Antonin Artaud | Sylvère Lotringer; All Paranoiacs (Interview with Paule Thévenin)

Evelyne Dominault | Antonin Artaud, 2013

Antonin Artaud | Post-Scriptum

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

Translated by Clayton Eshleman


False Witnesses

Sylvère Lotringer: You never told me how you met Artaud.
Paule Thévenin: No, and I won’t say anything.
SL: Ah! It’s a secret.
PT: No. People are false witnesses.
SL: And you?
PT: I also consider myself a false witness and I don’t speak about
it. During a recent symposium I refused to speak about my
relationship with Artaud. What I say could be false.
SL: It could also be true. That’s the risk you run.
PT: I refused to speak.
SL: One can’t always be pure.
PT: No. Frankly it just doesn’t interest me . . .
SL: Words are also false witnesses; nothing is more false than
a dictionary. Words are not things. That’s no reason to refuse
to speak. You know, it’s not the truth I’m after—though it must
PT: Have you tried to see that woman I told about who doesn’t
want to give up her letters? I don’t know if she’s dead, I’ll have to
call her. She wants to burn them, it’s insane.
SL: Could they shed light on things?
PT: Not at all. I’ve never found anything enlightening in what
anyone had to say about Artaud.
SL: Nothing at all? Nothing that anyone has said?
PT: Only exceptional people like Breton or Michel Leiris, people
who were Surrealists at the same time as Artaud. They were
capable of appreciating someone, of speaking about his texts.
Breton supplied details that resembled a valid approach, but not
the others. Jean-Louis Barrault only ever spoke nonsense.
SL: That doesn’t leave us with many people. What about Roger
PT: Blin was kind of crazy. He also liked telling funny little stories
about Artaud; that was the side of Artaud that pleased him. He
SL: Few people suspect Artaud of having had a sense of humor. It
doesn’t fit with the image of the cursed poet.
PT: That’s because people don’t know how to read. You only have
to take a glance at Sidekicks and Supplications. [She reads]:”. . .
and the artichoke beat off while the virgin was taking a crap” Or
[she reads without much conviction]: “Because the children of the
principle mise en scène are not in the sound, but in the cunt,
which is not in the original principle of the attic, but in a terrifying
mastication.” If you don’t think that’s humor . . .
SL: It’s not exactly funny, it’s much worse. We always take
an affected attitude with Artaud as if he’s to be pitied. But he
complained enough for us to spare him. Artaud wasn’t crazy; he
knew what he was doing. It wasn’t Artaud who invented Christ,
but he played the role perfectly. We forget that Artaud was an actor
and especially an actor of himself. So people don’t know what to
make of him. They feel a kind of sacred terror before him . . .
PT: It’s not sacred terror, it’s imitation. False imitation. For
instance, that’s my problem with Jacques Prével’s My Life and Times
with Antonin Artaud. In it, Artaud is always perfectly serious and
dramatic. Like Prével, not Artaud. Artaud had an outrageous sense
of humor.
SL: His humor is like the plague: it causes the mask to fall.
Incidentally, there’s a moment in the book when Artaud applauds
and says to Prével, “This would be perfect for a theatrical scene.”
He was no fool. Prével got him drugs, that’s all. Nietzsche said
that what’s exquisite is being moved upon seeing tragic characters
collapse and being capable of laughing about it. Artaud was capable
of laughing about his own collapse.
PT: The work I do on Artaud’s texts allows me to understand him.
The rest of it I absolutely don’t believe. I don’t think Latrémolière’s
discourse teaches us anything whatsoever about Artaud.
SL: That wasn’t my intention at all. Still, they were in constant
contact. They weren’t the same obviously, but Artaud always
rubbed off on others, maybe because he was missing from his
own place, as Jacques Lacan said so well. Latrémolière had this
idea that he was the Dr. L. that Artaud insulted throughout his
Van Gogh. And incidentally he wasn’t modest, despite what he
says. Anything not to be mediocre—a nobody. So, was he the
famous “Dr. L?”
PT: No, it was Lacan. Artaud told me himself while writing
Van Gogh.

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SL: Lacan! Are you sure?
PT: Absolutely. Who is Latrémolière? Nobody. But Artaud asked
me not to tell anyone.
SL: Did you ever meet this Latrémolière?
PT: No, I never saw him. And he said I was a schemer or
something. [She shrugs.]
SL: Maybe he was intrigued by the role you played with Artaud.
It intrigues me, too. An entire life, just like that, devoted to his
oeuvre—it’s not ordinary. How did this come about for you? Did
you already know Artaud before his return to Paris?
PT: No, I won’t say anything. [She sighs.] It’s not a secret, it’s not a
secret. I just don’t want to talk about it.
SL: To me, Latrémolière seemed pretty paranoid himself . . .
PT: Everyone who deals with Artaud is paranoid. That’s why your
whole thing doesn’t work. The photographer I sent to photograph
his drawing had never worked under such conditions. She told
me the drawing was in terrible shape. So now he’s put it in a safe?
All the characters she encountered were absolutely psychopathic.
The psychiatrists, too. Another psychiatrist had one of Artaud’s
drawings. He never answered me because he’d gone mad. It was a
total film noir. I sent a friend to his house, we held secret meetings,
the woman took the drawing out; it was absolutely appalling. I
don’t have to thank him, I don’t need to send him the book when
it comes out . . .  There wasn’t one single thing, not one. It caused
problems with everything—everything. It’s this attitude people
adopt when it comes to Artaud. It even shocked the publisher.
He’d never seen anything like it.
SL: Latrémolière sent me insulting letters. Ferdière, on the other
hand, was extremely friendly. He’s no less paranoid, necessarily.
PT: He’s mad, he’s mad . . .
SL: Basically, they’re all mad, Artaud’s madmen.
PT: Moreover, he understands nothing of Artaud’s texts and he
doesn’t like that.
SL: How did you convince him to publish Artaud’s letters that
were in Ferdière’s possession?
PT: I made footnotes explaining each time this documents was
in Dr. Ferdière’s hands. In the end he was furious; he acted high
and mighty. But he didn’t hand it all over—far from it.
SL: He showed me the famous letter to Hitler . . .
PT: He doesn’t have it. Ferdière had the books that Artaud
dedicated to him and published before his internment at Rodez,
but Artaud never sent him a single book after he left. Afterwards,
never. The letter to Hitler? Jean Digot has the same one. They
copied them. I don’t know which one is the original. So that’s what
Ferdière shows people. Now and then he reveals littler tidbits to
me, but for that I have to make the trip, go see him and have lunch
with him. Artaud kept copies of the letters he sent. He recopied his
letters, then ripped them in two and deliberately kept the pieces
in a bag. I found some of them. I guess it’s a mnemonic thing . . .
SL: Artaud often asked his correspondents never to share the
letters he’d sent them. He then published them himself. After all,
he was a man of letters.
PT: I found correspondences where I saw the ripped letter but not
the sent letter, so I pieced them together, which wasn’t hard. But
ultimately he never kept them. He was someone who kept all this
in a room where . . .
SL: Those bottom feeders who plucked up the scraps of his soul . . .
Artaud’s sister accuses his friends of having helped themselves to
his manuscripts after his death.
PT: No such luck; his manuscripts were already at my house and
had been for a long time. There were three that he’d brought over
in their entirety, specifically so that his sister wouldn’t take them.
He’d taken precautions.
SL: His sister seems to support the hypothesis of a suicide rather
than cancer.
PT: Ferdière denies it only because he wishes he’d thought of
it himself. When Artaud complained of certain pains, Ferdière
must have thought it was to obtain opium and he didn’t look any
further. But actually, I took Artaud to Professor Mondor and he
told me, “Given who this person is, given the consequences it may
have, I’ll take the x-rays out so you can have them. They’re up in
my attic.” I got the x-rays from Mondor.

Marc Trivier | Portrait de Paule Thévenin

SL: Artaud’s sister, Marie-Ange Malausséna, had come to see him
the day before . . .
PT: Not the day before, but two days before, or three days before.
And it was obvious that there was nothing left in Artaud’s room.
SL: All the drawings were gone, too?
PT: Everything. He had removed it all himself.
SL: Was suspicious of his sister?
PT: Definitely, and with good reason. He had my brother come
pick up one of the suitcases—I didn’t tell him to. He gave him the
suitcase. And he said, “If something happens to me, I don’t want
any of my manuscripts to be here.”
SL: Did he defy his family?
PT: Those who claimed to be his family.
SL: They were his family. Marie-Ange Malausséna explained how
attached Artaud was to his mother. She even followed him to Paris
to look after him.
PT: When he had nothing left to eat he went to his mother, that’s
true. But the same time he had a ferocious hatred.
SL: Was it as simple as that, or was it ambivalent? There is always
ambivalence in those kinds of very close relationships . . .
PT: It was not ambivalent. He had nothing in common with
them. He said it very clearly. No one in his family looked after him
during his stay at Rodez. Ferdière always noted this.
SL: Ferdière dissuaded his sister from visiting him and even from
sending packages.
PT: He never went to pick up the packages, and the sister didn’t
want . . . No, she never sent any packages. And they were furious
when he was released from Rodez. Artaud got out without his
sister. When Artaud was at Ville-Evrard, an old friend who had
known Artaud for a long time went for a walk with the mother
and brother to convince them to take him out. Because he thought
Artaud would survive just fine outside, and he was right. And they
SL: Marie-Ange Malausséna blames Artaud’s death entirely on
those who took him out of Rodez.
PT: That’s completely absurd. Cancer . . .
SL: But he didn’t die of cancer . . .
PT: No, he didn’t die of cancer, but he would have in the
following two months. Artaud wanted to leave for the South,
he wanted me to go with him. I’d rented a house for him
in Antibes. Mondor had me come to his office and he said,
“You don’t know what a cancer victim is like in the last
stages.” It’s true that I was very young at the time. “You won’t be
able to handle it physically.”
SL: The pain . . .
PT: No, I had gone to med school, but there were physiological
details I didn’t know about, that was what he was alluding to. One
can’t take that on alone. It’s true that it’s very difficult, especially
in that situation. He must have taken too strong a dose of chloral
hydrate, and he died of a heart attack. He just blacked out.
SL: Was he conscious of having cancer?
PT: When Mondor gave him a letter that allowed him all the opium
he wanted at the clinic, he must have known what it meant. He
didn’t die from cancer, but it was inoperable. It was something he
had endured for a long time.
SL: He must have already had it at Rodez.
PT: In his letters from Rodez, he complained several times of
bloody stool. Which proves he was already seeing signs.
SL: It was all he ever did.


Sylvère Lotringer | Mad Like Artaud
Translated by Joanna Spinks


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