Apropos of Van Gogh, magic and spells: all the people
who, for two months now, went to see the exhibition of
his works at the Musée de l’Orangerie, are they really sure
they remember everything they did and all that happened
to them every evening of the months of February, March,
April and May 1946? Was there not a certain evening when
the atmosphere of the air and the streets became liquid,
gelatinous, unstable, and when the light from the stars and
the heavenly vault disappeared?
And Van Gogh who painted the café in Arles was not
there. But I was in Rodez, which means, still on earth, while
all the residents of Paris must have felt, for one night, very
close to leaving it.
* * *
We can talk about the good mental health of Van
Gogh, who in his lifetime, did no more than cook one of
his hands and cut off his left ear,
in a world in which every day we eat vagina cooked in
green sauce and the genitals of the new-born flagellated
and beaten furiously,
plucked on leaving the mother’s sex.
And this is not an image, but a fact abundantly and
daily repeated and cultivated throughout the entire world.
As delirious as this declaration might appear, that is
how present life maintains its old atmosphere of
debauchery, anarchy, disorder, delirium, dysfunction,
chronic madness, bourgeois inertia, psychic anomaly (for
it is not man but the world that has become abnormal),
deliberate dishonesty and extraordinary hypocrisy, a filthy
contempt for everything that shows breeding,
demand for a system entirely based on the execution
of a primitive injustice,
organized crime, in a word.
All is going badly right now because the sick
consciousness has vested interest not to come out of its
That is how corrupt society invented psychiatry to
defend itself against the investigations of certain superior
lucidities whose faculties of divination were impeding it.
Gérard de Nerval was not mad, but he was accused
of being mad in order to discredit essential
revelations he was about to make,
and on top of being accused, he was hit on the head,
physically hit on the head one night so that he would lose
all memory of the monstrous facts he was about to reveal
and which, after that blow, pushed back inside him onto
the supernatural plane, because all society, secretly
conspiring against his consciousness, was at that time
strong enough to make him forget their reality.
No, Van Gogh was not mad, but his paintings were
Greek fires, atomic bombs, whose angle of vision, next to
all the other paintings that were the rage at that time,
would have been capable of seriously disturbing the larval
conformity of the Second Empire bourgeoisie and the
thugs of Thiers, Gambetta and Félix Faure, as well as
those of Napoleon III.
For Van Gogh’s painting does not attack a certain
conformity of morals, but the conformity of the
institutions themselves. Even nature, with its climates,
tides and equinoctial storms can no longer maintain the
same gravitation after Van Gogh’s passage on earth.
The institutions disintegrate even more on the social
level and medicine, declaring Van Gogh mad, passes for
an unusable and spoilt cadaver.
Faced with the lucidity of a working Van Gogh,
psychiatry is no more than a hovel of gorillas, themselves
obsessed and persecuted, and who only have ridiculous
terminology to palliate the most frightening states of
human anguish and suffocation,
the worthy product of their corrupted brains.
There is not one psychiatrist, in fact, who is not a
And I do not believe the rule of inveterate
erotomania in all psychiatrists can admit any exception.
I know one who rebelled, a few years ago, at the idea
of me accusing, in their entirety, the whole group of
exalted crooks and licensed braggarts to which he
I, Monsieur Artaud, he said, I am not an
erotomaniac, and I challenge you to show me one single
strand of evidence on which you base your accusation.
I only have to show you yourself, Doctor L. …, as
you bear the stigma on your face,
you sad despicable bastard.
You have the mug of one who inserts his sexual prey
beneath his tongue and turns it over like an almond as a
means of ridicule.
It is called making money hand over fist and
providing for a rainy day.
If in coitus you have not achieved chortling from the
glottis in a way you are used to, and gurgling at the same
time from the pharynx, the oesophagus, the urethra and
you cannot declare yourself satisfied.
And there is in your internal organic convulsing a
certain habit you have taken, which is the embodied
testimony of a filthy debauchery,
and which you cultivate year in year out, more and
more, because socially speaking, it is not against the law,
but it is against another law where the whole injured
consciousness suffers, because, by behaving that way, you
prevent it from breathing.
You declare delirium the consciousness that works,
while, on the other hand, you strangle it with your
And that is precisely the plan on which the poor
Van Gogh was chaste,
chaste as a seraph or a virgin cannot be because it is
and originally fed the large machinery of sin.
Perhaps, Doctor L. …, in reality you come from the
race of iniquitous seraphim, but, for goodness sake, leave
the body of Van Gogh, free from all sin, was also
free from madness that, in fact, sin alone brings about.
And I do not believe in Catholic sin,
but I do believe in erotic crime which precisely all the
geniuses of the world,
the authentic madmen of the asylums guarded
or if not they were not (authentic) madmen.
And what is an authentic madman?
It’s a man who has chosen to become mad, in the
socially accepted sense, rather than disregard a certain
superior idea of human honour.
That way, society strangled in its asylums all those it
wanted to rid itself of or to defend itself against, as they
refused to become party to certain major foul acts.
For a madman is also a man whom society did not
want to hear, and whom it wanted to prevent spouting
But, in that case, internment is not its only weapon,
and the concerted gathering of men has other means to
grind the wills it wants to break.
Beside the little spells cast by backcountry sorcerers,
there are the great periods of world spell-casting, in which
all alerted consciousness periodically takes part.
So during a war, a revolution, a social upheaval still in
its infancy, the collective consciousness is questioned and
questions itself, and also passes judgement.
It can also be provoked and taken out of itself in
some resounding individual cases.
So there were the collective spells cast on Baudelaire,
Poe, Gérard de Nerval, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Hölderlin,
and there was one on Van Gogh.
It can happen during the day, but preferably,
generally, it happens at night.
Strange forces are lifted and brought into the astral
vault, into that kind of dark cupola that constitutes, above
all human respiration, the poisonous aggressiveness of
most people’s evil spirit.
So a few rare lucid and well-intentioned wills that had
to struggle on earth end up, at certain hours of day or
night, deep in states of authentic and waking nightmares,
surrounded by the formidable suction, the formidable
sprawling oppression of a kind of civic magic that will
soon be seen appearing openly in social conventions.
Faced with that unanimous filth, which has sex on
one side and the mass, or other similar psychic rites, on
the other, as base or point of reference, it is not delirium
to walk out at night wearing a hat fitted with twelve
candles in order to paint a landscape from nature;
for what could poor Van Gogh do to shed some
light, as our friend, the actor Roger Blin so rightly noted
the other day?
As for the cooked hand, that is heroism, pure and
as for the severed ear, that is straightforward logic,
and, I repeat,
a world which, day and night, and more and more,
eats the uneatable,
in order to bring its bad will to its own ends,
only has one thing to do on this point,
and that is to shut up.
Van Gogh did not die from a state of delirium as
but from having been, in his body, the sphere of a
problem in which the iniquitous spirit of this humanity
has struggled since the beginning of time.
The problem of the predominance of flesh over
spirit, or body over flesh, or spirit over both.
And where in that delirium is a place for the human
Van Gogh searched for his throughout his entire life
with an exceptional energy and determination,
and he did not commit suicide in a fit of madness, in
fear of not achieving it,
on the contrary, he had just achieved it and
discovered what he was and who he was, when the
general consciousness of society, in order to punish him
for having torn himself from its grip,
And that happened with Van Gogh as it always
usually happens, during an orgy, a mass, an absolution, or
any other rite of consecration, possession, succubation or
It wormed its way into his body,
erased in him the supernatural consciousness he had
just acquired and, like a flood of black crows in the fibres
of his internal tree,
submerged him with one last jolt,
and, taking his place,
For it is the anatomical logic of modern man to only
have been able to live, or think he could ever live, as one
THE MAN SUICIDED BY SOCIETY
And if Van Gogh had not died at thirty-seven? I will
not call on the Great Mourner to tell me what supreme
masterpiece would have enriched painting,
for I cannot, after the ‘Crows’, bring myself to
believe that Van Gogh would have painted another
I think that he died at the age of thirty-seven because
he had, alas, reached the end of the mournful and
revolting story of one strangled by an evil spirit.
For it is not because of himself, because of the
disease of his own madness that Van Gogh left life.
It was under the pressure of the evil spirit that, two
days before his death, took the name Dr Gachet, a
would-be psychiatrist, that was the direct, effective and
sufficient cause of his death.
I have acquired, while reading Van Gogh’s letters to
his brother, the firm and sincere conviction that Dr
Gachet, ‘psychiatrist’, really hated Van Gogh, painter, and
that he hated him not only as a painter, but above all as a
It is almost impossible to be a doctor and an honest
man, but it is heinously impossible to be a psychiatrist
without at the same time bearing the stamp of the most
undeniable madness: that of not being able to fight against
that old atavistic reflex of the rabble and which makes, of
any man of science who is in the rabble, a kind of born
and inborn enemy of any genius.
Medicine is born of evil, if it is not born of illness,
and if it has, on the contrary, caused and entirely
fabricated illnesses to give itself a reason to be; but
psychiatry is born from the rabble, the populace of beings
that wanted to keep evil at the source of illness and which
extirpated from their own nothingness a kind of Swiss
Guard in order to dismiss at its base, the impetus of
exacting rebellion that is at the origin of genius.
There is inside every madman a misunderstood
genius whose idea, shining in his head, frightens, and who
could not find, except in delirium, an exit to the
constrictions set up for him by life.
Dr Gachet did not say to Van Gogh that he was
there to straighten out his painting (I myself heard from
Dr Gaston Ferdière, head physician at the Rodez asylum,
that he was there to straighten out my poetry), but he used
to send him to paint outdoors, to bury himself in a
landscape to escape the harm done to him by thinking.
But, as soon as Van Gogh had turned his head, Dr
Gachet switched off his thinking process.
As if without meaning harm, but with one of those
disparaging nose wrinklings of a harmless thing in which
the bourgeois unconscious of the world has inscribed the
old magic force of a thought a hundred times repressed.
But it is not only the wickedness of the problem in so
doing that Dr Gachet forbade him,
but the seedling of sulphurous yellow,
the agony of the nail turning in the gullet of the only
with which Van Gogh,
Van Gogh, unstable on the chasm of breath,
For Van Gogh was terribly sensitive.
To be convinced, one only needs to look at his face,
always gasping, and also, by some aspects, bewitching, the
face of a butcher.
Like an old butcher now chastened and retired, that
badly-lit face pursues me.
Van Gogh represented himself in many paintings
and, as well-lit as they were, I have always had the painful
impression that they lied about the light, they had taken
away from Van Gogh a light vital for him to mine and
trace a path within himself.
And what path, it was not Dr Gachet who was
capable of showing it to him, that is for sure.
But, as I have said before, there is in every living
psychiatrist a repugnant and sordid atavism that makes
him see an enemy in every artist, in every genius before
And I know that Dr Gachet left in history, as regards
Van Gogh, whom he was taking care of and who finally
committed suicide on his watch, the memory of his last
friend on earth, a kind of providential comforter.
I think, however, and more than ever, that it is to Dr
Gachet, from Auvers-sur-Oise, that Van Gogh owed, on
that day, the day he committed suicide in Auvers-sur-
owed, I say again, to abandon life —
for Van Gogh was one of those natures gifted with a
superior lucidity that enables them, in all circumstances, to
see further, infinitely and dangerously further than the
immediate and apparent reality of facts.
I mean that he saw further in consciousness than
consciousness usually contains.
Deep in his eyes, the lashless eyes of a butcher, Van
Gogh engaged without pausing in one of those processes
of dark alchemy that have taken nature as their object and
the human body as their cooking pot or crucible.
And I know that Dr Gachet always found that it tired
Which was not, in his case, the result of simple
but the admission to a jealousy as conscious as it was
The fact is that Van Gogh had reached that state of
enlightenment where thoughts in disarray flow back
before the invading discharges
and where to think is no longer to exhaust oneself,
and is no longer,
and where it only remains to pick up bodies, I mean
TO PILE UP BODIES.
It is no longer the astral world, it is the world of
direct creation that is taken back here beyond
consciousness and the brain.
And I have never seen a body without a brain being
exhausted by inert supports.
Supports of the inert, those bridges, those
sunflowers, those yews, those olive harvests, those
haymakings. They no longer move.
They are fixed.
But who could dream of them being harder beneath
the raw stab of the butcher’s chopping knife that has
loosened their impenetrable quivering?
No, a support, Dr Gachet, has never exhausted
anybody. These are the forces of a madman that provides
rest without making movement.
I am also like poor Van Gogh, I no longer think, but
each day I control more closely formidable inner
ebullitions and it would be a fine thing if any medical
authority whatsoever would reproach me for getting tired.
Without being literary, I saw Van Gogh’s face, red
with blood in the explosion of his landscapes, coming
in a conflagration,
in a bombardment,
in an explosion,
the avengers of that millstone that poor Van Gogh
the madman carried around his neck throughout his life.
The millstone of painting without knowing for what
or for where.
For it is not for this world,
it is never for this earth that all of us have worked,
bellowed with horror, hunger, misery, hatred, scandal
that all of us were poisoned,
though we have all been under its spell,
and that we finally committed suicide,
for are we not all, like poor Van Gogh himself,
suicided by society!
ANTONIN ARTAUD | Van Gogh the man suicided by society
TRANSLATED BY CATHERINE PETIT & PAUL BUCK
WITH A POSTFACE BY PAUL BUCK