Antonin Artaud | Letter to Peter Watson

 

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Paris, 27 July 1947

 

Dear Sir,

I entered into literature by writing books in order to say that I was
unable to write anything, my thought when I had something to say or
to write was what was denied me most. I never had any ideas and two
very short books, 70 pages each, revolve around this profound, inveter-
ate, endemic absence of any idea. They are l’Ombilic des Limbes and le
Pèse-Nerfs.
At the time they seemed to me full of cracks, of faults, of platitudes,
and as if stuffed with spontaneous abortions, of abandonings and all
sorts of abdications, always traveling along the side of anything essential
or big that I wanted to say and which I said that I never would say. —
But after 20 years’ lapse they appear to me staggering, successful not in
respect to me but in respect to the inexpressible. Thus it is that works
mature and that while all of them lie as far as the writer is concerned, in
themselves they constitute a bizarre truth which life, if it were authen-
tic itself, should never have accepted. — An inexpressible expressed
through works which are nothing but debacles now, and which have
value only through the posthumous distance of a spirit dead with time,
and stalemated in the present, will you tell me what it is?
Since then I have written several other works: l’Art et la Mort,
Héliogabale, le Théâtre et son Double, Voyage au Pays des Tarahumaras,
Nouvelles Révélations de l’Être, Lettres de Rodez.
In each one I have been pursued by this sinister harlequinade of a
well with tiers of texts superimposed one on top of another and which
appear on one level alone, like the grating of a secret checkerwork, in
which yes and no, black and white, true and false although contradic-
tory in themselves have melted into one man’s style, that of this poor Mr.
Antonin Artaud.
I do not remember being born in Marseilles on the night between
the 3rd and the 4th of September, 1896, as my birth certificate states, but
I do remember having argued there with a serious question, in a place
which was not one,  situated somewhere between space and a world sin-
ister, fortuitous, unliveable, grotesque, dreadfully inexistent.
Space led onto a ladder of lives where I saw no interruption to my
being,
the sinister, dreadful, grotesque world was that of this particular
life.
The question with which I was arguing was to know if I will go to
a white charnel house, if, always tired of existing, I will turn myself over
to what white center which . . .

or if I will remain faithful to that black water, to that aqueous lid of
a cistern of black water, which was obstinately holding me back. —
That smelled of shit on my heart, this cistern with my trunk inside, but
it was my ego, the excrement.
In short the cistern was bloody trunk, but the trunk of a man,
while the white hole offering me its soul, a woman, was but nothingness
to me.
Will I go to the mother or will I stay father, all things considered the
eternal father that I was?
On must believe that I have chosen to be father for eternity, for I’ve
been a man for 50 years now and I don’t see that this could change.
For if before this life I have had others I do not believe that there
will are others afterwards.
Death is not just a state of passage. It is a state that never has existed,
for if it is difficult to live it is getting more and more impossible and
ineffective to die, — looking carefully at this life I remember being dead
in it really and corporeally at least 3 times, once in Marseilles, once in
Lyons, once in Mexico and once at the Rodez asylum in the coma of
electroshock. Each time I saw myself leaving my body and traveling
through spaces, but not very far from my own body, for one is never
very well detached. And in reality one never leaves one’s body. The
body is a trunk of which one is only a leaf when one realizes that one is
dead, and that one is not outside but inside.
For the dead man has only one idea it is to return to his corpse, to
take it back again in order to go forward.
But it is always he who takes you back,
and one obeys because one is inside.
So then the dead man is a being who lies, one must suffer still, now
is not the moment, says the voice of dreaming conscience, and those who
speak are they dead or living? — One can no longer tell. — Dead, I’ve
been seized by the tornado of beings all chafed from hate, and
demented. — This hate gave me an idea, which I felt going around in
my absent ears, and which brought my hand back to my side. This idea
was that each being had made me lose an event, and that death was
merely a story that I should have lived living.
Dead, one dies on the wrong side, it is not the path that one should
take.
Only, as a long as I am alive, I don’t believe in the path, and I do not
believe that the dead believe in it or have to argue about it. We are not
dead really dead when we calculate this or that.
And that, dear Mr. Peter Watson, does it interest you to know
we are when we don’t calculate, really do not. — And what happens
otherwise than there, and whether we are or whether we are not there.
And I don’t think that does interest you and as far as I’m concerned,
for a long, a very long, a very long time it has ceased to be of interest to
me!
Enough, enough and enough of questions and problems, of prob-
lems and questions, of life and thought, of death and nought (and
this rhymes, can’t you see that it rhymes? Oh this life that never wants
to go away). But then wait before thinking until you have at least some-
thing to say, Mr. Artaud
No, I, Antonin Artaud, well then no, well then precisely no, I,
Antonin Artaud, I only want to write when I have nothing more to pon-
der. — Like someone who would eat his belly, the winds of his belly
from inside.
You say that the English public doesn’t know me. And where
indeed could they have picked up la Correspondence avec Jacques Rivière,
l’Ombilic des Limbes, le Pèse-Nerfs, l’Art et la Mort, le Moine de Lewis,
Héliogabale ou l’ Anarchiste couronné, les Nouvelles Révélations de l’Être, le
Théâtre et son Double, le Voyage au Pays des Tarahumaras, les Lettres de
Rodez, and last and especially “Letura d’Eprahi,” written in 1935, in
which I put the best of myself, which has been lost and which I have
never recovered although it was printed so magnificently in characters
taken out of ancient incunabula,
no,

in characters of which the very ancient incunabula were only an

imitation,

a duplicate tracing,
a castrated transposition of its own head,
and, excuse me for using bizarre, and somewhat pedantic, words
but I will say a transposition

voctrovi
cano dirima

cratirima
enectimi

vonimi
cano victrima
calitrima
endo pitri

calipi
ke loc tispera
kalispera
enoctimi

vanazim
enanzimi

all stupid incantations in a fake lingua franca, good for summoning
fake dead men
to say that after the printing of this book the world got the hell out,
and that before the first incunabula the world also had gotten the hell
out. For from time to time, dear Mr. Peter Watson, life makes a leap,
but that is never written in history and I have never written except to fix
and perpetuate the memory of these cuts, these scissions, these ruptures,
these abrupt and bottomless falls
which

*          *          *

but imagine, dear Mr. Peter Watson, that I have never been more
than a sick man and I shall not go on about it to you.
I repeat to you, I have never been able to live, to think, to sleep, to
talk, to eat, to write
an I have never written except to say that I have never done any-
thing, could never do anything, and that in doing something in reality I
was doing nothing. My whole work has only been and could only be
built on this nothingness,
on this carnage, this skirmish of extinguished fires, of dried-up cries
and slaughter,
one does nothing, one says nothing, but one suffers, one despairs
and one fights, yes, I believe that one really does fight. — Will the strug-
gle be evaluated, will it be judged, will it be justified?

No.

Will it be denominated?

No again,

naming the battle is to kill nothingness, perhaps.
But above all to stop life . . .
One will never stop life.
But one will come out onto the plain at least, I mean onto the ter-
replein after the battle. To sniff the memories of the struggle?

Never.

The struggle has started up again further below, so what? A
scabrazage for perpetuity? An infinite scraping at the wound. The
infinite plowing of the slit from where the wound emerged?
Perhaps!
But you’re mad?
Indeed not; and it is you who are only an imbecile,
I, Antonin Artaud, I’m boiling, I’m boiling, you, critic, you browse
my prick outside.
And that is all that characterizes you, that stops you, and that makes
you.
There where I am nothing has nay more meaning and life is not, it
is not at your lubricious low-water mark, you who love only what can
be appreciated.
You have no tongue for eating or for speaking but for jousting, for
planting the tip of your brain in the unctuous silt of the throe, for
stirring it, for making it stir like mayonnaise or aïoli, you have not made
the throe which makes you exist, oh cowards, for you emerged from its
pain, like fugitives, and it is on the cream of your flight that you have
based life. — To gauge evil is this lubricious state with which you have
made your metrical bow oar, your kind of calculated argot!

arganufta
daponsida
parganuft

ebanufte
parganupt
ebanupte
pelozipter

palon
petonme
onme
niza

All your great books from the Vedas to the Gospels by way of the
Upanishads, the Brahma-putras and imitation of Jesus christ consist
only of this search for a happiness and a beatitude whose bottom is an
erotic,
not love but an erotic,
the search for a lacuna state as a low-water mark of the infinite.
He who lives takes no rest and does not know if he belongs to hap-
piness or to the Miserere,
to hell or to paradise.
He lives and that’s it.
Music does not stir his flesh
(and the aïoli contemplates you, spirit, and you contemplate your
aïoli. At last shit to the infinite!)
Contemplative states are the states of a lubricious buzzard, of
astrayers of deeply grounded energy, of those with their anomaly cir-
cumcised.
The anomaly being the evidence.

The male is built on the strong anus, the anus is not a hole but the
penis.
The anus ache being the sphincter, a suffocation which always takes
a being who wants to live, and judges him, what? Yes, judges him
according to his intrinsic capacity for suffocating this suffocation. For
being before the tightening of the penis, the male of the most intense
tightening.
But then that is bad verbal sophistry, all of it. — In reality the Jew is
the one who from life and from being wanted to extirpate suffering as
li tigation of existence. I say li-tigation. — What does that mean.
It means liege man and liege om.
Breath li tigation of death. Horrible delict of entering into being,
without pain, so that it is no longer in tigation.
But that one should live happily off the dead, happily on the the cam-
phor and powder of the valorous corpses of the dead.
I am that dead man whose powder is eaten: thyroidal or ovarian
extract of caput, of the end of when it’s over
and I know it.
Of ghastly petits-bourgeois initiated int puckering their mouths
into a kiss to suck in the departed soul, they eat my powder of a
departed soul in this way night and day,
which is why I’m sick each time I wake up, and am sick all day
long.
For there would be no sickness without vampires, spellbinders and
initiates.
How well I know it.
I know from which abject centers these maneuvers set forth over all
the earth, and who those millions are who, to live, have thus chosen to
bask in the dust,
the dust of survivor selves,
the dust of myself, surviving.
And it was to shut my mouth that in 1937 in Ireland I was thrown
into prison, the locked up and confined in France for 9 years in an
insane asylum.
My work says much less than my life about all this, but it says it.
Very amicably yours.

ANTONIN ARTAUD
13 September 1946

 

 

IN THE SUMMER OF 1946, IT APPEARED THAT TWO SECTIONS FROM ARTAUD’S POEM, “ARTAUD THE MÔMO,” WERE TO BE TRANSLATED AND PUBLISHED IN THE ENGLISH MAGAZINE, HORIZON. PETER WATSON, THE ART EDITOR, WROTE TO ARTAUD AT THIS TIME REQUESTING INFORMATION THAT WOULD INTRODUCE HIM TO THE ENGLISH PUBLIC. ARTAUD BEGAN HIS LETTER IN JULY AND COMPLETED IT IN EARLY SEPTEMBER. WHILE THE LETTER APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN RECEIVED BY WATSON, NEITHER IT NOR THE POEMS APPEARED IN HORIZON.

 

FROM
ANTONIN ARTAUD
WATCHFRIENDS & RACK SCREAMS
WORKS FROM THE FINAL PERIOD
EDITED AND TRANSLATED BY CLAYTON ESHLEMAN WITH BERNARD BADOR
EXACT CHANGE 1995

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