: ‘Nobody has ever written or painted, sculpted, modelled, constructed, invented, other than really to get out of hell.’[29] In Van Gogh the Suicide of Society, Artaud also declared his belief in the ‘authentic madman’. It was his own position during the previous decade of internment, ridicule and struggle. He wrote of the madman: ‘It is a man who has preferred to become mad, in the socially understood sense of the word, rather than betray a certain superior idea of human honour… a madman is also a man whom society does not want to hear, and whom it wants to prevent from speaking intolerable truths.’[30] Artaud argued that madness was largely defined by language; it was instituted by particular social communities or nations as an instrument of exclusion, silence and suppression, to be used against insurgent elements. (Many prominent writers and theoreticians, such as Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, R.D. Laing and Julia Kristeva, drew upon and worked with these ideas, particularly in the 1960s.) Artaud answered the language of madness with his poetic language of opposition and furious rejection in Van Gogh the Suicide of Society. By the end of his life, Artaud was using screams and gestures to refuse and disintegrate any idea, definition or diagnosis of madness.

Artaud continued to travel into central Paris from Ivry on most days during the spring of 1947. On 17 March, he went to the Sorbonne to hear the former Dada leader Tristan Tzara give a lecture on the role of Surrealism after the recent war. Tzara’s position was that Surrealism was now obsolete – it had run its course, and the remaining members of the Surrealist movement should turn to Marxism. Much of the audience had come to heckle and then walk out in protest. Breton stood up and shouted at Tzara, and walked out, followed by Prevel. Artaud left soon afterwards.

Also in March, Artaud went to the cinema for the last time in his life. He was walking past the Champollion cinema and saw that Gance’s 1935 film Lucrecia Borgia, in which he played the role of Savonarola, was being shown. He went inside, but when he saw himself on the screen in a monk’s costume, it made him furious. Artaud could not tolerate religion or mysticism of any kind now. As a counterweight to Breton’s Surrealist exhibition, which was to open in July, Artaud was beginning to contemplate an exhibition of his own drawings.

His consumption of drugs was at a high level in these months, and he fluctuated between declaring that opium was the most important substance in life, and wretchedly desiring an end to his addiction. Montmartre was then the principal area in Paris where drugs could be bought, and Artaud often had to make the journey there. He told Prevel: ‘I owe 2,000 francs to one dealer and 5,000 to another. One of them came to see me, the one from Montmartre, but he didn’t insist. I told him: “Look, I’ve only got 20 francs left.” With me, he soon realised that it was no good insisting, that I was too far gone when it comes to drugs.’[31] In April, he briefly considered a detoxification cure, but rejected the idea. Dr Delmas at Ivry was far more understanding than Ferdière had been about Artaud’s drug intake; he always treated Artaud kindly, and also allowed him to draw his portrait. Artaud reported to Prevel: ‘My testicles suppurated all through the night with a thick, blackish pus. Doctor Delmas said to me: “That’s beyond my science,” and he added: “You need a gramme of heroin every day.”’[32]

Maintaining the momentum of Van Gogh the Suicide of Society, Artaud produced text after text. In April, he wrote Shit to the Mind, attacking all of the artistic groupings whose names ended with the suffix ‘ism’, ranging from Surrealism to the emergent movement of Lettrism. For Artaud, they all made the same grave error in attaching pre-eminence to the mind, or to the spirit, and in subordinating the body. Artaud equated the idea of the mind with the vulnerability of the unconscious and with religious spirituality. The volatile new body he was imagining would abruptly negate the functions of the mind, together with all the mental processes which had caused Artaud himself so much pain. In a long letter of 23 April to Pierre Loeb, Artaud continued to construct this imagery of the autonomous, actively mind-less body. The body would be powered only by its own intentions, moving as ‘a tree of walking will’.[33] It would be stripped down to bone and electric nerve, so as to facilitate the expulsion of its organs. He believed that his individual struggle towards the ‘authentic’ body rendered the growing Cold War confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union utterly without significance, even if it came to nuclear warfare. During this period, Artaud was also collecting his texts on the Tarahumaras for the publisher Marc Barbezat, and he revised the translation from Through the Looking Glass which he had undertaken for Ferdière in September 1943.

Antonin Artaud; Portrait of Minouche Pastier 1947

In May 1947, Artaud’s portraits of his friends changed. He began to damage the images more ferociously, and he used coloured crayons as well as pencils to intensify his pictorial assaults on the facial flesh and to reformulate it. He also started to surround his images with texts. They ran around the borders of the drawings, and served to open out what Artaud wanted the face to show, by reinforcing it with a linguistic element. Sometimes, the text cut straight across the face, or pushed it into an extreme corner of the drawing’s surface space. The written word and the drawn image always generated a strong visual collision. On 22 May, Artaud drew a portrait of Paule Thévenin’s sister, Minouche Pastier, with sprays of orange, red and blue fire in her hair. Two days later, he drew Paule Thévenin’s head surrounded by blocks of metal, her throat gouged and trailing wire, her hair streaming with nails, and her facial skin embedded with a layered arrangement of marks which the passage of a further forty-five years would only begin to give her in life. Artaud also produced two portraits of Colette Thomas, which demonstrate the acute fluctuation of his feelings for her. In the first, her face is delicately formed, with the eyes and the mouth especially emphasized and exposed. In the second portrait, the face is almost unrecognizable; the skin is darkly bruised and slashed by pencil strokes, and the hair falls in tattered bunches around the woman’s head. The writing around these drawings of women relates to their status and rivalry as ‘daughters of the heart’. On the drawing of Paule Thévenin, Artaud inscribed:

I put my daughter on guard

she is faithful

since Ophelia got up too late

(The name ‘Ophelia’ coldly referred to Colette Thomas, whose mental state was increasingly precarious.) Artaud drew a portrait of Prevel’s mistress, Jany de Ruy, with the text:

I make these children

out of poor wrinkles, and I send them to battle in my body.

Artaud’s own face appears in all these portraits, compacted into that of his sitter, so that they are all double portraits of Artaud and the subject whose face he was interrogating in his drawing. Each image is a face-to-face confrontation.

Pierre Loeb offered to mount an exhibition of Artaud’s drawings at his Galerie Pierre in the rue des Beaux Arts. Since the exhibition was not intended to make money (no drawings were for sale), Artaud agreed with Loeb that he would forfeit a number of his drawings to the gallery, to offset Loeb’s expenses. In the event, more drawings would disappear while they were being hung on the gallery walls and taken down again. The drawings which Artaud chose to exhibit were mainly the portraits of the face which he had recently been working on, but a small number of the fragmented figures from his time at Rodez would also be shown. He began to plan two events to mark the opening and closing of the exhibition. During the course of June, he wrote a text entitled The Human Face for the exhibition catalogue, which would contain that text alone and no reproductions of Artaud’s drawings, because of the expense that would have entailed. He had already written one text on his drawings since he had arrived back in Paris, Ten Years that Language has been Gone, in April. It was about the drawings which he used to punctuate his exercise-book fragments, giving their concerns greater immediacy with a dense, gestural illustration. Each of the drawings was ‘a machine which is breathing’.[34] Like the physical language of screams and gestures which Artaud was searching for, the drawings would begin with a blow:

a blow




anti- dialectical

of language

pressed down by my black pencil

and that’s all.[35]

The Human Face concentrated on the resuscitation which Artaud intended to give the face, through his wild pencil strokes:

In fact, the human face carries a kind of perpetual death on its face and it is up to the painter himself to save it with his strokes by giving it back its rightful features.[36]

Artaud had no regard whatsoever for the technical skills and abilities of an artist. He denounced abstract art as an insincere amalgam of technique and money. And he stressed the savagely un-artistic, exploratory nature of his own drawings, which he intended to operate at the limits of what could be done with corporeal substance. He wrote:

I have moreover definitively broken with art, style and talent in all the drawings which you will see here. I mean that I curse anyone who is going to consider them as works of art, works that aesthetically simulate reality… None of them, to speak exactly, is a work. They are all attempts, that is to say blows – probings or thrustings in all the directions of hazard, of possibility, of chance, or of destiny.[37]

The exhibition of Artaud’s drawings at the Galerie Pierre opened on 4 July 1947, in the same month as the International Exhibition of Surrealism at the far larger Galerie Maeght. The event Artaud arranged for the first night did not go well. He had asked Colette Thomas and Marthe Robert to read from his work. Colette Thomas performed a theatre text which Artaud had written in May, entitled Alienate the Actor.

Artaud’s concept of alienation had nothing at all to do with that of Bertolt Brecht. Artaud’s actor was to be a madman whose life was endangered by society, and who would release his body’s force of fury as an act of alienation against that society. Artaud’s theatre of the body would be made up from a raw, grinding process of transformation:

The theatre

is the condition,

the place,

the point,

where the human anatomy can be seized

and used to heal and direct life.[38]

Colette Thomas had not rehearsed her reading with Artaud, and she was in a highly strained state at the event. Prevel was present, and described what happened:

The crowd was dense. I could hardly move, and the heat was overwhelming. Colette Thomas was horribly nervous, with an unbearable stage-fright. She began as though she had been thrown into water and never managed to take control of herself for an instant. It was at once pathetic and extremely painful. Marthe Robert was more calm and read a text on the Tarahumaras. Artaud, hidden, accentuated the text with savage screams.[39]

1946 - 1947 la projection du veritable corps
Antonin Artaud; The Projection of the True Body 1946-1948

Artaud prepared the second Galerie Pierre event with greater discipline. He decided to deliver a text himself, and thereby appear in public for the first time since the Vieux-Colombier performance. But this time, he was determined to exert an exact control over what happened. Entrance to the event would be by invitation only, and Artaud would appear surrounded by his own drawings, as though by an army. The performance space would include Artaud’s visual, aural and physical presences. The text he wrote for his performance was entitled The Theatre and Science. The only science Artaud would recognize as valid was one which formulated a physical gesture that could annihilate death, society and the organs of the body, to create a body in constant movement. ‘Theatre’ was the name which Artaud gave to this all-consuming action:

The true theatre has always appeared to me as the exercise of a dangerous, terrible action, where the idea of theatre and of spectacle are eliminated together with those of all science, all religion and all art. The action I am talking about aims for the organic transformation and the authentic physicality of the human body. Why? Because the theatre… is this crucible of fire and real meat where, anatomically, by stampings of bones, limbs and syllables, bodies are remade.[40]

Artaud wrote to Roger Blin, asking him to perform at the second event, and he harassed Colette Thomas into intensively rehearsing her second reading of Alienate the Actor with him at Ivry. On 5 July, she complained to Prevel that ‘I have no money, and Artaud tries to kiss me. I don’t know what is going to happen’.[41]

The second Galerie Pierre event took place on 18 July, two days before the end of Artaud’s exhibition. According to a member of the audience, Claire Goll, Ferdière was present and was ‘almost lynched’ by the angry crowd, though Ferdière himself denied this.[42] Prevel was there and documented the performance:

There were lots of people. It was stifling. Artaud spoke first, with a great rigour of meaning. Absolutely the opposite of his lecture.[43]

Antonin Artaud; Portrait of Colette Thomas 1947

Then Colette Thomas – extraordinary – and as Artaud expressed it: ‘Like a mind ready to materialize.’ Roger Blin read The Indian Culture in a phenomenal way and lifted the audience off the ground. ‘Roger Blin was like a devil,’ Artaud said.[44]

Between Colette Thomas’s reading and that of Roger Blin, Marthe Robert had again performed The Tarahumaras’ Peyote Rite, as she had done on 4 July. Since then, Artaud had found a gong, which he beat with a huge poker to punctuate the words Marthe Robert was reading. The event was a great success. But for Artaud, it had still not generated all of the impact which he wanted his language to create. On the same evening, he added a postscript to his manuscript of The Theatre and Science:

This reading took place this evening, Friday 18 July 1947, and by moments it was as though I skimmed the opening of my heart’s tone. I would have had to shit blood through my navel to arrive at what I want. For example, three quarters of an hour’s beating with a poker on the same spot…[45]

Two days later, he told Prevel that ‘in spite of everything I was disappointed. I believe that in order to make all these people understand something, I would have to kill them’.[46]

Artaud continued to be confident that he would soon reach the level of direct action which he had formulated in The Theatre and Science, and had attempted to put into practice with the Galerie Pierre event. But he still needed to bring that action into existence, and drive it through to its extreme end.

He continued to make many drawings in the weeks after the exhibition. He believed that it would be through the intermediary of his visual images that the violent welding of language with the body could be achieved. On 21 August, he wrote to the publisher Marc Barbezat:

I have the idea of putting into operation a new gathering-together of the human world’s activities, idea of a new anatomy… My drawings are anatomies in action.[47]

From the time of his exhibition, Artaud’s health began to decline rapidly. He complained of pains all over his body, his face became swollen and he had to spend days incapacitated in his bed at Ivry. His journeys into Paris became rarer in the autumn of 1947, but Artaud’s physical suffering never stopped him working. He continued to write texts, draw, dance, and hammer at his wooden block in his pavilion, working to drive his pain away. Now that Artaud was less visible in Saint Germain-des-Prés, he had greater difficulty in arranging meetings with his friends, and he began to feel isolated at Ivry. Paule Thévenin went to visit him regularly – she had been away in Morocco during the period of the Galerie Pierre exhibition – and a young, unemployed actor named André Voisin began appearing each morning at Ivry, helping Artaud with the everyday business of his life which was becoming increasingly impossible for him. He also saw Colette Thomas often, but he was estranging her with his hostile behaviour and incessant demands. He declared that she believed she had written Artaud’s texts herself, and that he had stolen them from her. He also complained that she wanted to seduce him and have a baby by him.

Finding it difficult to obtain laudanum regularly under the black-market conditions, Artaud began to take enormous doses of chloral hydrate, which he swallowed in the form of a syrup. Chloral hydrate is an addictive, hypnotic drug, used only rarely in medical practice to kill pain; it has many side-effects, notably as a gastric irritant, and its principal function is to put the patient to sleep rapidly. Artaud found it hard to regulate his dose, and often fell into comas. When he went into Paris without Paule Thévenin to watch over him, he often collapsed in the street. In August, three policemen picked him up and took him back to the Ivry clinic in a taxi. On one occasion at the beginning of November, he blacked out in the place Blanche in Montmartre, and awoke to find that the fifteen thousand francs he had been carrying had disappeared.

Prevel spent much of his time frantically searching for laudanum to take to Artaud at Ivry. But, on the night of 11 August, Prevel had his first serious tubercular haemorrhage and became gravely ill. Two days later, Artaud wrote to him:

I waited for you

all day yesterday.

Come to Ivry


I cannot MOVE

from here in the


state I am in

I am waiting for you.[48]

Prevel kept desperately trying to find laudanum for Artaud, but on 4 September he had to be hospitalized. Even so, Artaud’s demands continued; he made several visits to the hospital, but Prevel could now do nothing. Although he was to survive Artaud by three years, his life as a poet and as Artaud’s companion was over. In October, to Artaud’s sadness, Dr Delmas died. Artaud considered that the accommodating Delmas was the only doctor who had ever done him any good. Delmas’s successor, Dr Rallu, was far less understanding about Artaud’s addiction than Delmas had been. Artaud began to consider leaving the clinic and moving to Provence, where he hoped to be able to recover his health.

Towards the end of October, Artaud was so ill that Rallu told him he would need to be transferred to a clinic at Le Vésinet, in the western suburbs of Paris, to receive more intensive treatment, before he would be well enough to travel south to Provence. But Artaud stubbornly stayed put in his Ivry pavilion.

Artaud’s writings were now crammed with invective and denunciation. In November, he wrote several texts with the same title, I Hate and Expel, in which he rhythmically condemned a huge range of people, and ejected them from his world: ‘I hate and expel as cowardly all beings who do not recognize that life is given to them only so that they can entirely remake and reconstitute their bodies…’.[49] For Artaud, everything he needed to survive, everything that would have made up a world that he could have lived in, had still to be created:

We are not yet born,

we are not yet in the world,

there is not yet a world,

things have not yet been made,

the reason for being has not yet been found.[50]

In the last part of his life, Artaud often wrote to the newspaper Combat, demanding a massive readership for his individual concerns. In one letter to Albert Camus at Combat, he wrote: ‘The erotic sexual life of France is sombre, Mr Albert Camus, it is black like its market.’[51] On 1 November, for the only time, Combat published one of Artaud’s letters, in the wake of a literary quarrel over whether a current production by Jean Vilar of Shakespeare’s Richard II had adopted Artaud’s proposals in The Theatre and its Double.

Antonin Artaud; Self-Portait 1946

Combat had already published an extract from Van Gogh the Suicide of Society on 2 May. Artaud’s letter appeared next to a cartoon of him in which he was wearing a beret and angrily shaking his fist; it was titled ‘For thirty years I’ve had something vital to say,’ Antonin Artaud writes to us. In the letter, Artaud looked back over all of his time as a writer, to the Rivière correspondence, the early Surrealist poetry, and The Theatre and its Double. The vital thing had never been expressed because Artaud’s language had always betrayed him, as had his readership. He now reacted against that failure by declaring that ‘it is the very reason for being of language and grammar that I unhinge’.[52] Then he inserted some of his invented language into the context of the mass-circulation newspaper, and made an appeal for the creation of a resistant new body which would obliterate his enemies.

In the first days of November, immediately after the publication of his letter in Combat, Artaud received an invitation which he believed would enable him to reach an even wider audience. The invitation came from Fernand Pouey, head of dramatic and literary broadcasts at the French national radio station. He wanted Artaud to record a long broadcast on whatever subject he desired. Artaud could choose his own collaborators and have as much rehearsal time as he needed. The broadcast would be for a series of programmes entitled The Voice of the Poets which Pouey was preparing, and would be transmitted on the Parisian radio channel. Artaud immediately accepted. The recording would have a far greater scope and potential impact than those he had done in June and July 1946 for the Club d’Essai programme. It would give him the opportunity to develop some notes he had been making in September and October towards a performance on the theme of ‘the last judgement’.

For Artaud, the idea of divine judgement had to be disintegrated, so that he could determine his own final movements and his own apocalypse. His initial idea for the recording was that it would comprise:


interjections, screams,

interruptions, interrogations


the putting into question


the Last Judgement.[53]

He decided on the title To have done with the judgement of god. In his last years, Artaud invariably wrote ‘god’ rather than ‘God’, as an expression of his contempt for all religions (particularly the Christian faith), and for what he viewed as their cowardly subjugation of the human body to a fabricated divinity.

Antonin Artaud; The theater of cruelty 1946

When Artaud began to choose material for the recording, his concept escalated to include all of his crucial concerns – cries and gestures, psychiatry and madness, the Tarahumaras, language and the new body. In October, he had written a new text on the Tarahumaras’ peyote dance for Marc Barbezat, and decided to include that. He urgently wrote a number of new texts before the recording sessions, including one entitled The Theatre of Cruelty which could not be used in the broadcast because of time constraints. In this text, Artaud pointed to the origins of disease and death in the absence of an authentic theatre, which he would create as an amalgamation of violent dances and cries. He formulated his new Theatre of Cruelty as one of ‘furious revolt/from the destitution of the human body’.[54] Artaud was making notes all through the period leading up to the recording sessions, working out how he wanted his recorded language to operate.

His principal desire was to cancel out the entire process of mediation and signification. He wanted his work to be immediately and physically experienced. He believed this would be possible, through the unique force of his material and its delivery. The hostility which Artaud had felt for representation and repetition in the early 1930s had now developed to its most acute point. He conceived of representation as a malicious instrument of social suppression:

There is nothing I abominate and shit out so much as this idea of representation, that is, of virtuality, of non-reality, attached to all that is produced and shown… as if it were intended in this way to socialize and at the same time paralyse monsters, make the possibilities of explosive deflagration which are too dangerous for life pass instead by the channel of the stage, the screen or the microphone, and so turn them away from life.[55]

What Artaud was planning for the transmission of his work would resist this process to an extreme degree:

I abject all signs.

I create only machines of instant utility.[56]

Artaud asked Roger Blin, Paule Thévenin and Colette Thomas to read from his work for the recording. Blin said he would find Artaud the very best radio producer in Paris. Artaud refused, saying that he wanted the worst. That way, he would meet with little interference. Paule Thévenin was the only one of the four participants who had no professional acting experience, although Artaud had already worked with her, teaching her how she should scream until her breath was exhausted.[57] He allowed her the freedom to choose for herself what she would read, and she decided on a recently-written text from one of Artaud’s exercise-books from October 1947.

There was only one reading under Artaud’s supervision, on 22 November, and no rehearsal, before the recording sessions. Artaud trusted his collaborators to find their own rhythms and intonations for the texts they were reading, before giving them one or two instructions each. Shortly before the recording sessions started, Colette Thomas abruptly refused to participate; Artaud complained that this was due to a gratuitous ‘caprice’ on her part,[58] although her fragile state must have been at least part of the reason. A replacement to read the text on the Tarahumaras had to be found very quickly. Artaud wanted it to be a woman, so that his recording would have two male and two female voices.

Paule Thévenin asked the young Spanish actress Maria Casarès, who had read a text by Artaud at the benefit event of June 1946, if she would take Colette Thomas’s place. Maria Casarès was becoming increasingly renowned, and in the following month she would appear in the hugely successful first production of Henri Pichette’s The Epiphanies, along with Gérard Philippe and Roger Blin. She went on to play the Princess of Death in Jean Cocteau’s film Orphée, and would appear in the celebrated production of Jean Genet’s The Screens that was directed by Roger Blin at the Odéon theatre in Paris in 1966. Casarès met Artaud only once, for the hour or so it took to record her contribution for To have done with the judgement of god. Her performance was inflected by her state of mind at the time – ‘a state of aggravated euphoria which kept me upright, hardly sleeping, for seven whole weeks, at the borders of reality, and which carried me when I did sleep into arid, devastated regions, where nightmares of futurist warfare mixed together the most refined weapons and means ever invented to pursue solitary figures’.[59]

Antonin Artaud; Portrait of Roger Blin 1946

With Blin and Thévenin, Artaud recorded the textual material for his broadcast on 29 November 1947. A further recording session was held on 16 January 1948, at which Artaud performed long screams, cries, and percussive beatings. These passages of noise were then interspersed between the spoken texts. Roger Blin was present at the recording session of 16 January, and he and Artaud performed a dialogue in Artaud’s invented language. Artaud called this dialogue ‘the monkeys’ cage’. These creations of noise were extremely important to Artaud. He intended them to fracture the process of representation, cutting across his spoken texts just as the drawings did with the texts in his exercise-books, intensifying his concerns with a gestural eruption. On the same day, 16 January, Artaud heard a rough montage of the recording assembled by Fernand Pouey and the radio producer, René Guignard. Artaud instructed Pouey to cut part of the spoken text he had recorded for the beginning of the broadcast, so that the noise-effects would be more prominent; he also re-recorded the broadcast’s final text. Pouey disregarded both Artaud’s requested cut, and his re-recording (Pouey’s priority was that the recording should run for the set length of time). The date of the transmission was scheduled for 2 February 1948, at 10.45 in the evening.

Artaud was satisfied with his recording, and expected it to cause a huge uproar when it was transmitted. He declared that he was happy that his work would finally reach people like roadmenders, whom he regarded highly because they were engaged in hard and unrelentingly physical work; this was how he conceived of his own work.

To have done with the judgement of god has five parts, intercut with Artaud’s noise-effects. The first, long section is performed by Artaud himself, and deals with an imagined American government practice of stockpiling schoolboys’ sperm to provide soldiers for the financially motivated wars of the future. Artaud’s voice tears at the words, with cold humour. The second section, Tutuguri, the Rite of the Black Sun, is read by Casarès, and concerns Artaud’s current interpretation of the Tarahumaras’ dance. He now viewed that dance as specifically abolishing the Christian cross; a new sign was then forged from bleeding flesh and fire. The Search for the Excremental is performed by Roger Blin, and states Artaud’s opposition of bone to excrement. The text taunts human beings for having cowardly bodies of meat and excrement when

to live,

you have to be somebody,

to be somebody,

you have to have a BONE,

and not be afraid of showing the bone,

and losing the meat in the process.[60]

Artaud asserts that an army has now revolted to end the judgement of ‘god’ by creating a body totally without organs, such as Artaud yearned for. The fourth text, The Question Arises, read by Paule Thévenin, attacks the mythical status accorded to ideas in language; for Artaud, ideas are the waste products and the internal gases of the body. He counterposes them with his belief in ‘infinity’, which he sees as the opening

of our consciousness

towards possibility

beyond measure.[61]

Artaud performs the recording’s closing text. He interrupts himself in the voice of the listening public, who demand that he be silenced and put in a strait-jacket. In reaction, Artaud pleads more and more desperately for the remaking of the human body on an autopsy table, and for a painful scraping-away of ‘god’ and the internal organs. Finally, he calls for the creation of a delirious but disciplined, wrong-way-round dance of the human body.

To have done with the judgement of god is an enormously ambitious and innovative project. Artaud constructed an intricate arrangement for his screams, silences and spoken texts. The recording was arranged ‘at a hairsbreadth/in a fulminating order’.[62] His screams are the dark core of the recording, and suck in all of the other elements. Artaud intended his work to make the body be felt in all of its extremity. The recorded sound itself had to have a physical presence in space, and as it was spat out had to re-create itself constantly as a set of scars inflicted upon the exterior world.

Artaud’s aim was not to tell a story or produce any kind of illusion. Voices are layered behind voices in a multiplicity of directions. His scream, executed in a swarm of chance and disciplined events, is an overwhelming rush of vocal sound. It demonstrates the extraordinary regaining of Artaud’s voice after the imposed silence and physical restraint of his long asylum internment. With this seized-back voice, Artaud tries to disrupt the structures of language, to fracture them irreparably, so that the physical life which they screen can emerge.

Artaud closely involved laughter in his language. To have done with the judgement of god is a ferociously funny piece of work. Artaud’s laughter is an explosive attack and taunting. He ridicules the diagnoses and definitions of insanity applied to him by the asylum doctors, and adeptly turns the concept of madness back upon psychiatric medicine. His laughter is also outrage – a contemptuous probing of what he saw as the flawed human body. More deeply, Artaud’s laughter is a violent exploration of sense, and of the known and repeatable – and therefore, for Artaud, socially containable and assimilable – elements of language. Artaud reveals what is hidden by that language: the heterogeneous, many-tongued human body. His struggle is one of endurance. He wrote that his work

is not the symbol of an absent void,

of an appalling incapacity of people to realize themselves in life.

It is the affirmation

of a terrible

and moreover inescapable necessity.[63]

In To have done with the judgement of god, Artaud aims to reach the body directly, to establish an existence for the body in which all influence, all nature and all culture are torn away, so that the body is by itself, honed to bone and nerve, as pure intention, without family, society or religion. Artaud’s language in To have done with the judgement of god is itself reduced and sharpened, to express his need to cut into, destroy and reformulate the body; at times, everything bursts in upon the ear at once. Artaud’s language is fragmented; simultaneously, the desire it carries for physical transmission and transformation sutures the pieces together again in the listener.

Antonin Artaud; The execration of the Father-Mother 1946

The writing and recording of To have done with the judgement of god exhausted Artaud, and used up his remaining strength. He now rarely left Ivry; when he went to visit Paule Thévenin, a taxi was sent to pick him up. He was still thinking of leaving the clinic, and wrote to Marc Barbezat on 15 December: ‘I am going to undertake a great journey to the South, have a change of climate, remake my health which is injured, damaged…’.[64] The generalized pain he had experienced in the autumn had now localized in his abdomen. His complaints about the organs of his body grew in bitterness. He continued to write extensively during December 1947 and January 1948, but his work now consisted almost entirely of fragments. He gave many of them to the young writer Marcel Bisiaux, for his magazine 84 (Bisiaux lived at that time at number 84 in the rue Saint Louis en l’Île). Artaud’s fragments were abrupt gestural expulsions:

It’s very cold

as when


Artaud the dead man

who breathes.[65]

They articulated his feeling of being torn between his forceful denial of death – which was becoming eroded as he realised he was dangerously ill – and his belief that when he died, his body would explode into flames and into fragments of multiple new bodies.

Artaud drew until the very end of his life. In the drawings from his last months, the faces became progressively more autopsied. They carried a sense of death, which was ground deeper and deeper into their substance. But the transformed bones and eyes were also infused with life. The final drawings were accumulations of heads, piled up on top of one another as totems. The face of Artaud himself appeared both as a handsome young man and as a prematurely dying and toothless fifty-year-old man. His own faces were surrounded by those of people from his past life who had died, such as Yvonne Allendy, and people from his immediate life, such as Paule Thévenin. In a self-portrait which he dated December 1948 (and which appears as a continuing refusal of death, since he would not live that long), Artaud’s head was drawn as a skull composed of the hardest bone. His twisted and erect hand dominated the image, and an oppressive death’s-head was fixed at his shoulder as a double of his own head. The idea of the double still had a crucial presence in Artaud’s work. The double was what threatened him, but it could also serve to resuscitate his life. One of Artaud’s last completed drawings, made in December 1947 to January 1948, was entitled The Projection of the True Body. It showed Artaud’s own body being shot by a firing-squad, his hands chained and his kneecaps heavily scored-through, while opposite stood his double: a black skeleton with its life wildly spurting outward around its bones in torrential lines of force. The two bodies were bound together.

Antonin Artaud; Self-Portrait 1947

At the end of January 1948, Artaud decided to assemble a book of the drawings from his exercise-books, and asked Paule Thévenin to choose the fifty she found most beautiful.

Pierre Loeb was to have been the book’s publisher. On 31 January, Artaud produced a text, 50 Drawings to Assassinate Magic, to accompany the book. He wrote that his drawings will make their apocalypse

because they have said too much to be born and said too much in being born

not to be reborn

and to take a body

and so authentically.[66]

The project went no further.

In the months of December 1947 and January 1948, three of the projects undertaken by Artaud since his return to Paris were published in rapid succession. Artaud the Mômo was published by Bordas on 15 December, and Van Gogh the Suicide of Society appeared at the same time with the publisher K, in a relatively large and inexpensive edition of three thousand copies; around 20 January, K also published Here Lies preceded by The Indian Culture. These books increased the anticipation in Paris for Artaud’s broadcast, scheduled for 2 February. On 16 January, Artaud was in the recording studio performing the screams for his broadcast.

Just as he completed an immensely long and devastating scream, the writer Raymond Queneau came into the studio to tell him that he had won his first-ever literary prize, the modest Prix Sainte-Beuve for best essay of 1947, awarded to Van Gogh the Suicide of Society.

By this time, Artaud was suffering severe intestinal pain and haemorrhages, and he had grown emaciated. He complained frequently of ‘the beast eating into my anus’.[67] Paule Thévenin’s husband Yves was an obstetrician, and persuaded Artaud to consult a gastro-enterologist. Artaud’s horror of the medical profession made him resistant to the idea, but he relented and the consultation took place on 19 January. The gastro-enterologist suspected a serious problem, and recommended that Artaud should consult the renowned specialist Henri Mondor at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris.

An appointment was set for 27 January. The journey to the south of France was now arranged. Artaud would move out of his Ivry pavilion on 15 March, and travel with Paule Thévenin to Antibes, where a villa had been rented for him.

At the first consultation at the Salpêtrière, X-rays were taken and Artaud agreed to go back on 3 February to hear Mondor’s diagnosis.

On the afternoon of 1 February, the day before Artaud’s recording To have done with the judgement of god was due to be transmitted, the director of the radio station, Wladimir Porché, listened to the work and immediately banned its transmission. The grounds he gave were that it was inflammatory, obscene and blasphemous; Paule Thévenin said that the censorship imposed upon Artaud’s recording was executed with arbitrary disdain and abruptness, ‘just as though it were a porno movie’.[68] Artaud was deeply wounded and angry. The denial of a mass audience for his work, at its extreme stage of development, particularly incensed him. He wrote a letter to Porché, declaring that the people of Paris had been hoping for ‘deliverance’[69] in the form of his recording.

Fernand Pouey was also outraged, and threatened to resign. (He would face a similar situation of being overruled after he had commissioned Jean Genet’s projected broadcast, The Criminal Child.) A press scandal ensued about the ban, with the newspapers divided over whether Artaud’s work should be transmitted. In Combat, the journalist René Guilly discussed ‘the case of Artaud’ in literary terms, and recommended that he should stick to writing books. Artaud replied:


of the writer, of the poet

is not to cowardly shut himself away in a text, a book, a magazine, from which he will never emerge, but on the contrary to emerge

go outside

to shake

to attack

the mind of the public

if not

what use is he?[70]

Fernand Pouey organized two private auditions of the recording, hoping that he would accumulate enough support to overturn Porché’s ruling. At the first event, on 5 February, a prestigious audience including Jean Cocteau, Paul Éluard and a fashionable Dominican priest named Laval listened to Artaud’s recording in a studio at the radio station. They unanimously agreed with Pouey that it should be transmitted.

1947 jany de ruy
Antonin Artaud; Portrait of Jany de Ruy 1947

Artaud strongly resented the approval of the priest (who knew many Parisian cultural figures and would subsequently give the last rites to Génica Athanasiou’s lover, Jean Grémillon), and wrote a furious letter to him, repudiating his support. Porché ignored the audience’s approval of the recording and Artaud knew the ban would not now be lifted.

He rapidly agreed to have the recording’s texts published together as a book, but the silencing of his screams, cries and beatings was a source of terrible despair to him. He wrote to Jean Paulhan:

the sounds will not be heard, the resounding xylophony, the screams, the guttural noises and the voice, all of which would have at last constituted a first grinding-over of the Theatre of Cruelty.

This is a DISASTER for me.[71]

The second audition of the recording took place at a disused cinema. (Its name, The Washington, was the same as that of the boat on which Artaud had been strait-jacketed in 1937.) The event was reserved principally for the working people Artaud had come into contact with at Ivry, including his barber and tobacconist. Arthur Adamov and Marthe Robert attended the event, and made criticisms of Artaud’s recording which upset him still further. For the next forty years, the recording To have done with the judgement of god was to be known only from a few clandestine copies belonging to Artaud’s collaborators and friends.

On 3 February, the day after he had written his letter of protest to Porché, Artaud returned to the Salpêtrière hospital with Paule Thévenin to hear Mondor’s diagnosis. It was reassuring: Mondor prescribed a treatment and told Artaud to stay in bed for several months. But, out of Artaud’s earshot, Mondor told Paule Thévenin that Artaud had a long-standing and inoperable intestinal cancer. He wrote a letter for Dr Rallu at the Ivry clinic, authorizing Artaud to have what he had wanted for so many years – unrestricted access to laudanum. That was all that might kill his pain. Although Paule Thévenin did not tell him that he had cancer, she believed that Artaud knew it.[72] Mondor’s diagnosis implied that Artaud’s cancer had been developing during his time at Rodez. Gaston Ferdière defended himself against the fact that he did not detect the disease there. He wrote that ‘the diagnosis of intestinal cancer which one fine day fell from the mouth of Professor Henri Mondor appears to me to be subject to caution’,[73] and argued that, in looking at the X-rays, Mondor might well have mistaken the residue of opium in Artaud’s intestines for opaque cancerous formations.[74]

Artaud continued to write through his last weeks, attempting to strengthen his failing body with a battered and scarred carapace of language. In one fragment from February 1948, he met his oncoming death as a confrontation and final resolution of physical substance with fire:

Make the human body emerge

into the light of nature

plunge it raw into the glow of nature

where the sun will finally embrace with it.[75]

Artaud still made occasional journeys into central Paris, and on 13 February he went to see the publisher Pierre Bordas in Montparnasse. Bordas’s secretary refused to let Artaud see him without an appointment, and this made Artaud furious. He wrote to Bordas on the following day, instructing him to cease publishing his books. Artaud accused Bordas of cheating him over his work: ‘You have made a killing with Artaud the Mômo, picked up a fortune, and all that stinks.’[76] (Bordas, who had issued Artaud’s book in an edition of only 355 copies, started specializing in textbook publishing soon after this.) Since Artaud had arranged for Tutuguri, the Rite of the Black Sun to be published in the collection of texts recorded for To have done with the judgement of god, he wrote a new text on 16 February about the peyote dance, entitled Tutuguri, for the book on the Tarahumaras which Marc Barbezat was preparing to publish.

The new text was closely allied to the atmosphere of To have done with the judgement of god. Artaud’s final interpretation of the peyote dance perceived it as causing the absolute destruction and death of the sun in an explosion of bleeding bodies, huge flames, and ferocious cacophonies:

At the borders of the noise and the void – since the noise is so strong

that it calls before it

only the void,

there is then an immense stamping.[77]

On the same day that he wrote Tutuguri, Artaud sent it to Marc Barbezat. In the accompanying letter, he described the origin of his text in his desperately ill body:

The new Tutuguri which I am sending you is heavy with a blood-soaked experience which I did not have in 1936.

This blood-soaked experience is that I have just had 3 attacks here and was found swimming in my own blood, a whole pool of blood and the Tutuguri I enclose comes out of that…[78]

Despite his awareness of his imminent death, Artaud still anticipated that the journey to Antibes with Paule Thévenin would go ahead, and he asked Barbezat to send him money to cover the costs of the move. On 23 February, Artaud went to a restaurant in Paris with Paule Thévenin; he felt he could ‘no longer eat without spitting’.[79] He was still wounded by the censorship of To have done with the judgement of god, but was now planning a new stage of his work, more virulent and dangerous than ever –

a theatre of blood

a theatre where at each performance


will be won


In reality, the theatre is the birth of creation.

That will happen.[80]

In the final week of his life, Artaud gave two newspaper interviews at Ivry in the wake of the furore over his recording. (They were his first interviews since those about the production of The Cenci in 1935.) The first interview, in the last days of February, was with Jean Marabini from Combat. Artaud made it clear that he was fully conscious of his grave physical state: ‘I know I have cancer. What I want to say before dying is that I hate psychiatrists.’[81] He was still denying death, but not his own. He evoked a time in the past when people in isolated places of the world were immortal.

Despite the agonies of his body, Artaud was still concerned to give the anatomy pre-eminence in his language. He described the gestural immediacy and vitality of a seizing hand which could cut away mental processes from the body.

As Artaud moved towards death, he was more than ever concerned to obliterate the mental: ‘At this moment, I want to destroy my thought and my mind. Above all, thought, mind and consciousness. I do not want to suppose anything, admit anything, enter into anything, discuss anything…’.[82] Shortly afterwards, on 28 February, Artaud gave his last interview, to Jean Desternes from Le Figaro Littéraire. The necessity of denouncing psychiatry and electroshock was still crucial for Artaud, and he described again his experience of death in the Rodez electroshock coma: ‘Yes, I saw the hideous face of death… I plunged into death. I know what death is.’[83] He also recalled his journey to Ireland and the attack in Dublin during which he was struck with an iron bar: ‘And it was on that day that the terrible tortures started, which – according to psychiatrists – are the results of hallucinations.’[84] The intention which Artaud always possessed to direct his creative language away from the frailties of words, towards cruelty and gestural explosivity, was finally becoming crushed: ‘I have been haunted for so long, haun-ted by a kind of writing which is not in the norm. I would like to write outside of grammar, find a means of expression beyond words. And I occasionally believe that I am very close to that expression… but everything pulls me back to the norm.’[85]

Artaud’s sister, Marie-Ange, visited him on the afternoon of Tuesday, 2 March. The following day, he went to see Paule Thévenin in Charenton, and surprised her by drawing up a testament, entrusting her with the publication of all of his books. He had recently been declaring that he would no longer write, that he had written everything, and had finished.

But he kept on writing, to the last hours of his life. His final fragment views his impending death as a hard and finally lost combat, and as a social, religious and sexual swallowing:

And they have pushed me over

into death,

there where I ceaselessly eat



and caca

at all my meals,

all those of THE CROSS.[86]

Antonin Artaud; Portrait of Paule Thévenin or Paule with Irons 1947

He left Paule Thévenin’s apartment in the afternoon, and returned to Ivry. The weather was very cold, with spring snow on the ground. Artaud died at dawn on the following day, 4 March 1948, alone in his pavilion, seated at the foot of his bed, holding his shoe. Arthur Adamov wrote: ‘Suicide of Antonin Artaud, by chloral (the massive weapon).’[87] Artaud had been taking great amounts of chloral in the last weeks of his life, but it is by no means certain that he purposely took a lethal dose; the toxic levels of chloral can vary enormously. He may well have intended to keep fighting to the last moment. But certainly, Artaud felt that he had now accomplished all he could, and that his work had been safely entrusted. Paule Thévenin believed that Artaud died how and probably when he wanted. His body did not burst into unforgettable fragments at death, but his work did.

The gardener at the clinic found Artaud’s body when he brought his breakfast in the morning, and the boilerman went to the Ivry town hall to notify the authorities that Artaud had died. His friends and family began arriving at the pavilion.

Jean Paulhan placed a tiny bouquet of violets between Artaud’s fingers, and had a death mask made of his face. A four-day vigil started, to keep away rats. Artaud’s family wanted him to have a Catholic burial service, but Paulhan told the priest that there was the possibility of suicide, thereby ensuring that Artaud would have a civil burial. A substantial part of the money raised for Artaud at the time of his release from Rodez was left unspent, and Paulhan arranged for it to be divided between those of Artaud’s friends who most needed it. Of Artaud’s closest companions, Jacques Prevel died of tuberculosis in 1951, Arthur Adamov committed suicide in 1970, and Roger Blin died in 1984 after surviving open-heart surgery. Paule Thévenin began the immense project of editing Artaud’s Collected Works, which remained incomplete at the time of her death in 1993.

Artaud’s body was placed in his coffin only at the very last moment. On the morning of 8 March, the funeral procession set out from his pavilion. In later years, the pavilion and clinic would be demolished, and the site used for the construction of suburban blocks of flats. The brief burial service took place at the communal cemetery in Ivry. Artaud’s body remained there until 1975, when his family arranged for it to be transferred to the plot which his mother had bought in 1925 for his father, at the Saint Pierre cemetery in Marseilles, not far from the street where Artaud was born. His body now lies there under a large stone cross, in a tomb with the sole inscription: ‘Family of Antonin Artaud’.

As Artaud himself wrote, he was a man who said what he had seen and what he believed. He propelled his visions and beliefs on, to discover their extreme points, until he was finally immersed by hallucinations, obsessions and catastrophes. But he continued to work, and continued to see.

Georges Pastier; Minouche Pastier and Artaud in Ivry

His life ended in wild and raw obliteration, just as he had always wanted. The testing of Artaud’s existence – in the form of journeys, performances, writings and images – became his creation. Artaud’s life and work move straight to the burning facts of existence and creativity: the body, the gesture, death, sexuality, and language.


[1] Prevel, En Compagnie d’Antonin Artaud, p.14.

[2] Henri Thomas, Présentation, in Magazine Littéraire, no.206, Paris, 1984, p.17.

[3] L’Éphémère, no.8, p.49.

[4] Blin, Souvenirs et Propos, p.43.

[5] Isou, Nouvelle Préface (1982, inserted typescript) to Antonin Artaud torturé par les psychiatres.

[6] En Compagnie d’Antonin Artaud, p.56.

[7] Ibid, p.64.

[8] Ibid, p.120.

[9] OC XXII, 1986, p.67.

[10] The Execration of the Father-Mother, in Artaud le Mômo, OC XII, 1974, p.39.

[11] Unpublished letter of 6 February 1947.

[12] OC I*, p.11.

[13] Lettres à Anie Besnard, p.49.

[14] OC XIV**, 1978, p.26.

[15] Ibid, p.30.

[16] OC XXIV, 1988, p.66.

[17] Interjections, OC XIV**, p.154.

[18] OC XIV**, p.234.

[19] Interview with Alain Cuny by the author, Paris, April 1991.

[20] K, nos.1/2, Paris, 1948, p.108.

[21] L’Éphémère, no.8, pp.4-5.

[22] Ibid, p.22.

[23] Ibid, p.4.

[24] Ibid, pp.20-21.

[25] Ibid, p.6.

[26] OC XIII, 1974, p.54.

[27] Interview with Gaston Ferdière by the author, Aubervilliers, March 1987.

[28] OC XIII, p.15.

[29] Ibid, p.38.

[30] Ibid, p.17.

[31] En Compagnie d’Antonin Artaud, p.137.

[32] Ibid, p.139.

[33] Les Lettres Nouvelles, no.59, Paris, 1958, p.481.

[34] Antonin Artaud, Dessins, p.24.

[35] Ibid, p.22.

[36] Ibid, p.48.

[37] Ibid, p.49.

[38] L’Arbalète, no.13, Décines, 1948, p.7.

[39] En Compagnie d’Antonin Artaud, p.151.

[40] L’Arbalète, pp.15-16.

[41] En Compagnie d’Antonin Artaud, p.154.

[42] Artaud Vivant, p.220, and interview with Gaston Ferdière by the author, Aubervilliers, March 1987.

[43] That is, the Vieux-Colombier event of 13 January 1947.

[44] En Compagnie d’Antonin Artaud, p.155.

[45] L’Arbalète, p.24.

[46] En Compagnie d’Antonin Artaud, p.156.

[47] L’Arve et l’Aume suivi de 24 Lettres à Marc Barbezat, L’Arbalète, Décines, 1989, p.82.

[48] En Compagnie d’Antonin Artaud, p.173.

[49] 84, nos.8/9, Paris, 1949, p.282.

[50] Ibid, p.284.

[51] La Nouvelle Revue Française (new series), issue 89, Paris, 1960, p.1017.

[52] Combat, Paris, 1 November 1947, p.2.

[53] OC XIII, p.233.

[54] Ibid, p.116.

[55] Ibid, pp.258-9.

[56] Ibid, p.273.

[57] Interview with Paule Thévenin by the author, Paris, July 1987.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Casarès, Résidente Privilégiée, Fayard, Paris, 1980, p.468.

[60] OC XIII, p.84.

[61] Ibid, pp.91-2.

[62] Ibid, p.233.

[63] The Theatre of Cruelty (1947), OC XIII, p.110.

[64] L’Arve et l’Aume suivi de 24 Lettres à Marc Barbezat, p.93.

[65] 84, nos.5/6, Paris, 1948, p.136.

[66] Extract in Antonin Artaud: Dessins et Portraits, p.47.

[67] Reported by Paule Thévenin in Antonin Artaud dans la vie, in Tel Quel, no.20, Paris, 1965, p.33.

[68] Interview with Paule Thévenin by the author, Paris, July 1987.

[69] OC XIII, p.130.

[70] Ibid, pp.136-7.

[71] Ibid, p.139.

[72] Interview with Paule Thévenin by the author, Paris, July 1989.

[73] Préface to Nouveaux Écrits de Rodez, p.8.

[74] Interview with Gaston Ferdière by the author, Hérisy, July 1987.

[75] The beings do not emerge in the outside day... , in 84, nos.5/6, p.100.

[76] Unpublished letter of 14 February 1948.

[77] OC IX, p.58.

[78] L’Arve et l’Aume suivi de 24 Lettres à Marc Barbezat, p.97.

[79] Letter to Paule Thévenin (24 February 1948), OC XIII, p.146.

[80] Ibid, pp.146-7.

[81] Combat, Paris, 5 March 1948, p.2.

[82] Ibid, p.2.

[83] Le Figaro Littéraire, Paris, 13 March 1948, p.3.

[84] Ibid, p.3.

[85] Ibid, p.3.

[86] Antonin Artaud, Dessins, p.16.

[87] Adamov, L’Homme et l’Enfant, Gallimard, Paris, 1968, p.83.“


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