The life and work of Antonin Artaud possess a raw power.
Long after his death, Artaud’s body of work continues to ricochet strongly through contemporary culture. The facts of Artaud’s life are stark and austere. He was a writer whose work extended provocatively but disastrously into many unknown channels. His extreme challenge was rejected by the Surrealist movement in Paris. His most productive work comes only after a sequence of journeys, and a long asylum incarceration.
Artaud’s work keeps coming back in new ways. It metamorphoses, struggling to resist any facile systematization. It is in a state of constant transformation, and proves fertile in all of its collisions with the creative works it has encountered, both during Artaud’s own lifetime and in the fifty-five years since his death. As with the other vital figures who emerged – in tension – through the French language during the twentieth century, such as Jean Genet, Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Pierre Guyotat, Artaud was relentless in his determination to make new images of the human body. His work probes issues of abandonment, confinement and creativity, and produces crucial images of the resuscitation of life and language.
Antonin Artaud was born in Marseilles in 1896 and died in the peripheries of Paris, fifty-two years later. His work exists as a strange set of traces. We can discover stubborn and ferocious splinters of a will to create material which, although utterly fragmented, tenaciously persists – in the form of writings, drawings, recordings, and photographic images.
Artaud was glacial in his attitude. He was often infinitely distant from the people to whom he was closest, and from the cultural and political issues of his time. The residue of his life’s trajectory is fierce and volatile. It appears as the burning light of a constellation of dead stars. His work is a painful movement through many silences and journeys. Points of apparently intractable breakdown are twinned with sudden breakthroughs into physical and linguistic intensity.
From a distance, Artaud’s life indicates failure and misery. It was a constant refusal of security and illusion. His work compulsively attacks ideas of society, family, religion and the body, with great emphasis and discipline. Artaud suffered nervous torture throughout his life and became a drug addict, undergoing repetitiously unsuccessful detoxification treatments. He worked with but also against the Surrealist movement. He fled France after the catastrophic launch of his longstanding dream for the Theatre of Cruelty – an artistic project which was designed to uproot culture and to burn it back into life, as an act directed against society. And he was arrested during the last of his subsequent journeys, to Ireland in 1937, placed in a strait-jacket and interned in the wartime asylums of France, where he experienced anguish and starvation, then fifty-one electroshock comas.
The most productive phase of Artaud’s life begins in May 1946, when he was released from the last of those asylums, Rodez, and travelled back to Paris. His body was ruined, crippled by his treatment over the previous nine years. His emaciated figure stalked the postwar Paris of black-market dealings and recrimination. He surrounded himself with a barrier of isolation, broken only for two exceptional performances, and he developed an attitude of acute resistance to the predominant cultural forces in postwar Paris: Sartre’s Existentialism and the emergent Lettrist movement of Isidore Isou. Yet it was also at the start of this last period in Paris that Artaud definitively broke the silence imposed upon him at the time of his arrest in 1937. At the end of Artaud’s internment, his work burst forward, returned with sensational impact. It had the visceral force of a language allied and bound to the body with which Artaud worked incessantly over his final twenty-two months, until his death in March 1948.
In the back of the auditorium [Vieux-Colombier Theater, 1947]—that dear old auditorium of the Vieux Colombier that could hold about 300 people—there were half a dozen pranksters who had come to the event looking to have a laugh. Oh! I still think their insults could have gotten them locked up by Artaud’s fervent friends, scattered throughout the auditorium. But no: after one very timid attempt at a ruckus there was no need to intervene. …We were present at an astonishing spectacle: Artaud triumphed, deflecting the mockery and insolent jeers; he dominated …
I had known Artaud for a long time, both his anguish and his genius. Never before had he seemed more admirable to me. Nothing remained of his material being but expression. His tall, gangly silhouette, his face consumed by an internal flame, his hands flailing like a drowning man’s, now stretched toward some unreachable aid, now twisted in agony, but most often clasped tightly over his face, alternately hiding and revealing it—everything in him displayed the horror of human misery, a damnation without appeal, with no possible escape but a furious lyricism which only reached the public in bursts of obscenity, imprecations, and blasphemy. Here, without a doubt, we encountered the astonishing actor this artist could turn himself into: but it was his own person he offered to the public in a kind of shameless farce that disclosed a total authenticity. Reason fled in defeat, not only his own but that of the entire audience, all of us, spectators at that hideous drama, reduced to the roles of malevolent stage extras, jackasses, and yokels. Oh, no! No one in the audience wanted to laugh anymore; and what’s more, Artaud extinguished our desire to laugh for a long time to come. He had forced us into his tragic game of revolt against everything that we accepted but that he, who was purer that we, permanently refused:
‘We haven’t been born yet. / We aren’t in the world yet. / There isn’t any world yet. / Things aren’t made yet. / The reason for being hasn’t been found yet…’
At the end of that memorable event, the public was speechless. What could they have said? They had just seen a miserable man, brutally beaten by a god, as if on the threshold of a deep cavern, the secret den of the Sybil where nothing profane is tolerated, or rather, they had seen, as if on a poetic Mount Carmel, the vates stripped naked, offered up to the storm, to birds of prey, at once victim and priest…And we felt ashamed to take up our places again in a world where comfort consists of compromise.
All those who fix landmarks in their minds, I mean in a certain part of their heads, in strictly localised areas of their brains, all those who are masters of their own language, all those for whom words mean something, all those for whom there are currents of thought and who think the soul can be sublime; those who are the spirit of the times, and who have named these currents of thought I am thinking of their specific tasks and the mechanical creaking their minds give out at every gust of wind,
— are trash.
I blame the men of this age for causing me to be born by the most infamous magical maneuvers into a world I wanted no part of, and for trying by similar magical maneuvers to prevent me from making a hole in this world in order to leave it. I need poetry to live, and I want to see it around me. And I do not accept the fact that the poet who I am was committed to an insane asylum because he wanted to realize his poetry in its natural state.
CI-GÎT / HERE LIES
Me, Antonin Artaud, I am my son, my father, my mother,
leveler of the imbecilic periplus where begetting impales itself,
the daddy-mommy periplus
and the child,
soot from grandma’s ass,
much more than father-mother’s.
Which means that before mommy and daddy
who had neither father nor mother,
it is said,
and where indeed would they have got them,
when they became this unique
no husband nor wife
could have seen sit or stand,
before this improbable hole
the spirit feels out for us,
to fill us
with a little more self-disgust,
was this unemployable body,
made of meat and mad sperm,
this body hanged, from before lice,
sweating on the impossible table
its callous atom odor,
its croupous odor of abject
ejected from the snooze
of the finger-mutilated Inca
who for an idea had an arm
but had as a hand only a dead
palm, having lost his fingers
by dint of killing kings.
Hence SEZ-I before all that,
was the stingy old bag,
this grouchy nag
cause of the belly
with its bouffant heaven
who trudged along
—the hideous hag —
7 times 7 years,
7 trillard years,
following the piteous
of ancient geomancy,
until from blood-smeared breasts
from the hollow ash
seeping from the firmament
spurted forth at last this child
cursed by man
and by hell itself,
but whom god
uglier than Satan
elected to take
the shine out of man
and he called him being
who had a sex organ
between his teeth.
For another child
with no grandma
who could elect him
with her whole belly,
with her whole buttock
of a stinking dog,
from the finger-mutilated Inca’s
ARTAUD THE MÔMO
ALIENATION AND BLACK MAGIC
Insane asylums are conscious and premeditated receptacles of black
and it is not only that doctors encourage magic with their inoppurtune
and hybrid therapies,
it is how they use it.
If there had been no doctors
there would never have been patients,
no skeletons of the diseased
dead to butcher and flay,
for it is through doctors and not through patients that society began.
Those who live, live off the dead.
And it is likewise necessary that death live;
and there is nothing like an insane asylum for gently incubating death,
and for keeping the dead in incubators.
It began 4000 years before Jesus christ this therapy of slow death,
and modern medicine, an accomplice in this of the most sinister and
crapulous magic, subjects its dead to electroshock or to insulin ther-
apy so as daily to throughly empty its stud farms of men of their
and to expose them thus empty,
available and empty,
to the obscene anatomical and atomic solicitations
to the state called Bardo, delivery of the full kit for living to the
demands of the non-ego.
Bardo is the death throes in which the ego falls in a puddle,
and there is in electroshock a puddle state
through which everyone traumatized passes,
and which causes him, no longer at this moment to know , but to dread-
fully and desperately misjudge what he was, when he was himself,
his own elf, his fief, wife, life, tripe, damnit and THAT.
I went through it and I won’t forget it.
The magic of electroshock drains a death rattle, it plunges the shocked
into that rattle with which we leave life.
But, the electroshock of Bardo were never an experiment, and to death
rattle in the electroshock of Bardo, as in the Bardo of electroshock,
is to mangle an experiment sucked by the larvae of the non-ego, and
that man will not recapture.
In the midst of this palpitation and this respiration of all the others who
besiege the one who, as the Mexicans say, scraping to broach the
bark with his grater, flows lawlessly from all sides.
Bribed medicine lies each time that it presents a patient cured by the
electrical introspections of its method,
as for me, I’ve seen only those who have been terrorized by the method,
incapable of recovering their egos.
Who has gone through the electroshock of Bardom and the Bardo of
electroshock, never climbs up again from its tenebrae, and life has
slipped a notch.
I’ve known there these moleculations breath upon breath of the death
rattle of authentically agonizing people.
What the Tarahumaras of Mexico call the spittle of the grater, the cin-
der of toothless coal.
Loss of a slap of the first euphoria that you had one day feeling yourself
alive, swallowing and chewing.
It is thus that electroshock like Bardo creates larvae, it turns all the
patient’s pulverized states, all the facts of his past into larvae which
are unusable in the present yet which never cease beseiging the pre-
Now, I repeat, Bardo is death, and death is only a state of black magic
which did not exist not so long ago.
To thus create death artificially as present-day medicine attempts to do
is to encourage a reflux of the nothingness which has never been to
but off which certain predestined human profiteers have been eating
their fill for a long time.
Actually, since a certain pint in time.
That pint when it was necessary to choose between renouncing being
a man and becoming an obvious madman.
But what guarantee to do the obvious madmen of this world have of being
nursed by the authentically living?
A blank page to seperate the text of the book, which is finished from all
the swarming of Bardo which appeared in the limbo of elec-
And in this limbo a special typography, which is there to abject god, to
background the verbal words to which one wanted to attritbute a
12 January 1948
you’re leaving, kid,
says the scummy familiarity of Bardo,
and you’re still there,
you’r no longer there
but nothing leaves you,
y o u ‘ v e k e p t e v e r y t h i n g
e x c e p t y o u r s e l f
and what’s it to you since
t h e w o r l d
w o r l d ,
b u t i t ‘ s n o l o n g e r m e .
A n d w h a t ‘ s i t t o y o u , k i d ,
s a y s B a r d o ,
i t ‘ s m e
P.S. — I want to complain about having met in electroshock dead peo-
ple whom I wouldn’t have chosen to see.
The same ones,
whom this imbecile book called
has been draining and proposing for a little more than four thousand
I simply ask:
Why?. . .
FROM ARTAUD THE MÔMO
WATCHFIENDS & RACK SCREAMS
WORKS FROM THE FINAL PERIOD BY
EDITED AND TRANSLATED BY
CLAYTON ESHLEMAN WITH BERNARD BADOR
Fragments from a Diary in Hell
Neither my cry nor my fever are mine. This disintegration of my strength, of these hidden elements of my thought and soul, can you simply conceive their perseverance?
This “something” halfway between the color of my typical atmosphere and the point of my reality.
I don’t need nourishment as much as a sort of elementary conscience.
This knot of life to which trails of thought cling.
A central knot of asphyxiation.
For me to simply come to rest on a clear truth, one that lies on a single edge.
The problem of the emaciation of my “I” is no longer just a question of pain. I can feel new factors intervening in the denaturation of my life and I have something like a new conscience of my intimate disintegration.
I see my entire reason for living in the act of throwing a die and throwing myself into the affirmation of a pre-sensed truth, aleatoric as such an act may be.
For hours, I stay in the impression of an idea, a sound. My emotion does not develop in time, does not follow time. The refluxes of my soul are in perfect accord with the absolute ideality of my spirit.
I place the metaphysics that I created for myself facing the nothingness that I carry within.
This pain driven into me like a wedge, in the center of my purest reality, in this place of sensitivity where the two worlds of body and spirit rejoin—I have learned how to distract myself from it through the effects of a delusion.
Within this moment that lasts the duration of a lie’s creation, I create for myself a distraction, an evasion, and I lurch onto a false trail shown by my blood. I close the eyes of my intelligence and, letting the unspoken in me speak, I give myself the illusion of a system full of terms that I do not understand. But from this minute mistake I still get the feeling of having seized something real from the unknown. I believe in spontaneous conjurations. On the paths where my blood leads me, there cannot be a day that I will not discover a truth.
Paralysis overcomes me and increasingly prevents me from returning to myself. I have no touchstone, no base . . . I look for myself in places I don’t recognize. My thoughts cannot go where my emotions and the images surging in me push them. I feel castrated in even my very smallest impulses. I end up seeing the day shining through me, due to how much I have had to renounce, in every sense, my intelligence and my sensitivity. It must be understood that it is the living man within me who is affected, and the paralysis that suffocates me lies at the center of my ordinary self, not from my sense of being a man with a destiny. I am definitively beside life. My torment is as subtle and elegant as it is harsh and rough. I need immense amounts of imaginative effort, multiplied tenfold in the clinch of this suffocating asphyxiation, to even think of what hurts me. And if I persevere in this pursuit, in this need to pin down once and for all my state of suffocation . . .
You are wrong to allude to this paralysis that threatens me. It does threaten me, and gathers strength day by day. It already exists, as a horrible reality. True, I can still (but for how long?) do what I want with my limbs, but for a long time I have had no command over my mind, and my entire unconscious has command over my being thanks to impulses, ones that come from the depths of my nervous rages and the whirlwind of my blood. Rushed and rapid images, speaking only words of anger and blind hate within me, that pass through me like stabs from a knife or flashes of lightning in a waterlogged sky.
I am stigmatized by a pressing death, where true death holds no terror to me.
These terrifying forms advancing on me—I feel as though the despair that they bring me is alive. It slips into the knot of life after which the roads to eternity open up. Truly, separation forever. The forms slide their knives into my center, where I feel like a man, they cut the vital ties that join me to my idea of a lucid reality.
Forms of a capital despair (truly vital),
a crossroad of separations,
a crossroad of the feeling in my flesh,
abandoned by my body,
abandoned by all possible sentiment in man.
I can only compare this to the state in which one finds oneself during the delirium of a fever that occurs during the course of serious illness.
The antimony between my deepest simplicity and my external difficulty creates the torment that is killing me.
Time can pass and the social convulsions of the world can ravage the thoughts of men, but I am free of any thought that dips into such phenomena. Leave me to my dim clouds, my immortal powerlessness, my unreasonable hopes. But make it known that I abdicate none of my mistakes. If I have misjudged, it is the fault of my flesh, but these lights that my mind lets filter in hour after hour, it is in my flesh where blood mixes with flashes of lightning.
He speaks to me of Narcissism, I reply to him that this is my life. I have a cult devoted not to myself but to my flesh, in the tangible sense of the word. I am touched, not “I” but my flesh; things coincide with it, to the point where they rattle it, but nothing further. Nothing touches or interests me except what directlytouches my skin. And that’s when he tells me about the Self. I retort that the I and the Self are two distinct terms, not to be confused, and are exactly the two terms that eschew the equilibrium of flesh.
I can feel the ground eroding under my thoughts, and this leads me to envision the terms that I use without the support of their truest meanings, of their personal substratum. And even better than that: the point where this substratum seems to link back to my life suddenly becomes incredibly sensitive and virtual. I have this idea of an unplanned and fixed space, while in normal times all is movement, communication, interference, journey.
But this erosion that reaches my thought at its base, in its most urgent communications with the intelligence and the instinctiveness of the mind, does not move into the domain of an insensible abstract where only the high parts of intelligence participate. More than the spirit remains intact, bristling with points, this erosion reaches and turns away the nervous journey of my thoughts. I can particularly feel this absence and immobility in the limbs and the blood.
A great cold,
an atrocious abstinence,
the limbos of a nightmare of bone and muscle, with the feeling of stomach-esque functioning snapping like a flag in the phosphorescence of a storm.
Larval images moving as though pushed by a finger and not related to anything material.
I am man by my hands and my feet, my stomach, my heart of meat, my stomach with knots tying me to life’s putrefaction.
They speak to me of words, but it is not words, it’s the duration of spirit.
This husk of words that falls, we should not think that the soul is not implicated. Next to the mind, there is life, there is the human being in the circle drawn by the whirlings of the mind, tied to it by a multitude of threads.
No, all physical amputations, all these reductions in physical activity and this embarrassment at feeling dependent on one’s body, and that body itself weighed down by marble and laid on cheap wood, none of that is equal to the sorrow of being denied physical capacity and the meaning of one’s internal equilibrium. That the soul lacks language, or language fails the spirit, and that this break draws in the plains’ meanings like a vast furrow of despair and blood, that is the great sorrow that eats away at the CLOTH of the body, not at the bark or the framework. One stands to lose this errant sparkle, one we feel WAS an abyss that gained within itself the entire possible expanse of the world, and the feeling of such a uselessness that it is like the knot of death. This uselessness is like the moral color of this abyss and this intense stupefaction, and its physical color is the taste of blood spurting in cascades through the openings of the brain.
While I have often been told that this cutthroat is in me, I participate in life, I represent the destiny that chooses me; and it cannot be that I am counted among all the world’s life at a given moment: by its nature, all this life in this world threatens the very principle of life.
There is something above all human activity: that is, the example of this monotone crucifixion, this crucifixion where the soul never fully dies.
The rope that I let pierce through the intelligence that occupies me and through the unconscious that nourishes me discovers even more subtle threads in its arborescent material. Thus, a new life is reborn, ever more eloquent, deep, and rooted.
There can never be any precision given by this self-strangling soul, because the torment that kills it, that emaciates it fiber by fiber, goes even below thought, under the place where language can penetrate, because it is that same link that makes it and keeps it spiritually concentrated, that breaks up as soon as life calls it to constant brightness. Never any brightness on this passion, on this sort of cyclical and fundamental martyrdom. And yet, it lives but for a time of eclipses, where the fleeting mixes perpetually with the immobile, and the confusion mixes with this piercing language of a brightness without time. This curse educates the depths it inhabits, but the world will not hear its lesson.
The emotion brought about by the hatching of a form, the adaptation of my humors to the virtuality of a speech with no duration is, to me, a state precious in a way that the satisfaction of activity is not.
It is the touchstone of some spiritual lies.
This sort of step back that the spirit makes, below the consciousness watching it, is to look for life’s emotion. This emotion is outside of the particular point where the spirit looks for it, and emerges with a rich density of form and a fresh flow, this emotion that gives back to the spirit the heartrending sound of matter, the soul in its entirety flows through here and passes through its ardent fire. But more than the fire, what ravishes the soul is the limpidity, the ease, the naturalness and the glacial candor of this too-cold matter, blowing hot and cold.
That one knows what this matter’s emergence means and of which underground massacre its hatching is the cost. This matter is the benchmark of a nothingness that goes unnoticed.
When I think, my thought searches in the ether of a new space. I am in the clouds like others are on their balconies. I participate in the gravity of planets in the rifts of my spirit.
Life will unravel, events will unfold, spiritual conflicts will resolve, and I will not participate. Physically and morally, I have nothing to wait for. For me, it is perpetual pain and shadow, the soul’s night, and I have not a voice to cry out.
Dilapidate your riches far from that insensible body that no season, spiritual or sensual, can alter.
I chose the kingdom of pain and of shadow like others choose that of radiance and accumulation of matter.
I do not toil in the area of any which domain.
I toil in the unparalleled duration.
Translated from the French by Michelle Abramowitz
On December 31, 1943 Robert Gilbert-Lecomte died at age 36 in a Paris hospital from tetanus caused by a dirty needle. His possessions were all in one small briefcase in the room where he had been living, the back room of a working-class bar whose owner Mme. Firmat had taken him in three years before out of kindness. To Lecomte’s friend the playwright Arthur Adamov she gave the briefcase. It was filled with letters, prose writings, and a hundred poems. A morphine addict, Lecomte had been jabbing the needle into a high muscle through a pair of dirty trousers.
Born in Reims, France in 1907, Lecomte was the co-founder, with René Daumal and Roger Vailland, of the literary and artistic movement Le Grand Jeu. Three issues of the group’s magazine, Le Grand Jeu, appeared between 1928 and 1930. The Surrealist reacted too Le Grand Jeu with hostility. The group fell apart in 1932.
Central to Le Grand Jeu was a vision of the unity of everything in the universe that resulted from experiments with carbon tetrachloride performed by Lecomte with his friend René Daumal when they were teenagers. Daumal later wrote about the experience in his essay, “A Fundament Experiment.” Lecomte defined its essence as “the impersonal instant of eternity in emptiness.” This glimpse of eternity in the void was to send Daumal to Hinduism, the study of Yoga philosophy, and Sanskrit. It sent Lecomte on an exploration of what he called a “metaphysics of absence.” In imagination he returned to a pre-natal state, “a wondrous prior existence.”
In 1933 Lecomte published a volume titled La Vie L’Amour La Morte le Vide et le Vent (Life Love Death Void and Wind), which went unnoticed by the press, save for a review by Antonin Artaud in the Nouvelle Revue Francaise.
Over the rest of his life, Lecomte published here and there in literary magazines. His only other book was a tiny volume, Le Miroir Noir (Black Mirror), privately printed in alimited edition in 1938. The last half-dozen poems appearing in the present volume appeared in Le Miroir Noir. Lecomte never explained what he meant by the title. He may have been thinking of the obsidian mirrors of the Aztecs, or perhaps of the black mirrors some painters are said to use to study tonal relationships of colors seen in nature, a kind of mirror that his contemporary Francis Ponge was soon to compare to a summer sky in which he imagined he could glimpse the blackness of interstellar space. No doubt Lecomte was also thinking of how own exploration in Le Miroir Noir of the mind’s dark side, “the dark on the blind side of mirrors.”
In later years Lecomte lived on and off with a German Jewish refugee named Ruth Kronenberg whom he had met on her arrival in Paris in 1934. She was arrested in 1940 after the Fall of France, but got out of jail, obtained false I.D., and emigrated to the Unoccupied Zone in hope of finding safety there. In 1942 she was arrested by the collaborationist military near Carcassone, transported to the concentration camp of Drancy in the German-occupied North, and from there to Auschwitz, where she died. One of Lecomte’s last publications in his lifetime was in the nature of a poignant afterthought: a twelve-line poem, “Vacancy in glass,” which he retitled “Palace of the void” for publication in the Nouvelle Revue Française, where it appeared shortly after Ruth was deported. It seems possible that the retitled poem in its new context may reflect this personal loss.
Lecomte himself never left Paris after the early 1930s. His life was a succession of jail and hospital confinements. Very few old friends would have anything to do with him during the last years. Over the generation following his death, Lecomte’s oeuvre acquired the status of an underground classic. His friend Adamov published a selection of his poetry, and leading French literary magazines devoted space to him. The complete works were issued in three volumes during the 1970’s by Gallimard. They consist of approximately 100 poems, a booklength collection of prose texts, including essays setting forth the principles of the Grand Jeu movement and various pieces of literary criticism, and, finally, a volume of letters.
Lecomte had an intimation that at the prime origin of things there stirred something like a breath of wind. This he hoped would fill him. The Isha Upanishad contains a prayer to be recited at the moment of death: Breath enter immortal wind. That prayer is implicit in all that he ever wrote.
Contrary to all that has been said and done over the past fifteen or twenty years, it now appears that we must return to a definition of poetry as a thing that sounds, albeit mysteriously and in accordance with the laws of the quarter Tone.
In Roger Gilbert-Lecomte’s poems that hallow the presence of the void and the mystery of the flowing wind, there is the presence of a hidden harmony that is revealed only by its sharp edges, even in the amusing parts, even in the poems made up of a few scattered words and sounds in search of a meaning.
So barely and at times almost imperceptibly is this harmony indicated that it occasionally seems that one might doubt its very existence. This book is a window on a poetic universe, a sort of psychic star map, a magnetic compass-card aligning itself and us with all manner of waves and currents. It is the work of a man who is looking for a path, the path, and finds it.
Roger Gilbert-Lecomte marks the tempo, tone, nuance. He is in pitch. He dicovers the real poetry, which arises from Creation and Chaos, —when poetry does not to some degree embody Anarchy, when it lacks the scale of fire and incandescence and magnetic turbulence that mark a nascent cosmos, it isn’t poetry at all, for poetry’s point of departure is precisely Genesis and Chaos.
Roger Gilbert-Lecomte is one of the rare poets of this century to cultivate such a form of violent, tortuous, oppressive lyricism, a lyricism made up of the screams of a man being flayed alive, clad in abrupt, elliptical language, power images whose spasms and convulsions render the groans of Nature in the throes of childbirth. Dance-of-death imagery, grave sonorities, muffled timbres spiralling in on themselves, all these mark two or three of the poems. And in an age that is more antipoetic than any that has proceeded it, one in which the writing of poetry seems a lost secret, a genuine poet has been revealed at last.
In Roger Gilbert-Lecomte’s poetry there is a hint of something like nostalgia for a lost traditon, and the distant echo of certain grand mystical outbursts, of the menacing thunder that rumbles up out of the pages of Jacob Boehme or Novalis. That is the highest compliment I can pay, and it dispenses me from the neccessity of saying anything further.
Son of Bone Talks
I bang like a deaf man at death’s door
I bang my head against it squirting red
They drag me away
To headquarters and
Make me eat it
But I wasn’t the one that
At death’s door
Okay I admit I was trying to bust in
I may be messed up all blood stupid pale
Dripping a red trail
It’s only that I was never willing to be yanked
Away from that gate I was banging at
With all the head feet heart and vacuity proper to me
Do me or I’ll die
Kill me or I’ll kill
Though me ceasing to exist means
You’re committing suicide
You’d better believe it
I bang my head on a blank sky
I get back up but I’m inside out
At the gates of the dead
At the gates of the sea
At the laughter of the dead
At the laughter of the oceans
Shook up by that bitter laughter
Cloud of confetti
On the other side
Now you see me
Now you don’t
I yell and the more I yell the more they kick
Half dead my head on fire on the floor I bellow bite and
Pass out in this cellar
In the ass end of the universe and of the gut
Blood curdled skin on backwards
Nerve ends disconnected in a trance I try getting up
Stomp a body for declining
To live in contact with corpses
You know who you are shitheads
Look I zoom under the cemeteries
All the way to earth’s central inner peak at the heart of it all
A black hole laughing loud
Over the raging laughter of the dead
Horror Show Puppet Show
We were knee deep in coal you talked of death
Howling destinies rushed past in red
Lemmings flung themselves over the cliff
Bashing their brains out on the rocks below
We were in the ocean you said it’s fizzy
Of the bubbly but undrinkable brine
As herringbones sailed past far overhead
And we lay trapped between the sand and sharks
We lay in darkness you talked of hope
The hour’s past there is no more hour
Heaven inverted as a bowl empties
Itself into the hole of night
We lay over the rocks and you were stil talking
Of blood that sears and all about tears
We’d got into the quicksand in the shallows
And hit the reef of coral called the swords
We roasted in the fires of hell but you
Kept saying let’s all kill ourselves at once
The Wing of Sleep
He waded all the way back up life’s stream
And came out the other side
Lost where others wnader not yet born
He dreamt he was dreaming
Sleeping only to awake over and over
To the clock of blood ticking in his head
Plunging in an ever deeper sleep
Awaking in depths of light unmeasured
Yet closer to that blaze
Plunged in the mortal deep of shadow
His bed a sumptuous cradle whose plumed head
Then froze into the lintel
Of a tomb
His dead eyes the wing of the enchanter sleep
Brushed to glittering life
Then rubbed out
Into so total a revulsion
Squinched up like spleen-envenomed lips
He felt himself expand becoming the sky
Making fair weather and foul while dispensing rainbows
As the mills of space crushed
And flattened him like a shadow . . .
(to be continued)
I’m Not Scared of Wind
You scream without a mouth
You bite and are toothless
You stare hypnotically and have no eyes
You puff without cheeks without a face
You make shadow-plays climb walls
You slice without a cutting edge without hands or arms
You rip smack crack altough
You lack a whip you are one so
You rise in the orient a levantine scourge
roaring at the dark wood’s heart
You tire sand devils out over the desert
You sire seawaves cyclones hurricanes
You twist the face of the deep into a snout of hysteria
Squinching up into that spout
Saltwater and taffy sky make when they fuck in the backseat of
White lady blizzard queen’s batmobile
You hump a dune soon as a
You ruffle a lion’s mane
Make wolves groan harps moan
Toot bamboo shoots
Tumbl flowerpots onto the crowns of citizens to crack open their pate that
seat of understanding
You push avalanches down hills which fills vales
You preen the outspread pinions of sleep
a bird hatched legless in midair
about to cut its own throat on the razor’s edge of heaven
You skirt lifter
You rifter of ribs
both continental and insulary human
You gooser of flesh
You flag and venetian blind and tinsel ruffler
You riffler of wrinkles on the cloaks of displaced travelers and treets
And will-o’-the-wisps and lucifers twinkling in immensity
You maker of waves wavy hair and
Eyes and flames that wink as
Oriflammes snap crackle and pop in the breeze
You rascal you excessive cherub
You dervish clown
You cloud sculptor
You king of change
You bring things that without you would be doomed to the most flat-flooted
inertia madly alive
You engender major phantoms and fits of the willies
You are the one behind the rustling of the mystery drapes
In the haunted castle
You hoot through hallways chimneys latrines
You send fair weather and foul packing
when they get bored
You get off on frightening little birds
Watch that scarecrow jump
When you aren’t inspiring
the tremulous moth-eaten wraith of a victim of
You make mother’s milk minute-hands
whirlwinds and windmills turn
You spook young exasperate old
You puff pirates’ sails
Whirligigs leaves and
Weathervanes you take at face value
Letting sapens quake and
little old men dodder
Dreadful Heartless Cold Fish Creep
Monsoon mistral tramontane simoom of doom loco sirocco
You fold a ship over like an omelette
A plane like a rose petal
Playing ball with balloons
both free-floating and no longer captive
You yank the rigidity of stovepipes out of whack
You chimney toppler hat snatcher
Hooligan thrower of pepper in open eyes
Source of the weathered look you
You distort form
You wring vision out of shape
You make shivery runs and ladders in the fabric of the universe
You carry a tune like a newborn babe
You stampede the moon but can’t shake the rainbow
You steady breather whose
Hypnotizes maritime devotees
Over whom at midnight you upturn
Vast urns of insomnia cold sweats nightmares and a
tidal wave of angst
Black night wind yoi moan and blubber as if skinned alive in your dreadful
A drier of tears
You dry wash on the line
You terrorize bits of paper
concierges timorous navigators bugs teamsters shipwrights
umbrella-ribs adornments of feminine toilette large animals
and edgy thin-skinned types
You cheer the hearts of wreckers and storm petrels you jeer all else
From lyrical heads of hair dewdrops and the dance of erotic flower dust
To the shudder of harvest and the way boxkites flying columns vol au vents
the most unprepossessing people have of jiggling
I really am not scared of you
I say oh it’s you the wind, hi there
I say Hi Wind
To the gates of day
You mad slasher
Get the fuck out of here
Flailing your soft puffy arms
Galloping away on those big pale gams and invisible hamlike feet
Get lost wind
Our date at the rose of the winds motel at the top of the sky
I forgot not out of spite
But if you ever
Go for the one bone taboo to you my forehead
Turing the air blue with your thunder
Lashing out the way you do when mad
Getting even with a cyclone
At that point papa wind
Your blood immortal and older than the abyss
I will evaporate
Your brreath sole begetter of the living gods
And digger of their graves
I will exhaust
And that archaic absent gaze that makes for the
Night behind your deep-set-eyes
I will extinguish
And the whiteness the stillness at the bottom of your heart
I’m going to whip out of you you slave
I’ll skin you wind
Eternity in a Wink
to Arthur Adamov
Whoever sees their double face to face
Has got to die it’s curtains for the hermit seer
An eye looking at an eye that looks back in the mirror
An offer drop it clean offer mean rebuff
By an alien who “had enough“ she said
Provider slaked with insults at the source
It’s an obsession a cold shadow the
Empty reflection of this self-styled double who is more “you“ than you are
Fraud disowned of perjured light
Abstracted in the black welter of a lethal elixir
It’s a miracle that an eye shooting a look of hatred
Can be held in a reciprocally
Vigilant and murderous gaze the stare of a provocateur
Suicide means murder in this game
To pass immortal through the looking glass
Pupils contract it’s a clean act destruction
Each stab a ghost star with a soul of black fire
A zero point in its own pulsing core
At the last zero point eternity eye eats eye
I Want to be Damned
Where the Prophet Stopped
to Claude Sernet
You’re wrong I’m not the one that went up I’m
Still the other guy the man no man looks for
My face behind the red mask glory shame
Faces the wind wind is my only guide
I’ll stand there like a statue even as
Some crazy gust knocks down a ruined house
Leaving me upright forget about right
What do you want of me the only one
Standing yet cold numb restless not all there
To reach persons long dead go for the crack
Black light from the other sun filters through
And if ere evening I happen to fall
Flat on my face in the road arms outstretched
A jolt of the old juice my ultimate
Will bring me to my feet for the defeat
Night will hasten as I howl in a voice like
Great waters growling in the vault of night
Until the coming of that sign that hour
Leave me alone go on deny a prophet’s
Power to turn life inside out transmuting
All sense to an immortal flash of pain
Leave me to the horrors inside my empty
Head and they are damning damned damned damning
FROM BLACK MIRROR | THE SELECTED POEMS OF ROGER GILBERT-LECOMTE
TRANSLATED BY DAVID RATTRAY
PUBLISHED BY STATION HILL PRESS
THE DIALECTICS OF REVOLT
FIRST PHASE OF REVOLT. Metaphysical agony. “To renounce everything and no
longer understand anything but the abyss.“
The first phase is opposed, as absolute negation, to the life of acceptance, without
moral dilemma, the purely passive assertion of the human animal. It is through this first
negation that a human animal can be roused, awaken its mind, become thinking.
SECOND PHASE. The first social rustlings lead those in revolt to group themselves
into mental families without which the isolated person could not survive. The
individual nihilist encounters his fellow beings as primary exterior realities. Some
people, having recognised the same absolute pessimism in each other, unite for scandal
and perpetual revolution. This is the epoch of anarchist ‘groups’; it is also Surrealism
in its first form. This intermediate phase corresponds to the beginning of a synthesis
between absolute negation, which makes a person subjectively conscious, and the
recognition of specific and objective realities. But as this recognition is only partial, the
synthesis remains chiefly intellectual.
THIRD PHASE. Little by little, the necessity of social action cause the mechanism of
social determinism to become apparent. From the recognition of a psychological
object (his fellow anarchist), the person in revolt passes by degrees to the recogniton
of an economic object (social determinism). At this moment the synthesis can be fully
achieved and become active. The person in revolt has become a revolutionary. With
respect to a static idealism, he has become such by following the oposite path to the
one taken by a Communist worker. In fact, both represent the movement of the same
dialectic; it matters little whether it is translated in terms of the stomach, chest or head
—whether the primary impulse is hunger, anger or negation
But a different stages of this process, individuals slip in who have not experienced
these earlier stages. We should have little confidence in them; they have not been
awakened because they have not renounced; at best they may be enticed by the
prospect of reform: we know the harm that can be done in a revolutionary movement
by such people.
The stomach of a famished and jobless person is just as capable of renouncing
capitalist society as we are with our intelligence, perceiving the contradictions of that
society. To the person in revolt who has reached this knowledge, the double problem
of justice and efficacy indicates the sole possible material force capable of realising this
negation, by destroying the existing social regime. In remaining at the service of the
power of negation that awakened him, he becomes at the least a ‘fellow traveller’ to the
LE GRAND JEU 4 (Roger Gilbert-Lecomte)
THEORY OF THE GREAT GAME
WRITINGS FROM “LE GRAND JEU“ BY DENNIS DUNCAN
THE ALCHEMY OF THE EYE: CINEMA, FORM OF THE MIND
Cinema does not exist: it shall be born or die. Now it is only a shadow in the limbs of the possible, a rag among the scattered accessories of the petticoat of the human mind. To come into existence it must find its place, its moment, its necessity in the future. It has not found its role yet and cannot obtain one within the actual form of our society: it has arrived prematurely in a world too old.
I am not a film “technician” but a “technician” of the essential, I would like to say essentially of the human mind. From this point of view cinema constitutes an example of the strange imperfection of man’s powers. Applied science made an immense discovery then proved incapable of discovering the applications of its discovery – its specific object. Out of ignorance science has forced film to serve ridiculous ends. Like a child who invents dynamite and then eats it.
Unable to find cinema’s raison d’être, until now man has not been able to gauge the importance of his invention.
To look into the obstacles opposing the existence of cinema is precisely to put contemporary society, the modern mind, and Western civilization on trial.
Cinema is exemplary when faced with the vanity of intellectuals who still believe themselves to be independent. This latest form of expression is, more markedly than any other, subject to the oppression of our social state.
Absolute dictatorship of capital: of onerous production, but an immediate source of profits, cinema is merely an industry (regime of competition and corporations) and as such the sole criteria used to judge it is the “benefits” that it can procure.
With nationalism come quotas and protectionism. With the hypocrisy of liberalism comes censure (so approved by most directors). With the imbecility of individualism come the affected acting of actors, the megalomania of directors and the total absence of unity in their investigations. With the democratic spirit comes submission to the myth of the public, the excuse of all reactionary routines. Finally with imperialism come the lovely roles of the thug to knock the masses senseless, of the spreader of the lie of patriotism and of the agent provocateur for the next war.
Slave to the economic regime, cinema like every other mode of expression by which the spirit finds itself needing to make a sweet choice: freedom or death.
“Is cinema an art?” It is quite obvious that this frequent and sinister question would have to be answered unequivocally in the affirmative, that is if cinema was miraculously and suddenly freed from all the material constraints that weigh upon it. But again doomed to die, helpless it would be handed over to the individual fantasies of people who have never understood that an actual artistic expression can only be justified if it responds to a specific need of the moment that it alone is able to satisfy. Handed over to the capitalist conception of art, cinema merely becomes a disinterested (meaning useless) form of play, and destined to serve as a distraction (after dinner) to elevate the mind (and consequently facilitate digestion) through the sense of beauty (?). And so cinema would share the same sad lot as poetry, painting and music.
More generally every intellectual attitude implied by our culture, our civilization, our beliefs and traditions is absolutely opposed to the existence of cinema (for example: the ravages of traditional psychology in most films). Clearly cinema has nothing to do in this slave galley.
Since its invention until the present time all cinematic production has come to naught and reached a dead-end. The only purpose for all this activity would seem to be to perfect and put the finishing touches on an instrument destined for some future use. Deprived of meaning and purpose in the actual state of our present society, inevitably cinema will precede and embody the very essence of the social landscape of the future.
All economic and social upheaval, every coming revolution will only realize, sooner or later, the synthesis of valid trends that our bygone era watches develop with regret. From this parallel revolution of human values in all domains a new culture must be born, another civilization based on a different system of knowledge.
Not having the space to demonstrate, I can only state that to the Marxist determinism of social evolution towards a communist state without class, family or religion corresponds an evolution of thought: to the degree that the dialectic mind will defeat mechanistic reason, the present scientific-religious phase will be succeeded by a phase of (non-idealist and non-materialistic) monistic thought. Anti-individualism and dialectical determinism will create a morality without responsibility, a new idea of man. The evolution of the human mind must achieve the synthesis of discursive reason and primitive participatory thinking.1 It is a good idea to first proceed with a dialectical reduction from the religious act to magical sociology and from the marvelous (i.e. “supernatural”) to the very nature of the human mind.
Now, in this last investigation which is the very one that occupies us, cinema, due to its potential, has been forced to play a broad role.
By setting aside the discoveries, possible in the near future, of colour film and of film in space (film-in-relief is a psychological error) which do not yet exist, we actually have at our disposal silent film on the one hand and talkies on the other: in other words mobile relations of forms, of surfaces of light and shadow and sound.
Furthermore, if the eye of the camera does not see lines in nature, we nevertheless have mobile relationships of lines and sounds thanks to animated films.
Cinegraphic vision is obtained by means of a succession of images that recreate movement with the illusion of life. For, in the most general sense, life is a rhythm, a succession, an alternation, a continual palpitation of being and non-being, of presence and absence, a pure breath in which the existence of inhalation follows the void of exhalation.
The vision of film is a rhythm, in other words a movement connected to absence; it constitutes the first condition that allows us to envisage the possible future of dialectical cinema, of cinema as a form of the mind.
The evolution of mind-forms, the movement natural to the mind, according to Hegel, is endowed with an indefinite perfectibility and can at the extreme aspire to an absolute solution because “the dialectic of nature is the same as that of our mind.” The tree grows by syllogisms: the germination of the world is a growing plant. The idea only develops by encountering itself in its negation like the Seed that Hegel defined thus: through the mediatory idea of exteriority, the basic fabric of eternal cosmic becoming, the idea denies being itself in order to affirm itself in the form of nature.
Here is the sole but immense raison d’être of cinema: being the mediator between mind and nature, it can express in movement and perceptible forms the evolving of the forms of the mind. If one day man decides on this goal, cinema can become a means of expression of which the “invention” will be almost as important as those of language and writing, specifically plastic language.
Thus cinema, as a means of research and experiences, will have become a mode of knowledge, an actual form of the mind.
The truth is that the filmmaker must choose his images not in nature, but in a studio among the most diverse test shots, for it is obvious that the result of a shot, any shot, remains unpredictable.
Moreover, in film, the photography of an object as it is should only play a very limited role. In this role, the vision of the camera, to which the human eye has become familiar for a long time now, only serves to symbolize the impersonal, social, objective aspect of things in opposition to the subjective vision of the filmmaker. According to an alternating rhythm, the object appears as it is seen through the lens, then as it is perceived by the human consciousness through the fog of states that transform it, the veil of tears or the synthetic light of inspiration, fear or charm.
Traditional psychology has been able to draw a few effects from film: the faculty of attention illustrated by the shot’s angle and close-ups – the associations of ideas by the dissolve – memory by superimposing images.
But only the psychology of states will be able to make use of all the possibilities of the cinema destined for the visual representation of moving forms of the mind.
The eye of the camera can become the mind’s eye. For the movement of the mind in relation to the movement of life, due to its variations of speed until then unknown to the senses and which allow consciousness to discover new rhythms.
Due to time lapse: the germination of a plant; the growth of a beard.
Due to slow motion: the movements of a dream; a flying man; the flight of angels; the gestures of ghosts.
Due to the relativity of sizes on the screen: a dice or a cork adventitiously replaces the pyramids; a ball of cotton becomes a cloud in the sky.
Due to the deformations and plays in space: the Himalayas in the bezel of a ring; a train circles a human head, the stagecoaches of the Far West and the swell of the sea on a sleeper’s pillow; a drama playing itself out in a black fingernail.
Due to the relativity of time and space on the screen allowing the juxtaposition of all images.
Also the eye of the camera can become the eye of the nightmare, the gaze of a sorcerer, the key to metamorphosis and grasping the lyrical act in its instantaneous becoming, the poetic metamorphosis in its essence: by means of a meticulous but simple technique (out-of-focus, dissolve and superimpositions), it can reproduce the mysterious paranoic transmutation that causes the mind to submit to the objects, upon suddenly discovering their secret hallucinatory horror; all the too lucid visions of delirium; the curtain that becomes a ghost; the crocodile that is drawn in the shape of a tree, becomes real, moves, then is reabsorbed back into the pattern of the wood, and remains a tree; the eye of the cloud, the sky’s faces in the branches, the tormented screaming wildlife of the wind.
Lastly, when photography is unable to capture certain mental images, across a very broad domain, then the role of animated film arises (alone or mixed with cinegraphic images). Perhaps even more than a humoristic value this mode of expression possesses a poetic value. It contains all the possibilities of moving lines and sounds.
It is not only speculations on the nature of cinema that can give rise to these conclusions, but also the mere watching of the films which are, these days, presented to the public.
It is necessary to note: why is cinema subjected to only the most insignificant and idiotic activities of the human mind like the novel or operetta? Why not instead choose as its aim the highest expressions of the mind, such as poetry and metaphysics in the particular sense that I use these two terms?
The answer is obvious: every intelligent attempt is rendered impossible by the economic constraints of our society.
But to the sole, entirely theoretical possibility of such a use of cinema the following objection is frequently raised: the camera’s cow eye sees and registers images in a crude and mechanical way, without choosing between them or capturing the qualities that the mind’s perception grants them.
It is advisable to particularly note that this reproach is not addressed to cinema proper but to photography. Nor does it apply to animated films. Photography is arbitrarily opposed to the “art of painting” with its harmonies and its pitiful spirit of decoration. In fact, this objection can only be usefully directed against the use of cinema for artistic and naturalistic ends that are of no real interest.
The acoustic possibilities of cinema will appear when one has decided to investigate the specific role of sound subordinated to the unfurling of images: a great luminous cry, the modulations of the iridescence of water.
One cannot judge the cinema using a diction-of-cinema as none will be discovered.
Musical adaptations can only result in horribly artistic results. But, freed of music and language, cinema could bring together rhythms of movements and sounds (particularly those of primitive percussion instruments) capable of physiologically provoking collective states of exaltation, trances, etc.
The true role of the filmmaker should be, by means of these various techniques, to adapt one’s entire mental life to the screen. From this point of view, mind-forms are of two kinds: on the one hand those that can be rendered directly perceptible as a visual and acoustic appearance, on the other hand, those that cannot.
In the first category belong, above all, phosphenes2 and dreams. In this case the filmmaker must compare the images that he draws from deep within himself with the various images that he projects onto the screen until the experience gives him the intuition of a closely approximate coincidence.
In an essay on Experimental Metaphysics3 we have dealt with certain concept-limits, certain ecstatic intuitions that stand out in very particular states of consciousness and that are always indissolubly bound to the frenetic rhythm of the murmur of the blood and to the synchronous dance of geometric and coloured phosphenes. It would be of the greatest interest to know whether such states can be experimentally provoked by external projection, on a screen, in a dark hall, through a rhythm of visual images and sound. Such a spectacle, basically equivalent to the magic ceremonies of primitive tribes, would allow experimental access to variations in states of consciousness.4
The projection of images from dreams or deliriums onto the screen – outside of the services that it could provide Freudian psychoanalysis – could play an important role in the understanding of the primordial myths of humankind. Due to such objectified images being subjected to the criteria of the collective disturbance that they would provoke, it might be possible to return to the depths of the mind, its very source. It could be a means of research for the demonstration of the universality of the world of dreams, legends and mythologies. It could be a dream thrown into the subterranean abysses of man to reach the unknown gulf of geneses, to fathom the deep place where monsters and marvels lurk, matrix of African or Polynesian masks, Chinese dragons, the demonic apparitions that haunted the Middle Ages, werewolves and vampires. In this way one could bring into the light of day the caverns of dazzling magic and the temples of sordid religions.
Certain processes, certain moving forms of the mind cannot be directly reduced to visual or acoustic images. In such cases the filmmaker could however objectify them on the screen thanks to their Swedenborgian correspondences, or, according to phenomenological language, thanks to other images belonging to the same affective category. Here one must understand “affective category” in the sense of: principle of unity for the mind in different representations that affect it in the same manner; a generality that is not conceptual but felt; coloration, tonality common to certain representations that the subject immediately grasps as belonging to all those of the same category. Such a symbolism is characteristic of primitive thought, but also of all poetic thought: everything is connected to everything else according to a network of mysterious forces of which man is, though usually unaware of it, a center of emission and reception. The knowledge of totemism (man bonds to the clan, the animal, the vegetable, the mineral) depends on such experiences.
Do these too brief indications give one a glimpse of what cinema could become if applied to the knowledge of man’s abysses: dialectical cinema; the cinema, a form of the mind?
Note: The only films that allow one not to regret the birth of film: scientific documentaries on:
1) The phenomena of crystallizations; the growth of crystal;
2) The germination of a plant;
3) The metamorphoses of insects.
As well as the Soviet films intended for social and political propaganda.
If these films in their domains are valuable, is it not because they escape the material and spiritual obstacles that I mentioned and because they include the elements of what the cinema that I foresee should include?
1 “Primitive participatory thinking” is a reference to the thought of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, particularly his notion of “mystical participation”, which according to Carl Jung, “denotes a peculiar kind of psychological connection with objects, and consists in the fact that the subject cannot clearly distinguish himself from the object but is bound to it by a direct relationship which amounts to partial identity.” [translator]
2According to the OED: “A subjective sensation of light produced by mechanical stimulation of the retina (as by pressure on the eyeball) or by electrical stimulation of various parts of the visual pathway.” [tr.]
3By Réné Daumal in Le Grand Jeu, no. 4. An English translation can be found in The Theory of the Great Game (Atlas Press, forthcoming June 2015). [tr.]
4This isn’t only a question in regard to the genesis of the CINÉ-POEM or CINEMAGIC.
Above all it is an intervention that puts into play all the moral action of the twentieth century.
Logically, it will no doubt be necessary for the Soviet sun to dawn on that day.
Experimentally, I ask and I wait for Western Patronage to grant the means to realize this. [RGL]