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Poetry / Madness / Self

A Division III by Christopher Seder
Mary Russo, committee chair
Alicia Ellis, committee member

Antonin Artaud

A Hampshire College Division III

By Christopher Seder
Mary Russo, Chair
Alicia Ellis, Member
Amherst, Massachusetts, 2012

For Jonathan Plough

Amherst class of 73
Diagnosed with schizophrenia as a Freshman
& now all but forgotten

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations .. viii

Acknowledgments ix
Preface .. xi
About the interviews ... xiv
Introduction ................. 16
Chapter I: A Name & A Face ...... 21
Chapter II: Self-representation Kills 55
Chapter III: Lacan With Artaud ..... 69
Conclusion: Metaphysics Incarnate ......... 95
Suggestions for further reading .. 106
Bibliography ....... 117
Appendix I: An Interview with Elizabeth Lagache ... 124
Appendix II: An Interview with Prosper Hillairet . 172


List of Illustrations

1. Self-portrait (with Deaths Head) cover

2. Self-portrait With Knife Notebook Page, Ivry-Paris, March 1947 p. 20
3. Portrait of Antonin Artaud by Man Ray, 1926 p. 34
4. Portrait of Antonin Artaud near the end of his life by Georges Pasquier, 1948 p. 36
5. Artaud and cast rehearse The Cenci, 1935 p. 43
6. The Theater of Cruelty, 1946 p. 54
7. Notebook Page, Ivry-Paris, May 1946 p. 68
8. Spell for Roger Blin, 1939 (front & back) pp. 72-3
9. The Projection of the True Body, 1947-48 p. 94

"### !


To my committee, Mary Russo and Alicia Ellis, for knowing when to dole out the
tough, insightful criticism and when to be unwavering in their support, for their taste and
foresight, and for working through this whole thing with me.
To two other professors without whom this project would never have come into
existence: Brown Kennedy, from one system-builder to another, for her constant
availability and interest in, or at least willingness to hear out, the more amorphous aspects
of my thinking process; and Annie Rogers for inspiring the psychoanalytic tone of this
project (ambivalent towards that discipline though it may seem), and, in assigning a
midterm about Lacan and (surrealist) poetry in the spring of 2010, inadvertently planting
the seeds for the it.
To Elizabeth Lagache and Prosper Hillairet for their time, the intelligence of their
commentary, and for giving me permission to use the interviews.
To the ridiculous amount of people who participated in the editorial process, all of
whom deserve mention, but many of whom I will forget: my parents, the members of the
Theory 3 and Milton in 17th century context seminars, and all the friends, litcrit folk,
and various people of the Hamp & Noho Shires who listened and commented.
To the whole of Wait, wait dont f*ck me, Im famous, and not in any
particularly exclusive sense you know who you are for out-cliquing everyone else, for
their support, and for always keeping the bar high. To Ellen & her project in particular
for the concept of a Hyperreal Indian, and for reminding me that the body is a
metaphor. To the many people at Hampshire, especially in my graduating class, whose


kindness and intelligence I either failed to take advantage of, or only noticed at the very
end. To Ryan for seeing through the demon of procrastination whenever it takes hold of
me, for his many merciless edits, and for the epitaph. To the inhabitants of Fruit for a
new sanctuary. To my family for having leagued me their neuroses, and for their support
and insight near the end.
And to anyone else who has ever rung the bell on one random first year night, and
nevertheless emerged a relatively unscathed graduate.


In a culture whose already classical dilemma is the hypertrophy of the intellect at the expense
of energy and sensual capability, interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.
...Transparence is the highest, most liberating value in art - and in criticism - today.
Transparence means experiencing the luminousness of the thing in itself, of things being what they
...In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.

Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation


This project stems from two impulses. First, I wanted to familiarize myself with
the work of a man who to my mind had, more than anyone else in the first half of the 20th
century, taken up the mantel of the poet as seer.
Of all the modern poets upon whom the paradoxical status of avant-garde
classic has been thrust, he is one of the most celebrated, but also one of the most unread.
This project was therefore motivated by a desire to read Artaud, in depth and on his own
terms, because behind the myth lies the splintered work of a lifetime that has barely
begun to receive the attention it deserves, even though its influence on experimental
theater, critical theory, and poetry is undeniable.
If Artaud is not read in large quantities it is not just because of the fragmented
nature of his work, but also because it is willfully obscure and, over the long haul,
unbearable and exhausting. Artaud is an example of a willed classic: an author whose
name has become associated with high literary culture but whose violent, rupture-filled
work it remains profoundly incapable of assimilating.
This is probably one of the primary reasons why the work of Artaud is so often
described as a success in theory but a failure in practice: a fully fleshed-out theater of


cruelty may not merely be impossible in terms of realization, but also impossible for a
societal body to truly incorporate if it is to continue to function effectively. In much the
way that, in Sophocles play, Antigones marriage with death, and her refusal to put
patriotic duty before the bonds of kinship is dangerous enough that she has to be put to
death, so that the intolerable thing she stands for be buried with her, so Artaud was
silenced both immediately by psychiatry and, after the fact, by criticism, because the way
he pushed at the boundaries of the sensible threatened to dissolve the sensible itself.
The other reason for this project is that, from my first encounter with it, Artauds
position struck me as one that presents a radical alternative that is completely absent from
contemporary discussions surrounding the politics of representation. My undergraduate
experience has made me extremely skeptical of a certain idea of self-actualization, of
the myth that becoming ones true self is simply a matter of asserting that one is that self,
as if such a thing existed in the first place, and in such a stable way. There is a constant
tension in Artaud about the question of Being: self-actualization is by turns derided, by
turns craved and lunged for. What better place to start than his account of himself, to
look for solutions to the problems that this newfound cynicism opened up, and in
particular, to that of the central knot of emptiness around which the intelligible self
anxiously constructs its borders?
Finally, although this thesis, organized as it is into a series of more or less cogent
essays, purports to be about the implications of the work and person of Antonin Artaud
for modern ideas about what it means to be a self, its primary purpose is to peel back
the layers of myth that have accumulated around him in order to reveal, not an
overblown and empty shell, but the remnant of something unmistakably real. I would like

$## !

my reader to experience this Real Artaud, whose traces, I hold, can still be revealed, can
still be realed in, and therefore still be reveled in.
This project is not interpretive in its intention, in the sense that Sontag meant that
word, i.e. a task of translation that begins by plucking a certain set of elements (the X,
the Y, the Z, and so forth) from the whole work in order to show that X is really or,
really means A, that Y is really B, that Z is really C. I have not sought to give Artauds
text my own meaning by making a set of analogies, and then claiming to have found the
real meaning behind the text.
If Artaud continues to excite interest, it is not just because he is the mad poet,
but because something gets preserved in the sweep of his writing, something visible in the
mental inversions and leaps of thought, in the incandescence and the feverish pitch of the
words, and in the ecstatic brushes with an unseen world. These fossils, traces of the
presence that Artaud left behind are my reason for having stuck it out with him; I only
hope to have helped illuminate, and resuscitate, some echo of those fossils for others.


About the interviews

In July 2011, while in Paris, I conducted two interviews for this thesis.
Chronologically near the halfway mark of Division III, they were important in allowing
me to get a much stronger handle on my subject. They are therefore included both as
reflections of my process, and as a means of providing additional information and insight
to what I was able to include in the thesis proper.
The first, with Elizabeth Lagache, a Lacanian Psychoanalyst affiliated with La
Lettre Lacanienne, took place on July 30. Although I cite it only minimally, it was
instrumental in helping me establish a kind of dialogue between Lacan and Artaud,
insofar as such a dialogue is possible, and therefore serves as an informative basis and
supplement to everything that I wrote for the third chapter. The second, with Prosper
Hillairet, a critic and professor of Avant-Garde film, and the director of Antonin Artaud at
Ville-vrard, a documentary about the first asylum that Artaud was confined to, was
conducted on July 31. This interview was especially helpful in that it gave me the
foundational knowledge about Artaud (as well as the many people who were and are
involved in editing his work) that I had previously lacked. I contains two especially strong
and well-informed discussions: one of Artauds asylum period, and one of the concept of
the Theater of Cruelty. I have quoted extracts from these discussions here and there
throughout the thesis.

$#" !



Antonin Artaud was one of the most towering, brilliant and notoriously
incomprehensible figures of the European Avant-Garde. He is, along with Bertolt Brecht,
often considered to be the most important theatrical revolutionary of the 20th century,
whose theories were popularized by the Experimental Theater movement in the United
States during the 1960s. With the rise of Post-Structuralism, he became one of the most
written about, and polarizing, artistic figures in France. He was infamously incarcerated
for ten long years of his life in various psychiatric institutions, which earned him a
reputation as a martyr, an important symbolic place in the anti-psychiatric movement,
and a deeply bizarre and unique poetic voice.
He believed that the body and organic sexuality were functions of the pleasure of
a persecutory god (a word he did not capitalize), and that both therefore needed to be reinvented; that the theater was a sacred and potentially transformative space that had lost
touch with its roots, but that was capable of re-awakening a different, more
metaphysically-oriented consciousness, through a kind of reasoned cruelty exercised
upon the bodies of the performers and the audience; and that being and thinking were
inventions devised to prevent him from forging an authentic "body without organs."
In what follows, I take a close look at his work through several different lenses. In
the first, introductory chapter, I establish Artaud in context, as an artist of the interwar
era and an off and on member of the avant-garde, and in terms of his subsequent critical
reception, both in France by the intellectual left and in the United States by theorists and
practitioners of the experimental theater. I then go on to argue that Artauds elevation to

%& !

a mythical status has both damaged attention to his ideas and produced many different
versions of him that, because of the importance that he attributed to the notion of the
work of art as a live, unrepeatable performance, make any pretensions to showing the
real Artaud almost impossible: all that one can reveal is just another, Hyperreal copy of
an original that is forever lost to us.
I open the second chapter with a discussion of Artauds choice of Shakespeare as
his primary target in an essay in The Theater and its Double entitled No More
Masterpieces. I then move into an analysis of the character of Satan in Miltons Paradise
Lost, drawing analogies between Satan & Pandemonium, on the one hand, and Artaud &
the space of the Theater of Cruelty, on the other, I do this in order to situate the systemic
construction of a modern, individuated and cosmos-encompassing Self, whose birth
throes are echoed, negotiated and potentially subverted in the dramatic literature of the
Elizabethan era. As distinct from a pre-modern one, this Self is a subject whose
limitations, in anticipation of the rise of Reason and of the death of God, become entirely
psychological, rather than metaphysical. The result is not only, as Artaud had it, a theater
with merely entertaining, rather than life-shattering, ambitions, but also an image of the
self whose weight threatens to overwhelm the subject.
In the third chapter I examine the traces of the historical encounter between
Artaud as a psychiatric patient, and the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, as well as a few of
the many ways in which their ideas overlap. (Specifically with regard to the limits of
psychology, the Real, the Letter and the Subjectile, the unknowability, or impossibility, at
the center of the notion of being, and of a truth of the subject that exceeds rationalist
discourse.) Honing in on the condition known as erotomania, which each on his own
dedicated a substantial amount of time to, I try to describe the thing that makes their


distinct approaches to the self so irreconcilable, both in their real interaction, and in the
subsequent dissemination of their theories.
Finally, in a brief, concluding chapter, I examine the recent discussion about the
proto-fascistic character of some of Artaud's work, especially that from around the time
when her was developing the concept of a Theater of Cruelty. I argue that while that trait
is undoubtedly present, ultimately, it is not the governing one of Artauds work, and is in
fact refuted by him. This leads me to distinguish between two Artauds: an earlier one, for
whom Theater of Cruelty means apotheosis of becoming in a singular, performed Event,
and a later one, for whom Theater of Cruelty refers to the necessary cruelty with which
one avoids the judgment of god, and therefore being dead while we are alive (a phrase
Andr Breton used to describe everything that Artaud fought against), and works towards
building oneself a Body without Organs. This last phrase refers to the conception of, and
attack on, the modern self that dominates Artauds later work, in a way that anticipates
and in some ways exceeds contemporary notions of the non-linear, queer, and
fragmented temporalities in which the Self is re-imagined.
Throughout the thesis, I argue that from among the many facets that the attack
on the unified subject took on over the course of the previous century, Artaud's position
represents a uniquely compelling and under-examined contribution, and that both his
work and his life continue to be relevant in the ongoing re-evaluation of the singular,
cataclysmic Event, of the boundaries of normalcy and sanity, and of the notion of the

%( !


Self-portrait with knife

Notebook Page, Ivry-Paris, March 1947

*+ !

A Name & A Face

Qui suis-je ?
Do je viens ?
Je suis Antonin Artaud
et que je le dise
comme je sais le dire
vous verrez mon corps actuel
voler en clats
et se ramasser
sous dix-mille aspects
un nouveau corps
o vous ne pourrez
plus jamais

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.

From The Theater of Cruelty, 1947

(O, 1663; W&R, 323)

When uttered, the name of Antonin Artaud evokes in anyone familiar with it a
cloud of word associations that, give or take a few of them, probably resembles something
like this: poet; visionary; genius in theory, failure in practice; psychotic, or paranoid
schizophrenic; victim of electro-shock treatments; epitome of internal suffering; eccentric
actor for the (mostly) silent cinema; revolutionary theater practitioner and theoretician;
fixated, repetitive lunatic, the delirious aspect of whose writing sometimes outweighs the
value of his texts for anyone but himself; brilliant writer, whose ability to focus and
capture the mechanisms of thought itself, and the pain implicit in that process, is


unsurpassed in all of literature; part-time surrealist; full-time drug addict; irreligious

Christ-figure; raving old man obsessed with scatology; the spirit of rupture; a scream in its
purest state.
By scrambling these terms, one could write and/or reproduce any number of
articles on the subject of Artaud, and sound legitimate simply by drawing on the well of
cultural myths that surround the figure. Throughout these essays, however, I have steered
as clear of them as I was able, in the hopes of producing a space in which Artauds texts
take on a life of their own, rather than being produced by a set of associations that
precede him and that were the very thing he was attempting to disassociate himself from.
One might ask how a single person could be equivocated with a scream in its
purest state. Artauds life and work can and have been thought of, in part because of the
way that he himself referred to them, as a single, extended scream. Responding to an
offer that some of his letters be published in a fictionalized form (as an epistolary novel of
sorts), he wrote: Why lie, why try to put on a literary level something which is the scream
of life itself, why give an appearance of fiction to that which is made of the ineradicable
substance of the soul, which is like the wail of reality? (SW, 43) Following this, Susan
Sontag, in the essay she dedicates to him, comes to the conclusion that Artauds legacy
consists not in achieved works of art but [in] a singular presence, a poetics, an aesthetics
of thought, a theology of culture, and a phenomenology of suffering. (SW, XX)
One would like to leave off there: Antonin Artaud is just one long scream that
swallows and nullifies linguistic expression, a knot of mental suffering, about whom it is
impossible to say anything further, splayed across tens of thousands of pages of writing
though that suffering may be. And yet, for all that one may want to stop there, it is a fact
that Artaud-the-myth does not. His name is the site of a nexus of symbols, all of which
** !

retroactively attach themselves to this idea of a pure scream, of poetry as the direct
transmission of the sheer intensity of being alive.
Indeed, the idea, cleared of the work, of a pote maudits inner pain is both
poignant and vague enough to invite all sorts of associations that make identification
easier and more pleasurable. But insofar as those associations are pre-conceived, they can
suffocate a body of work, and fail to give it a chance to speak for itself. What is more, the
reader who, handed the filter of canned popular views, can say this is the writing of a
visionary or that is the insanity talking stays at a remove that Artaud would certainly
never have invited, is barred off from the raw experience of reality that he saw it as his
task to re-ignite in his audiences by the impenetrable varnish of the text. Just as Sontag
held that much of the body of criticism on Artaud may in fact obscure the nature of his
writing, and as Derrida bemoaned the fact that, critically or clinically, Artaud would
always be used as an example, I am saying that what Artaud gets associated with,
conceptually, actively prevents the sort of immersive experience he desired. Rather than
simply give a reductive meaning to the work of Artaud that would just reinforce the
inaccessibility of the experiences he wanted to provoke, I would like to make those
experiences seem within reach again. That is the ambition of this project.
As an artist, Artaud had no interest in new forms except as a means of moving
beyond the question of form, and was only interested in artistic movements (like
Surrealism) insofar as they refused to make art for arts sake, i.e., as they advocated
bringing art out of its insular exteriority and back into the fabric of life. It is for this reason
that one cannot distinguish his life from his work, and must talk about one in order to talk
about the other: his lifes work was precisely to abolish the space between the two, to
make them indistinguishable. He was concerned not with advancing an artistic form, but


only with re-inventing himself, only with working his way, through artistic practice, into
an authentic experience of being.
Because of this, it is only so useful to talk about creative periods in Artauds
case. Nevertheless, since his output falls fairly neatly into four such periods, I have
outlined them below. Each one represents a very different approach to the self-fashioning
that was always his primary concern: to understand some of the principle aims of
Artauds writing, and how those aims change over time, it is essential to have some notion
of when, over the course of his life, he produced that writing, as well as of the main events
that informed the work that came out of that life.

Early Years & Thought Poetry

Born Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud on September 4, 1896 in Marseilles, Frances
largest port city on the Mediterranean, Artaud is said to have had a relatively happy
childhood. Antonin, the name he is remembered by, is a diminutive of Antoine, and was
a means of distinguishing between him and his often absent father, Antoine Roi Artaud, a
French ship captain. Antonin Artaud is also merely one of the many pseudonyms that
he would come to refer to himself by (Antoine Arlanopoulos, Antonin Nalpas, and The
Revealed One are a few others), but it is the name to which he always gave the most
importance, and sometimes found difficult to embody.
His mother, Euphrasie Nalpas, was of Greek origin. As a result, Artaud spent a
good deal of family vacations in Smyrna (part of what is now Izmir), Turkey, with his
grandmother, whom he was especially close to. Those trips came to represent the only
possible respite, apart from drugs, from the neurological pains that began during his early
adolescence and would plague him throughout his life. Artaud never drugged himself
*. !

recreationally, contrary to what Beat Generation-influenced associations might suggest,

but was prescribed a number of things, primarily opiates (Laudanum, Heroin, Hydro
chlorate, etc.), that he took to blunt his physical suffering: his addictions were merely side
effects of this.
The death of his eight-month old sister, Germaine, when he was only eight had a
profound effect on him, to the point that he later enshrined her as one of the six
daughters of the heart women linked to him in a kind of alternative kinship structure,
complete with non-organic genealogy, that was meant to be construed as exterior to, but
still the equivalent of, a traditional reproductive family.
After a Catholic secondary education, over the course of which he discovered and
read Charles Baudelaire, Grard de Nerval, Arthur Rimbaud and other half crazed
potes maudits, Artaud, beset by physical anguish, not to mention increasing mental
troubles, was sent by his father to several sanatoriums across southern Europe, including
one in Switzerland where he learned the drawing skills that were to become instrumental
in his later work, in which writing and drawing are inseparable, and another in southwestern France where he lived out the better part of World War I, after his father got him
out of military service by pleading mental health issues. Dr. Toulouse, who ran the latter
institution, and his wife were fascinated by Artaud (to the point that they kept him in a
room of their own house), and encouraged his creative endeavors enough that, by 1920,
certain of his genius, (O, 11) he made up his mind to go to Paris and write.
Over the next three years, Artaud wrote considerably, and even had his first
poetry collection published, Backgammon of the Skies. When it came around to the
publication of his Complete Works, however, he was explicit about excluding the writing
from those years (and in partciular that first collection), on the basis that it was part of an


attempt to conform to a literary aesthetic, and had nothing to do with anything that he
had written since. (O, 19)
For this reason, everything written before 1923 might be called juvenilia, and it is
not until that year that his career as Artaud can be said to have really taken off, upon
submission of a series of poems to the sacrosanct1 Nouvelle Revue Franaise (NRF). Its
editor, Jacques Rivire, promptly rejected them, but nevertheless took the time to write
Artaud a letter, stating that while the poems were not up to the formal standards of his
review, he was interested enough in them to want to make the acquaintance of their
author. (SW, p. 31) The comment sparked an exchange that would later be published in
the poems stead by the NRF, and it was this book that got Artaud the attention of some
of Pariss key cultural and literary figures of the time, including Andr Breton and the
other surrealists, Jean Paulhan (who succeeded Jacques Rivire at the NRF), Max Jacob,
Andr Masson, Charles Dullin, and Sacha Pitoff.
But the change was not only in the public eye. The Correspondences were defining
for Artaud, a key to a stylistic rupture that, by publishing the framework rather than the
substance, (Barber, 20) allowed Artaud to officially turn his back on traditional literary
forms, and to begin the work that would for years be his of the inability to think and
write. Without them, he would never have been able to write the stunning prose poems,
many of them written during his brief collaboration with the Surrealists, that followed the
Correspondences in a quick succession: The Umbilicus of Limbo, The Nerve-Meter, the Fragments of
a Diary from Hell, and Art and Death.

Under the leadership of Rivire the NRF became one of the most important literary publications in
France and in Europe. Part of its success was probably due to the fact that Rivire was extremely picky
when it came to the formal structure of the poetry that was submitted to him, a pickiness that left Artaud
resentful for a long time, and also determined not to fit style that it required. (Artaud calls it sacrosanct in
the introduction to his Complete Works (O, 19), and early on writes to Rivire that he is aware that your
review requires a perfection of form and a great purity of content. SW, p. 34)

*& !

Indeed, the difficulty for him lay in the process of thinking itself, of coming into
ones own thoughts, and because of this he believed that every imperfect piece he
managed to wrest from the void was a great victory, and that this rendered a poems
formal inadequacies irrelevant. The remarkable way he had of describing his selfdiagnosed condition contributed to the publication of the letters, in conjunction with a
few poems. As he would later state, in Art and Death: it is well known that your thought
is not completed, finished, and that no matter what way you turn, you have not yet begun
to think. (SW, 121) Artauds whole career operates in the shadow of this achieved
thinking, straining towards it. It is the search for any utterance that would propel him
onto the platform of self-realization, into a new dimension of being: At times all I would
need is a single word, a simple little word of no importance, to be great, to speak in the
voice of the prophets: a word of witness, a precise word, a subtle word, a word well
steeped in my marrow, gone out of me, which would stand at the outer limit of my being,
/ and which, for everyone else, would be nothing. (SW, 81)
He was very much aware that his life was not up to his own standards, that he
failed to be this being who can have thought. As he admitted to Rivire, a man
possesses himself in flashes, and even when he possesses himself, he does not reach himself
completely [Yet] should he be condemned to oblivion simply because he can give only
fragments of himself? (SW, 41)
But while there is an introspective thrust to his ceaseless attempts to attain his own
thoughts (or later in his career, to attain a certain way of speaking, a language all his own
within the French language, as well as a new body), his sense of insufficiency did not
prevent him from ceaselessly gesturing toward the outer world, from wanting to draw an
audience not so much into himself as into the part of him that was the witness to a conflict


both intimate and cosmic of forces: I would like to write a Book that would drive
men mad, that would be like an open door leading them where they would never have
consented to go, a door, in short, that opens onto reality. (SW, 64)

The Theater of Cruelty: a breaking point

During the publication of his Thought Poetry, Artaud was also maintaining an
increasingly fraught relationship with the Surrealists and beginning a career as a film
actor. It was in 1927 that, having broken with the Surrealists over his refusal to join them
in becoming a member of the Communist Party, he founded the Alfred Jarry Theater
with two other recent excommunicates of Surrealism: Raymond Aron and Roger Vitrac.
This period of collaboration constitutes the only properly Surrealist Theater to ever to
have graced the Parisian stage (the movement distrusted the genre as a whole, which may
explain why there was never an official thespian battalion in its ranks). Its atmosphere of
experimentation allowed Artaud to begin to develop ideas for props, such as the use of
giant mannequins, of aggressive whirls of light, and of a metaphysical theater that would
be a fully immersive and disorienting assault on audience members, the purpose of which
would eventually be explained as a way to invoke forces that would awaken them and
make them realize that their life was a living death.
The Alfred Jarry Theater struggled financially, and although the plays that Artaud
worked on for it met with more public approval than any other performance project in
his career, it eventually collapsed when fundamental disagreements over its aesthetic
principles made further collaboration impossible. Artaud now began to imagine a theater
in which he would be able to give full reign to a fundamental metaphysical drama, in

*( !

which the mise en scne would prime over the text, and where he would have absolute
control over the proceedings and their effect on the audience.
This thinking culminated in the essays that he wrote for the Theater and its Double
and the subsequent performance of The Cenci at the Folies-Wagram, in 1935, the only
theatrical performance to come directly out of those essays, in which the concept of a
Theater of Cruelty was first proposed. One of the primary contrasts with the Alfred Jarry
Theater was Artauds insistence that he be given absolute directorial control: I WONT
HAVE, in a spectacle staged by myself, so much as the flicker of an eye that does not
belong to me. (SW, p. 343) It is this sense of control of orchestrating an organized
anarchy in which a leader invites members of a crowd to lose their sense of self and to
engage in ecstatic feelings of redemption through a disciplined metamorphosis into a
superior state of being that has led to recent comparisons between the Theater of
Cruelty, at least at this stage of its inception, and the Peoples Theaters of Germany and
Italy that were going on at the same time, and that would eventually give way to the
fascist rallies of Mussolini and Hitler.2
The Cenci was inspired by the true story, that both Shelley and Stendhal wrote
about, of a 15th century Italian count and his family. After announcing his plans to molest
his daughter, Beatrice, Count Cenci was murdered by her. This lead to Beatrices
martyrdom, strongly opposed by the people, at the hands of the Pope, who refused to
forgive the parricide. When the performance did not live up to his expectations, and
failed to sell enough tickets to stay open after a mere 17-day run, Artaud was deeply
disappointed. Convinced he would find inspiration or versions of his idea of a theater in
more primitive cultures, he set his sights on Mexico and, specifically, the Tarahumara

See Jannarone, Kimberly. Artaud and his Doubles. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010. Print.


Indians. He was able to obtain a grant to go to Mexico City and give lectures on the
contemporary literary scene in France an opportunity that he mostly used to dismiss
Marxism and describe to Mexican students the supposed new youth in France that was
beginning to look in a different direction. Somehow he found his way to the
Tarahumara, and reportedly participated in the peyote ritual there, an experience he
would come back to repeatedly in later years. When he returned to Paris he was
beginning to speak in prophetic, apocalyptic tones, and was carrying a knotted, lavish
cane that he had been given while across the Atlantic, which he claimed had belonged to
Saint Patrick.
Convinced that he was destined to return the cane to the Irish, he quickly made
travel plans again. Little is known about his trip to Ireland except that he stayed for some
time in quiet port villages, running off on the bill in nearly every hotel he stayed at, and
that while in Dublin he got involved in a fight he had reportedly been out on the street
heckling by-standers which resulted in his deportation.
He was also in the process of writing the New Revelations of Being, a series of
astrological predictions about the impending apocalypse, and which he simply signed
The Revealed One. In hindsight, these predictions are curiously accurate, because
they closely parallel the rise of Hitler and the onset of the Second World War. But they
are also a testament to a psyche that, having already failed in its ambitions to invoke a
new reality through performance, was now attempting to do so by more occult means,
and was on the verge of collapse.

-+ !

Death of Artaud
More of a non-period, creatively speaking, than a period, the years 1937-43 are
the real-life analogy of what Foucault meant by madness as an absence of the work, an
absence whose presence is always felt within the work because it traces its contours, is the
ledge against which the work stops and becomes a void, the condition sine qua none that
makes the work possible. For him, the enigmatic meaning that drives the writer and the
reader both, the force behind the work, is to be found in the line that separates work and
And already theres this sense that he constantly has of de-realization, of nonlife, that traverses him but in this case hes there, how should I say, in reality, he
isnt just there in his head, but in real life, too. Maybe he wrote, at best, some
interesting things, well its been hypothesized that he may have been writing, but
well, and this is something that Artaud complains about in his letters, the other
inmates stole his paper from him and used it to roll their cigarettes, and [one of the
interns at Ville-vrard during Artauds stay there] expresses this in a very pretty
way, he says that maybe in fact Artauds text went up in smoke, smoked by the
madmen in the asylum but well its purely hypothetical, because all we have are
the letters. But the letters are very impressive, because really, they come out of the
blackest of nights, they really come from the depths of horror, for him. (Interview
with Prosper Hillairet, 183)

Artauds asylum years can be said to begin with his deportation. While on the
boat back to France, a mysterious event took place, that was probably Artauds first truly
psychotic episode, the consequence of which was that he was handed over to the police
upon disembarking, who proceeded to place him in the care of the local asylum. He
stayed in various institutions in and around Normandy, until his mother was able to
locate him (he refused to recognize her) and have him transferred to Saint-Anne in Paris.
It is there that he would have met Jacques Lacan. Whoever diagnosed him, however, was
clearly convinced that he was incurable, and within another few months he was shipped
off to Ville-vrard, an asylum on the outskirts of Paris to which Saint-Anne sent those
that it had given up on.


He stayed out the early part of World War II in Ville-vrard, writing nothing but
long letters, for the most part requesting food or heroin from friends. When his mother,
with the help of Robert Desnos, finally managed to get him transferred to the Rodez
asylum in 1943, where the surrealist-poet-turned-psychiatrist Gaston Ferdire was to treat
him, Artaud was embattled and emaciated from the years spent at Ville-vrard (the poor
conditions of which had not been helped by the German occupation and food rationing).
During his internment at Rodez, he would write that Antonin Artaud is dead;
My name, Dr. Ferdire, is Antonin Nalpas. Nothing exemplifies the real social death of
this period so much as this choice to use his mothers maiden name, Nalpas. The name of
his father, while he despised it, was one that he would come to inhabit and affirm the
legitimacy of with a virulence matched only for his hatred of Antonin Nalpas, who would
become a negative, a double who over the course of a single night in 1939 would have
tried to murder him, to suffocate him with its non-life, its anti-creation, and prevent him
from becoming the fully-realized Artaud.

Towards the Body without Organs

Ferdire used a combination of electro-shock treatments and art therapy,
supposedly in order to fight the madman out of Artaud and bring the writer back. While
his choice of the treatment has made Ferdire the subject of invectives from innumerable
Artaud supporters, he was also instrumental in encouraging Artaud to create again, and
without him Artaud may well have remained Antonin Nalpas, and stopped writing
anything worthwhile in 1937.
Instead, the years 1945-1948 were the most productive of Artauds entire life,
leading to his most difficult and bizarre, but also his most poetically charged, work. This
-* !

productivity only increased after he was released from Rodez and allowed to live out his
life in Ivry, near Paris. The extremely opaque texts from this period a poetry of constant
rupture and of the body has been the subject of innumerable interpretations, as have, in
particular, the glossolalia, the language that he invented as a means to resist the processes
of representation.
When he died in 1948, at the age of 52, of a terminal intestinal cancer that had
gone undiagnosed at the asylums, but had probably been affecting him for years, Artaud
had said everything that he had to. The Theater of Cruelty was no longer a metaphysical
performance but a process of eliminating language and the fallacy of being in order to
forge a new, immortal body, stripped of its flesh and excrement, a body built to resist the
word and judgment of god (god being a metaphysical presence whose manifestations
included, but were not limited to, germs).Cruelty, still meant implacable discipline, but
it no longer meant re-suffusing reality with a metaphysical awareness so much as it did
removing representation. It was about eradicating by means of blood and until blood
flows, god, the bestial accident of unconscious human animality, wherever one can find
it. (W&R, 289) Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society, To Have Done with the Judgment of God
followed by the Theater of Cruelty, and Watchfiends and Rack Screams, along with many drawings
and several dozen notebooks-worth of writing, all came out of this period of merely three
years, which takes up more than half of Artauds Complete Works.

A Name & A Face

Earlier I evoked the way that a myth of Artaud is created by pigeonholing him at
the intersection of madness and creativity, in a way that privileges previous discourses on


Portrait of Artaud by Man Ray, 1926

-. !

the two, rather than his own. This myth is most evident in two places: in the previously
listed associations that his name brings up, and in the photographs we have of him.
In particular, these images show how the duality, if not outright contradiction,
that underpins that myth gets played out in his life. On the one hand the early shots: most
notable among these are the portrait series by Man Ray and the stills from his more
famous films (as Marat stabbed in his tub in Napoleon, as the monk Massieu in Joan of Arc).
They all show a handsome young man with an intense, haunted gaze. Skip ahead a few
years and you get him emerging from the Rodez asylum: the combination of
malnourishment, fifty one electro-shocks and, on the bright side, art therapy have
ravaged his body, so that one is face to face with a furious, fragile and toothless old man.
There is no aging process with Artaud: there is the immortal youth, and then the nearcorpse. Less than ten years separate the two: Artaud hardly looks any different from his
youthful self in 1936, when he leaves for Mexico, but by 1945, he looks to be over eighty
years old.
From the beginning, then, it is clear we are dealing with someone born under the
signs of pathos, of rupture, and of the struggle with expression. But, of course, to read
Artaud exclusively through the lens of this myth something he certainly didnt do
anything to actively prevent would be to ignore the specificity of his work, to favor the
image over the thing itself.
Further, one cannot simply talk about Artaud the myth and a real Artaud
behind the myth, who comes into clear focus simply because one gestures towards the
distinction. For five reasons:


Portrait of Artaud by Georges Pasquier, 1948

-& !

1. Artaud deliberately blurs the lines between the mythical and the
real. Part of the purpose of his work is, following Nietzsche, to breathe lifes
epic, heroic dimensions back into it, and to re-affirm the primacy of tragic
knowledge. The fact that he pits what he calls a metaphysical theater (a word
whose meaning, in Artauds hands, becomes very slippery) above and against the
primarily psychological theater of his time can at least partially be attributed to a
preference for the attitude, if not the style,3 promoted by Greek Tragedy which,
Nietzsche argues, uses the perspective of the gods and the dynamic between the
chorus and the hero both to present a master narrative of the play and, by
extension, of life, and to tell the audience how to feel: a unilateral, dialectical, and
universalizing perspective that creates a self-mythologizing sense of existence. (The
Greek audience did not identify with the protagonist, but was separated from him
by his status as a noble and unreasonable being, and instead had its perspective
dictated to it and enacted by the chorus; whereas we are often immersed in the
perspective of a protagonist whom we are meant to identify with on the basis of his
simultaneous ordinary-in-circumstance but special-in-essence status. This is the
difference between a tragic and a romantic hero.) Witness the conclusion to the
Theater and the Plague:
from the human point of view, the action of the theater, like that of the
plague, is beneficial, for, impelling men to see themselves as they are, it causes the
mask to fall, reveals the lie, the slackness, baseness, and hypocrisy of our world; it
shakes off the asphyxiating inertia of matter which invades even the clearest
testimony of the senses; and in revealing to collectivities of men their dark power,
their hidden force, it invites them to take, in the face of destiny, a superior and
heroic attitude they would never have assumed without it. (T&D, 31-2)

Cf. the attack on Sophocles and the use of dead language in No More Masterpieces (The Theater and its
Double, p. 74).


2. To read Artaud is, if not exactly pointless, something that pales in

comparison to witnessing the actual events to which the writings
refer. On a superficial level, this might have been possible: there were certainly
people who attended his conferences at the Sorbonne and at the Vieux-Colombier,
and performances such as The Cenci or what came out of the Alfred Jarry Theater. To
read the letters with Jacques Rivire, for example, is to glimpse something like the
experience of those performances, to witness the live recording of a real battle4
between the editor who insists that a poem is finished if the form is harmonious and
the artist who, against this, upholds the fragmentary insight on the basis that all that
should matter is the soul of his work and the celebration of his victorious attempt to
capture a thought. Consider, for example, Anas Nins description of the conference at the
Sorbonne, at which he delivered the Theater and the Plague as a kind of lecture:
Is he trying to remind us that it was during the Plague that so many marvelous
works of art and theatre came to be, because, whipped by the fear of death, man
seeks immortality, or to escape, or to surpass himself? But then, imperceptibly
almost, he let go of the thread we were following and began to act out dying by
plague. No one quite knew when it began... His face was contorted with anguish,
one could see the perspiration dampening his hair. His eyes dilated, his muscles
became cramped, his fingers struggled to retain their flexibility. He made one feel
the parched and burning throat, the pains, the fever, the fire in the guts. He was in
agony. He was screaming. He was delirious. He was enacting his own death, his own
crucifixion. At first people gasped. And then they began to laugh. Everyone was
laughing! They hissed. Then one by one, they began to leave, noisily talking,
protesting. But Artaud went on, until the last gasp. And stayed on the floor. Then
when the hall emptied of all but his small group of friends, he walked straight up to
me and kissed my hand. He asked me to go to a cafe with him. Artaud and I walked
out in a fine mist. We walked through the dark streets. He was hurt, wounded,
baffled by the jeering. He spat out his anger. They always want to hear about; they
want to hear an objective conference on The Theatre and the Plague, and I want
to give them the experience itself, the plague itself, so they will be terrified and
awaken. I want to awaken them. They do not realize they are dead. Their death is
total, like deafness, blindness. This is the agony I portrayed. 5


Real only because Artauds insistence that the letters be published untouched and without the pretense
of fiction, an insistence incorporated into the published version, doubles reality; but Artauds anger at the
suggestion that the account be fictionalized also underscores the impotence of his attempts to make the
letters really real for their readers.
5 Nin, Anas. The Diary of Anas Nin, Volume One, 1931-1934, ed. & intro. Gunther Stuhlmann. New York,
Harcourt Brace and Company, 1994. p. 192

-( !

Such enactments also help to explain the centrality of the epistolary to Artauds
project: in the address to the other something of the immediacy, of the striking out
into the unknown that for Artaud it is the function of poetry to record, is preserved.
For what Artauds writing testifies to, ultimately, is the internal struggle to wrest a
fully formed thought from the unknown. Any fragment in which a thought is
successfully fixed and preserved should be cause for celebration: hence the irrelevance
of the goal of perfect little poems that Rivire set for him.
In breaking with Rivire, Artaud embraces the fragment as a form, in such a way
that what gets put into writing is not work in any traditional sense, that is,
understood as the culmination of a thought process given form: what you mistook for
my works were merely the waste products of myself, those scrapings of the soul that
the normal man does not welcome. (SW, 83) This is because Artaud experiences his
real self, and his real thoughts, as absent, or as impossible to bring into language. As
he writes later, in 1927, in a letter: it is a fact that I am no longer myself, that my real
self is asleep. (SW, 169)) The encounter with words is a battle that is doomed from
the start:
And here, sir, is the whole problem: to have within oneself the inseparable
reality and the physical clarity of a feeling, to have it to such a degree that it is
impossible for it not to be expressed, to have a wealth of words, of acquired turns of
phrase capable of joining the dance, coming into play; and the moment the soul is
preparing to organize its wealth, its discoveries, this revelation, at that unconscious
moment when the thing is on the point of coming forth, a superior and evil will
attacks the soul like a poison, attacks the mass consisting of word and image, attacks
the mass of feeling, and leaves me panting as if at the very door of life. (SW, 37)

The mythical moment of the true, realized Artaud, then, is not just historically lost
to us but always already lost, first and foremost to himself. For him, in fact, that self is
one that has yet to be produced, a production he increasingly believes is being


willfully impeded by an entity that he will alternatively name god or the unconscious
will of the society.
It is thus that his constant failure to self-realize, or rather to rescue the thoughts
that make up his essence and assert them in the social, in a moment that would
permanently affect the order of the world, crystallizes in the projection of a future
event, conceived of as a moment of rupture through which Artaud could rise from
his own ashes. This is evidenced by the emphasis he placed on the liveness of the
theatrical operation, on the importance of having a real effect in real time on a real
audience, or by the fact that he never gave a lecture that stuck to the script, even
though he often prepared ample notes, and occasionally ignored his text altogether.
The epitome of this live, singular, redemptive event is the Theater of Cruelty
conceived of as one single, life-altering performance.6 In a more general way, this
makes his defining (but not definitive) move away from poetry and towards the
theater utterly unsurprising.
3. Vagueness leaves more room for identification. Confronted with the quotes
of a writer who is both madly visionary and maddeningly vague, a sort of
identificatory gap is opened up, into which all sorts of readers projections can be
poured. Artaud is partially to blame for this, since his very thespian blurring of myth
and reality, and his tendency to embody his subjects so much as to become them
(Abelard, Heliogabalus, Count Cenci, Van Gogh, etc.), probably replicates and invites
a similar process in any reader. For as Artaud became the subjects of his writing in

Although, again, one is faced with the problem of doubling, of the copy paling in comparison to the
original. For, as theater is the double of life, its representation, and as real life only comes after the
theater, so there will be between the Theater of Cruelty and The Cenci the difference which exists between
the roaring of a waterfall or the unleashing of a natural storm, and all that remains of their violence once it
has been recorded in an image. (OC V, pp.36-7. Quoted in Barber, p. 34)

.+ !

order to understand them, so the reader becomes Artaud if he reads him at all.
Witness, again, Anas Nin: Artaud sat in the Coupole pouring out poetry, talking of
magic, I am Heliogabalus, the mad Roman emperor, because he becomes
everything he writes about.(Diary of Anas Nin, 229)
Another way in which this identification is invited is in the pictures of Artaud,
which are often among the first things of his that one encounters. Alain & Odette
Virmaux have pointed out that the proliferation of images of Artaud from the Man
Ray portrait on every book cover of his to the shots of the forty-going-on-ninety year
old who emerged from the asylum, and through the film stills from Joan of Arc, that in
the aura they surround him with seem to suggest that he plays the role of the saint
rather than that of her acolyte that this proliferation of images is such that Artaud is
at the opposite pole of Isidore Ducasse. Better known as the Comte de Lautramont,
Ducasse was another important Pote Maudit figure, who published the Contes de
Maldoror in the late 19th Century and who, once Breton discovered him, quickly
replaced Rimbaud as the King of the Gods of the Surrealist Pantheon. He lived and
died miserable and anonymous, and the biographical information that we have about
him is next to none one picture discovered in the eighties, but hardly anyone knows
about it, and it doesnt change anything to his status: where Artaud displays the
minutiae of his life almost surgically, as if to hammer in the point of his martyrdom,
Lautramont cloaks his biographical details in darkness. But in both cases, the lives of
the authors are retroactively filled with an identical pathos that, while it very probably


was real, nevertheless may have differed substantially from the vague pote maudits
ennui with which it is associated.7
What does this show us, if not that the contents of the poets actual (as opposed
to written) pathos are always imagined, and hinge very little on biographical details,
no matter how extensive? Artaud suffers from an emptiness at the center of his being,
and an inability to become that being, whose primary characteristic is its absence.
Almost any other traits, apart from the ones that he was able to describe, were
therefore retroactively imputed by his readership. And that is exactly the danger, of
empathizing too much, and as a result of ignoring the text itself, which constantly
emphasizes to the radically alien nature of the pain that it describes.
Indeed, while we may empathize with the yearning Artaud describes, our ideas of
what is yearned for may not always converge with his. This is due at least in part to
the fact that he has aged. To imagine the Theater of Cruelty staged is, simply
following Artauds own description, to picture something like an intensely pared
down theater, a theater that uses dissonant sounds and whirls of saturated light to
disorient the spectator, viscerally compelling devices such as uncanny doubles in the
form of giant mannequins, and whose general atmosphere is other-worldly and
immersive in short, surreal. And reviews suggest that to a large extent it was that.
Yet, however amenable one may be to the notion that The Cenci was intended as a
mere shadow of theaters of cruelty yet to come, little can prepare one for the
photographs of the rehearsals, with Artaud and his cast in full faux-renaissance


See Virmaux, Alain & Odette. Artaud: Un bilan Critique. Paris: ditions Gallimard, 1986. Print. 286.

.* !

period garb, complete with bouffant sleeves and tights. 8 At the very least, it does not
correspond to the minimalist aesthetic that has become associated with the
experimental modern theater (for example, Samuel Becketts), with its intensely
pared down language and staging. Similarly, the only other extant document that
might be said to represent the Theater of Cruelty as a performance, To have done with
the Judgment of God, has been distorted by time in a way that directly works against the
performances desired effects: much as there is something of an event in listening to
the piece, much of the viscerality is undermined by the aged quality of the radio
recording, and even by the accents and verbal mannerisms of the actors, so strikingly
of a different era that Artaud, perhaps because his work is thought to be timeless, is
so often taken out of, and forgotten to have belonged to. Our understanding of the
aesthetic quality of avant-garde is therefore retroactively imposed, always reimagined in the terms set by our own era.

One might even go so far as to do a double-take and rummage around for the Manifesto of the Theater of
Cruelty, in which the practicalities of staging are laid out, only to realize with surprise that one had glazed
over the closing blurb, which tells one to expect: works from the Elizabethan theater stripped of their text
and retaining only the accoutrements of period, situations, characters, and action. (T&D, 100) That this
might be a strategy, or even just a provocation, is entirely possible. But the fact remains that this
presentation of the Theater of Cruelty does not correspond to a modern audiences expectations of its
realization, and that some of its strategies might not have had quite the violently modern, visceral, antirepresentational effect it was going for.


.. !
Artaud (center) and cast rehearse the banquet scene (act I, sc. III) of The Cenci, Artauds only staged
performance of the Theater of Cruelty, at the Thtre des Folies-Wagram, in 1935.

Whether he is being discussed from a psychiatric or a philosophico-


literary standpoint, Artaud is systematically used to exemplify an

argument. Because more is at stake in that argument than the ideas expounded by
one writer, this exemplary status invites assumptions and superlatives for the sake of
the larger discussion. Derrida was critical, in the 70s, of the growing Artaud
scholarship, and specifically of his former mentor Michel Foucaults work, because of
its failure to observe that to perform a reading of Artaud is to be thrust along the twin
axes of critical and clinical discourse, and that to deploy a critical account that makes
an example of Artaud does not just parallel, but is complicit with, the psycho-medical
accounts that suppressed him. 9
Indeed, one is immediately caught at an intersection that to ignore results either in
deploying the pathologizing function of the psycho-medical or in falling into the
interpretive fallacy of literary criticism, which either displaces Artauds words into a
purely literary realm and nullifies their explicitly anti-art, i.e., political in the
broadest sense dimension, or inversely, refuses to acknowledge the evidence of a
truly pathological madness so as to make his martyrdom at the hands of psychiatry
absolute. In either account, one is reading Artaud on the terms of a discourse that
precedes him and that exceeds him, and that it was his struggle to refute. The
discussion of Artaud as an example, a psycho-medical or quasi-literary case, is an
excuse to play out the conflict between the artistic and the clinical over the question of


Although, because Derrida himself winds up making an example of Artaud in every one of his essays, an
unwitting martyr of the revolt against the dualism of Western Metaphysics, because Artauds work both
perpetuates and subverts that system on a level so radical that, for Derrida, the system eventually took over
Artauds body and destroyed him. See Derrida, Jacques. Cogito and the History of Madness and La
Parole Souffle in Writing and Difference. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1978, pp. 36 &170.


the legitimacy of certain kinds of madness, rather than an exploration of one artists
reasoning behind attacking the whole system of representation in the West.
In attempting to abolish the line separating art from life, Artaud created


art that, on its own, is uninterpretable, and is therefore very difficult to

comment on. On the one hand, Artaud is part of a distinctly literary tradition, that
of the poet as seer: a visionary madman, a social pariah and a creator, as opposed to
a professional writer. Arthur Rimbaud is the bedrock of this tradition, with his
formula that the poet makes himself into a seer by a long, immense and reasoned
disordering of all the senses.10 But it is also exemplified by Charles Baudelaire, Edgar
Allen Poe, Grard de Nerval and the Comte de Lautramont, who constitute,
because he identified with and was deeply influenced by them, the poetic anti-canon
that Artaud considered himself heir to (see the Letter about Lautramont in SW,
And yet, as he writes, all writing is garbage. (SW, 85) In the middle of one of his
most impressive poetic achievements, The Nerve-Meter, comes this sweeping
condemnation of language and its inability to convey a complete thought, or the
poets self as experienced by him. Of course, it is not a sui generis condemnation, but is
very much in keeping with the tradition of French visionary poetics. In saying this,
Artaud was bemoaning the futility of his own efforts as much as he was denouncing
the inherent falsity of all written language.11
Rimbaud, Arthur. Oeuvres Compltes. Paris: ditions Gallimard, 2009. Print. 344. Translation mine.
As Blanchot puts it in The Book to Come, writing about Rousseau in an essay that comes directly after the
one on Artaud and seems to still have him on its mind: It seems as though there is something mysteriously
falsified in him that makes those who dont like him furious and those who dont have any ill-will towards
him uncomfortable, without their being able to be sure of that fault and precisely because they cant be sure
of it. I have always suspected this profound and elusive vice of being the one to which we owe literature.
That is, this falsification, this deforming, this passage from the authenticity of experience into the inevitable


.& !

In Rimbauds somewhat brief overview of the history of poetry (Oeuvres Compltes,

343), he identifies four stages in its development: Greek poetry, in which poetry
rhythms the action of the world; the medieval tradition, culminating in Jean
Racine, in which poetry is a game, a rhyming competition; Romanticism, which
stumbles upon the possibilities of visionary poetry, but misunderstands it; and the new
poetry, inaugurated by Baudelaire, that consists in going into the depths of the
unknown, in order to find the new, in which the poet will be a Promethean figure,
holding a stolen torch and with it drawing the action forward. Almost all avant-garde
writing in France after Rimbaud, and certainly Artauds, has to be understood in light
of this genealogy, which attacks the idea of writing as a profession or a game, and
invites the creative possibilities that an inspired madness and absolute refusal of
respectability open up.
This tradition is also behind the avant-garde art manifesto, the form that most
systematically tries, both in the agenda it sets forth, and in the actual writing of it, to
bridge art and life. This sort of attempt to make art more real was also about
putting an end to the idea of poetry as a) a professional game with entertainment as its
goal or b) merely a place for soul after soul to express and lament its melancholy malde-sicle. The manifesto became particularly well suited for this task when it started to
seem like a viable way to create a truly performatively uttered aesthetic.
Performative utterances, a phrase borrowed from the British philosopher J.L.
Austin,12 are particles of speech that simultaneously describe and enact that which
they describe, such as the "I do" of the marriage ceremonial. They are arguably the
insufficiency of language is the stuff that makes up the leap from thoughts to words. (Blanchot, Maurice. Le
Livre Venir. Gallimard, Paris. 1959. p. 53. Translation mine.)
12 See Austin, J.L. How to Do Things with Words. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962. Print.


defining quality of the manifesto, which seeks to demonstrate an aesthetic disposition

even as it is describing it, in part as a means of collapsing the alienating split between
spoken language and thought language.
Artauds search for a language that would reunite thought, gesture, and word,
for a personal, self-mythologizing cosmology, and for a way to effect real life with art,
specifically situate almost all of his work as an offshoot of the art manifesto, whose
popularity as a form, was exploding all over Frances literary stage just as Artaud was
beginning to gain prominence on it (the 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism being the most
famous example of this).
So on the other hand, and although this is in keeping with the tradition that
identifies with the seer and whose medium is the manifesto, Artaud is very much not a
literary figure, nor is he an artistic figure at all, for that matter. As he wrote in an
artists statement, The Human Face, intended as an introduction to an exhibition of
his drawings, but that could easily serve as a descriptor for all of his written work as
well, especially as his career went on and he honed the form that was unique to him:
Moreover Ive definitively broken with art, style or talent in all the drawings
that you will see here. I want to say that there will be hell to pay for whoever
considers them works of art, works of aesthetic stimulation of reality.
Not one is properly speaking a work.
All are sketches, I mean soundings or staggering blows in all directions of
chance, possibility, luck, or destiny.
I have not sought to refine my lines or my results,
But to express certain kinds of patent linear truths which have as much value
thanks to words, written phrases, as graphic style and the perspective of features.
It is thus that several drawings are mixtures of poems and portraits, of written
interjections and plastic evocations of elements, of materials, of personages, of men
or animals. (W&R, 112)

This claim is further justified because Artaud differs from Rimbaud in one key
respect: the attitude towards madness. Whereas Rimbaud invited delirium,
uncontrolled hallucinations and ecstatic states, Artauds delirium is a disciplined,
.( !

cultivated means of knowing the world. Indeed he insisted on being an authentic

madman, which he defined as a man who preferred to become mad, in the socially
accepted sense of the word, rather than forfeit a certain superior idea of human
honor. (SW, 485) If the Surrealists would later envy and cultivate the delirious states
that for Rimbaud were the province of the Unknown, in the belief that they led to
fundamental insights into the Unconscious, Artaud despised them. Indeed, his refusal
of automatic writing, which became de rigueur for the Surrealists, and required
relinquishing control over ones mind in a way that, for Artaud, was anathema,
became one of two primary points of contention between him and the group, and
fodder for his eventual expulsion.13
Artaud is therefore extra-artistic, even as compared with Surrealism, because he
leaves nothing to the realm of play or of fiction, and because he is convinced that he
takes art more seriously than it takes itself. His worldview makes for a very particular
approach to nearly every medium available theater, cinema, drawing, writing, radio
with a thrust that is always the same: to end the division of body and soul, to possess
his own thought, to make metaphysics re-enter the mind through the skin, to cross
through a proscenium arch or a linguistic barrier, and come out, unscathed, on an

The other conflict consists in what might seem like different issues, but is really two sides of the same
coin: Artauds involvement in the theater, and his fervent refusal of Marxism. The Surrealists held the
former in contempt because they thought it was a bourgeois institution designed for profit and
entertainment. As for the latter, when the group moved increasingly in a political direction, Artaud refused
to tag along. This was probably inevitable, since as Naomie Greene points out, Artaud was always a very
extreme version of the metaphysical revolutionary, one who, as opposed to a political revolutionary, is
not concerned with social problems so much as with the limitations placed upon him by the very nature of
human existence, against the laws governing life and death. After his expulsion from the group, Artaud
wrote an essay, In Total Darkness, or, The Surrealist Bluff, in which he challenged the Surrealists on this
point: They believe they can permit themselves to mock me when I speak of a metamorphosis of the
interior conditions of the soul, as if I understand soul in the disgusting sense in which they understand it,
and as is from the viewpoint of the absolute there could be the slightest interest in seeing the social armature
of the world change or in seeing power pass from the hands of the bourgeoisie into those of the proletariat.
(SW, 140)


other side that would be like the underside of a Mobius strip, and for this to be, at last,
the real real life, the promised re-configuration of space and time. The true theater, for
Artaud, suggests real life, but life as it ought to be lived is actually beyond the theater:
a mirror barely glimpsed in a performance, just as the true theater is a barely
glimpsed mirror of ordinary life.
All of which are just so many ways of saying that his work is the account of
someone who, ignoring the rest, barrels straight for the central knot (W&R, 12)
where the unthinkable and impossible, realized, are glimpsed, and ungraciously
returns with the brilliant fragments in hand, depositing them in the middle of the
towering linguistic rubble that was left in the wake of his haste. Because of this, his
work baffles criticism, although not in the sense that something like King Lear, with its
labyrinthine multitude of questions, all of which lead to many seemingly valid, often
dead-end interpretations, does.14 If Artauds work is so difficult to speak about, it is
because it pushes up against the limits of language without giving it any room to
breathe. It is not intended as a representation of life from which one might derive
interpretations, but as a witness to the process of running up against the limitations of
All the terms in which I choose to think are for me TERMS in the literal sense
of the word, that is, true terminations, borders of my mental
, of all the
states to which I have subjected my thinking. I am truly LOCALIZED by my
terms, and if I say that I am LOCALIZED by my terms, I mean that I do not
recognize them as valid in my thought. I am truly paralyzed by my terms, by a
series of terminations. And however ELSEWHERE my thought may be at these
moments, I have no choice but to bring it out through these terms, however


E.g.: How are we to understand Lears motivation in his opening scene? How Cordelias? Is Gloucesters
blinding dramatically justified? What is the relation between the Lear plot and the Gloucester sub-plot?
What happens to the Fool? Why does Edgar delay before revealing himself to his father? Why does
Gloucester set out for Dover? Why does France not return with Cordelia? Why must Cordelia die?
(Cavell, Stanley. The Avoidance of Love: a reading of King Lear in Must we mean what we say? A Book of
Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976. Print. 271.)

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contradictory to itself, however parallel, however ambiguous they may be, or pay
the penalty of no longer being able to think. (SW, pp. 83-4)

What can one say about this, other than remark on it in passing? One cannot
describe the terminations of Artauds thought any more than he can. As a result, any
work on him involves a reading of disparate fragments, tied together into an overarching interpretation of the necessarily mythologized life and mission of the poet.
Indeed, Artaud seeks to present his readership not with a representation of the thing,
but with the thing itself. But even when one glimpses his success in doing so, what can
criticism, which can only comment on what is done within the confines, or at the
limits, of language, what can criticism say about the thing itself? He does not give us
a description of life as an experience of the painful mechanics of thought, but the
experience itself. The theater of cruelty is not a representation. It is life itself, in the
extent to which life is unrepresentable. Life is the nonrepresentable origin of
representation. I have therefore said cruelty as I might have said life. (Derrida,
Writing and Difference, 294) Not an objective conference about The Theater and the
Plague, but, by calling the spirit of the Plague upon himself, to awaken it in his
audience like a kind of spiritual or mimetic virus, and in doing so to awaken their
true, theatrical selves, their dormant alter egos, to force them to live, in order to
do which one must be someone, / to be someone / one must have a BONE, / not
be afraid to show the bone, / and to lose the meat in the process. (SW, 560) This
revealed bone that lies somewhere just beyond writing is precisely that real that it is
largely impossible to talk about, but that is also the reason why Artaud compels, the
thing around which the layers of myth about him are created, and that it is the
function of criticism to focus and illuminate, rather than to obfuscate.


The Hyperreal Artaud 15

All of these are factors in the production of a Hyperreal Artaud, whose real self
and original intent, are, for the most part, inaccessible. His dimensions are always
imagined, the representations of him are always fraudulent copies masquerading as
originals that are forever looking back towards an unachievable standard of authenticity,
an original that is the absent presence driving their creation.
When Jean Baudrillard introduces the concept of Hyperreality in his essay, The
Precession of Simulacra, he does so by describing a story by Jorge Luis Borges. The story
is about an Empire whose cartographers make a map so precise, it covers the entirety of
the territory it is designed to represent. As the Empire falls into decay, one can observe
the landscape protruding, here and there, from the rotting map. Baudrillard uses the story
as an allegory of the postmodern experience, but makes one inversion: in our world, it is
the territory that rots, forgotten, beneath the map, rather than the other way around. In a
society characterized by the endless multiplication of its signifiers, the signifieds beneath
them disappear: they are preceded and exceeded by the things that reference them. The
world we inhabit, for all its veneer of reality, is therefore also a desert of the real, a
whirlwind of signs all pointing towards a central nothingness.
One of the side effects of Hyperreality is that as all things real slip away, the
urgency of being close to them or inhabiting them increases, and they are lifted up to an
impossible standard of authenticity. The theater of cruelty (along with Artauds ideas
about self-realization and the impossibility of possessing ones own thoughts, never mind
My use of the concept of Hyperreality has its basis in the work of Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and
Simulation. Trans. Sheila F. Glaser. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1997. Print. See especially the
opening essay, The Precession of Simulacra, from which the allegory that follows was taken.

/* !

a full-fledged self) is clearly an example of such a myth-producing standard in Artauds

own life. That standard is also the one to which he and his theater, post-mortem, and
therefore unverifiably, have been held up by his readership. The more his work is
obscured by criticism in the form of lyrical hyperbole, and the less he is discussed, the
easier it is for that standard to prevail.
Nevertheless, it is not completely meaningless to want to reconstruct the real
Artaud, the one that he, in taking up his name again after being unable to associate
himself with it during the asylum years, had always meant to become. By the end of his
life, Artaud had become convinced that there was no such thing as beings, and that the
illusion of being had in fact been created by a malicious god to disguise the fact that there
was nothing but the body, or rather, nothing but the bones stripped of flesh and bodily
processes, and that this body was dynamite. It is against representation that Artaud
constructs this body, for
There is nothing I abominate and shit upon so much as this idea of representation,
That is, of virtuality, of non-reality,
Attached to all that is produced and shown,
as if it were intended in this way to socialize and at the same time paralyze monsters, make the
possibilities of explosive deflagration which are too dangerouts for life pass instead by the channel of the
stage, the screen or the microphone, and so turn them away from life. (OC XIII, 258-9)

What traces there are, then, of real representations an oxymoron, but by

which I mean the Real that is glimpsed in his writing of Artaud, can be used not just to
separate the man from the myth, but also to understand the processes that made him
want to shed both: why it is that he moved away from self-realization through
performance the initial Theater of Cruelty and towards a refusal of any reality
apart from that of the body the latter Theater of Cruelty, which one might also term the
Construction of the Body without Organs.


The Theater of Cruelty, 1946

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Self-representation kills

Dans les maisons ouvertes,

la lie de la population immunise,
semble-t-il par sa frnsie cupide,
entre et fait main basse
sur des richesses dont elle
sent bien quil est inutile
de profiter. Et cest alors
que le thtre sinstalle.
Le thtre, cest--dire
la gratuit immdiate
qui pousse des actes inutiles
et sans profit pour lactualit.
Les derniers vivants sexasprent,
le fils, jusque-l soumis et vertueux,
tue son pre; le continent
sodomize ses proches.
Le luxurieux devient pur.
Lavare jette son or poignes
par la fentre. Le hros guerrier
incendie la ville quil sest autrefois
sacrifi pour sauver.
Llgant se pomponne
et va se promener sur les charniers.
Ni lide de labsence de sanctions,
ni celle dune mort imminente
ne suffisent motiver des actes
si gratuitement absurdes.

The dregs of the population,

apparently immunized
by their frenzied greed,
enter the open houses
and pillage riches they know
will serve no purpose or profit.
And at that moment the theater is born.
The theater, i.e.,
an immediate gratuitousness
provoking acts without use or profit.
The last of the living are in a frenzy:
the obedient and virtuous son
kills his father; the chaste man
performs sodomy upon his neighbors.
The lecher becomes pure.
The miser throws his gold
in handfuls out the window.
The warrior hero sets fire to the city
he once risked his life to save.
The dandy decks himself out
in his finest clothes
and promenades before
the charnel houses. Neither the idea
of an absence of sanctions
nor that of imminent death
suffices to motivate acts
so gratuitously absurd.
- From The Theater and the Plague
(O, 516; T&D, 24)

In developing his concept of a Theater of Cruelty, Artaud railed against the

Western theatrical tradition, in the name of which an idea of the Theater ha[d] been
lost. In To have done with Masterpieces, one of the essays from The Theater and its
Double, the collection in which he developed the concept of the Theater of Cruelty,


Artaud accuses Shakespeare of being directly responsible for making art for arts sake
possible, thereby perpetuating the Western tradition. For Artaud, Shakespeares is a
theater in which the ultimate questions are about the psychology of the characters, in a
way that leaves a viewer merely contemplative and entertained, upholds the proscenium
arch and, by extension, the Bourgeois comfort that is detached engagement, without
images that provoke [the public]s organism to be shaken to its core, leaving a trace that
will not erase itself. (T&D, 77)16
It may seem perfectly normal to English speakers that Artaud would choose
Shakespeare as his target in a manifesto about doing away with the classics (since in the
Anglo-Saxon world, down with the classics! might as well just be down with
Shakespeare!), but for a French avant-gardist to move against him is somewhat
surprising. In France, Shakespeare was historically associated with bohemian, rather than
bourgeois, culture, because he was relatively unread until the early 19th century and,
when he began to gain popularity, was brandished as a weapon to be used against the
French theater classics Molire, Racine, Corneille with their prudish, noble subject
matter and alexandrine verses. A conflict implicit in this is the pitting of the purported
vulgarity of Anglo-Saxon against the syntactical purity of Latinity, a conflict inherited
from William the Conquerors invasion of England and the subsequent imposition of
French from the top down onto the countrys Germanic language, which conflict
English is the product of). As Derrida has pointed out (in To Unsense the Subjectile), in
this Artaud was very much in a struggle against the unforgiving sentence structure that
French has inherited from Latin, which is to say, on team Bohemia with Shakespeare as
16 Although I am not sure whether it is possible, or productive, to reconcile Artauds dramatic theories with
Shakespeares plays, for an article that attempts to do just that see Richard Flys Shakespeare, Artaud, and
the Representation of Violence. Essays in Literature 16.1 (Spring 1989): 3-12. Print.

/& !

their mascot. His struggle with French form can be compared with the struggle between
saying that there can only be so many words because there are only so many things that
can be said, and that it is therefore merely a matter of perfecting the way that one says it
the underlying thesis of all romance language, and above all of French as opposed to
the notion that language pushes against the boundaries of the unsayable by inventing new
words a notion much closer to German or English, the proof of it being that none of the
English dictionaries are particularly selective with regard to the words that they
incorporate, whereas the Acadmie Franaise is famously stingy with its words, so that
words associated with early computer technology are still being debated; this is further
evidenced by the fact that there are many more words in English than there are in
French, or the fact that in German new words are made everyday by simply putting two
words together, and so on. Artaud is clearly on the side of re-inventing language, of
abandoning dead words whose genius, he says, is apparent only once all words, once
spoken, are dead and function only at the moment when they are uttered. (T&D, 76) To
this day, Shakespeare remains edgy in an odd sort of way in France for example, his last
translator was Yves Bonnefoy, a poet who may not be a part of, but associates himself
with various avant-gardes like Oulipo and the Surrealists. And ultimately, the fact that
Artaud rejects Shakespeare really only further situates him in the bohemian tradition,
because of the Avant-Garde tendency to want go further in the rejection of canonical
literature than their contemporaries, and since he only concerns himself with Shakespeare
because there is no need to descend to the repugnant level of the modern and French
theater to condemn the theater of psychology. (T&D, 77)
In opposition to Shakespeares Theater, then, Artaud proposes one that would
use, among other techniques, various non-linguistic sounds designed to resonate viscerally


in the bodies of his audience, entrancing vibrations, giant mannequins, and abrasive
lighting. This would return the theatrical performance to what he asserts are its ritualistic
origins. Indeed, for him, the purpose of the theater is to remind the audience of the
strangeness of reality, to make them think in metaphysical terms, and to cause an internal
change whose ultimate goal is redemptive. Later on in the same essay, he offers a kind of
And so I propose a theater of cruelty. With this tendency we all have
today to debase what belongs to us, when I pronounced the word cruelty, it
immediately meant blood to everyone. But theater of cruelty means a theater that
is difficult and cruel first of all for myself. And, on the level of representation, it is
not about that cruelty that we are able to exert against one another by ripping our
bodies apart, by sawing off our body parts, or, like Assyrian emperors, by sending
ourselves bags of human ears or noses or nicely cut up nostrils in the mail, but of
the much more terrible and necessary kind that things can exert against us. We are
not free. And the sky can still collapse over our heads. And theater is first and
foremost about teaching us that. (T&D, 79)

The Theater of Cruelty has often been described as influential, but successful only
in theory. Part of this has to do with the difficulty of describing not just what it would look
like put into practice, but also, what it is actually about. One may feel compelled by
something strange, but rather uncertain as to why.Yet the reminder that, any day, the sky
might collapse, is perhaps the most succinct suggestion, if not explanation, of what it
would mean for the theater not to focus on psychology, in the way that Artaud intended

Harold Bloom has argued that Shakespeares major contribution to civilization,
and the reason why he deserves his place in the canon, is that he made characters [that]
develop rather than unfold, and they develop because they reconceive themselves.

/( !

Sometimes this comes about because they overhear themselves talking, whether to
themselves or to others. Self-overhearing is the royal road to individuation.17 The
individual that was invented by Shakespeare, then, is the one that is defined by
psychology or, more specifically, by self-representation.
But the question one must ask is: who is it that is doing the overhearing, what is
this self whose judgment, as the driving force of inner change, can come to define us?
The problem with arguing that by seeing ourselves in a new light we are able to
change for the better is that it fails to lay bare the mechanisms by which the newly
emerged self the self in the act of seeing, which is always an idealized self is
constructed and upheld. If, to use an example from Shakespeare, the entirety of King
Lear, up until the moment when Lear and Cordelia are reunited, is about building a
mirror for him in the hopes that, looking out from his clouded mind, he will catch a
glimpse of his own image, realize that banishing Cordelia was a misguided folly, repent,
and begin the process of becoming a sovereign who is wise because he knows himself,
then out of what is the image he is given made?
In order to answer this question, I investigate, rather than Shakespeare, John
Milton, who was living directly in the aftermath and shadow of Shakespeare. Assuming
that Harold Bloom is right on two counts: one, that Shakespeare started out these
characters who overhear themselves, and two, that the Anxiety of Influence theory is
correct, it is a safe guess to say that Milton, more than anyone else, is the direct inheritor
See Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Riverhead Books, New York, New York. 1998,
Print. xvii. Although I cite Bloom here, the reading that follows is more heavily influenced by 1) Michel
Foucaults dinstinction (perhaps most clearly made in Discipline and Punish, between pre-modern and modern
types of power structures (despotic versus disciplinary power), that correspond to and make possible
two very different kinds of individuals, and 2) by the New Criticism that took Foucaults hypothesis and
found legitimacy for it in readings of Early Modern English literature in general, and of Shakespeare in
particular. See Stephen Greenblatts Shakespeare and the Exorcists (in Shakepesrean Negotiations) or
Renaissance Self-Fashioning, and Elizabeth Belseys The Subject of Tragedy.


to this problem of the modern individual. And indeed, the protagonist of his main work,
Satan, would be hailed by the Romantics decades later as a paradigm of their own
consciousness: a paradigm greatly burdened, I contend, by the newfound weight and
pathos of being a cosmos unto oneself.
The question of this essay, then, is: if Satan is slowly convinced by the course of
things that his split from God was wrong and evil, because he sees himself in relation to
something sees himself reflected somewhere else , then what makes up the discursive
filaments holding the glass of the mirror together? And who is it that is holding it up to
him, hidden behind the looking glass?
Satan & Artaud
First, some context: Paradise Lost is an epic poem that was written by John Milton
in 1674. For our purposes, it tells the story of Satans rebellion against God, of his
banishment to hell, and of his corruption of Adam and Eve. The poem tellingly begins in
media res, narrated from Satans point of view, when he awakens, dazed and confused, in
the middle of an acid lake in Hell, already banished from Gods presence. It is very likely
the deepest psychological probing of Satan ever written, as is revealed by his moments of
self-doubt, primarily in books I and IV, where he asks whether it might be possible for
him to repent:
Me miserable! Which way shall I fly
Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep
Still threatning to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heavn.
O then at last relent: is there no place
Left for Repentance, none for Pardon left?
None left but by submission; and that word
Disdain forbids me. (IV, 73-82)

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Yet he finds that whatever way he turns, he is stuck in Hell: there is no escaping
his fundamental pride (Pride is Satans sin he later claims that repentance would be
false, and lead me to a worse relapse/And heavier fall (IV, 99-100), and he is therefore
caught up in a psychological condition that he cannot escape because he understands his
personality traits to be the things that define him. The Satan that would escape from his
condition finds that he is trapped in it by the image he projects of a Satan whose mindset
is defined by pride and ambition, who has a fixed place in the game of Time as
inaugurated by God. Strip away that image, the self-understanding in relation to God
and to Eden, and there is nothing really in the way of repentance, or at least, nothing
stopping Satan from making Pandemonium into its own kind of Paradise, beyond the
reach of the Kingdom of God. For it is only in book IV, when he encounters an Other in
the form of Eden Gods taunt that Satan truly begins to despair, or rather, that
emotions he had not previously felt (a psychological reading would say, allowed himself to
feel) bubble up in him: Now conscience wakes despair/That slumberd, wakes the bitter
memory/Of what he was, what is, and what must be/Worse. (IV, 23-26) Prior to this,
his laments in book I are, on the whole, optimistic, since the mind is its own place, and
in itself/Can make a Heavn of Hell, a Hell of Heavn (I, 254-5) as opposed to the
mind that is stuck in Hell wherever it goes. If the Fallen mind cannot escape Hell,
however, it is not only beause it knows that there is a Heaven out there that it has forever
lost, but also, and perhaps primarily, because of the fact that there is another place in
which re-attaining Heaven, defined as the place in which Gods love and presence are
felt, is always an open possibility: the Earth. Only in light of the sight of this triangulating
term is Satans despair definitive, since it is through it that the true narrative framework
is established: goodness can be found only in God, Pandemonium will not be a utopia,


Satan was wrong to reject God. Paradise, then, is a literary device that binds Hell back to
Heaven in a hierarchical relationship, the sinker with which God holds a mirror of his
own making up to Satan. (Or is it Satan who conjures up the mirror, by choosing to visit

What is interesting about Satans case is that, in the way he apparently conceives
of himself as a merely psychological entity, rather than as the vector of certain forces that
are within nature itself, this self-overhearing may be repressed by him Evil be though
my good he concludes in IV, in an attempt to reaffirm himself as in the right, and to
assert his ability to make the world what he wills it to be. But he literally cannot escape
the reality i.e., the view of God of the fact that his rebellion was hubristic,
misguided, and therefore fundamentally evil, since that reality returns with a vengeance in
his body:
Thus while he spake, each passion dimmd his face
Thrice changd with pale, ire, envie and despair,
Which marrd his borrowd visage, and betraid
Him counterfet, if any eye beheld.
For heavnly mindes from such distempers foule
Are ever cleer. Whereof hee soon aware,
Each perturbation smoothd with outward calme,
Artificer of fraud; and was the first
That practisd falshood under saintly shew,
Deep malice to conceale, coucht with revenge. (IV, 114-23)

Filled with envy, Satans countenance is disfigured by emotions, even though his
features shouldnt be affected by anger or jealousy, since the body of angels is supposed to
be like that of Apollo (as opposed to that of Dionysus), in that emotions never transpire
through it. But as he watches over Eden, he has a crisis and the ugliness of his emotions
penetrates his face: something that he acknowledges as within himself takes hold over the

&* !

narrative of the Satanic Rebellion that he has established and presented to his supporters,
and because he perceives that he cannot escape the position of antagonist to the goodness
of Divinity that he is confined to, he is swallowed by that goodness, and therefore marked
as fundamentally evil. The Satan in the mirror who overhears the lamenting Satan and
compels him to follow through on his path towards individuation is an overwhelming
image, not caused directly by the will of Divine Justice, but rather by the narrative
framework that it relentlessly asserts. Although it could be viewed as a construction, this
image becomes real, or is naturalized, by the fact that it moves from being inside the
mind of Satan out onto his face, asserting its truth on his body. Like Lacans letter of the
body, Satans evil and the perverseness of his intentions are inscribed into his flesh by the
discourse of God, and although he attempts to repress and ignore them, they make their
presence known through the routes left open to the Unconscious: linguistic slips and the
language of the body.
This is only confirmed by the fact that, later on in book X, Satan, as he
triumphantly concludes his account of his seduction of Eve to the audience in
Pandemonium, seemingly out of nowhere transforms into a serpent, as does everyone
around him. Who is the author of this revenge? Not God, who later makes a show of
pointing out that it was He who placed the lush-looking but ash-filled apples above the
demons-turned-snakes to taunt them, but never acknowledges having actually authored
the transformation. It would be out of character for God not to lay claim to this had he
done it, since he repeatedly asserts his foresight and has his deeds paraded publicly and
exalted. Presumably, this is not exactly Satans will either. In which case it is something
within reality itself that enforces the transformation, a kind of natural law of the
consequences of self-representation. Just as Satan mocks God for punishing the serpent in


Eden whom he condemns to live with his belly and face slithering through the dirt
rather than him, he is subjected by a power greater than himself, but that is not quite
God, to the punishment he derides.

Earlier on, in Book IV, the narrator points out that Satan would only have been
betraid counterfet, if any eye beheld. Conveniently, there is an audience: Uriel,
watching from the Sun. But whether Uriel actually sees Satans face distorted by emotion
or not is irrelevant as far as Satan is concerned: he has been seen by us, the readers, and
by a projection of himself that judges his actions from the perspective of that readership.
It is this multi-faceted voice, that of the judgment of the Other, i.e., of God, that is
holding up the mirror for Satan or for any individual who, like Artaud, is traversed by
discourses greater than himself, and that constitute the foils to his attempts at authentic
self-representation. This site is the framework within which projections of the self operate,
caught in a cross-section of various dominant and not-so-dominant discursive formations
and the reception they are given on both conscious and unconscious levels by the subject.
Lacans notion of the mirror stage may be helpful here in explicating what I
mean by self-projection. He posits an infant whose identity is split in two when it first sees
itself in the mirror. From then on, it knows itself in two way. First, as a corps morcel, a
fragmented body that it experiences, but that forever lacks the narrative coherence
necessary to express things in language. And second, as an Imago, the thing that it sees in
the mirror and that it recognizes as itself, but that seems so fundamentally alien from the
way it experiences its own body that instead of completely mapping the self in the mirror
onto its own body, that it creates a fantasmatic construction around it, in which selfrealization will be about mastering and becoming that body in the mirror.
&. !

So when we have a character overhearing itself, that initial split is being reenacted, and a voice that of the Other is entering into that split to tell the character
that the image it sees is desirable. In a world that is undergirded by a fundamentally
psychological reality, this is not a problem: it is simply a subject encountering the truth
about itself, which is to say, the truth of its desire. But in a world conceived of
metaphysically, where the problem of the mystery and unknown power of the forces in
nature phenomena that are beyond psychological reasoning is the primary focus, any
notion of an individual defined first and foremost by his own thoughts is an illusion,
nourished by a false and malevolent Demi-urge, and standing right in the way of the real
questions and truths.

Emerging Suns
Like the young heir apparent in Shakespeares Henry IV, both Satan and Artaud
attempt to re-conceive themselves in a newfound space: Satan, in the Pandemonium from
which Gods life-sustaining presence and love are completely absent, and Artaud, in the
space of the theater as inaugurated by the cruel practice of a revolutionary mise-en-scne
that does away with the script, i.e., with the word of God. Prince Hal the future Henry
V announces his premeditated conversion from lineage-shaming tavern prankster to
virtuous pretender to the English throne in the following terms:
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonderd at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
(I Henry IV, I.2.191-7)


Like Satan, with his plans to make a Heavn of [a] Hell that he alone will rule,
and like Artaud, with his Theater of Cruelty, Hal plans to enact a re-invention of himself
in the form of a performative utterance: he will become and absolutely become the
thing that he describes the moment that he publicly announces the transformation.
Unlike Satan and Artaud, however, Hals utterance has a better chance of having a
felicitous outcome (J.L. Austins rather charming word for a performative utterance
that is successful in its endeavor, usually because it is used in the appropriate social
circumstances), because he has the support of the Sovereign (his father, Henry IV), and
the laws of blood filiation, to back him up and affirm that he has indeed become the
being that he purports to have always been. In short, Hals claim is backed by the Name
of (his) Father, or by the Word of God.
Satan and Artaud, of course, benefit from no such backing. And they fail precisely
at the moment when they encounter that Word, which is not so much the law of one
being as it is a law that is produced by discourse and that exceeds any thinkable being.
Satan is only defeated, and his utopian vision for Pandemonium made unthinkable, when
he sees Gods product, Man, i.e. when the Earth is invented as a triangulating term that
binds Heaven and Hell into a relationship that makes it impossible for Satan to ignore
God, or to negate his point of view. Similarly, Artauds attempts to present his thoughts as
he experiences them, and to forcibly lift himself into a fuller state of being, are thwarted at
the moment when it is forced, despite itself, into a representative structure that uses words
and analogies that are the words and analogies of the discourse of god, words that
undermine and neutralize the ambition to become a realer version of ones self in any
other space or version than the one sanctioned by god.

&& !

Self-representation, then, is an invasive force. It is the reason why the mind is

not, as Satan would have it, its own place, that can make of its surroundings what it
will. It is what invites Artaud to attempt to become the Hyperreal version of himself that
he constructs, and what invites us to re-imagine our own Hyperreal copies of him. Those
versions are spoken into being by something other, and are never something that was
once possessed in some mythical, original past and that one can revert to when it please
again. Self-representation exceeds conscious will, and has the power to overturn any
narrative that that consciousness would make for itself, to kill any sui generis accounts of
the self. Further, it is not a force that God himself wields, but is part of some greater
principle that nevertheless intervenes on Gods behalf. It is the product of an outside
discourse (one should not say I think but I am thought, wrote Rimbaud in the
Letter of the Seer (Oeuvres Compltes, 383), the representative structure that has the
power to subjugate down to its core any psyche that would go against it.


Notebook Page, Ivry-Paris, May 1947 18


This image exemplifies Artauds notion of art as a battle, an event that takes place at the level of the
subjectile, the material substratum of the work (in medieval technical terminology), as well as the thing
that is always beneath, always subject/ed to the hand of the artist, the formless womb that is not even
quite a container. The Subjectile is the site of a conflict with god, the outcome of which determines the
communicational success of the art work. If the artist fails, his work is subjected to the sexual
maladresse (roughly, a serious awkwardness) of god, and made to look clumsy and stupid. But if he
succeeds, something real is wrenched from the Unkown, and revealed in plain sight to any and all
viewers. Although I touch upon it only obliquely, this concept undergirds much of my understanding of
Artauds written project, especially in the following chapter and in the conclusion. (See Jacques Derridas

&( !

Lacan with Artaud

Inside Sainte-Anne
Start with what facts we have.
October 16, 1937 through March 31, 1938 Artaud spent in the psychiatric
ward of the hospital of the Quatre-Mares, not too far from Le Havre, Normandys
largest port city. It is there that, on September 30 of 1937, he had been handed over to
the police upon disembarking from a ship that hailed from Dublin, placed in a straightjacket, and transported to the citys General Hospital, in the ward for the alienated
(lengthy administrative procedures meant that it would take two weeks for him to be
transferred and officially incarcerated). What happened aboard is a mystery: Artaud
would later claim he had been locked up in the captains quarters, persecuted and
beaten, whereas the crew accused him of delirious fantasies of persecution and of
violent, anti-social outbreaks. (Barber, 95-96)
On April 1, 1938, after several appeals from his mother, Euphrasie Nalpas, to
Parisian psychiatric institutions, Artaud was transferred to Saint-Anne, the hospital at
the center of French psychiatric research activities. A young Jacques Lacan was the
head of service there. At the age of 37, he was still a fairly obscure figure: the famous
seminars wouldnt start until the 1950s, and although he had already presented his
doctoral thesis on paranoia in 1932 and his foundational paper on the Mirror Stage
at a conference in 1936, it had garnered little response from within the psychoanalytic
essay, To Unsense the Subjectile, and the introduction by Mary Ann Caws (the translator), both in The
Secret Art of Antonin Artaud)


community. It is almost certain that the two met, but if the depth of their encounter is
entirely conjectural, it is clear that they didnt form a long-lasting relationship.
Most of the evidence of their encounter is secondary, and comes from an account by
Artauds friend and on-stage collaborator, Roger Blin, who at some point in 1938
received a letter from him that was covered in blood and cigarette burns. Presumably
this was one of the spells that, in addition to a few more straightforward letters, were
to become Artauds sole output during the early asylum years. These tended to be
either talismans or curses aimed at the recipient; this one seems to have been a warning
to those Artaud whom believed were preventing him from receiving heroin.19 Worried,
Blin, after several attempts, obtained access to Saint-Anne, where he claims to have
been greeted, letter in hand, by a Lacan who told him that he was interested neither in
the letter nor in Artauds case as a whole. He went on: Artaud is obsessed, hell live
to be eighty years old but hell never write another line.20
Time has not been kind to this diagnosis of Lacans. Artaud resumed his body
of work proper21 a few years later, and this late period was to become the most

As Artaud was well aware, Blins father was a physician, which is probably why he repeatedly reached
out specifically to the actor, requesting, in the name of their friendship, that he be provided with
laudanum (a common medical substitute for morphine, at the time), often resorting to what can only be
called emotional blackmail: If you have, as I sensed the other day, any true affection for me, then make
that extra effort and dont say Ill try or if I get the chance Ill do it; tell yourself Im going to do this
because hes suffering, because its urgent and essential (letter from Artaud to Blin, cited in TaylorBatty, Mark, Roger Blin: Collaborations and Methodologies, Peter Lang, Bern, 2007, p. 39) This particular
aspect of his character would lead him to the belief that, since they were not making the effort to provide
him with heroin, several of his friends must have been abducted by malicious doubles who had
subsequently taken to impersonating them. Here is one of the more obvious signposts indicating that we
can follow Artaud only so far in his convictions, although to be fair it is one that one might attribute to
withdrawal symptoms as much as to madness per se.
20 Blin, Roger. Souvenirs et Propos (recueillis par Linda Bellity Peskine). Paris, ditions Gallimard, 1986. p. 31.
21 Although, since Artaud denounces literature early on in his career (it is in Le Pse-Nerfs (1925) that
he begins one must not let in too much literature and goes on to indict all writing [a]s garbage), the
entirety of his work can only be thought of as extra-literary, as refusing the illusory distinction between
the literary word as something that belongs to the impossible exteriority of some Platonicarthesian world
of ideas and life itself in all of its unsayability. Nevertheless, the letters from the early asylum period, and
Ville-vrard in particular (1939-43), constitute a kind of anti-work to the rest of his already decidedly

'+ !

prolific of his life. Indeed, combining drawing and writing in a way designed to make
them inseparable, he filled, in less than a decade, and with an increasing sense of
urgency, hundreds of the A5-format notebooks usually reserved for school boys that
his psychiatrists provided him with in the context of art therapy, before he died at the
relatively young age of fifty-two.
On February 22nd, 1939, after an eleven-month stay at Saint-Anne, he was
transferred against his will to Ville-vrard. Roger Blin was distressed by the decision to
move Artaud: They hadnt tried anything at all. Theyd just put him with the others,
at Ville-vrard. With those whose were considered untreatable. (Taylor-Batty, 38) We
know almost nothing about his stay at Saint-Anne: he refused all visits from family and
friends, and any writing he may have done has been lost. What do remain are the
testimonies of the medical certificates. The fortnight certificate of April 15, 1938,

anti-literary body of work. As Prosper Hillairet states in my interview with him, responding to a question
about whether Artaud furthers his poetic mission in the Ville-vrard letters: Not so much, really.
Thats whats so interesting. Well, yes, in the sense that Artauds life is his work. So yes, and thats one of
the things that we incorporate into the film, there are moments for example where he describes, where
he requests food items from his mother, and they become a kind of poetic delirium, he asks for dates, for
pineapples, I dont know stuff like that, and makes long lists that turn into a kind of poem, an inventory
in the style of Prvert, but its always with a pragmatic end in sight, relating to his real life. Its not about
creating a work or a poem or anything like that. There are only letters, sent to people with a very specific
goal in mind. But that goal can be delirious. He writes a lot to one of his Doctors, Doctor Foux, even
though he sees him every day, since hes his doctor, he sends him these letters damning him to hell,
talking to him about nighttime But the letters from Ville-Evrard are really powerful from that point of
view. You have to understand, there may be no literary creation as such, but the letters remain a kind of
production. But he really gives the impression of wanting to break with everything. At one point,
Romieux [the ex-nurse] tells this anecdote, there are these projections of movies, and the other inmates
go, but Artaud doesnt, and when they come back, it turns out that they went to see a film in which
Artaud had acted, and they recognize him on screen, and they say hey but so we saw you on screen
and he says no, thats something else, that is, that its not him, really. Its really, well because he
has the impression of being buried, while hes at Ville-Evrard.


Spell for Roger Blin, 1939 (front & back)

It reads (my translation; what is in brackets is speculative): All those who, together,
have devised to prevent me from taking HEROIN / all those who have [to]uched

'* !

Anne Manson for that reason on Sunday the [?th] of May, 1939, I will [?] them alive
on a plaza [in] PARIS and I will have their marrows perforated and burnt. [I] am in
an Insane Asylum but this madmans dream will be realized and it wi[ll] be realized
by me: Antonin Artaud. May the [rest illegible]


bearing the signature Dr. N, reads:

Delirium syndrome, paranoid structure: fairly active notions of persecution on
his mothers part; as well as by police and Vishnus; of poisoning attempts; does not
recognize his mother and refuses to receive she who presents herself as such. Delirious
para-logic; mix of very diverse ideas lacking any stable organization. Esoteric
preoccupations; an initiate of Hindu and Persian mysteries; sympathy for magic and
the occult. Doubling of the personality. Megalomaniacal syncretism: once left for
Ireland with the canes of Confucius [?] and of Saint Patrick in hand. Occasionally
rebellious memory. Drug addiction of five years (heroin, cocaine, laudanum). Literary
pretensions that may be justified insofar as delirium can be used as an inspiration.
Persist in treating.

Almost a year later, in the same psychiatric language of the period, a SainteAnne based Dr. L. who would have been Artauds primary supervisor writes:
Delirium syndrome, paranoid structure. Active notions of persecution, of
being poisoned, of doubling of the personality. Multiple demands, graphorrhea.
Psychic excitation in intervals. History of drug addiction. Ready for transfer.22

Post-Scriptum: In one of his later and more famous essays, Van Gogh, the Man
Suicided by Society (his only piece of writing to have been officially crowned with a prize
in his lifetime), Artaud arraigns a Dr. L. amidst furious diatribes against the
psychiatric institution as a whole:
In comparison with the lucidity of van Gogh, which is a dynamic force, psychiatry is
no better than a den of apes who are themselves obsessed and persecuted and who possess
nothing to mitigate the most appalling states of anguish and human suffocation but a
ridiculous terminology,
worthy product of their damaged brains.
Indeed, the psychiatrist does not exist who is not a well known erotomaniac.
And I do not believe that the rule of the confirmed erotomania of psychiatrists admits
of a single exception.
I know one who objected, a few years ago, to the idea of my accusing as a group this
way the whole gang of respected scoundrels and patented quacks to which he belonged.
I, Mr. Artaud, am not an erotomaniac, he told me, and I defy you to show me a
single piece of evidence on which you can base your accusation.
As evidence, Dr. L., I need only show you yourself,
you bear the stigma on your mug,
you rotten bastard.
You have the puss of someone who inserts his sexual prey under his tongue and then


Artaud mentions four names starting with the letter L of psychiatrists who treated him. However,
since Lacan is the only one of those four who treated Artaud while he was at Sainte-Anne (the others
worked at Ville-vrard or Rodez), it is safe to assume that this diagnosis is Lacans.

'. !

turns it over like an almond as a way of showing contempt for it.

This is called feathering ones nest or having ones way.
If in coitus you have not succeeded in chuckling from the glottis in a certain way that
you know, and in rumbling at the same time through the pharynx, the esophagus, the
urethra, and the anus,
you cannot say that you are satisfied.
And through your internal organic thrills you have fallen into a rut, which is the
incarnate evidence of a foul lust,
and which you have been cultivating year after year, more and more, because
socially speaking it does not come under the jurisdiction of the law,
but it comes under the jurisdiction of another law whereby it is the whole damaged
consciousness that suffers, because by behaving in this way you prevent it from breathing.
You dismiss as delirious a consciousness that is active even as you strangle it with
your vile sexuality.
And this was precisely the level on which poor van Gogh was chaste,
chaste as a seraph or a maiden cannot be, because it was in fact they
who fomented
and nourished in the beginning the vast machinery of sin.
And perhaps, Dr. L., you belong to the race of iniquitous seraphim, but for pitys
sake, leave men alone,
the body of van Gogh, untouched by any sin, was also untouched by madness which,
indeed, sin alone can bring. (SW, 484-5)

There is probably no end to the debate as to whom Dr. L. might be in the

context of this text, as there is at least one other likely and three potential
contenders for the title, and little evidence to go on. I have nevertheless included a
summary of what has been said.
In the journal La Tour de Feus special Artaud edition (#61, and then again in
#112), Dr. Jacques Latrmolire claims I am Dr. L. and refers to Artauds invectives
as insults whose origin Im aware of, and for which I hold no grudges. Latrmolire
was the intern at Rodez whom Dr. Gaston Ferdire charged with administering the
fifty-plus electric shocks to Artaud, and with whom the poet exchanged a number of
conversations and letters, primarily on the subjects of metaphysics and mysticism. Not
inconceivable, then, that Artaud should pick him out from among his many doctors as
the target for his accusations.


However, editor Paul Thvenin comments in a note (OC XIII, 307) that
Latrmolire was wrong to believe that he was Dr. L., and claims that Artaud had
personally confided in her that he was referring to someone else, although she will not
say to whom. (Some such as the psychoanalyst Nicole Bousseyroux23 have pointed
to a note of Thvenins in which she supposedly writes that Artaud revealed to her
that [Dr. L.] was the famous psychoanalyst who was part of Professor Delays service at
Sainte-Anne, where he had been admitted in 1938. I know of no such note.)
As further evidence, Thvenin points out that Artaud has no qualms about
explicitly naming Ferdire in his texts: to her mind, there is no reason why he should
treat Latrmolire any differently. He was well aware of the interns name, and, as
Thvenin does not fail to point out, he wrongly believed it to be spelt La Trmolire,
making him more likely to initial it L.T., or simply T. Of course, the fact that Artaud
would not have hesitated to call Latrmolire by name fails to explain why, if Dr. L.
was Lacan, or anybody else for that matter, the poet did not say so outright. It also
does not eliminate two other doctors mentioned by Artaud in his multiple lists of the
names of psychiatrists who had treated him at some point over the course of his life:
Drs. Lubtchansky and Lvy-Valensi. (There are at least two such lists: one in OC XVIII
p. 90, and another in OC XX p. 151; only the latter mentions Lacan.) Those two were
interns, and I write them off only because Artaud himself hardly ever mentions them.
Most authoritative sources today believe he was referring to Lacan, such as
Stephen Barber (citing Thvenin in Barber, 140), and Artauds current editor, Evelyne
Grossman, who claims that he confided in several people that Dr.L was not Dr.
Bousseyroux, Nicole. La Passion dAntonin Artaud in Len-Je Lacanien, 2006 vol. 2. Print. Pp. 125133.


'& !

Jacques Latrmolire but Jacques Lacan, who saw him at Sainte-Anne. (O, 1440)
Others, such as Susan Sontag,24 stand by Latrmolires belief that it was to him that
Artaud was referring (SW, 653). I would only add to this discussion that:
1) since Artaud had not previously hesitated to name Lacan, he was either
uncertain about the name of the doctor to whom he was referring to here, or intended
the ambivalence of the initial, which would suggest that Dr. L is merely a
personification of the psychiatric institution as a whole as protested against by Artaud
(although, I would maintain, a mode of protest that remains specific to a
psychoanalytic defense of the broader therapeutic process),
2) as Latrmolire himself points out, this apostrophe constitutes the last
personal message that I received from Antonin Artaud while he lived: the previous
ones, from Rodez, were altogether different (OC XIII 307, emphasis mine): the accusation
of an obsession with a certain kind of sexuality leveled against psychiatry seems to have
little to do with the content of Artauds interactions with Latrmolire, which focused
on metaphysics and the nature of God, and seem much more plausible in the context
of a reaction against the psychoanalytic, or Lacanian, approach, with its supposed focus
on the sexual nature of repression, and
3) congruently, Artauds choice of the word erotomania to describe the disease
that possesses psychiatrists as such can be related directly to the history of Lacans
theoretical work (which Artaud may have in some capacity been aware of), as I
demonstrate in the third part of this chapter.


Although, since she was writing in 1976, it is likely that she was aware neither of what was at stake in
knowing the true identity behind Dr. L., nor of the commentary and research on the subject that
ensued, most of which was written after the publication of her version of the Selected Writings.


Post-post-scriptum: Lacan, for his part, manages the rather astonishing feat,
for a French intellectual of the second half of the twentieth-century and one
with surrealist sympathies to boot , of writing next to nothing on the subject of
Artaud. He makes only passing mention of him, later on in his career, in the
transcription of a speech entitled Psychoanalysis. Reason for a Defeat that he
gave in 1974 in Rome:
No reasonable person, of his own accord, will in our circle take up the Passion of
Antonin Artaud.
If one of my students were to become fired up in this direction, I would attempt to
sedate him. You might even say that I remember having been previously successful in
doing so.25

Fixation & circumvention

Lacan was nevertheless correct in his diagnosis on two counts. For one thing, if
one considers Artauds writing (for he never stopped writing) to be graphorrhea, the
authorless by-products of a demented psyche, then yes, Artauds output after his
incarceration should be definitively lost to literature. But since a kind of
emphatically pursued delirium was essential to everything Artaud ever wrote, since as
Evelyne Grossman notes he probably never stopped raving (O, 11), one might then
be tempted to say that the entirety of his work should be caught up in the sweep of this
verdict. For another and more to the point not only did Artaud never stop
hallucinating, he never stopped doing so in the same vein: obsessively, fixatedly.
But in understanding fixation as something that can only lead to the loss of
literary legitimacy, Lacan misreads Artaud in much the way that Rivire had, several
years earlier, in his correspondence with the poet. Fixation, in Artaud, even though it is
the very thing that trips him up in the sense that it prevents him from pursuing a

Lacan, Jacques. Autres crits. Paris: ditions du Seuil, 2001. Print. p. 349.

'( !

traditional literary career, is at the same time the catalyst for all of his efforts: it is the
modus operandi of his poetics.
This is evidenced in several ways, not the least of which is the contradictory
function of movement and of the point in his writing. He is forever coming back to the
notion of the point understood as a point of suspension - as the safe-haven, the
nothingness in which the self can revel in the authenticity of not being re-presented in a
false image, of not being doubled through the lens of the gaze of the Other. Movement,
however, interruption of a kind of stability by thoughts or by language, is the site of a
betrayal, a repetition,26 it is the fact that thoughts change and are forever lost, that he
can neither fully hold on to a single one nor make it appear to others as it does to him,
that is at the root of his mental suffering:
If you could only taste your nothingness, if you could really rest in your
nothingness, and not have that nothingness be a certain kind of being, but not be death
exactly either.
It is so hard to no longer exist, to no longer be in something. Real pain is to feel
thoughts move within oneself. But thought as a point is certainly not a form of suffering.
I have reached the point where I am no longer in touch with life, but still have all
the appetites and the insistent titillation of being. I have only one occupation left: to
remake myself. (SW, 84)

Artauds fixation has to do with a yearning for the void, but also with an
attempt to inhabit a standpoint from which the self would be fully visible, even while he
realizes that this is a fallacy (the psychological fallacy), aware as he is that there is no
such thing as a being. The central point where the perceived self perfectly maps on to
the felt self is the necessary blind spot of subjectivity: the self is a construction whose
sense of wholeness is only maintained insofar as it does not attempt to conceive of itself
in its totality, in which case it immediately senses the central absence to which the

In The Closure of Representation, Derrida points out that the advent of a Theater of Cruelty would
mean the end of repetition, repetition being a function of difference that renders the perfect mapping on,
the act of giving the spectator life itself, impossible. (Writing and Difference, 294)


appendages of identity attach themselves, in order to mask it.

The point is the site of pre-linguistic unity, then, and movement the experience
of the loss of that unity to the intractable march of time. In between the two, and on his
own terms, poetry, or cruelty (understood quite simply as a self-imposed experience of
thinking, rather than one that he is passively subjected to) of the closed-circuit structure
of unrepresented thoughts by an address, the attempt to put an end to solipsism by
communicating, but without losing control of the way those thoughts are received.
Artauds poetry is at its strongest when thrown into a new light by an interrupting
element, when the traces of the poem as an instance of rupture are most evident: in the
correspondences that launched his career, in his ekphrastic poems, and in the change
of direction from poetry to the theater, if theater in fact simply means poetry
physically launched into its spatial and temporal dimensions.27 His writing only begins
relationally: if addressing an other is so crucial to Artauds expression, it is because this
address is the catalyst for an event, in which the fixation can be momentarily forgotten,
but not so much so that it is lost to the movement of thoughts.
In direct stylistic opposition to this, Lacans attitude towards saying the truth
about thoughts is always one of circumvention. He writes: Saying the whole truth is
impossible: words fail. Yet it is by this very impossibility that words hold on to the
Real. (crits, "Tlvision": 7) Lacan does not attempt, as Artaud does, to simply say
the truth in a single shattering utterance: although the truth can only ever be half-said,
that the truth can only be half-said is itself a truth as well. Both Lacan and Artaud revel

As Maurice Blanchot points out early on: Artaud left us a major document that is nothing other than
a treatise on poetics. I grant that in it he speaks of the theater, but what is in question is the exigency of
poetry, an exigency that can only be answered through a refusal of the limitations of genre and the
affirmation of a more original language whose source is taken at an even more buried and remote point in thought.
(The Infinite Conversation, 295)

(+ !

in this sort of meta-thinking, but it is in their attitudes about what it is possible to say
that they differ. This difference is not minor, but is the basis of their mutual animosity.
For if Lacan takes on, when he speaks, the position of the commentator and interpret,
Artaud insists on embodying the thing itself, i.e., the subject of poetry. Although, in
Seminar VII, the seminar on Antigone, Lacans position concerning the transgression of
the protagonist of Sophocles play, her refusal not to become the idealized image that is
the object of her desire, is one of approval, when confronted with someone actually
attempting to enact that embodiment, Artaud, he faults him for his hubris, just as
Artaud attacks Lacan for, in retreating to the position of an observer, not attempting
that embodiment.28

In comparison to psychiatry, the wrath that psychoanalysis incurred when the
questions about the mistreatment of Artaud were most brandished by the antipsychiatry movement (that is, in the '60s and '70s, in the wake of the 1961 publication
of Michel Foucault's Madness and Civilization and of the early work of R.D. Laing) was
fairly minimal. By no means did it escape everyone's attention, since one need only
glance at Gilles Deleuze and Flix Guattaris Capitalism and Schizophrenia series to see
Freud read as the cradle of all the ills of the psychological institution, but by and large
it was not attacked with the same virulence as, say, electro-shock therapy was.
Psychoanalysis, as a therapeutic model, and in particular in its Lacanian

To be fair, and although Lacan gave Seminar VII many years after encountering Artaud, later still, in
Seminar XVII (written in response to the 1968 uprising of the workers and students of France, of whom
he famously said that as rebolutionaries, you are all hysterics searching for a new master. You will get
one.), he would rescind his approval of transgression, arguing that one trasngresses nothing,
transgression is a lubricious babble. (Lacan, Le sminaire livre XVII, 14, 21. Quoted in Chiesa, Lacan
with Artaud. 344)


inception, seeks through language to give a voice to the subject of desire, which is to
say, to the repressed subject of the unconscious, whose object of desire is its own, rather
than one that is hidden from view by an Others object of desire. This subject can only
be glimpsed in linguistic stumblings, slips, or in the speakers failure in recounting a
dream to fully incorporate its narrative trajectory into the egos narcisstic selfconstruction. It focuses on treating the underlying causes of the symptom rather than
on merely eradicating the symptoms outward manifestation, and therefore stands in
stark contrast to psychological models that tend to bracket out the question of
subjectivity and approach the human as an animal-machine, a deterministic set of
mechanisms of cause and consequence that, properly understood, is infinitely
It is therefore a considerable irony that, in Artauds case, where Lacan took the
poets stubborn single-mindedness as a sign that he was forever lost to literature, it was
the man behind the electro-shock treatment, Gaston Ferdire, who to a large extent
helped rehabilitate Artaud both as a person and as a writer, by combining said
treatment with a kind of art therapy.29
On the one hand Ferdire, himself a poet associated with the Surrealists, never
abandoned electro-shock as a method, and was still practicing it well into the 1980s. He
was christened official punching-bag by Artauds supporters as well as by the larger
anti-psychiatry movement after the latters death, and quickly became an isolated
figure, defensive on the topic of Artaud, as a result. (He was notorious in 60s literary

Although, as Barber points out, Ferdire was master of the subject matter of the art produced for
Artaud: translations of Lewis Carroll, sketches of the human face, and so on which goes directly against
the approach of art therapy as it was developed in the 1980s and remains understood today, which is
based on giving the patient free rein where his/her creations are concerned. (Barber, 111)

(* !

circles for breaking down and crying whenever the topic of Artaud was broached at
caf gatherings.) On the other, it has repeatedly been stated that Ferdires role in the
Artaud saga is as salutary as it is persecutory, as Prosper Hillairet points out:
[During the asylum years,] Artaud dies, in fact. Its a real death. And his rebirth,
quote unquote, well you know the figure of Ferdire is very controversial because the
electroshocks and all that are associated with him, but at the same time, he was the one to
hand him pen and paper and who made him start writing again, and who gave him life
again, in a way, by allowing him to write. And by encouraging him to write. A sort of
therapy through writing. (Hillairet, 185)

One should not imagine, however, that Artauds art therapy was an entirely
enjoyable experience either. Ferdire strongly disapproved of many of Artauds beliefs
and of the behaviors that they resulted in, such as the humming and specific gestures
that he used in order to exorcize spirits from his immediate surroundings. The
condition of Artauds rehabilitation, in Ferdires mind, was that he cease to have faith
in, and expend energy on, supernatural beliefs, and instead redirect all of the energy of
his delirium into writing (the writing of literary creation, not that of spells in the
guise of letters). So categorical was Ferdire that Artaud eventually tried, pathetically,
to convince the psychiatrist that the electro-shocks had, as they were supposed to,
somehow successfully purged him of his convictions, in order to prevent further
My very dear friend,
I have a great service and a great favor to ask of you. This is to cut short the
application of electroshocks on me, which my body obviously cannot stand and which are
certainly the predominant, revealing cause of my present vertebral displacement. As I told
you this morning, my belief in demons has disappeared and I am sure it will not return,
but what remains is this unbearable sensation of shattering in the back, which I believe
can only be attributed to this violent electrical treatment that has had an undeniable
effect, but which it would certainly be undesirable to prolong for any more time upon me,
in order not to risk more dangerous accidents! (Barber, 108)

In any event, regardless of the question of the electro-shock, what is odd here is
that it is Ferdire, rather than Lacan, who determined that getting Artaud to write


again would be the closest thing to a cure, for him, that is, the only thing that would
get him out of the living death of the asylum years. Odd because artistic creation is
such an important element of Lacanian psychoanalysis, especially where the psychotic
structure is concerned, in the case of which it is often considered to be the necessary
antidote to the dangerous mechanism of foreclosure that, for Lacan, is the root cause of
psychosis as a whole.
Indeed, from early on Lacan had shown an interest in the writing of
psychotics.30 This interest spans his career, marking a trajectory that goes from Aime,
the primary case study in his dissertation, through the 1955-56 Seminar on the Psychoses
(large sections of which consist in an extended commentary on the famous delusions
recounted in the Memoirs Dr. Daniel Paul Schreber and on Freuds reading of them),
and that culminates in Seminar XXIII, Joyce, the Sinthome. Why, we have to ask,
upon being presented with a creation of Artauds, did he say that it didnt interest
him, and further go along with the diagnosis of graphorrhea, suggesting that Artauds
writing had no beneficial psychological function?
Maybe something can be gleaned from the specific condition with which
Artaud diagnoses Lacan. Lorenzo Chiesas Lacan with Artaud: jous-sens, jouissens, jouis-sans in Lacan: The Silent Partners31, is not just the only piece of writing that, as
far as I know, attempts to read the two side by side, rather than to perform a reading of

I take it as a given, as most anyone who has written about him in relation to psychiatry has, that
Artaud can be loosely understood as a psychotic, although the term is hardly any more precise than
madness. I use it both in the conventional, contemporary sense of delusions or prominent
hallucinations that has been defined conceptually as a loss of ego boundaries or a gross impairment in
reality testing (DSM-IV, 273) and in Lacans sense, for whom it was not so much a condition as one of
three structures (the other two being neurosis and perversion) that can underpin the subjects relationship
to language, which is to say, to the outer world, in contradistinction to the idea that there is such a thing
as a normal person. The particularity of the Psychotic structure
31 !i"ek, Slavoj, ed. Lacan: The Silent Partners. London: Verso, 2006. Print. 336-62.

(. !

ones work by the other (i.e., Lacanian readings of Artaud, which abound see, for
example, in the bilbligraphy, essays by: Elizabeth Roudinesco, Herv Castanet,
Camille Dumouli, Nicole Bousseyroux, Pierre Bruno). It is also one of the few to
pinpoint the word he uses to name this condition, erotomania, and to interpret it as
an attempted buffer, or reversal, of the diagnosis of mental illness.
In his article, however, Chiesa incorrectly notes that the term refers to an
obsession with chaste love. True, the term is undoubtedly connected to a fixation on
variants of platonic love, and is recognizable in Artaud in his belief that true virginity is
a desirable state that one is not born into but acquires, by becoming an alin
authentique,32 chaste in the way that Van Gogh was, i.e., chaste as a seraph or a
maiden cannot be, because it was in fact they/ who fomented/ and nourished in the
beginning the vast machinery of sin.
But erotomania is hardly defined by this aspect of it. Witness the DSM-IV, for
which it is a subtype of delusional psychosis that
applies when the central theme of the delusion is that another person is in love with the
individual. The delusion often concerns idealized romantic love and spiritual union rather
than sexual attraction. The person about whom this conviction is held is usually of higher
status (e.g., a famous person or a superior at work), but can be a complete stranger. Efforts
to contact the object of the delusion (through telephone calls, letters, gifts, visits, and even
surveillance and stalking) are common although occasionally the person keeps the delusion
secret. (DSM-IV, 297)

As Chiesa does note, however, the diagnosis of erotomania is one that could
easily be applied to Artaud himself, who clearly understands that desire is the
desire of the Other, to quote Lacans famous formulation, that jouissance is only
in fact obtained in service of the pleasure of the Other, and that this Other

And what is an authentic madman? It is someone who preferred to go mad in the way that it is
understood socially, than to give up on a certain superior idea of human honor.


whose jouissance it is, is Dr. L: You dismiss as delirious a consciousness that is active even as
you strangle it with your vile sexuality. (Bousseyroux, 132) This is the same Artaud
for whom, later, failing to poop well, means failing to give birth to ones own,
true body, the Body without Organs, but worse, it means that in giving birth the
wrong way, in giving birth to the sort of organic (state of) matter that god, in his
malevolence, wants man to remain in, one has let oneself be birthed by
the sphincter [in a way that] makes god and his angels come.33
It is worth mentioning in passing that Gatian de Clrambault, who came up
with the condition, himself defined erotomania as the coexistence of two delusions:
persecution and erotomania.34 One should therefore not be surprised is not
encompassed by the simplistic definition of the delusion of being loved, either, in any
case that we will encounter here. The delusion can and often does comprise both a
kind of paranoid psychosis that believes it is being persecuted, and its twin inversion,
that of the belief that some other has eyes only for us, but that his/her messages of love
have to be repressed for one reason or another, and therefore require decoding by the
object of these affections, in what are often brilliant displays of interpretive prowess.
Love and persecution are two sides of the same coin, here. Indeed, the Other of the
erotomaniac not only supposedly loves him, but also has total control over [his] sexual
psyche. (Bousseyroux, 132)
Consider for a moment the strangeness of the diagnosis that Artaud makes.
Albeit, there is nothing especially remarkable about it as a psychiatric categorization.
Bruno, Pierre. "Antonin Artaud: Topologie De L'Intime." Association Psychanalyse Jacques Lacan. 19 Mar.
2007. Web. 11 Feb. 2012. <>.
34 Demangeat, Michel. "Erotomania." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. Ed. Alain de Mijolla. Vol. 1.
Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 521-522. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 11 Dec. 2011.

(& !

There is also nothing new about the idea that there is something deeply and inherently
wrong with the spirit of psychiatry, and with psychoanalysts in particular: that their
position represents a kind of fundamental perversion of consciousness. This echoes the
familiar notion that a superior and primeval, i.e., heroic or tragic, form of
consciousness is always under assault by the forces of resentment, of criticism, and of
multiplicity, also present in the dialectic of the sacred and the ironic.35 From a
psychoanalytic perspective, the defense of this superior consciousness is simply
resistance, or, an attempt by the ego to retain the narrative it has constructed for itself,
just another one of the many pitfalls of narcissism. Artaud formulates, more or less
clearly, the accusation, but it is implied in any (paranoid) protest against treatment
based on a suspicion of the motives of the doctor: the latter has a perverted agenda
that, consciously or not, has adapted itself to the castrating requirements of sociality in
such a way that its deep-seated need for ecstasy in domination, intellectual or
otherwise, is able to distort itself and to derive a secret, abject sexual satisfaction from
the very act of diagnosing patients.

35 This tension, which to this day undergirds much of Theory, is best exemplified in the idea of a conflict
between the Hebraic and Greek consciousnesses. It was most systematically and most influentially
described by Nietzsche in On the Genealogy of Morals, for whom those stances were preserved in the form
of, respectively, the Christian (understood as Judaism made viral) and German (qua heir to ancient Greek
virtue) ideologies, or of priestly values versus warrior virtues. Nietzsches acknowledged influence on
Artaud is, as it is elsewhere (for example in his ideas about the purpose of the theater and his praise of
the Dionysian over the Apollonian impulse), undeniable. Under the Nazis this notion was reframed as a
conflict of values between the urban, intellectual Jew and the romanticized Aryan peasant. The
obviously hierarchical nature of this relationship makes it especially odd when Freud is thought of as the
first one to truly undertake a transvaluation of all values or when Lacanian psychoanalysis is described
as a tragic ethics, (cf. Dumouli, Camille. Antonin Artaud et la psychanalyse: pulsion de mort et tropulsion de
vie. p. 17), relating it to Antigone and therefore to the specifically Greco-Germanic values of selfrealization, immortality and containment extolled by Nazism, since just as art criticism was banished by
Goebbels on the basis of its typically Jewish traits of character, so psychoanalysis was a Jewish
science precisely because of the critical and undermining stance that it took in relation to selfmythologizing. As Susan Sontag notes in Fascinating Fascism: What is distinctive about the fascist
version of the old idea of the Noble Savage is its contempt for all that is reflexive, critical, and
pluralistic. (Under the Sign of Saturn, 87)


Well and good: this is the sort of claim that one can take or leave, but that it is
rather pointless to dwell on since the accusation, from one side, of resistance, and from
the other, of perversion, has all the seductive qualities of a rhetorical stance that can
only end in a stalemate and an impasse. What is more interesting is why Artaud would
have chosen it, in a period when the number of clinical terms at the disposal of
psychiatry was hardly restricted to a precise few.
One reason why he might have chosen erotomania is if he had some
awareness of who Lacan was. Indeed, his use of the word suggests that it is in fact
Lacan to whom he was referring in Van Gogh, since the term became popular among
the Surrealists only after Lacan published his 1932 doctoral thesis, On paranoid psychosis
in its relations to the personality, about the famous case of Aime. Salvador Dal, in
particular, was fascinated with the case, and claimed to have formulated his paranoidcritical method on the basis of Lacans thesis.36 Although by the early 1930s, Artaud
was not on speaking terms with most of the Surrealists, it is not unlikely that he kept
himself aware of what was abuzz among them.
Aime, literally loved one, was a case that received a lot of press in 1920s
Paris. Aime believed that a famous actress, Huguette Duflos, was pursuing her and
showering her with attention through secret messages that she was sending by way of
the television screen. Because of this and, it is assumed, in a state of delirious jealousy,
one night, as she was exiting a show, Aime snuck up on and stabbed, but did not
fatally wound, the actress. She was judged insane and put in a mental institution, where
her case was given over to Lacan. He diagnosed her with what he called paranoa
dautopunition (self-punishment paranoia). Lacans use of the concept is, as he notes in an

Dal, Salvador. La Conqute de lIrrationel. Paris: dition Surralistes, 1935. Print. 364.

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intentionally over-the-top footnote37, very much indebted to De Clrambault, his

mentor, and the man who as was noted earlier invented the diagnosis of erotomania (it
was also clearly a defining move of his career, since the other technical term for
erotomania is De Clrambaults syndrome). Self-punishment paranoia is, in fact,
just a slightly more descriptive alternative term for erotomania, which he probably
circumvented in order to avoid over-indebtedness to De Clrambault.
But the condition that his master had described was also one that would,
building off of his doctoral thesis, eventually become a cornerstone of Lacans work on
Lacans contributions to the field of psychoanalysis are especially noted for the
interest that he took in working closely with psychotics:38 "It [psychosis] took on the
importance that had previously been accorded to studies in hysteria in the rise of the
international movement. Just as Freud had given hysteria its patents of nobility in
endowing it with a full-fledged existence as an illness, so Lacan, forty years later, gave
paranoia, and more generally psychosis, an analogous place within the French
movement. (Roudinesco, 114) Perhaps the most radical of his interventions was to
present psychosis not simply as a mental condition but as one of the three personality
structures that, along with perversion and neurosis, all speaking subjects fall into. One
could therefore hypothetically be a psychotic without displaying any of the usual

This image is borrowed from the oral teaching of our master, M.G. De Clrambault, to whom we
owe it that in matter and in method we should, to avoid any risk of plagiarism, pay him due homage for
each and every one of our terms. (Lacan, Psychose paranoaque, 3. My trans.) Clrambault disavowed his
student shortly thereafter, and they clashed at a meeting of the Medico-sociological Society during which
he accused Lacan of plagiarism. With an incredible amount of nerve, Lacan turned the accusation back
on Clrambault, asserting that it was the old psychiatrist who had plagiarized him. The affair caused a
big scandal. Incidentally, Lacan had a remarkable sense of publicity. (Roudinesco, Elizabeth. Jacques
Lacan & co., d. Fayard. Paris, 1993. pp. 46-47. My trans.)
38 Whereas Freud, who confined himself to his private practice, worked primarily with neurotics and
only ventured, and then hesitantly, into the field of psychosis via the published works of D.P. Schreber,
whom he never met.


symptoms (delusions, hallucinations, and so forth).

Lacan defines psychotics as those who never hear the Nom du Pre, an
untranslatable pun meaning both No of the Father and Name of the Father. It is
for this reason that foreclosure is, for Lacan, the primary mechanism of psychosis: a
foreclosure of the Name of the Father (Lagache, 133) is what distinguishes the
psychotic from the other two kinds of subjects, the neurotic and the pervert.
Infants first experience a split in subjectivity when they notice that they are not
their Mother (or m(O)ther)s all, but that she looks somewhere else, and desires
something other than them. They respond by attempting to become the perfect
complement to their mothers lack, to become for her the phallus that she desires but
cannot have. Of course, no one, and certainly not an infant, can fill that void for
someone else: the position is therefore a dangerous one to be in. For most infants it is
cut short when they hear a prohibitive No, that of the prohibition against incest,
although incest can also simply be taken to refer to the attempt to re-integrate the
mothers womb. This no is issued by a voice called that of the Father, because it is
a voice that comes from the Symbolic order (but not necessarily from a biological
father: it can, for example, come through in the mothers own speech), and represents
the moment of the infants entrance into language, i.e., into an order that is greater
than itself, an order that does not simply obey the laws that govern the infants and its
mothers relationship, but rather constitutes a third term.
Psychotics never hear this no, and because they do not hear it, they are not
anchored in language or in the world in the same way that other subjects are. It is not
that they cannot communicate through language, so much as it is that there is no
organizing principle having instigated their entry into language as a law. For this
)+ !

reason, unless they find a sinthome, a sort of replacement organizing principle (or
phallus)39 with which to tie together the three planes of subjectivity, the orders of the
Symbolic, of the Imaginary and of the Real often symbolized as a knot composed of
three interdependent rings, so that all three have to be linked in order for the subjects
reality to cohere then their reality will disintegrate, and that which has been
repressed in the Symbolic[will return] in the Real, (crits, 47) i.e., in the form of
hallucinations or delusions.
They are left with an advantage, of sorts, however. For Lacan, the everyday
experience of the psychotic is considerably closer to the Real, which is to say, the
inexpressible dimension of existence that the Symbolic (language) and the Imaginary
(the domain of the ego, of projections) fail to account for. He further believes that
language hoodwinks one into believing that one has desires and that they are ones
own, when in fact those desires precede us, they are inscribed on our bodies when we
are, through language, born into the social, and as a result, always pursuing the desires
of some Other: desire is the desire of the Other, a logic that the normal (i.e.,
neurotic) human subject is the unwitting slave of.
But because psychotics were never entered into the Law of language, they are
closer to the truth, or the reality of things; they are the non-duped,40 for them it is
clear that Desire is the desire of the Other, that human beings accomplish deeds they
believe to be fulfilling in their own service, when in fact they are doing so for the

An art form through which to express and organize their relationship to language is a common
example of a sinthome, in part because the concept is derived from Lacans understanding of the
purpose that writing had for James Joyce. Hence the relative commonality of art therapy for psychotic
patients in Lacanian clinics.
40 As Chiesa notes, according to Lacan, the non-duped, those who are not deceived by the symbolic
in other words, psychotics err. (Chiesa, 337) (It is a pun: non-duped-err / nom-du-pre. This
sort of thing is typical of Lacans use of language.)


jouissance of an Other.

Let us back up a bit. Are we to understand that the Truth, for Lacan, hidden
from the majority of subjects because they have been duped by language, consists in
understanding that most people, unbeknownst to them, only ever do anything to
procure pleasure for some mysterious Other?
Is this not textbook erotomania? I.e., is not erotomania, as a fantasy that one is
receiving an excess of attention (be it persecutory or loving) from an omnisicient other,
and although both wielded it as an insult, in fact a kind of savoir at the root of Lacans
and of Artauds thinking?
Another point on which Lacan and Artaud could have agreed, then. When
Artaud says that Lacan carries the stigma of [erotomania] on his face, what he is
somehow aware of is that Lacans very notion of psychosis, i.e., his notion of the truth is
founded on the idea of an Other who is a loving, predatory, and jouis-sing Other.
Lacan, who is noted as having half-jokingly stated during a lecture that I, the Truth,
speak, and who, to quote my interviewee Elizabeth Lagache, isnt far off from
diagnosing himself with Psychosis, at times. (Lagache, 130) And Artaud, for whom the
criterion for a succesful art object, or Body without Organs, was that it consist in a
metaphysical thought drawn out into the body without pleasuring god, without procurring
him with the internal organic thrills that are the incarnate evidence of a foul lust of
which he accuses Lacan. (SW, 484)
I am not trying to make any sweeping claims intended to discredit the whole of
psychoanalysis, here. Rather, I simply mean to point out the astuteness, or prescience,
of Artauds reverse diagnosis, and perhaps to suggest that erotomania is a function of
)* !

Artaud and Lacans thinking, a mental condition that each in his own way transforms
into a kind of paranoid-philosophical weltanschauung. For I consider it beyond doubt that
the thing De Clrambault called erotomania informed much of Lacans
understanding of the logic of desire, espeically in the case of Psychosis, and that Artaud
picks up on this, by diagnosing Lacan with a condition with which he himself might
well have been diagnosed, too. If it can be called a condition at all.


). !
The Projection of the True Body, 1947-48
(Artauds decimated body on left, the true one on right)

A Metaphysics Incarnate

Although nobody believes in god any more everybody believes more and more in man.
So it is man whom we now make up our minds to esmasculate.
Hows that?
Hows that?
No matter how one takes you you are mad, ready for the straightjacket.
By placing him again, for the last time, on the autosopy table to remake his anatomy.
I Say, to remake his anatomy.
Man is sick because he is badly constructed.
We must make up our minds to strip him bare in order to scrape off that animalcule that itches him
and with god
his organs.
For you can tie me up if you wish,
but there is nothing more useless than an organ.
When you will have made him a body without organs,
then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions and restored him to his true freedom.
Then you will teach him again to dance wrong side out
as in the frenzy of dance halls
and this wrong side out will be his real place.
- From To have done with the judgment of god (SW, 493)

An upheaval recently took place in Artaud scholarship. In 2010, Kimberly

Jannarone published a book entitled Artaud and his Doubles. To be very brief, she notes
that a number of pernicious Artaud doubles (what, in my first chapter, I referred to
as mythical, Hyperreal versions) have come to dominate our image of him, versions
whose emphasis is above all on his suffering, and for whom he is therefore a martyr at
the hands of psychiatry, a proponent of liberation and a friend of experimentation (and
so on), versions that were initially proposed by an overly-enthusiastic 1960s generation
of Experimental Theater practitioners in the US and of Postructuralists in France.


Although these versions continue to dominate our image of him, they have tended to
eschew close analysis of Artauds theater practice in his own intellectual context: that of
Interwar Europe. If, the book contends, one examines Artaud in this light, a number of
darker doubles emerge: primarily, the Peoples Theaters of Italy and Germany,
whose mediocre successes in harnessing the energies of a mass crowd were eventually
solved when they realized that they would be much more effective as political rather
than artistic bodies, and mutated into the Fascist Rallies of Benito Mussolini and Adolf
Hitler. Jannarone suggests that Artauds difficulty in realizing his Theater of Cruelty
stems from a similar problem of confusing the political and the artistic. For her, the
organized anarchy he sought underlines the paradox of Artauds Theater of Cruelty:
what he was really seeking was a chaos whose every move was controlled by him, the
sort of massive rituals in which members of a crowd would lose their sense of self under
the auspices of a leader, in order be redeemed in and through their collective worship
of him, and his direction of them.
She argues that the conference he gave in 1926 at the Sorbonne, on The
Theater and the Plague, would have had very strong and obvious resonances with the
wreckage left behind by World War I. Just as the Black Plague of 1347 decimated a
quarter of Europes population, the effects of the war to end all wars were felt all over
the continent, and nowhere more so than in France, which lost a tenth of its able male
population to it.41 It is indeed not inconceivable that Artaud, who spent the First World
War in sanatoriums, and the Second in asylums, would be unconsciously driven by a
sense of having missed out on the action, and would therefore be attempting to reenact those events, if on his own, small, and controlled scale.

Miquel, Pierre. La Grande Guerre. Paris: ditions Fayard, 1983. Print. 606.

)& !

The book is an important event in our understanding of Artaud, and it is a relief

that someone has written this analysis of the latent fascistic aspects of his work, since
the American scholarship has been hinting at it for years, but prior to this book, no one
had yet dared to advance the argument in a systematic way (Naomie Greenes All the
Great Myths are Dark and Stephen Kochs On Artaud are examples of this trend).
Nevertheless, the prejudices that, wittingly or not, inform Jannarones work are
multiple. Here, I want to hone in on two. First is the assumption, a commonplace in
the American scholarship, that Artauds core contribution is to the Theater. The issue
with this assumption is that it tends equivocate Artaud and Theater of Cruelty, as
if the two were interchangeable, in such a way that the rest of his work is blotted out, or
at least relegated to a place of obscurity. It suggests that an understanding of the person
and the work of Artaud can therefore be organized around the first period of the
Theater of Cruelty, by which I mean, roughly, the years 1927 through 1936, which
comprise his movement away from the Afred Jarry Theater collaboration and towards
his single-handed production of The Cenci, a movement made possible by the essays,
written during the in-between, that make up The Theater and its Double.
Second is the underlying assumption running through her book that what a work
of art represents, it also condones, and even advocates. Artaud, however, is quite clear
about the purpose of his theater:
I propose to bring back into the theater this elementary magical idea, taken up by
modern psychoanalysis, which consists in effecting a patient's cure by making him
assume the apparent and exterior attitudes of the desired condition. (T&D, 80)

The Theater of Cruelty is conceived of as a spiritual vaccine, a place in which a

little dose of the virus is given from the body of the actor to the body of the people, and
then exorcized in the actor, with the audience logically following suite. In Jannarones


own words, Artauds experiments with the theater are all exercises in exorcism.42 As
such, they do not aim to represent the plague, but to invoke it, in theory so that it may
be better exorcized. Of course, Jannarone does not fail to notice this so much as she
implies that there is in Artaud a latent and unwitting longing for the ecstatic feelings
generated by a loss of the self into a mass sense of impending apocalypse, the sort of
sense that follows in the wake of the havoc wreaked by large-scale death and
The question here is of whether Artauds contention that his theater was
designed as a therapeutic catalyst is anything more than a pretense, or if it is simply
driven by the same nihilistic urge to experience the symbiosis and oceanic feeling
that are produced in what Alice Yaeger Kaplan has called Fascisms gathering
stages?43 For Jannarone correctly avoids construing Artauds work as overtly similar to
Fascism, and notes that his works would not have been possible in the context of an
established Fascist State. She nevertheless asserts that they could be construed as protofascistic in their focus on the loss of the self into a greater entity, and in the way that
they thirst for and revel in chaos. Is the Theater of Cruelty, then, just one more
example of the fantasy that, as Hannah Arendt astutely noted, in reference to the
nihilistic tendencies of proto-fascitic European art, is about dreaming the stupid
dream of producing the void? (Jannarone, 70)
If Artauds life is indeed one giant treatise on poetics that leagues us a
singular presence and a phenomenology of suffering, it is one that is at bottom

Jannarone, Kimberly. Exercises in Exorcism. Yale French Studies, Vol. 39, 2006. 130-145.
Kaplan, Alice Yaeger. Reproductions of Banality: Fascism, Literature, and French Intellectual Life. Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1986. Print. 13.

)( !

concerned with one thing and one thing only: the question of the self, or more
specifically, of the possibility of an authentic self-realization. His life is the account of a
person wrestling with that problem, and it coheres as a linear narrative only because it
is driven by an implacable logic, by him called cruel. The work of the end of his life
is therefore the culmination of an extended reflection on and experimentation with that
problem. What, then, can we glean from, on the one hand, the trajectory of his life,
and on the other, his final words on the implications of where that trajectory landed
Drawing on the four periods that make up his life, that I identified in the first
chapter, the picture one has is of a man who:
1) complains of his inability to possess himself and to articulate his thoughts
fully, who in confronting his inability to truly become himself realizes that at the heart
of our pretensions to being capable of becoming fully-realized beings-in-the-world is an
emptiness against which any attempts at self-constitution collapse, then
2) nevertheless and against all odds formulates a strategy, by way of the theater,
that will allow this being to be realized, i.e., a process that circumvents language in
order to drag the soul out by the flesh, and to impress that soul, as it is felt, upon the
world, and when this project fails catastrophically
3) is unsensed by the logic of self-representation, pushed beyond the limits of
the sensible by his literal attempt to play out, in his body, the Western metaphysical
logic of self-presence, in such a way that a system of thought takes control of his body
and kills him, replacing him with his own negative (Antonin Artaud is replaced by
Antonin Nalpas at Ville-vrard, on a certain night in 1939 (To Unsense the
Subjectile, 51), a spectral image of living death that threatens to engulf him, but finally


4) is surmounted when he once again begins to write creatively, and he does so

in order to say that there is nothing but the body, that the body is prevented from
moving beyond its organic, mortal state precisely by the idea that it is anything more
than just flesh, that it has inside of it a being or a soul, and that this idea is a parasite,
just like the god who created it, a god hell-bent on keeping humans in a mediocre
state of living death, rather than fully alive in the body and unaffected by the
language of the Other.
There are two different ideas of self-realization at work here. One, from an
early Theater of Cruelty, in which it is still a transmutation performed, live, before an
audience. Because this version seeks the approval of the judgment of an Other, seeks to
actualize within the realms of that discourse, and requires an Event in which its
becoming is made absolute and recognized by all, it winds up, in spite of its desire to
present the thing itself, a slave to representation. It is inevitably caught up in the
discourse and the desire of the Other because it seeks to become itself in a way that is
recognizable by others, i.e., necessarily not on its own terms. It is this self-realization on
an Others terms that ultimately defeats Miltons Satan and turns him into a snake: his
choice (or lack thereof) to perform on Gods playingfield makes him a slave to the cruel
logic of self-representation. The result of this for Artaud, I dont think it is too farfetched to say, is his mental collapse in the years following the performance of The
Cenci, that attempt at an absolute realization. He is defeated by a discourse that
transcends him.
This version of the Theater of Cruelty is absolutely on a par with ProtoFascism, understood as the immortalist and nihilistic impulse of 20th century postreligious European consciousness in which the consequences of the absoluteness of

this logic are nothing short of catastrophic: when the German people believed that they
were to be forever redeemed in their ritual submission to the Fhrer and therefore
turned into Ubermensch, immortals they required a no less absolute marker of that
transformation. Without an event in which mortality was repudiated, how could they
be certain of the legitimacy of their consecration, of their move into the Kingdom of
Heaven? Hence, the amputation of entire populations from the Aryan body politics: to
make possible the illusion of immortality in refusing Germanity i.e., the status of
human to others.
Kaja Silverman, in her 2009 book Flesh of My Flesh, uses the myth of Orpheus
returning to the Underworld to retrieve Eurydice as a paradigm for the consciousness
of the modern, European (male) self (citing Rilke, Nietzsche and Freud, among others).
What she emphasizes in this myth is not the moment when, having convinced Pluto
and Persephone to give him a chance to recuperate his bride, provided that he not turn
around and look at her before he has completed the climb out of the tunnel connecting
the Earth and the Underworld, unable to stand the pressure of the prohibition against
setting his eyes on Eurydice, he turns around and she is dragged back, against his will,
into Hades. Instead, Silverman points to the fact that he turns around again, away from
her, and instead of going down to follow her, continues his climb alone, only to retreat
into himself and into his art when he regains the Earth. It is this turning around that
Silverman is critical of, which for her implies the repudiation of anothers mortality and
an introspective thurst into the self, both of which make possible the fantasy that one is
somehow beyond human, an Ubermensch who, to solve the newfound, impossible
problem of the absence of a creator God, and therefore of the possibility of moral
uprightness, can simply become god-like himself.


It is precisely this Will to Become God-like, to swallow the cosmos into the
psychological self that is at the root of the Proto-fascistic double impulse to regain the
void and to redeem (a part of) civilization. In contradistinction to this, Silverman
proposes a model in which the subject might learn to embrace the mortality of others
to not turn away from Eurydice , in order to then embrace its own in mortality, since
fascistic destructiveness is a consequence of a false sense of ones own immortality that
is precisely sustained by the disdain that an others mortality and disposability.

What about the other, later Theater of Cruelty then, the one that refuses
representation? It does not quite correspond to the alternative that Silverman suggests.
In fact, its approach is altogether different. In the supplement to To have done with the
judgment of god, Artaud notes that
[The Theater of Cruelty] is not the symbol of an absent void
of an appalling incapacity of people to realize themselves in life.
It is the affirmation
of a terrible
and moreover inescapable necessity. (quoted in Barber, 154)

This necessity is the crucial difference: whereas the first kind of theater, cannot
conceive of an originating principle other than that of god, claims, like King Lear
(wrongly) does, that Nothing will come of nothing, the second realizes that,
impossible though wresting something from nothing may be, it is nevertheless the only
way that anything could have come into existence.
I am not the only one to underline this dualism in Artaud. Lorenzo Chiesa
picks up on two kinds of suffering with him: one that is imposed by an Other, and
one that can be chosen for oneself, and that is necessary because the alternative is nonlife. Gilles Deleuze does the same thing with the idea of Judgment, in his essay on

Artaud, To have done with judgment: on the one hand, the absolute judgment of an
Other or of a god, that one wants absolutely to have done with, and on the other, this
strange possibility of a judgment ex nihilo. Lacanian Psychoanalysis is similar in this
regard, since one enters analysis in order to find a desire that is truly sui generis (and not
merely the desire of the Other), a desire that originates in a self whose central being
paradoxically, knows that it does not exist.
It is a self-actualization of a kind that refuses to enter into the terms of another
discourse, that refuses to speak the same language: it is the language of the Body
without Organs. By this concept, Artaud meant neither a body in fragments, nor a
purely metaphysical body. He meant an inorganic body, since the organism is precisely
that which has been brought into being by god: the body, at birth, is organ-ized (Lacan
would say: zoned), its various parts are spoken into being and stolen from the subject,
they become part of a greater discourse.
This is the foundational premise of psychoanalysis: that the body is spoken into
being, as Freud learned when he visited Charcots hysterics, and it was realized that
the young women who, complaining of a paralysis of their Leg, could not be physically
paralyzed because they were still able to move the muscles in their lower back, where
the anatomical leg technically. It was therefore deduced that their paralysis must have
had its basis in language, in a metaphorical leg that was the creation of a discourse
that preceded and exceeded the women.
Thus the Body without Organs might also be thought of as a pre-linguistic
thing, a body that has not yet been spoken into language, or that has somehow
managed to wrangle its way out of languages representational structures.


The Body without Organs is created, according to Artaud, by correctly defecating

the soul into the body: one pulls the soul into oneself, and the metaphysical is dragged out
of the (metaphorical) body and into the flesh by the skin of its teeth. In our present
state of degeneration, it is through the skin that metaphysics must be made to re-enter
the body. (T&D, 100) This is the only sort of metaphysics that refuses the discourse of
the Other, but can still become incarnate. For, as Prosper Hillairet notes, the Theater
of Cruelty is metaphysical, yes, but it is a metaphysics incarnate. It is this incarnation
of non-life.
Artaud, then, in his work and in the trajectory of his life, exceeds the nihilism of
proto-fascism. But his struggle with the problem of having to simultaneously refute and
embody a representational system can be mistaken for seemless, continous longing to
merge with the void. When in fact, Artauds life is dedicated to bringing himself into
being, to living life fully, to being this charred banner of mental pain that Breton
said the youth would forever recognizes itself in.
And however impossible his latter method, the construction of the Body
without Organs, may seem in terms of its pragmatic realization, and however
insignificant the technicalities that separate it from the 1930s Theater of Cruelty, that
impossibility and that separation are what make it such an important idea: it is what
distinguishes choosing suicide a route Artaud was always skeptical of from choosing
to incarnate non-life: an infinitesimal distinction, perhaps, but one that makes all the
difference in the world.



Suggestions for further reading

Approaching Artaud can be a daunting task. Peoples reasons for doing so are
different and manifold: fascination with The Tortured Poet, a curiosity about his
theatrical theories and their effects on contemporary practice, an interest in the
question of madness and literature, simple bemusement as to why literary theorists
have dedicated so much time and energy to the discussion about him, etc. Because of
this, and since my choices were guided by the readings that I found best moved my
thesis along, these suggestions are necessarily biased. The list below, which I have
briefly commented, is of some of the texts that were either crucial to my own
understanding of Artaud, or that helped enrich and give new directions to my thinking.
In addition, most of them are recognized as having altered in a significant way the
ongoing critical conversation about Artaud. I wrote the list because, apart from
Sontags list of recommendations (SW, 589), which is over forty-five years old and in
need of an update, a reliable overview of Artauds writing and of the criticism of that
writing is hard to come by.
The first difficulty lies in deciding what to read from Artauds own work,
especially when working within a time frame. Kundera tells the anecdote of a friend of
his, to whom he had recommended an author, and who, after reporting back
disappointed, refused to give another one of the recommended authors books a try.
My friend, he said, the life ahead of me is growing short. The time I could spare
your author is used up.44

Kundera, Milan. The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. Print. 80.


I think one should begin by reading Artaud selectively. One does not simply
plow through 10,000 pages of disjointed poetics. Too much has been made of
preserving and publishing every last one of his scribbles, the way one would a prophets
every utterance, as if his writings were above interpretation, and its readers incapable
of distinguishing the mind-blowing from the mediocre. For all of his very real
brilliance, Artaud wrote in a fragmented and occasionally repetitive manner, in a way
that was designed as an attack on the malicious forces he believed were preventing him
from uttering certain unbearable truths, (SW, 491) as often as it was destined for a
human readership. As such, I consider it an excessive imperative to ask of a lay reader
that she match the current prerequisite set forth by Evelyne Grossman in her
introduction to the Oeuvres :
How can one attempt to read Artaud, today? It seems to me that three
principles apply: one should read everything, read it backwards and sideways, and
re-learn how to read.
First off, then, one should not choose selectively, but rather read everything:
both the texts on the theater and the poems (poems, in Artaud, are the mise en scne of
signs, the theater is poetry in space), the correspondences and the written
drawings, the early texts (The Umbilicus of Limbo, Art and Death) and the late ones
(Watchfiends and Rack Screams, Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society, To have done with the
judgment of god). (O, 10)

Having said that, here are the texts that, by virtue of their ambition and insight,
to my mind constitute the essential Artaud: Correspondences with Jacques Rivire, The
Umbilicus of Limbo, The Nerve Meter, Fragments of a Diary from Hell, Art and Death, most of the
essays in The Theater and its Double, The True Story of Artaud le Momo, Watchfiends and Rack
Screams, Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society and To have done with the judgment of god,
followed by the Theater of Cruelty. (Of course, Artaud was not only a writer, but also a
performer; because of the centrality of liveness to his ideas, experiencing firsthand


the few records of performances that he left behind can be wortwhile: the recording of
the radio version of To have done with the judgment of god, and his acting roles in Abel
Gances Napoleon and Carl Theodor Dreyers Joan of Arc, all come to mind).
Artaud is clearest when he is writing critically about the creative process, more
difficult in the early poetry about the mechanics of thought, and more difficult still in
the late work, although the linguistic complexity of that writing is hidden beneath a
veneer of simplicity. For this reason, and although I somewhat regret doing so, because
in America he is often (wrongly) thought of as exclusively noteworthy for his theories
about the theater45, I still suggest that one start out by reading his essays, Van Gogh, the
Man Suicided by Society, an astounding essay that mixes ekphrasis, a medium in which
Artaud is unsurpassed, with rants against the psychiatric institution, and the The Theater
and its Double collection, which The Theater and the Plague opens for a reason: it is
meant to draw one in. Because of this, I would not skip ahead straight to The Theater
of Cruelty: First Manifesto. Alternatively, the piece of writing that brought Artaud the
recognition of the Parisian literati of 20s, Correspondences with Jacques Rivire, is also an
opening into his work, because his process and mission are established there for the first


My earlier reading of Grossman is of course partially facetious: by read everything, she may come
off as over-zealous, but she is also making the very valid point that Artaud is often read only for this or
that period of his life, when every one of his periods is interspersed with brilliant moments of insight, all
of which are always somewhat delirious. (The story behind the most common version of Ill read that
Artaud but not this Artaud in the English-speaking world is of an odd, tormented surrealist poet, whose
real vocation was the theater, something he only realized for the very short period of time during which
he produced all or nearly all of his best work (i.e., The Theater and its Double), and who subsequently lost it
and spent the rest of his life writing raving gibberish. This is an injustice that is partially understandable,
insofar as many readers are only interested in Artaud as a theatrical innovator. Nevertheless, in the long
run it is detrimental to his ideas, which are the same across every medium with which he ever flirted: the
theater of cruelty, for example, was imagined as a performance in the 30s, but was repeatedly reconceived, if in a less literal sense of the word theater, most notably in 1947 for To have done with the
judgment of God. To give Artauds ideas credence only up until the period of theater theory means dealing
with the stump of those ideas, rather than following them through the many stages of their inception.


time in all their naked transparency (sort of the Artaud equivalent of Rainer Maria
Rilkes Letters to a Young Poet).
I do not mean to suggest that, in order to understand Artaud, one need only
stick to these texts. While I do think that they are the strongest of his more sustained
writing efforts, they are still just points of entry. To really engage with Artaud means to
commit to teasing out the specificity of his outlook from the minutiae of his texts, and
to weaving those elements together. In fact, many of the short prose fragments (such as
The Human Face or Ten Years Since Language Has Been Gone) are just as
revealing of Artauds greater project as those longer pieces are but they have to be
sought out.
There is only one complete biography of Artaud available in English, Antonin
Artaud: Blows and Bombs, by Stephen Barber. Since there is no separating Artauds life
from his work his life was his work a solid grasp of that biography is a necessary
foundation to any sort of study of him. Luckily, Barbers book is entertaining,
informative, and to the point not to mention filled with well-chosen Artaud quotes
that help one stay grounded in the source material. Exception made for said source
materials, I cant think of any one book that was more helpful in establishing the
foundational knowledge necessary for a thesis.
There is also another, more extensive biography out there, in French, by
Florence de Mredieu. Although it is worth consulting for a more in-depth look into
Artauds life, too many of its one thousand or so pages are dedicated to settling points
of minor interest to the lay reader (much of it, in fact, is more a sustained attack on the
work and person of Artauds first editor, Paule Thvenin, than a biography), as a result
of the controversial legal and editorial history surrounding Artauds legacy.


In addition, a number of documentaries have been made about Artauds life: I

recommend Un Sicle dcrivains: Antonin Artaud and my interviewees Antonin Artaud
For an excellent, sustained look into the more straightforwardly critical (rather
than theoretical) questions that Artauds life and work bring up, the Virmaux duos
books are far and away the most thorough, and the least prone to relying on preconceived notions about their subject. This doesnt mean that they completely eschew
theoretical material, but rather that, because they are so intent on clearing a path
through the terrain, mined with impasses and obscurities, that has followed in the wake
of a mountain of Artaud scholarship, they tend to place technical questions before
anything else. This has the advantage of avoiding the vagaries that some of the more
theoretically inflected questions can lead to, as interesting and important as those
questions may be. See especially: Artaud: un Bilan Critique for a critical re-evaluation of
most of what was said about Artaud and the implications of his legacy for the modern
world during the 1960s and 60s, and Artaud Vivant, which presents a wealth of
documents from Artauds lifetime, such as the surviving reviews (including two by
Colette) of The Cenci, the only systematic, on-stage implementation of the Theater of
Cruelty orchestrated by Artaud himself. These reviews are, with the exception of the
script, a few photographs, and a recording of the background music, the only record
we have of the performances.
When it comes to what might be called Artaud theory, I think that popular
opinion continues to follow Sontag in holding that the single most brilliant critical
analysis (SW, 589) of Artaud is to be found in the essays on him by Jacques Derrida.
While such a claim, in the midst of a wealth of scholarship on Artaud, is up for debate,

Derridas work on Artaud does have two merits that are beyond question: for one
thing, his essays are saturated with quotes from all across the spectrum of Artauds
works, in a way that invites the reader into Artauds thinking and distinguishes
Derridas work from a lot of other available criticism, which tends to be heavy on the
broader analysis and light on the close textual reading; for another, Derrida points out
that Artaud, in the realms of literary philosophy and psychiatry both, is systematically
used as an example, a case invoked in order to prove a point, in such a way that the
Artaud one discusses is always produced by a discourse that precedes him, rather than
by his own terms. Of course, in attempting to discuss Artaud in the latter fashion,
Derrida inevitably winds up making him into a martyr of the philosophers own cause,
that of abolishing the dualistic system of Western metaphysics (mind/body,
speech/text, and so on), in such a way that he re-instates said exemplary status.
I consulted three of his essays for this project, all of which are well worth the
detour: La Parole Souffle (lit. Stolen Speech/Whispered Speech) and The
Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation, can both be found in Writing
and Difference; the third, and in my opinion the strongest, is Forcener le Subjectile,
which Mary Ann Caws has translated into To Unsense the Subjectile in a small book
entitled The Secret Art of Antonin Artaud; I would also consult the French original, however
(published in the context of Antonin Artaud: Dessins et Portraits, co-authored by Derrida
and Paule Thvenin), if only because Caws was unable to obtain the rights to reprint
the Artaud drawings that are the subject of the essay. An interview with Derrida from
2002, Artaud, oui, about the difficulty of writing about Artaud, and the transcript
of a speech given over the course of the same year at the MOMA, to introduce the first


international exhibit of Artauds visual work, Artaud le Mma, may also be of

While Derridas work is central to Artaud scholarship, it is by no means the
only thing worth consulting. Susan Sontags Approaching Artaud, published in Under
the Sign of Saturn and as an introduction to the Selected Writings of Artaud, is an equally
excellent read. Its most memorable postulate is that Artaud must be understood in the
context of the Gnostic tradition, which holds that the world as we perceive it is a world
of illusions, the product of a malevolent Demi-urge, but that is also a world, as opposed
to Platos cave, that can be shattered and transcended by way of the Theater.
Maurice Blanchot wrote two extremely short texts on Artaud (Artaud in The
Book to Come and Cruel Poetic Reason in The Infinite Conversation). The 1956
publication of the first of these inaugurated the critical conversation about the poet
and, by closing with the rhetorical Is to suffer, ultimately, to think? set the terms of
the debate. Further, although Blanchot may be brief, his grasp of Artaud and of his
project is clearly unequalled. Notable statements: although his subjects may seem to
have been the theater and other arts, at its core Artauds work is a giant treatise on
poetics, and the cruelty driving that writing is not specific to Artaud but inherent to
the logic of poetry, understood as the implacable rules of Greek tragedy, as imposed by
the Gods.
Deleuzes contributions, although they are not so much concerned with Artaud
as they are excited by the possibilities that his writing generates for re-thinking modern
subjectivity, are also essential reading, and not only because they pick up on the body
without organs as a central goal and concept of Artauds late work. This topic is
extensively discussed in both volumes of the Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Anti-Oedipus and

A Thousand Plateaux, both written in collaboration with the psychiatrist/activist Flix

Guattari) series: for example, see November 28, 1947: How do you make yourself a
Body without Organs? A bit more explicitly about Artaud, however, though less well
known, is a ten-page piece in Essays Critical and Clinical, To Have Done With
Judgment, which, in attempting to think non-judgmentally, and indeed antijudgmentally, and drawing on Artauds attack of the judgment of god, ends up
distinguishing between two kinds of judgment: an absolute, by-the-scriptures, reactive
kind that promotes non-life, and an ephemeral kind that re-evaluates on a situational
basis, that brings into existence and enhances presence, and is thereby active, avoiding
the pitfall of judgment from the vantage point of an always lost, original perspective.
This is tantamount to Deleuze & Guattaris argument that the body without organs
an unrepresentable body, an un-organized body, i.e., a body not spoken into being by god
is unscrutinizable; it is immune from Gods, or the Others, judgment.
It is my suspicion that, to a large extent, the theories of Michel Foucault are
simply philosophically and historically rigorous re-deployments of Artauds argument
that society excludes its madmen in order to convince itself of its own sanity, and his
belief that a whole system exists that allows a society to semi-consciously suicide
subjects who break its fundamental and unspeakable rules, and whose existence
thereby threatens to reveal their mechanisms. Failing proof of this, however, it is clear
enough that the History of Madness adopts some of Artauds premises, and that the
question of his clinical case is an important tension driving the book, hence the
discussion of Artaud, in conjunction with Nietzsche, Nerval and Hlderin, at the close
of the book. It was in order to explain his position that Madness, [is] the absence of a
work that Foucault wrote the eponymous essay following the publication of the History


of Madness, in which he holds not only that, in writers like Nietzsche and like Artaud,
madness is the central absence around which the work of is structured, and whose
edges it forever traces, but further, that these writers, by the very excess of their
madness, by their refusal to be reasonable, force society to justify the abuses of Reason,
rather than for them to account for their own lack of it.
Finally, Kimberly Jannarones recent Artaud and his Doubles, although it
exaggerates its premise (that there are strong ties between Fascism and Artaud) to
hammer the point in, is nevertheless a solid piece of theater history, and one that
effectively situates Artaud in relation to his political, theatrical, and avant-gardist
contemporaries. I discuss it more extensively in my conclusion to the thesis.
Again, with this list I make no claim to exhaustivity: a number of other
significant works have been and continue to be produced on the subject Julia
Kristevas The Subject on Trial, Jerzy Grotowskis He was not entirely himself,
Evelyne Grossmans Antonin Artaud, un Insurg du Corps, Philippe Sollers Writing and
the experience of limits, Paule Thvenins Antonin Artaud, that desperate man speaking to
you, Gene Plunkas edition of Antonin Artaud and the Modern Theater, to name a few. Here,
I have only discussed the texts that most affected my reading of Artaud.

Artaud Editions
There are many versions of Artauds writings in existence. In what follows I
explain why and when I privileged one version over another, and suggest which
versions a reader might prefer, depending on his/her interests:
SW: When possible, I have used Susan Sontags edition of Artauds writing,
which was translated by Helen Weaver. I do this on the assumption that it is the most

accessible version of Artaud to be found in English. SW therefore refers to: Artaud,

Antonin. Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings. Ed. Susan Sontag. Trans Helen Weaver. New
York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976. Print.
T&D: Because the previous version is a selection, it is necessarily incomplete.
A notable omission are several essays from the Theater and its Double collection. T&D
refers to the Mary Caroline Richards edition of those essays, i.e.: Artaud, Antonin. The
Theater and Its Double. Trans. Mary Caroline Richards. New York: Grove, 1958. Print.
W&R: Although, for practical reasons, I only occasionally prefer it to the
Weaver translation, Clayton Eshelmans Watch Fiends and Rack Screams is a very strong
and careful rendering of most of Artauds later work. It includes Suppts et Supplications,
arguably Artauds major production from this period (his longest, at any rate), among
several other works that are completely absent from the Selected Writings, where the
emphasis is on Artauds early poetry and essays. Artaud, Antonin. Watchfiends & Rack
Screams: Works from the Final Period. Trans. Clayton Eshleman and Bernard Bador.
Boston: Exact Change, 1995. Print.
O: When I havent been able to find an English translation of a piece of
writing, or have felt that the available translation(s) fail to do the original justice, or
have otherwise needed to refer to the French editions, I have used Evelyne Grossmans
version of Artaud. While it does not try, as the previous edition did, to be exhaustive, it
includes previously unpublished material, updated editorial facts, and is considerably
more accessible than the previous version, since by being slightly selective it is able to
compile the better part of Artauds work into one volume, rather than twenty six. All
translations from this book are mine. Oeuvres. Ed. Evelyne Grossman. Paris: Gallimard,
2004. Print.


OC: Paule Thvenin was a close friend of Artauds, and the first person to
compile his work after he died. I refer to her edition, the Oeuvres Compltes, for her
comments and insights into Artauds work, and occasionally if I need something that
was omitted from the Grossman edition. When this book is cited, translations are,
again, mine. Artaud, Antonin. Oeuvres Compltes. Vol. I-XXVI. Ed. Paule Thvenin.
Paris: Gallimard, 1974. Print.
Barber: Unless otherwise specified, all of the information on Artauds life
that I have used can be found in the biography by Stephen Barber, Antonin Artaud: Blows
and Bombs. London: Faber and Faber, 1993. Print.



Artaud, Antonin. Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings. Trans. Helen Weaver. Ed. Susan
Sontag and Done E. Levine. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976. Print.
Artaud, Antonin. Oeuvres Compltes. Ed. Paule Thvenin. Vol. I-XVI. Paris: Gallimard,
1974. Print.
Artaud, Antonin. The Theater and Its Double. Trans. Mary Caroline. Richards. New
York: Grove, 1958. Print.
Artaud, Antonin. uvres. Ed. Evelyne Grossman. Paris: Gallimard, 2004. Print.
Artaud, Antonin. Watchfiends & Rack Screams: Works from the Final Period. Trans. Clayton
Eshleman and Bernard Bador. Boston: Exact Change, 1995. Print.
Austin, J. L. How to Do Things with Words. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1962. Print.
Barber, Stephen. Antonin Artaud: Blows and Bombs. London: Faber and Faber, 1993.
Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila F. Glaser. Ann Arbor:
University of Michigan, 1997. Print.
Belsey, Catherine. The Subject of Tragedy: Identity and Difference in Renaissance Drama.
London: Methuen, 1985. Print.
Blanchot, Maurice. "Artaud." Trans. Charlotte Mandell. The Book to Come. Stanford,
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Appendix I
An Interview with Elizabeth Lagache

Interviewed in her apartment in Paris on 07/30/2011, Elisabeth Lagache is a practicing

psychoanalyst in the Lacanian tradition, a member of La Lettre Lacanienne, and recently became a
member of the comity for the Passe. Transcription & translation from the French both mine.

Elisabeth Lagache: Comparing the two discourses, Artauds [A] and Lacans
[L], that is the object of your thesis?

I guess you could say that. To contrast the discourse of the visionary poet, in the
vein of Rimbaud, followed by A, - the poet who wants, with only his vision, to
make concrete changes in the world around him -, contrast that with what analysis
does, and the relation (or non-relation) that exists between the analysand and the
analyst. Because the poet, in fact, is all alone. And especially A, whose first search
was for, that is, the theater of cruelty, the idea behind it, is to exert an immediate
transformation upon the audience. Whereas analysis is something that takes time, I
dont know, I was told that you had been undergoing analysis for forty years, for

E.L.: [Laughs} No, not forty.

And have you finished, speaking of?

E.L.: Yes, yes. Well, finished. The Unconscious never stops, nor for A either, in
fact. So this immediacy of his, its no more than a pious wish!


Yes... Well, I think that thats the reason why people say that he wasnt successful,
in the end, because he wanted it to happen in one shot, just like that. That was the
impossible part.

E.L.: Yes. But even so, Artauds topic is himself, prior to anything else, I think. Its
not so much the world as A, himself. So he has certain ideas that are brilliant,
visionary even. But it seems like a difficult angle from which to come at the subject,
to want to contrast to think, for e.g., that the As goal is to transform the world,
to transform people.

I think As goal was to bring the world of the Spirit back into life.

E.L.: Yes.

That is excuse me if I ramble a bit if you take that whole business of the Mirror
Stage and of the Corps Morcel [Body-in-fragments], and of the ego as it is projected
in the imaginary, that you see in the mirror. Consider that in relation to the idea of
the theater and its double, i.e. of the actor and his doppelganger, of the actor as
he feels himself and the actor as he chooses to project himself on the stage, the
thing he invents. As critique of that is about the desire to reunite the two. He
wants to make what we feel and what we project, what we would like to be,
indistinguishable46. And I think that here and elsewhere there is a sort of parallel
between Artaudian and Lacanian ideas, but also something that is irreconcilable,


Although this seems like a legitimate line of interpretation for the title of Artauds book of essays, it
should be noted that the initial explanation that he gave for the title, in a letter to his friend and
publisher Jean Paulhan that he sent from a boat while on his way to Mexico on January 25th, 1936 was
that if theater doubles life, life doubles true theater the pool of energies which constitute Myths,
which man no longer embodies, is embodied by the theater. By this double I mean the great magical
agent of which the theater, through its forms, is only the figuration on is way to becoming the
transfiguration. It is on the stage that the union of thought, gesture and action is reconstructed. And the
double of the Theater is reality untouched by the men of today.


because what A wants to do is to reconcile the world as we are seen in it and the
world as we perceive it, that is

E.L.: As we project it.

Yes. So ultimately, it isnt just for himself that hes doing this. His subject is first
and foremost himself, since his subject is his mind, his spirit. But I think that the

E.L.: I think that his despair, his pain and his misery, As that is, was precisely that
perpetual troubledness of mind. That his spirit and self were separated,
inescapably, constantly, and that he couldnt stand it. So its his symptom, in short,
that hes treating. And if you take the mirror stage as an example of a feasible
contrast, for L, the mirror stage is first of all structural, in everyones case, and at
the same time, its necessary. Its like a step, lets say, where our perception of the
world goes through the mirror stage, and if you dont go through, well, its pretty
bothersome, for the subject

But can that happen?

E.L.: Sure, maybe. Every case, every subject is different, has a history, a particular
structure. But what L is looking to do, ultimately, in his work, throughout his life, is
to pinpoint structural invariants, in everyone. Psychic principles that make it so
that things happen the way they do, that things have to happen the way that they
do, otherwise theres a psychic crippling, of the way that the world is apprehended,
of psychic functioning, that is inevitable. And when things come up against a
stumbling block, if everything is all right, the result is a quote normal man, shall we
say neurotic, but if there are stumblings that still need to be spotted, by the


symptom, by analysis, etc., the result can end up being serious crazies,
psychotics And despite everything, A, with his literary, poetic, surrealist genius,
his completely disinterested relentlessness he sought neither glory, nor money,
nor any of those things despite all that, hes still a psychotic. And he knows it.
And the mirror stage, maybe youre touching on a point, just like that,
instinctively, that is very interesting for A, in relation to Ls work, to pinpoint that
theoretical point of Ls in terms of A, because maybe the mirror stage is just whats
missing, with A. And that thats why theres a stumbling up of things, in his case.
But you cant stop at the mirror stage in L and then take up A as a point of
comparison, because the mirror stage is a stage, as its name goes to show. It isnt
the finished product. Even if its always there, inscribed in the subject, there is still
a Beyond the mirror stage.

So one thing Ive been asking myself is whether As structure wasnt even though
Im not sure to what extent we can claim to be able to analyze him, given that all
we have are the texts if he wasnt more of a Pervert than a Psychotic, in fact?

E.L.: Yes but well, that sort of classification is always risky, because everyone is
perverted and nobody is. Perversion is in the Psychoanalytic vulgate. People are
always saying things like eeew, hes a pervert, he did this to me, said that to
me So

No but just now I was talking about the perverse structure, in the sense of


One of the three, usually mutually exclusive (although not according to Lagache) clinical structures
that, in Lacanian thinking, are formative and universal, so that there is no normal structure (although
the neurotic is the most common). The perverted structure is characterized by a disavowal of the Nameof-the-Father this is its primary operation and by a relationship to the Other that does not ask but


E.L.: Yes, but the structures are never as clear as that, at the same time. There are
symptoms that show that, yes, a given subject is well advanced in the direction of
perversion. But he may not be just that either. There can be exhibitionists, or those
guys with shoes, you know those old perversions that people cite from Freud,
sometimes, guys who cant not use a shoe in order to desire a woman - fetishism,
for example. I dont know, I dont get the impression that A was a pervert, myself.
Because whats his relationship to sex and to the other?

He had a few very short relationships

E.L.: There was a woman who loved him to death, who followed him to the end,
who supported him.48

But there is a fairly systematic and profound disgust with sexuality in his work. And
that sounds more psychotic to me -

E.L.: Yes.

A kind of detachment and hatred in relation to it, and the search, in fact, for a way
to reconcile sexuality and the world. Or to erase it completely, sexuality. But were
I to read him as a pervert, I wouldnt mean it in the sense of

rather knows what that Other wants, and understands itself as providing jouissance not for itself but for
that Other. Ive also seen it described as a deep-down, incontrovertible desire to flout the law, to subvert
and reject the Name of the Father.
48 I know of no such woman. It is possible that she is referring to As mother, who was extremely
supportive, visited A relentlessly, and for e.g. obtained his transfer out of an asylum, Ville-vrard, that
was little more than a detention center for the highly agitated, some Foucauldian primeval dungeon, and
into the care of a psychiatrist, Ferdire, who, while he was probably a little too enthusiastic about the
then cutting-edge electro-shock treatment and is as a result often portrayed as one of the primary
villains in the Artaud saga -, was also the reason that Artaud was able to start writing productively again
in the first place (having previously declared, in 1939, the death of his Author-self, so that for a time he
actually refused to let his mother in when she came to visit, on the grounds that he was dead, or that his
past self was; she continued to show up with food & ink & such despite this), insisting this was crucial to
his recovery, and eventually leave the asylum, which, at the time, was considered about as likely as
getting let off of multiple life sentences to prison.


E.L.: Because perversion, it should be said, is in relation to the Other, its aim is
the Other, its not just itself, alone.

From what I gather, its aim is above all the destruction, or negation, of the Law,

E.L.: There is that aspect, yes.

E.L.: Your approach seems very, very difficult to me. But it could But Im too
ignorant about A to respond intelligently to you.

No, what your telling me is good, or useful, at least.

E.L.: But I think that its a matter of different dimensions. A is first of all an artist.
The way that he saves himself, in some small way, is through art, or cinema, or
theatrical performance. The way he manages to survive, to not be crazy.

Yes, but thats what saves the psychotic, isnt it, is the fact of being able, of finding
an art form?

E.L.: But A still has language, and does he ever, even if its very chaotic
apparently, I havent thoroughly read all of As work, but its very staccato, his
writing, done in little sequences.

Yeah, its little more than quotes, ultimately.

E.L.: Well but even so. Theres a movie that just came out, Le Moine49, that is
inspired by As Moine.

Oh yes? Well, a text that was in fact the translation of an older text, a half-

translation/free interpretation
49 The film in question, presumably to be translated as The Monk, adapted and directed by Dominik
Moll, is based on the eponymous 18th century English novel by Matthew G. Lewis. It is possible that they
used the translation/surrealist free-style that A made of it as part of their inspiration.


E.L.: Yes, yes Anyway, to finish my idea, L became very interested at one point
in Joyce. And his take on Joyce is that hes a psychotic. And his supplance
[substitution], which he invents within his symptom to overcome his psychosis, is
writing, with that work written over the course of thirty years that nobody reads,
that nobody can read, Finnegans Wake. So I dont know if youre familiar with Ls
whole take on Joyce, but it would be worthwhile for you to have a look at it.
Because at least in that case, there is something that is directly applied to
somebody whom L admires enormously, admires and loves, Joyce. And this
despite the fact that hes psychotic, according to him. You know, L isnt far off
from diagnosis himself with Psychosis, at times50. All those nosologies and
structures, who is normals and who isnts, the stuff we dwell in, in our solitary
hours, and that emergence we make into some sort of daily routine with the
appearance of psychic normalcy Because A still had friends, successes, some
kind of social link. He did things. He was appreciated and loved by people. His
relationship with Rivire51


Meta- thought: If Lacan hypothesizes that he is himself a psychotic, than how far off is he from
suggesting that his work is his sinthome? And that psychoanalysis, as a process of symbolization (= the
act of writing down something that doesnt exist, as Lagache defines it several pages down), is just that
fourth knot, keeping the Borromean RSI (real, symbolic, imaginary) from becoming undone? And that is
therefore always itself verging on the edge of psychosis? I.e., that the end of analysis could itself be an
attempted reintegration of the womb, a nihilistic asceticism?
51 Jacques Rivire, editor of the Nouvelle Revue Franaise from 1919 until his death in 1925, where he was
responsible for the publication of fragments of the works of, among others, Proust and Valry. His
rejection in 1923 of As first book of poems turned out to be key both in helping A articulate a mostly
hostile position towards the literary establishment and in propelling him away from his early symbolistinfluenced verse work (Backgammon of the Sky) and towards a more personal, didactic rather than
expressive, prose poetry style that characterized his work during the surrealist period of the mid-twenties.
(Sir, I regret not being able to publish your poems in the Nouvelle Revue Franaise. But they caught enough
of my interest to make me want to make the acquaintance of their author. Rivire to Artaud,
05/01/1923, translation mine) A resisted Rivires urges to correct the awkwardness of some of his
writing, as well as the latters suggestions that As mental struggles were ultimately fairly common to
everyone, but in the process of justifying that resistance began the very sorts of explanations of a psychic
pain (that he understood as radically alien to empathy or interpretation by anyone but himself) that
would come to characterize his work. In fact the correspondences themselves are probably the first


Yes, but appreciated especially for his defeats, not his successes. Because with
Rivire, for instance, if there was any correspondence in the first place, it was
precisely because Rivire had rejected him from the NRF.

E.L.: But nevertheless Rivire did correspond.

Yes, and admired him, ultimately.

E.L.: Youve got to admit its paradoxical.

Yes. But I also think that As friendships were always, not superfluous, but that
ultimately, he wasnt attached to anyone. He was really resolutely in a relationship
with his spirit.

E.L.: Yes, theres something schizo, schitzed, about him.

E.L.: And all the same, to compare in that way directly L and A seems extremely
risky to me, because L isnt crazy. L works, hes great. He created a work that
swept up the dust of psychoanalysis for several decades - during several decades
and for several decades. He opened up some absolutely incredible directions for
language, for subjectivity

But I dont think that there is a modern theater without

E.L.: Of Artaud? Oh no, definitely not, since A, who reads him

Yes, nobody reads him, well relatively nobody, but still there isnt I mean, you
cant say that there is a Theater of Cruelty, really, on the contemporary theater
scene, but his influence is still enormous. I dont even think theres any question of

instances of a kind of writing that is uniquely Artaudian, and the work that they made possible
surrealist-influenced prosaic fragments such as The Umbilicus of Limbo, The Nerve Meter, the Fragments of a
Journal from Hell and Art and Death is arguably the poetry that he is best remembered for (to the
exclusion of the later work, which tends to resist interpretation and even reading much more, especially
given its non-linguistic, invocatory features).


that. The notion of theater as something that isnt simply entertainment, as

something that can exert a change over the psyche that might even maybe be
salutary for human beings, that all comes from him. Or well at least its an idea
that he tried to revive for the 20th century, and I think he succeeded. Because there
are really a whole slew of people who took it upon themselves to continue in the
directions he opened up. I dont know, Genet, for instance

E.L.: Yes, Genet, Ionesco

Grotowski Jerzy Grotowski -, yes Ionesco as well, even Beckett52. Even if you just
take the existential theater, or the theater of the absurd, thats also something thats
looking to disturb the public, thats looking to make it question itself in a way that

goes beyond the psychological. And the notion of wanting to go beyond the


Jerzy Grotowski has an essay titled He wasnt entirely himself in which he explores As ideas
about the salvation of man through a communal and ritualistic theater. Although convinced
that As hopes for the theater were impossible to put into practice, he was nevertheless in an
overall way highly influenced by him, and specifically by the notion that certain oral
incantations or tones of voice can produce a kind of visceral truth in the body of the audience
Grotowski referred to these as resonators , which he subsequently incorporated into his
actor-training praxis.
As for the rest of them (Eugne Ionesco, Jean Genet, Samuel Beckett): It has frequently been
claimed that the whole of the New Theatre movement was strongly influenced by Artaud. This
claim is difficult to substantiate. Neither Beckett, Ionesco, or Genet (the author most often
associated with Artaud) had encountered him or his work before they began to write for the
theatre. It is much easier to establish his influence over a number of theatre practitioners,
especially Barrault and Blin, who undoubtedly did a lot to make his influence permeate the
dramatic climate of the time. But for most of the 1940s Artaud was an author known as
something of an oddity, not widely accepted as a prophet until the sixties. (Bradby, David.
Modern French Drama, 1940-1980, pp.60-62, Cambridge University Press, 1984.) Although
Bradby goes on to argue that the sort of Artaudian style in theater may have been in the
creative air of the time regardless of its critical recognition arguing that critical understanding
of its intellectual relevance (in terms of e.g. sign systems) had a bit of catching up to do since
a new violence and literality had entered the theater with the emergence of the Tragic Farce,
and also since a kind of anti-rational/rhetorical and consequently minimalist poetics
became de rigueur, forcing attention to the mise en scne (which A, of whom Roger Blin stated that
I do not hold the religion of the mise en scne, as he did, was the king of (Taylor-Batty, Mark.
Roger Blin: collaborations and methodologies. p.37. Bern: Peter Lang. 2007.)), so that the plays of the
New Theatre present a combined assault on all [of the audiences] senses, sometimes all at the
same time. That this closely resembles As notion of the Total Theater is obvious enough. As
to whether these phenomena were a result of the insidious diffusion of As energy and thinking
into the mindset of his theatrical contemporaries/immediate successors, or if they had more to
do with something larger that was defining the era, is anyones guess.

psychological, and to return to something that is either metaphysical or existential,

is a notion thats well, thats completely surrealist, actually. Because Breton does
the same thing with the Novel, in the Manifesto of Surrealism.53 But A wants to do
it with theater. The sort of theater that gets lost in a sort of infinite psychological
loop needs to come to an end [loosely paraphrasing from the Theater and its
Double] and I think that L too, in a way, well Im not going to say that he goes
beyond the psychological because what he does remains psychology, but all the
same, in a way

E.L.: Yes, yes, that is a tension, in L. One of the primary, principal tensions.

Thats it One of the quotes of his that I brought along with me [awkwardly
unfolds crumpled piece of paper] is that poetry is what comes closest to the Real.
And the Real, I think, is the thing that completely eludes psychological reasoning.

E.L.: Yes. Its a very interesting idea. But hard to carry out well, I think. There is
something to be changed in Man. L is willing to accept that. And its political, in a
sense, completely political. And with A it is as well. But A and L are in fact of the
same period, and they are vectors for something you cited a bunch of big names
in the theater, just now, Beckett, Ionesco, I mean we mentioned a few names in

passing it seems to me that it also has to do with something that is happening


The untreatable mania that consists in wanting to bring the unknown back into the known, the
classifiable, dulls the mind; Surrealism, n.: Pure psychic automatism that consists in describing
verbally, in writing, or by any other means the true way that thought functions; etc. (1924 Manifesto
of Surrealism, widely available online. translations mine). It should be noted that this is hardly the
definition that popular understanding has of the word surrealism. Although this may be due to the
banalization of its usage into a catch-all whos meaning is more like slightly trippy, or for any
experimental move e.g. in a movie that takes an obvious step away from a straight-forward
(psychological) narrative. But the definition of Surrealisms oddity may also stem from the fact that it
very much seems to bare the thought-obsessed mark of Artaud, for all that it may have been written by
Breton (after all, the former was the one who provided a great deal of Surrealisms momentum (w/ e.g.
his brief time as director of the Bureau of Surrealist Research) at a time when the latter was trying to
unite it to politics, very probably because he believed that the movement had exhausted most if not all of
its artistic potential.)


during that period. It is a vector that is supported by the period. There is a ripeness
for that rupture, for that search. Prior to that, there had been Nietzsche, there
were thinkers about things that are going to come, like, express themselves. And
currently were more in a sort of flat period, a depressed period, where we no
longer really believe that were going to change man. Myself, though, I think we
can change man. I wont see it with my own eyes, but So what youre looking
for is interesting, because I think that its something that has to do with that.


E.L.: But one shouldnt make a comparison in qualitative terms, obviously.

Yes, it isnt that. Well maybe to begin with that question was sort of lingering, do I
follow54 one or the other, but its not a very interesting question, ultimately. But

E.L.: Which is a rupture, a search. Because recently, Ive become interested in

Trotsky. I dont know why now, I just came upon a biography And L has a
whole chapter in one of his seminaries, Desire and its Interpretation, in which he lays
out a dream of Trotskys. And while hes never said anything about A, to my
knowledge I have a book with an index of instances of figures in Ls work, and it
doesnt say anything about A, although it could be wrong -, Trotsky however, I
saw and I read this lesson where he [presumably L] goes back to this very famous
dream of Freuds from the Interpretation of dreams, the first great book in which
he advances a theory of the unconscious, through dreams, the royal road to the
unconscious. So we have this dream of Freuds, that of the Dead Father, the dream
of the son who dreams that his father is alive, even though hes already dead, and


In the first person indicative present, the verbs to follow and to be are homonyms. It is unclear to
me which I meant, which ambiguity Im going to take as a sign of healthy, enthusiastic identification
rather than as a suggestion of potentially morbid possession of biographer by biographee.


in the dream the son knows that his father is dead, but he sees him represents him
alive, and he speaks to him delicately, he avoids saying But youre dead! - its
very interesting. And then theres this dream of Trotskys, with Lenin, who had
already been dead for 10 years, since the dream happened while Trotsky was in
exile in Mexico, and thats really copy/pasted from Freuds dream. Which is
extraordinary So theres this question of the father. I dont know As story, but
peoples biographies are also a thing that comes into play. I dont know at all who
his father was, or his mother, what relationship they had, what happened during
his childhood

I only know vaguely. His parents were Greek, they immigrated to Marseilles,
where he had a relatively well-off childhood. His biographies dont say all that
much about his parents what they especially talk about is that, early on, he began
to suffer from migraines. I mean, there must have been some sort of tension with
his father, but honestly I dont know what it could have looked like.55

E.L.: But there has to be a biography of A somewhere out there, where you can
find something about family history. That stuffs important, in order to know what
happened, what brought him to that point.

Especially because if he was psychotic, he would have to have never heard the
name of the father.


His mother was of Greek descent, not fresh off the boat, and his father was French. Also possibly
worth mentioning is that he contracted a near-fatal case of meningitis at the age of 5, which meant that
his health would be fragile for the rest of his life. Concerning his father, Artaud wrote of him shortly after
he died: I lived to the age of twenty-seven with an obscure hatred of the Father, of my own father in
particular, until the day when I saw him die. Then, that inhuman rigor, which I had often accused him
of oppressing me with, fell away. Another being left that body. And for the first time in our lives, my
father held out his arms to me. And I, always so restless in my body, I understood that all through his life
he had been made restless by his body, and that there is a lie to being alive, against which we are born to
protest. (OC VIII, 1980, p.146. Quoted in Barber, p. 22)


E.L.: Not necessarily. It also depends on the relationship between the mother and
the father, what he was like, and why. What the relationship with the mother is. I
know nothing about that. But there are those elements that you have to take into
account. You have to treat them very carefully. Theyre not completely
determining factors, but still, theyre important.

Especially since hes someone whos life cant really be detached from his work. His
life is his work. But at the same time theres a danger in saying that A is crazy, and
that one can put him into a certain category just life that. Because he does make an
argument against the notion that hes mad. His position is that he isnt: hes just
searching for an (albeit impossible) reunion between the world of the spirit and the
physical world. And saying that its not an unreasonable search.

E.L.: No. He has smart tools to do it with. But the suffering he doesnt find a
real Substitution. I dont know if you know of that psychotic whos name is
Volcom[?]56. Hes a language psychotic, very interesting. He was a New York-born
Jew, his parents had immigrated after the war broke out, probably, or maybe a
little before. So the mother and father get divorced, the father lies to his son
whos completely whacked, as they say, well crazy, schizo. But so he has some
notions of Yiddish, of English, of languages and hes someone whos going to
learn every language. And theres a foreclosure of the father, even though the
fathers alive, and that he practices [the Jewish faith], the father, quite regularly,
when he comes to see him. But hes noticed that the father is a maker-upper, a liar.
Anyways all this to say that this boy, whos really like full-on schizophrenic, gets by


When she said this, since I was unfamiliar with whomever she was talking about, all I could think
about was the skateboard-paraphernalia brand, Volcom. Searching with alternative spellings and likesounding words has not yielded any positive results.


by learning a whole slew of languages. Since he isnt stupid, he has language, like
Artaud does, in fact. So languages become his Substitution. By Substitution, you
should understand something that comes in to fill in the psychic hole that madness
represents that yawning gap, that anxiety, that suffering. Because those people
suffer terribly. A neurotics nothing next to that, and to be neurotic already isnt a
walk in the park.

Yes, a sort of constant disintegration of reality that has to be unbearable.

E.L.: Yes, yes. And so he gets over it, his madness, his anguish, his psychic
martyrdom, by learning languages, by using them, and by writing his
autobiography. So its also writing that comes and languages- that comes in to
substitute, and takes a place And I think that its something of that order that
Artaud seems to have wanted to do through theater and writing. Especially the
theater, no, you say, more so than writing.
He tried everything, really. And since he couldnt find it57, each time he would get

frustrated, and would change his medium. He tried cinema, the theater,
psychedelics58, yes poetry also a bit, even writing letters.

E.L.: There were no distractions, for him.

Yeah, he was really pretty straightforward. But I think that, unless Artaud was a bit
confused about what he was searching for, which he was, without a doubt But I


Salvation, presumably, or that nagging need for a revolution of all things.

A experimented with peyote at one point, true, presumably in the hope that it could be used for his
would-be life-altering performances, but the statement that he tried to use drugs as a medium in itself is
slightly misleading in the sense that he wasnt enthusiastic about the use and power of drugs in the
manner of, say, the Beats. For him it would have been a small part in a larger, painful salvation ritual
the myth of the poet-shaman being wholly appropriate when speaking of A not a matter of the sort of
hearty, bon-vivant mind expansion that pursues goals like a less repressed relationship to sexuality, the
exaltation of and wonder at life, the dissolution of the ego in favor of interior oneness, etc. (In the article
A la grande nuit, ou Le Bluff Surraliste, he would write: What separates me from the Surrealists is that they
love life as much as I despise it.)


think that his reconciliation with language is I have in mind, now, because we
were talking about psychotics and Substitution, the case of Mishima. I read a
psychoanalytic article about him, the jist of which was that he was a psychotic who
was able to bring in a substitution to prevent the disintegration of his reality first off
in his confessional, quasi-autobiographical writing, and then by using the sword to
commit seppuku. And that that, too, was a kind of Im not sure how one would say
this exactly a kind of passage through the name of the father, an entry into the
world of language. A kind of self-castration, if you want. But with Artaud, Im not
sure that its quite the same. Because at the end of an analysis well, the end, at a
certain moment, lets say the goal is to discover your signifiers, and through that,
to find your objet a. Isnt it? And then, to find some artistic expression

E.L.: Yes, well not necessarily artistic

Or some form of expression.

E.L.: Yes well, to make do with it. As Lacan says, to know how to make do with
ones symptom. Not to leave it, the symptom, but to know how to make do with

Yes. But to know it. To come into a completely different relationship with your

E.L.: Yes, by spotting the symptom, of course. Thats what changes everything. But
the idea comes to me that maybe people such as schizophrenics, who suffer from
dissociation, as they say, you know, all those words that are of necessity more or
less adapted to the reality of the people in question, if they arent normals, with
the reference points that are normal in a neurotic for example well, in most


everyone, someone whos more or less adapted to life, to what one must do, you
know, blablabla so, for the psychotic, or the schizo, it would be that those points
of normality would be exacerbated, so exacerbated that you cant fiddle with it.
That there isnt that much of a structural difference between a normal psyche and
an insane psyche, a psyche like As, say A, for example, since thats who were
talking about. Because that isnt the only kind of madness: A isnt a murderer, for
example. He doesnt have aggressive impulses to go shoot people, or to serially
rape women and chop them up into little bits, the way some do Non, thats not
his thing. His thing was very sublimated, from the start. It was that subjective
division between spirit and reality, between thought and reality. Thats what
youre saying.

Yes, I think thats it. 59

E.L.: But so when it comes down to it, that subjective division, we all have it, more
or less. But more or less. And in his case, its more, more, more. And its
unbearable. And its: what means to employ to make it more or less? Do you see
what I mean? Something like that.60

Thats his weakness and his strength, this relationship of his that as you said is
completely exacerbated


Although As emphasis on the crude later on in life somewhat mitigates the validity of this hypothesis
(in a world in which every day we eat vagina cooked in green sauce or the whipped and enraged
genitalia of new-borns [] this isnt an image, but a fact in Van Gogh Suicid de la Socit), as do
statements like the one he made to Benjamin Prel in one of their many walks beneath the elms in
Parisian parks, when he was old and toothless: Whenever I hear someone talking about a new poet, I
want to shoot him at point-blank range.
60 It strikes me that Artaud would not have been all that pleased with this more-or-less-nests. He was
more of an all or nothing sort of person, and the disappointment that is part and parcel of psychoanalysis
disappointment which it is the first to admit to would I think have seemed to him an acceptance of
mediocrity, a reconciliation with the dissatisfaction of mundane reality.


E.L.: Yes, of course, no but its to try to grasp something thats not so much in the
sense of such an abnormality, but rather in the sense of an exacerbated normality
when it comes to certain planes of subjective divisions. Thats not a bad idea, I

No its true, I think that thats the reason why ultimately people, even if one has
trouble reading him, that thats why people keep coming back to it, and find it
interesting, its because its normal, in the end, what he feels61, its that its not
something completely

E.L.: alien to everyone, yes. I have a feeling Im going to take a closer interest in A,

What Im wondering, in a way, is whether it would have been possible, if he had

been made to undergo, or accepted, or even sought out analytical treatment, if it
would have been possible for him to have the same vision? Can one have a
somewhat revolutionary vision, a vision that wants to exert a certain change, once
one has gone through treatment. Because, in a way, what you accept, when you
accept treatment, is a certain law, a certain logic of desire, and that all the rest of it
is nothing more than a kind of more or less, a kind of reconciliation, a means of
tolerating your symptom.


The idea that As condition is just the exacerbation of normal psychic concerns which I like is
not kosher in a lot of Artaud discussion, since many essays insist on hammering in the point as,
arguably, he did that his pain is radically alien and impossible for others to grasp, even when we think
we see points of empathy. As of 08/16/11, I remain undecided on the question. (Also, you could say that
Lagache is, again, not being a very dogmatic lacanian in this or maybe precisely is, in that she is
reading Lacan sort of the way that he reads Freud, i.e., self-servingly - , since if one takes as a starting
point that A was a psychotic, then one is saying that his psychic constitution, his structure, is radically
different from that of a normal neurotic subject. Whats more the sort of black hole/psychic void
that psychotics are supposed to be constantly struggling with and encountering a Real of sorts, I think
is completely inaccessible to neurotics, for whom reality is composed entirely of the Imaginary and the
Symbolic, and who rarely encounter the Real apart from in very rare instances that are usually terrifying
and duly repressed.


E.L.: Yes, but its an ongoing ordeal. It doesnt come to an end. Just because you
stop a treatment, it doesnt mean even if youve understood something, then you
can put an end to the psychoanalytic babbling on the couch, but you keep going.
Its not over. Youve got to stay on the cusp, on the razors edge. That work is
never ending. But the question that youre asking is in his case, if he had lent
himself to the psychoanalytic process?

Because in his case, what hes looking for is a culmination and a finality, thats
what he wants. And in the psychoanalytic logic, its true that there isnt any
finality. But would, had he accepted that kind of logic, that notion that Ive
discovered my object a and now Im going to spend the rest of my days trying to
live with it What I mean to say is that there is no redemption. And I think that
thats what hes after. Its spiritual.62


Do you read Benjamin at all?

E.L.: Redemption?

Bendjaman, Benyameen, I dont know how its pronounced in French Walter


E.L.: Oh yes, Benjamin, yes, yes.

So anyway theres this notion of his of Messianic Time. He says in the Illuminations
that messianic time which, I think, is what were searching for when we say that


A word that it seems strange to use in the context of A, given his overall allegiance to the world of the
body, in fact stronger and stronger insistence, over the course of his career, that there is nothing but the
body, that its not a matter of attaining some higher heaven but rather of bringing the spirit back down
where it belongs, inside the body. Rather the same way that he uses the word metaphysical to describe
the sort of theater hes interested in pursuing fully aware of the irony of the term, but lacking any
other. (In our present state of degeneration it is through the skin that metaphysics must be made to reenter our minds. (The Theater of Cruelty: First Manifesto))


we want to transform man, to transform the world, and that thats what the
modernists were searching for so hard and that, as you said, weve sort of stopped
looking for, today. A transformation thats important, and maybe also impossible.
And I- ,

E.L.: A psychoanalyst must not abandon that. A real one, a good one. Since thats
all that he can do for an other, after having done it for himself, is that. Is to aim for
that. But Im not saying that all psychoanalysts are in that mindset are in that
ethics, in short. A to each his own messianic time, to be found. His own messiah

Because what Benjamin thinks is that that time, you cant spend your life thinking
about it. Which I have to say sort of bothered me, you know. But that messianic
time is something that interrupts normal time. Its something that just sort of shows
up, that falls from sky. Its not something that we can search for and that we can
produce. Its something that really

E.L.: falls from the sky.

Thats it. And consequently that we need a different relationship to time, since we
cant produce it. So we cant ask for that immediate transformation. And I think
that psychoanalysis understands that, on the one hand, because it doesnt attempt
to exert an immediate transformation, on the contrary, it attempts to tolerate. But
at the same time, as a result, theres this search for change, but the change itself
isnt quite there.

E.L.: There are no promises. There is only risk.

I mean its a little pessimistic


E.L.: If you want. Its real. After all, the real is, which is Lacans big thing, what do
we know about it, what does it demand? Nothing. It doesnt need anything. It falls
from the sky, thats just it.

Is that what were looking to rediscover?

E.L.: An open position.

What do you mean by that?

E.L.: Not closed off by certainties. No certainties. Open, if possible, thats all. And,
deep down, detached from oneself. Detached narcissistically. A cause of desire,
thats it, to be in the cause of desire but the cause of desire is unconscious! An
open desire: there isnt any object that could take a place there and say: there,
thats it.

Yes, its always elusive.

E.L.: Yes. So its more a subject position thats modified. And for example, since
you were talking about demand, the demand directed towards the Other is
unending. Demand for an object, that appears in response to that quest. And
Benjamin, well, theres plenty to be pessimistic about, because if it falls out of the
sky just like that, um well, he killed himself.

[Laughs] Well thats yeah. Well, there might be other reasons for that, too.

E.L.: Mwell, thats just it, there arent any reasons. If he believes in reasons, then
hes inserting an object there, and pshht. Well, he wont get his messianic time. It
has yet to come, this messianic time. But thats quite beautiful, that is. Its very
beautiful. I dont know how Artaud died, he died, um


Opium overdose, I think.63 Unintentional. He was addicted to opium, in a pretty

weird way actually, I think that he started using it in the context of a treatment,
then at some point he stopped, then got hooked again, and just kept and kept
taking it but in any event, whether it was that or something else, I think that
things would have ended. He tried to create something, and didnt succeed, and
didnt succeed, and just kept not succeeding, and ultimately, his death was also a
kind of abandonment, I think.

E.L.: Which is unfortunate, because non-success isnt failure. So then there still
something that really isnt right going on with him. And A didnt undergo
analytical treatment, did he.

Non. They didNon, maybe he would have tried.

E.L.: He was handed over to the psychiatrists.

No yeah there was a bunch of electro-shock treatment

E.L.: [noises of annoyance and disgust]

Imposed or not, in fact, we dont really know. Stupid things, though. But thats also
an aspect of him that Im interested in, is that I think there was a search for
another kind of psychology a psychology that doesnt, as I think that Lacanian
psychoanalysis doesnt, reduce Man to an object. Because I think that one of the
solutions he tried to find for this disjunction between the two subjects, that we all
have, was to create that theater that transforms immediately, and that another one,


While A was addicted to opiates for most of his life, and his addiction probably contributed to the
deterioration of his health, the actual causes are uncertain. He had been diagnosed with intestinal cancer
two months prior to his death, and may have overdosed on chloral hydrate, a sedative/hypnotic.
Spending WWII in a food and space lacking asylum and then following that up with an electroshock
therapy that A described as incredibly painful and having caused massive memory loss probably didnt
help, either.


which he talks about in a quote: Im at a point where Im no longer in touch with

life, but nevertheless hold within me all of the appetites and the insistent titillation
of being. I only have one occupation left, remaking myself. So a kind of unending
reinvention of the self. And I think that, for the moderns, that sort of reinvention,
the act of multiplying one self into an infinity of selves, that that was also a
technique for trying to overcome that falsity of the subject. Of the irreconcilability
of the spirit and of the ego.

E.L.: Yes, of the I. Of the image in the mirror.

Yes exactly. Because there are other poets who tried to do that, who invented
personas, and it was another way of going about it. But psychoanalysis doesnt
really invite that multiplication of egos. Instead, it invites you to know your desire.
What remains multiplied isnt the self, its what youre searching for, its the chain

E.L.: Yes, to be within desire. To be within desire but always with that permanent
contradiction of not finding, of being deprived of the object. Thats castration,
thats the law. Its precisely not absolute jouissance desire and jouissance are two
different things. With desire, castration is key. You could almost say that
psychoanalysis is a process of learning castration, that neurosis is a permanent
avoidance of castration. Symptoms are there so one can have hidden, unconscious

But so then, the psychoanalytic process is a slow acceptance of castration.

E.L.: Yes, and a discovery of that unfortunate system, and with no end in sight.
Apart from the same malaise recreating itself. So might as well change positions


and be in lack or in desire, in short with a castration that is the law. Were not
all that, really. Is the conclusion we come to. But there are possibilities.

But in the end, you cant escape from castration. And I think that what hes
looking to do is to escape castration. To only be in the real.

E.L.: You cant escape from it, but, unconsciously, you avoid it all the time. I
wouldnt like for you to say to me youre an idiot, what youre saying is a load of
crap. That would be a castration, were you to say that to me - admit you were
thinking it. It would be horrible for this dialogue of ours. Non, were trying, both of
us, to grasp something that matters to us, to you and to me. And what matters to
us seems to me to be just that point, there, of common ground. Which deep down
is fairly messianic, since its the Other. Its some Other, some other in common.
Its not mine, its not yours, but its a human ambition, to share something. Despite
the fact that its impossible for one to be the Other. We are separate. We are

And then its not through language that were going to get that back.

E.L.: Mmh, language. Our great tool, our only tool. After all, why all these
speeches. Why do we talk to one another? It feels good doesnt it?

Yes, it allows one to

E.L.: I dont know if, for A, it felt good to talk to an other64. To a friend or I
dont know, its interesting with Rivire, because he got a castration from Rivire.
A terrible


I translate this awkwardly only to relate the possibly intentional ambiguity in Lagaches speech about
whether she is referring to others or to the Other. In this and in other semi-puns, linguistic twists (such as
the ones that her bit on common ground, above, is littered with, and that Ive attempted to convey), her
speech mannerisms very much bear the marks of Lacans forked tongue.


Yeah and but as a result he immediately becomes really abject

E.L.: But as a result they became friends. That correspondence, it must have
meant an enormous amount to Artaud.

Yes I think so. But in fact its pretty funny to read A in that correspondence,
because he writes desperate letters, asking for Rivires friendship, only to ignore
him for a year, and then he starts up again with you have every right to have
forgotten mes, its true, its been a year since Ive written its a relationship
thats sort of well maybe not amorous, but at least very dramatic.

E.L.: Yes, amorous, why not.

But I dont think he would have spoken much about things that werent directly
related to him, or to questions of his mind. He remains fairly self-centered.

E.L.: Yes, but then, that has an aim, a structural aim, thats what youre saying to
me, since the theater of crueltys goal is the transformation of an other through the
theater. Not through an immediate dialogue, but through a theatrical transmission,
and thus as if, not true, not real, that makes you see. That creates transcendence,

Yes, thats there to remind us of something. So he says theres this quote where he
says when I said cruelty, everyone thought that I was talking about blood, but
when I say cruelty it means being cruel above all for myself, a sort of dissection
and Im paraphrasing that dissects the spirit, and that we arent free, and that
the sky can always come down on our heads, and that theaters purpose is and
always has been first of all to remind us of that.


E.L.: Yes, so what could we say about that; we could hypothesize that the word
cruelty is a metaphor for castration.


E.L.: Because well in an analysis, analysts go in gently, but its cruel. Its not a piece
of cake. And what is ultimately revealed, or discovered in some small way by the
subject in analysis if everything is OK isnt youre fabulous, keep it up, no, it
isnt psychotherapy. Its very disappointing, very castrating. And all of Lacans
work comes to that end, you know. At the end of his work, there are even seminars
hes really at the end of the rope, in the 80s, a little before his death where he
says these scary things! The horror of the analytical gesture, the analyst is
horrified by his act, psychoanalysis is a sham


E.L.: these things that are very.

Because thats the part thats scary about psychoanalysis because you might say
that this project is also a matter of seeing where I stand regarding psychoanalysis
now that Ive had a chance to get a bit of a feel for it (although even now, not a ton
of one) and its that, even just hearing Lacan speaking, well I mean actually I
tried to listen to him once and I couldnt stand it, but even just reading him, its
well, its mean!

E.L.: Oh yes.

I mean hes not much fun. You get the impression of a person whos sitting there
making jabs at everyone around him, castrating everyone around him. And thats
why theres this tyrannical master aspect and you wonder if psychoanalysis isnt


just that, in some way, a master-slave relationship, kind of, or at least there is that

E.L.: Yes, there is that aspect. But the thing is is that, paradoxically, the roles are
interchangeable. Which is to say that the analyst is also the slave, and the
analysand, the master.

How so?

E.L.: In the transference. It remains the unconscious, you know the master and
the slave, Hegel, all thats pure consciousness. Its the ideal of consciousness as the
only modality of psychic functioning. Hegel doesnt hypothesize the unconscious.
And so what happens in an analysis at certain moments, not all the time, if it
were all the time that would be wonderful but is still some surprise, and some
good surprise. Surprise is always good.

Yes, those are the good moments, the rediscovery

E.L.: Yes, but its shared, here. Its a surprise for the analyst and for the analysand.
Thats how it works not so pessimistic, here. Its really good. But, I should say
that we constantly forget that we arent the subject of our unconscious. The subject
is the subject of the unconscious.65 There is no subject. Theres only, in language,
I. But there is no subject. That, to represent that to yourself, to never forget it,
and to always be in that position, is difficult. Very, very difficult. Its a lot more
restful, fun, distracting to let yourself go to the things weve always done since time
immemorial, chatting, forgetting all that stuff, the [strangled noises]. But thats a
good thing; youve got to live, you know. Theres nothing wrong with that. But

there isnt just that. At least if you have some notion that there isnt just that,



already, youre looking for something else. What I think is that were very early on,
actually, (I often say this to myself in an imaginary, sort of utopian way), nothing
has really changed all that much, since Homo Sapiens. And that theres a lot to be
done, a lot of potentialities that remain to be discovered. And, well, the traces left
behind by Lacan, then taken up again by others, the young who come, and who
live from something else, changing customs, globalization, mixes There are
plenty of things going on, on the planet, that make it so that things have to change.
And there is some possible. There is an enormous potential, in man. And
unexplored: I think weve stayed wallowing in technological self-satisfaction.

But all that gets very vague very quickly, you know, what are potentials

E.L.: Yes, but one can dare to dream. No but, it may get very vague very quickly,
but its not vague if well, if youre talking politics, for example, or political
economy. This crisis that our ears are being filled with, saying that its global, that
its everywhere. All those assassinations, nuclear powereverything you see all the
time. Europe, the West, DSK66 in the middle, I mean I dont know. All thats
extraordinary! Dont tell me that all of those things, on that global scale, if we
wanted to change them, we couldnt. The economy isnt immutable, capitalism
isnt immutable. That, for instance. But we dont want to! Thats where I think that
there is something possible, and profoundly optimistic, for man, its that there are
other solutions. Provided we have different desires. And that we be aware of a
desire thats ultimately fairly destructive, originally, in Man. Thats murderous.

I think that thats one of the basic problems of Marxism, well of most utopias in

fact, especially the utopias of the 20th century, that we not only forget desire that

Dominique Strauss-Khn, the French Socialist presidential hopeful of the late international ill-repute.


we put it aside but also that to live under communism, or under any restrictive
regime, is boring, for all of those who arent there to generate it. For the
revolutionaries themselves, its good, in the revolutionary instance itself. But what
happens afterwards? Thats the question.

E.L.: Yes, the examples arent all that engaging We dont really want to end up
back in the Soviet experience. But that doesnt mean that it isnt possible. In terms
of sociology, it is possible. Its a matter of desire. And of decisions. Maybe well be
pushed into it by force, to modify things. I say we humanity.

Yes. I mean, I have a hard time imagining a system flexible enough to take into
account the constant displacement of desire. Im not saying it seems impossible.
But one has trouble imagining it.

E.L.: Yes, but we have trouble imagining it because we arent in the slightest
inclined to abandon our established order and our material advantages. There are
only those who have nothing to lose who would be willing, potentially. The Horn
of Africa, hunger, well all that stuff. But at the same time that it not be all
compassionate, and that all every one is pretty, everyone is nice, that too. Catholic,
religious. But another system, I think it has to be possible. Maybe we would have
to restrain ourselves materially over a long period of time. To tighten our belts. I
saw a picture the other day of a man in the Horn of Africa, and hes literally
tightening his belt. Because when you tightened your belt in periods of famine, it
helped with the hunger, it pulled the stomach in close. Funny, huh?

[speculative laughter]


E.L.: No but its true that all that is utopian, but there are things to be done. For
one thing, over a mere hundred years, its incredible how much customs have
changed. You have to admit that prejudices have receded a little. Sexual identity,
choice, heterosexuality, homosexuality, all thats very recent. Its not at all
ingrained, but still its an enormous change in the West. Dont you think?

I dont know, I wasnt there. But I think that sexual categories are about scary.
Thats also something that encloses, the act of saying so and so is homosexual, so
and so is whatever. Because it means you are a homosexual, and nothing else.

E.L.: Yes, well its silly, because then youre also in a kind of categorization, like
psychiatric nosologies. Psychosis, neurosis, perversion phobia. Eh, its handy,
but it isnt true. But even so, it points to changes. After all, psychoanalysis has been
around a hundred years. A centurys not much three, four generations.

But its gotten a bit stagnant.

E.L.: Yes, its gotten perverted, stagnant.

And well in France, it still exists. But in the US, for example, psychoanalysis has
got like twenty years still, unless theres a resurrection. But for the time being, I
mean there are small pockets, but behaviorism and neuroscience have taken the

E.L.: Yes, but not for the good. Its determinism, its not desire.

Totally. Anyways, Artaud, Artaud While were talking a little about possibility:
one of the things that A tried to do with his theater, that is, he became very
interested in theaters such as the Balinese theater for example, to things that he
perceived as being more ritualized, more about repetition and metaphysics, and


that avoided language, or used language but in a different way, that passed more
directly through the body. So he really wanted to arrive at a language that was,
say, corporeal. Truth is to be transmitted not from mind to mind, but from body
to body. So that the truth comes from vibration, or from creative ways of using
language repetitively the effect of which resembles, I think, the surprise effect of the
analytical act. In a certain way. The phenomena of seeing, suddenly, something
truer. But what it tries to affect is kind of the letter of the body. The symptom that
is inscribed upon us, a repression that is expressed for instance in when one says
my back hurts, or something like that.

E.L.: Uh-huh.

And that thats. Because when we say utopia, I think that one of the things were
looking for is a certain simultaneity of minds. A somewhat nave narrative
coherence of everyone, of the community. That everyone would have the same
desire and the same goal and the same notion of a politics. And well maybe its a
little impossible, or a bit silly. But that that common ground can be recovered
through a bodily language. I mean I dont know where that leads, I dont really
have a question. Yes, I do, does

E.L.: Yes, it starts off with the idea that the truth of language is in the body. That
the effect of truth comes from there. Thats in common. No? That after that, the
rest, is the Imaginary, is false. If you add on too much after that. Thats what he
thinks. Like as in Charcots hysterics.

Oh yeah?

E.L.: I mean, hysterical language is in the body. Yes?


Speaking of hysterics. Sort of an unrelated question, but a tension in analytical

logic that sort of baffled me. Is there a difference between the position of the
psychotic, and the position of the woman? Because in the psychoanalytic logic,
they look a lot alike.

E.L.: Of the feminine? Rather than of the woman. Since femininity is just as much
in men as in women.

Yes, yes, I wasnt speaking biologically.

E.L.: Do the woman and the psychotic? No, I would say no. Because, well, there
are psychotic women, who are caught up in that same maelstrom. Psychoanalytic
logic, though, well Lacanian, ends up in a place where theres no such thing as The
Woman. Theres something not all, in woman. Not all of what? Not all of phallus.
Because the phallus, as a jargony psychoanalytic object, is precisely something that
is structuring on the level of language, and that doesnt exist, that doesnt ex-ist,
and thats both feminine and masculine. But its caught up in the language of
phallic logic, such as the theory develops it, starting with Freud and going in the
direction of Lacan. So the fact that something of that phallic logic evades the
feminine, Lacan tried to create formulas of sexuation, you know, yes, using
Aristotles formulas. And they show that theres something in the feminine that
escapes the phallic function.

Like in the psychotic.

E.L.: No, I wouldnt say that, actually.

Is it something else?


E.L.: Its not psychotic, its logical. Its structural. It like that, in language. It
escapes something that is caught up in the phallus, and that structures us all. Well
then theres that whole debate about whether Oedipus is universal or not, but what
does that matter. The phallus seems to be, in any case, in every society. Be they
matriarchal or patriarchal. It structures language, the way we organize ourselves
socially, and differentiate ourselves, and have identifications, identities So I
wouldnt say that the psychotic avoids that more than the others do. The psychotic
has an abnormality concerning what it is agreed upon to call being normal,
which is to say being socially functional, what makes it possible for us to be
understood. You arent crazy. You communicate the way youre supposed to. You
have reference points, you know that the woman who works the counter at the
bakery isnt in the same social class. Class stuff too, you know, things you use to
figure one another out, and to exchange words that are structured within this
phallic system. But its the same for the psychotic. Lacan put forth this notion that,
for the psychotic, there is a foreclosure of the Name67 of the Father.

And therefore of the phallic function, no?

E.L.: No, not of the phallic function, since he has speech. But a foreclosure of the
Name of the Father. Its not the same thing. Speech still functions, language still


One of Lacans more well-known puns, given its importance to the theory, is the play on the word
Nom (Name) and Non (No), so that Name of the Father implies both the inscription of the fathers
Name, or word-as-law, on the child, and the No, the prohibition from which that Name is indissociable.
Also, the whole distinction she makes in what follows between the phallic function as a mere structuring
linguistic field as distinct from the actual Law so that the place where the psychotic is stuck is a kind of
in-between wormhole, after language as an expressive tool, but prior to language as a prohibition and as
an entry into the social link, the resulting condition presumably having to do with the constant warping
of words and meaning, their inchoate, miasmic astructuration (or, in As own terms, that words rot.)
I seem to have previously overlooked, but now find highly convincing, and a crucial distinction, since it
emphasizes that the psychotic isnt purely and simply outside of language and in the real, but rather
perpetually caught in an impasse pulling him in both directions, and with no clear way out.


functions, but outside of the law. I mean that there is something, if the law is about
not wanting to reintegrate the mothers womb, or the mother to reintegrate her
offspring into the womb, and that the father is nothing but a generator, he doesnt
matter, theres no name of the father here, theres only this mother-child system,
where things get reintegrated, and thats incest, something of the name of the
father is foreclosed, which deep down is the symbolic, something that opens in the
mothers desire where the fathers place is, of where the fathers speech is, that
gives the child a third term, and that allows the child to incorporate negative
speech, the fathers prohibition to touch the mother, both for the mother to
reintegrate her offspring and for the offspring, the child, to reintegrate its mother.
Thats the law, roughly speaking: the prohibition against incest.

Yes, well its the basis.

E.L.: But a foreclosure of the name of the father doesnt imply that speech doesnt
exist. The signifier, language, is grafted onto the child by the mother. Its her who
says to him youre hot, youre cold, youre hungry, eat, go to bed, who
brings the infant up. The childs place in the mothers desire is the first formative
step of language. He acquires speech.

Yes, because speech isnt just the law, it isnt just the prohibition.

E.L.: And so then, this Oedipus business which precisely consists in prohibiting the
mother from reintegrating her offspring or for the child to do the inverse be it a
boy or a girl -, thats the name of the father, who isnt necessarily a real father so
much as the desire of the mother concerning an elsewhere that isnt incest, that
isnt this symbiotic and dyadic relationship, that excludes any reality other than
itself, particularly any spiritual one. Above all any spiritual one. Which is to say


that non-reintegration is what allows symbolization. What is symbolization? Its the

act of writing things down that dont exist, with letters. Mathematics dont exist
a+b=b2, or whatever. Its spiritual. We think, we invent, we search, we find and
we desire. We desire, which is to say that there is this prohibitive aspect that means
that jouissance has to be abandoned via a castration that involves something
around this prohibition against incest, and that one has to seek within ones desire,
and to fulfill ones duty as a human, by inventing objects of desire at every turn. By
making them exist if possible, or not. By writing them down, in short. Its all text,
you know. Even if looks like cleaning, or cooking


E.L.: So I dont think that the psychotic is absent from this phallic business, but
rather that Lacan says something fairly telling about lack, about the lack of lack.
Its important that lack not lack. You have to lack, you know, to desire is to lack.
But if you lack lack, if there isnt any lack, then you lack lack!68 That what
foreclosure is. So that if we keep running up against something that is inhuman, we
cant understand one another. Or were forced to invent a language, as in like for
instance theres the Schreber case, in Freud and then later on in Lacan. The
President Schreber case, where this son of a legislator, of a judge, an orthopedagogue, who had invented in Germany this whole extremely repressive system,
and that subsequently blossomed all over Germany and in Europe too, it spread,
and they put tethers on infants so they wouldnt touch themselves, and then they


Interviewer here feels torn btw what seems like potentially wise semi-cleverness and an implosion, with
Deleuze, by tautology of his brain (given Deleuzes criticism of psychoanalysis as just another
manifestation of the Western philosophical tradition whereby mankind is defined by its lack, rather than
positively, e..g., by a surplus and multiplication of wants that arent contingent upon the notion that they
are triggered by the fact that something is missing)


had them walk around in straitjackets, and then there were these gymnastics,
stupefying, horrible things. Precisely to prevent the body from And so our
Schreber is the son of this man, and then he gets married, and he cant have kids
with his wife, and hes a judge. And when he is name supreme judge of some court,
he suddenly finds himself in this extreme psychosis, in which he becomes a woman.
Woman desired by god. And hes flooded with divine beams and he comes and
and And so he writes down his delirium. He writes it and publishes it out of
pocket at the end of ten years in a psychiatric clinic. And so this work, which is
very well written, detailed detailed detailed, shows the unfurling of this delirium
and the phases of psychic decomposition of this man. And this is the case where
Freud said that delirium is an attempt at the restitution of reality, which is to say
that deliriums function, for the psychotic, is to reinstate a livable reality.
Otherwise there isnt any. Otherwise, theres just the abyss, the fragmented body,
relapses, terrible anguish. So Freud commented this work, because he never
actually met Schreber, but going off of these writings on psychosis he performs an
analysis of Schreber that Lacan takes up again, in the seminar on the psychosis.
Why was I talking about this? Because of Artaud?

You were answering a question regarding The Woman. But as a result, here

E.L.: Yes, about the woman, because there is in this delirium a feminization that is
extraordinary.69 A feminization or well I mean a discovery of this mans femininity,
of the desire to be a woman, and to be the wife of the father, of god. But hes
trying to make something understood that isnt devoid of sense, in the innermost


Which suggests that the Psychotic and the Woman are at least somehow linked in psychoanalytic logic,
if in an unclear way.


depths of our human structure. That thing, deep down, is a sexual

indetermination, lets say primordial, without culture, without civilization.
Structuring happens only at the price of prohibition. It involves accepting a kind of
prejudice. Oedipus, heterosexuality, everything that comes along with the biological,
sexual difference, etc., is nothing but a social and arbitrary fantasy of normality. So
when, deep down, A says I remake myself, its also a about that, about remaking
that identity. And its impossible. Its on the level of impossibility. You have to
accept, in the end, an original arbitrariness, in order to function. Even if it means
hypothesizing that its arbitrary, for instance. I mean there are people who think
that everythings fine as it is, you know, if melons are lines the way they are, its so
we can cut them up and eat them as a family.

But, maybe its Well, to come back to the theory that A is a bit of a pervert, I
think that its in the act of because you can also have some sort of, if youre
supposing its arbitrary, that structuring is only a means to create a normality, then
I think it [his perversion] would be out of a sort of hatred of the arbitrary, of that,
that it remains a desire to reveal the absurdity of it. And I think that, in a sense,
thats what hes looking to do.

E.L.: Yes.

Which is to say that this whole linguistic and psychical organization that is the law
is fairly absurd.

E.L.: Yes, but thats the way it is, there you go, thats the way things are. You have
to accept the thats the way it is.

But its weird, because you accept in order to negate it later on.


E.L.: Mh. Yes

But you have to have accepted it.

E.L.: What youre saying there is true, very true. Yes because in fact, there are
three fathers for Lacan, you know, there is the symbolic father, the imaginary
father, and the real father. And theres a formula, very much torn out of context
here, but oh well who cares, where he says: One can do without the father,
provided one uses him.70 Which is exactly what you just said.

Yes, its necessary, for one reason or another, to pass through it. And heres where
you come to this logic of desire that is completely well, baffling! [in English in

E.L.: That is narrow, yes.

Yes which doesnt leave much room for

E.L.: Yes theres not much room for playing around.

Well I mean the problem with that is justifying it [to oneself], too

E.L.: Theres not much room for playing around, but theres still Beyond. Theres
beyond Oedipus, for Lacan. Not for Freud. One can do without the father
provided one uses him is a way out. You get out of Oedipus. You get out of
familialism. Its not a fatality, thats not true.

Yeah. But its a step.


A quote I was unfamiliar with. Possibly paraphrasing: The hypothesis of the unconscious, as Freud
emphasizes, holds only if one supposes the Name-of-the-Father. To suppose the Name-of-the-Father is,
indeed, God. It is in this that psychoanalysis, in succeeding, proves that one can just as well do without
the Name-of-the-Father. One can just as well do without it, provided one makes use of it. (
Lhypothse de linconscient, Freud le souligne, ne peut tenir qu supposer le Nom-du-Pre. Supposer
le Nom-du-Pre, certes, cest Dieu. Cest en cela que la psychanalyse, de russir, prouve que le Nom-duPre, on peut aussi bien sen passer. On peut aussi bien sen passer condition de sen servir. -J. Lacan
avril 1976. Sminaire XXIII, Le sinthome)


E.L.: Yeah youre not born of Jupiters thigh, you never are. There are always

But maybe thats, well, maybe thats what A was going for, [incomprehensible]

E.L.: Well but then I dont know anything about who, his parents, etc, whether he
had brothers and sisters, or whatever.

Yeah, I need to look into that a bit further. But even just in the way he expressed
himself in relation to other people, theres a refusal to accept reality standards, to
make a gesture towards the accepted common ground, and thats in a way a way
of skirting around Oedipus. And in Lacanian logic, thats impossible. And then
apparently it is in his as well, since he killed himself. I mean, he didnt kill himself,
but you know71

E.L.: No but, either you talk a lot of bullshit, or youre crazy, or youre not stupid,
but you have to accept narrow limits. But even still, you can invent things. Its not
all that closed off. There are ways out. After all, there are talented people who find
them. Either in their life, or their work, or their job



Not to lump him together with the Pantheon of death-at-27ers, the Morrisons, Joplins, and Cobains
of this world (an altar to the deified ranks of which Amy Winehouse recently added herself, apparently, a
clever if somewhat suspect shortcut to immortality, what Im sure were very real death-wishes
notwithstanding). Artaud died in his late 40s, and does not seem the kill-yourself-out-of-despair type so
much as the beat-your-mind-into-the-ground-and-then-enlist-some-doctors-to-help-you-with-theprocess-in-case-you-relent type. And if he did in fact abandon life, not merely succumb to exhaustion, it
would not have been because of an inability to deal with an overwhelming success which is part and
parcel of the myth (as in Barthesian myth) of the 27-poets so much as out of frustration with a lack
thereof. (Although the last few years of his life A began to enjoy a fair amount of support from
intellectuals, and was, during and after the years at Rodez (43 onward), following a long dry spell,
writing constantly, the production of his last and arguably most successful & influential play in terms of
audience, Pour en finir avec le Jugement de Dieu (To have Done with the Judgment of God) was censored at the last
minute, right before its first broadcast (its a radio play), and shortly before As death. It took thirty years
for the ban on it to be lifted in France.)


E.L.: And Lacan spent a lot of time working on this business of the father, because
with Freud, things arent very open-ended where the fathers concerned. There is
only the father, for Freud, who can save man. But there isnt any way out of the
Oedipus complex. Especially for women. She marries her father, under one guise
or another, he marries his mother, under one guise or another. Whereas so for
Lacan, theres this notion of the father of the father, and then of the name of the
father, no more/more name of the father naming, its naming thats important.
And then later on he goes even further, since he talks about names of the father. He
pluralizes it. Which is to say that there is no notion of a father, but that beneath
that signifier, theres a whole slew of objects that can represent it, and that may or
may not have anything to do with a father. Maybe like, I dont know, writing,
maybe, for Joyce.

But so then what he says about Joyce, is, as a result, is that writing is some kind

E.L.: Substitute.

But then is it also a castration?

E.L.: I wouldnt quite say in Joyce, theres no castration, you know. Because he
didnt do anything else. Writing was his sole activity. His work. Thats it. And
Daedalus and Ulysses and

Yes, so youre saying that its larger than that.

E.L.: And in such a state of poverty and lack of success he succeeds in the eyes of
some, I mean, with like Ulysses, by publishing it, but he doesnt profit much from it
in his life. He always lived on the sly, and he didnt have two pennies to rub


together Yeah. So it isnt a sinecure, for those poor people. Joyce, Beckett
Beckett had a terrible life, too. I mean he achieved celebrity, Beckett, and was
successful. But as for his personal life, like I think that he was very alcoholic.

Do you know who Andre the giant is? Hes like this actor, um well, a giant of
sorts, hes like more than seven feet tall, and pretty hairy, and hes a celebrity of
sorts. And anyways he grew up in this French hamlet, and apparently he got
driven to school everyday by Beckett. And Beckett was always drunk, and all he
talked about was cricket. Anyway sort of a weird anecdote I saw recently72

E.L.: Yeah. So anyway, what are you going to do?

What do you mean?

E.L.: Well, now.

Oh, you know [sustained exhalation]

E.L.: Is this stuff suggesting things to you?

Oh yes. When I got here I had in mind putting Lacanian logic under the scrutiny
of As thinking, but now Im not sure whether thats possible. Itll probably end up
going the other way, which, why not. I dont know what the purpose of the project
is. I mean, what matters to me is especially this question of transformation. I think
that there is this desire for utopia with A, with L, with plenty of people. And I think
that theres this extremely dangerous side to that. Like for instance, I think it has

led to follies, that fascism is in some way an outcome of that sort of thing. It implies

A fairly pointless fact, except if youre enthusiastic about films like the Princess Bride, which it seems
extremely unlikely that she would ever even have heard of it, and in fact going back I realized that the
status of my anecdote as a means of backing up her statement about Becketts being a drunk is null b/c
alcohol isnt even mentioned by Andr. Still, the influence of alcoholism on Beckett, whether anecdotally
true of him or not, is marked, as in Krapps Last Tape, for instance. (if anyone argues successfully that
statements from it like spooooooooooooooooooool! Youve got to savor the word. Spooooooooooooool
arent at least influenced by drunken raving, Ill eat my hat). Oh and since sources are sources: .


taking Nietzsches notion that man is a bridge to overcome, or whatever, and that
by doing that

E.L.: The Antichrist?

Yeah. No. I think its from Zarathustra.

E.L.: In?

Zarathustra. Man is a bridge that must be crossed.73 But so that the moderns, in
fact, are sort trying to produce the bermensch, and that we and, I dont know,
when I say we, I mean what comes out of the second world war, or something
like that that were more cynical about it. Which is true. There isnt that same
energy that there was at the beginning of the Twentieth century, and that comes
through in the writing of the period. Were stuck in a rut. And what I want to say is
that, this rut I mean, this starts sounding grandiose all of a sudden, I know, but
that we need to change our relationship to time. If, in fact, we cannot reduce
messianic time, then we need to find a way Because there are these moments of
overcoming ones self. In some creative instances, e.g. Im not all that familiar with
Joyces work, but sort of in a similar vein, Proust, with his work, encompasses the


Actually, although Nietzsche has Zarathustra say several things around the theme of the bridge and
the bermensch, what I was thinking of sounds, in recent translations, more like: It was there too that I
picked up the word over man along the way, and that the human is something that must be overcome,
that human being is a bridge and not an end; (Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, p.158.
Trans. Adrian del Caro. Cambridge University Press, 2006) Also an interesting or odd side-note to this is
that in the Nietzsches prologue Zarathustra is first given the opportunity to speak when he comes down
from the mountain and sees a crowd of people amassed in front of a tight-rope, and so when he speaks up
they just assume hes there to introduce the tight-rope walker! Re, and Alicia Im speaking specifically to
you here, the question that I half-remember you making me ask the professor who gave the Shockett
lecture in the spring about Philip Petit who for some reason everyone seems to be talking about now,
Petit that is not the professor and the sort of potentially masculinist/fascistic aspect that Monique
Roelofs also brought up before more publicly in Petits devotion to his stunt, his use of his friends
exclusively to propel him towards this goal, etc., but that this tendency was also mitigated by the playful,
circus-like quality to his act, which parodied both the futility of doing useful things (as opposed to
walking on thin air for the sheer rush or poetry or whatever) and the seriousness of his process of
sublimation (speaking Freudian here, as in the repression of sexual instincts in favor of a higher pursuit
which then becomes the outlet for said instincts).


universes, makes something that becomes way bigger than life, thats a sort of
surpassing of oneself, and which is something that happens, but that only happens
in moments. And so I think that, among other things, one of the good things about
the fact that weve done a bit of re-thinking where sexual categories are concerned,
is that, I dont know if youre familiar with Queer Theory, but in Queer Theory
for example, like theres this article of Halberstams, In a Queer Time and Place

E.L.: Of whose?


E.L.: Butler?

Halberstam. Judith Halberstam. I think that Butler says some similar things,
though. But which roughly states that I dont remember exactly but that
because of their marginalization, the relationship of Queers to time is completely
different. Which is to say that time doesnt exist in the same way for them, and that
as a result, there isnt that same search for which I think is a fairly masculinist
one messianic time, the same attempt to produce messianic time.74 There isnt


An admittedly self-serving and not very explanatory description of Halberstams book, whos
argument, roughly, is that one of the results of marginal queer life with its different kinship
structures (friendships, drag houses, etc.), is the creation of a liminal and potentially liminoid
temporality which has the potential, among other things, to subvert the sort of heteronormative
uses and notions of time that I want to call verging on the fascistic.
Also the comparison w/ A isnt completely out of nowhere where A is concerned because
Halberstams conception of queer space-time is rife with uncanny parallels to As theater of
cruelty e.g., a quote of Thomas Gunns that she uses early on in Queer Temporalities and
Postmodern Geographies is My thoughts are crowded with death / and it draws so oddly on
the sexual / that I am confused / confused to be attracted / by, in effect, my own annihilation.
This is exactly the sort of thing Artaud is going for when, e.g., he describes the seemingly
senseless, criminal actions of those stuck in quarantined b/c plague-ridden cities of medieval
Europe as instances of real (i.e. cruel) theater.
Also also I find that while this is an interesting line of thinking in terms of re-imagining a theater
of cruelty for the 21st century, I am also forced to admit that as a result I find myself in a rut b/c


queer time imposed, exclusive only because excluded, time is also an instance of hell on
earth, the hell of exclusion and of the inability to give meaning to a life that is on the limits of
linguistic coherence, i.e., the hell of psychosis. (There are certain older and rather more obscure
Christian/gnostic conceptions of hell whereby it is not so much a physical place as something
that is literally carried around by certain people and that they bring it upon the places they turn
up in, e.g. John Miltons Satan in Paradise Lost Which way I fly is hell, Myself am Hell -, a
belief that lived on, or in any case was oddly revived, by the French poet-as-visionary/savior
tradition, e.g. Arthur Rimbaud lamenting in a Season in Hell that I believe I am in Hell,
therefore I am. This statement makes sense in terms of Rimbaud only because his insistence
on hallucinatory ventures into the Unknown via a long, immense, and reasoned derailment
of all the senses were to at least in the narrative he constructed in the Season overwhelm
him and, I would argue, make it so that at times he was actually, as the title suggests, actually in
hell, and stuck there. He was accessing words that invoke rather than evoke. This history is not
irrelevant in terms of Artaud because he is often considered the primary surrealist successor to
Rimbaud, the next Horrible Worker in line to push in the directions that Rimbaud laid out
and predicted would come in his wake - horrible workers being Rs phrase.) Queer times
hellishness being an issue for me because what I am talking about, of course, is finding paradiseon-earth (messianic time, and yet not messianic time one that emerges thru the body complete
w/ taints and all, rather than through an impossible & solipsistic escape into the spiritual world),
as in the paradise that Milton suggests is possible to bring about in moments such as the humble
one in which he has Adam and Eve exit with Michael the archangel not so much in hot pursuit
as gently but firmly pushing them out, Imparadised in one anothers arms. The paradise
which, if attempted all in one go as As theater would produces the gnarly thing commonly
referred to as fascism: the salvation in a single, purifying instance of one group (e.g. the Aryan
race), which salvation is absolutely contingent on the extermination of another (e.g. Jews). (The
absoluteness being justified on the basis that e.g. again with Milton, his paradise is walled and
the outer walls are lined with nothing but brambles and thorns, like a snow globe thats cute on
the inside but lined with poisonous toothpicks on the outside, which are invisible from the
inside, or also Gods heaven, ethereal land of light though it may be is nevertheless laid on
unavoidably material foundations, which is basically like Pullmans point in his His Dark
Materials re-write of PL, that angels need humans, that they envy them their sexuality (his angels
are sexless) and arent much, finally, without mankind; I think this is also a kind of variation on
the Frankfurt Schools point that WWII was sort of a necessary outcome, the ugly historical
underbelly, of the hyper-rationalizing discourse of the Enlightenment.) But so the point is that
Im taking as a given that paradise, messianic time, is forever lost to us, and that if it shows up, it
will only do so unpredictably. It interrupts time. And that either the moments of achievable
paradise-on-earth are by nature different from the paradise which is, hem hem, always already
lost, or that they have to be produced via more circuitous routes Deleuzian becomings as
opposed to Badiousian (sp?) Events -, Im not sure which yet. So if metaphorical fascism/the
fantasy of immediate transformation is like an attempt to squish together paradises charming
inside with its not-so-charming outside, and that then something like Queer Time is more like a
way around the conventional humdrum of familial mediocrity w/ its present no-time and
always yet to come time of salvation, and also something that makes perpetual becomings
possible at least opening the gates and letting one peak at a way for a constellation of
systematic but non-immediate instances of paradise on earth to begin to take shape -, but that
that temporality is also forever at risk of suddenly invoking hell and potentially getting stuck
there, in a way that normal time isnt (heteronormative time (is that really what it should be
called??) while it can pass through hell (and I dont mean to argue that Hell is esp. confined to
queers and crazies, but rather that they are esp. privvy to a certain kind of void) it may pass
through hell but it has access to a life-line provided by the dominant social body and so less of a
chance of getting stuck there, that is, it doesnt get stuck in the same way that queerness or
psychosis do in the ruts that they inevitably? - dig for themselves). Queer time certainly isnt
paradise, but maybe it can, if much more slowly and deliberately than the way that it stumbles
into hell, invoke instances of messianic time? Do I sound crazy yet?


that quest. Or its there, but theres an acceptance of the fact that it occurs only in
moments. Which is also a kind of way of tolerating ones desire to be forwardlooking, but at the same time, not putting all your eggs in one basket, not throwing
yourself off a cliff, in short. Because I think that the danger in that is that you end
up in fascist Utopias. I mean maybe thats a bit of an oxymoron, but that you end
up creating systems of that sort. I mean

E.L.: Totalitarian, yes.


E.L.: Pense Unique.75

Yeah exactly. And so, what I want to do is, - and Ill admit that I dont know how
to go about it but is to queer Artaud.76 Is to take A, whos thought is regardless I


(Just in case I dont, I also want to somehow tie this in to notions of becoming woman, in
connection with the idea, which I buy, that a kind of historically feminine-identified form of
solipsism is unhealthy or something - , and which involves a kind of narcissism, like Eves
all nature wakes to see her walk, and mysticism, like Lacans take on Berninis St-Theresas
face as evidence that shes spiritually coming by being touched by the rays of God, and the
Schreber touched by the rays of God business and its connection in general to psychosis and
femininity, and to what I want to call the surreal essence of thought (evidenced e.g. by the word
and in the context of Paradise lost, which does things like, in the description, separate crystal
from amaranth like a throne of crystal and amaranth when in fact in any conception of
heaven they are inseparable, it is a matter of crystalamaranth) this b/c that surreality is almost
too embarrassing to utter, confined to mere conceptualization, i.e., something outside of
language, and which, finally, this solipsism, is ultimately kind of the opposite of the entranceinto-pantheon sort of masculine idea of art as Sublimation, which requires you to begin
expressing yourself on a given common ground in order to even be considered (Im thinking of
the art of Leni Riefenstahl, for example, in which the weaknesses of the body are overcome
through identification with a central, masculine authority) quite the opposite, then, from the
place that psychotic expression comes out of.)
75 French left-leaning political buzzword, actually used to describe, though probably in reference to the
fascist doctrine of a single party, the tendency of post-cold war right-wing European politicos to use the
Thatcherian line of argumentation that There is no alternative (i.e. to neo-liberalism). (from Ignacio
Ramonet, La Pense Unique in Le Monde Diplomatique, January 1995. )
76 I was talking to a friend the other day who told me about another Division III project which, in a
similar vein, had ended on the note that the process of queering is central to promoting a less oppressive,
more legitimating understanding of mental illness, psychosis in particular. The connection between
insanity psychosis in particular and queerness is odd, and I think exceeds the obvious business of
homosexualitys historical classification as a mental disease, or even the fact that they are connected in
that there is a more constitutive ambivalence to their marginalization and/or legitimation in that there


think completely fascinating, and whos desires [in their expression] are very real,
and to change his relationship to time. To make him more or not make him,
himself, but to conceive of a work that would

E.L.: Allow that to be glimpsed.

Thats it, exactly. Something like that.

E.L.: How fascinating.

Yyyeah, but I dont know [laughs]

E.L.: Im really really interested in the idea of time. Because thats an aspect of
analysis, as well. The function of haste is something that Lacan talks about a lot.
And I think that it will cease. Ought to cease. Haste, the press. You know, we live
in a society where its present all the time, this time symptom. Stress. People are
always talking about it.

I mean thats capitalism, the need to

E.L.: Yes, no, but its a certain temporality, precisely, that is well, fascistic.
Super-egoical. Thats there, nudging you in the ass all the time

To keep you in an illusory world, which is the goal, I think. To make at so that you
dont think about anything else, that you no longer think about the beyond,,
because all you think about is the satisfaction of objects, I mean of the desire for
objects that are almost matterless.77 We dont allow ourselves enough time for

are ultimately no clear, in-built external markers (as opposed to say race or gender or physical handicap).
What, e.g., apart from the obvious, is the connection, if any, (and am admittedly reading life into the
work here) between say Foucaults or Deleuze & Guattaris sexuality, and the amount of time that they
devoted to mental illness? [ed: I actually went back later and expanded endnote XXXI, which I think
begins to formulate an answer to this question via the parallels in the way that the queer and the
psychotic experience the effects of a marginalization that is largely confined to areas of experience that
are on the edge if not completely outside of the sayable.]
77 By which I presumably meant that one experiences objects of satisfaction so quickly, only to
immediately move on to another one, that they dont have the time to develop any kind of consistency,


things to grow, and to in a way give oneself the impression that these would even
be legitimate objects, I mean that would even be worth desiring, in short.

E.L.: Mmh.

But I didnt know he [L] talked about time.

E.L.: Oh yes yes yes. Yes, he talks about it a lot, in fact.

Well I mean I know he talks about it

E.L.: For instance logical time. Theres this whole thing about logical time. The
instance of seeing, the time to understand, the moment of concluding. Theres an
enormous seminar about that.

Is that where he justifies interrupting the session? Or is that not it.

E.L.: Non. I dont know, I cant collect my thoughts on temporality in Lacan, but
he talks about it. The function of haste, logical time Analytic technique, he
changed the duration of the session, for example.

Yes, thats it.

E.L.: Unconscious time doesnt happen on a forty-five minute schedule, watch in

hand, like orthodox Freudians. Thats not how the unconscious works. And then, it
was assumed he meant shorter sessions. But he never said anything about shorter
sessions. He talked about sessions of variable duration.

No yeah, people just assumed he meant shorter sessions because they thought he
wanted to rip people off

E.L.: But well um, anyways, about temporality, there is no time, in the
unconscious. Or in the hypothesis one can make about what the unconscious is.

any kind of seductive appeal, so that theyre presence in the world and the degree to which they can
provide any kind of long-term, in depth pleasure, is almost spectral (matterless).


Yes, since the unconscious can inhabit any place in time.

E.L.: Well yeah, things just click. All of a sudden, I mean it just sort of manifests
itself: slips, actes manqus But conscious temporality, social temporality, is very
fascistic, very totalitarian, when you think about it. Its ultra-regulated.

Yes like those clocks that measure down to a thousandth of a second and all that

E.L.: No but I mean you have to get up, there are alarms, a time for work, a time
to eat, a time for breaks, a time for sleep, a time for fun, a time for vacationing,
well etc.

No yeah and then there are all those little linguistic tics. One wastes ones time,
what does it mean to waste time?

E.L.: Yes, You know, youre wasting your time!

Because theres only so much time, I mean its true in a way but

E.L.: You have to invest your time, invest it in something useful.

That too, what does that even mean

E.L.: Yes, well, there are contradictions all the time, thats what the unconscious is
there for, it makes sure youre aware of them. And you know time has changed
drastically, with internet, with ultra-fast modes of transportation I saw this plane
that theyre going to build, with which it would take all of an hour and a half to get
from Paris to New York.

Um, but, the supersonic didnt work

E.L.: Not but so then you would fly a lot higher, something like thirty kilometers
[+/- 19 miles] above ground, where you get carried along faster, or something,
and its more direct. Less curved, probably.


Yeah, you cut through the axis, or something78

E.L.: So but even with all those gadgets, its never enough, you know, youve got to
keep improving performance, and time.

Yes no but its sort of pointless79

E.L: Theres also life expectancy, you know. The greatest progress is the
lengthening of men and womens life expectancy. Its horrible, that is. If find it
terrifying. Theres just nothing behind it, its all biology and technology. No thought
given to human life. None.

Well especially because we prolong

E.L.: And towards what end? What do you have to do so much that you need to
live to be a hundred to achieve

Well yes and in order to become a zombie, too, you absolutely have to stay alive,
at all costs, like a vegetable

E.L.: Oh yeah, then theres that whole business of death. Do you have any
cigarette filters?

[Here the conversation dwindles and turns to small talk.]


Actually in French I was being sort of crude, using an expression that is common enough (rather like
con, which Ive translated here as either idiotic, or stupid, but which is actually considerably stronger,
and used in every day speech by I think most people not uncommon at a lecture, for instance) and
translates more into splitting hairs than anything else, an since I wasnt about to uses Googles literal
rendering of fly ass pounding


Appendix II
An Interview with Prosper Hillairet

Prosper Hillairet, interviewed on 08/31/11, is a historian and critic of the Avant-Gardes of

the 20s and 70s, specialized in Cinema, a professor at the University of Paris VII, and a film
maker/producer in his own right. Although he denies it, he is as close to an expert on Artaud as one can
be without devoting ones life to his work. He has worked on Artaud in the context of investigating the
history of what is often considered the first Surrealist film, The Seashell and the Clergyman,
which was directed by Germaine Dulac, but that Artaud wrote the script for and called his film,
claiming Dulac had betrayed him and his text. In the context of a film series on Avant-Garde
authors, Hillairet also conceived and produced a film, Antonin Artaud at Ville-vrard, exploring
the time that Artaud spent, while outside WWII bubbled up and exploded, in a mass-incarceration
asylum outside of Paris, after the clinical psychologists (both psychiatric and psychoanalytic) at SaintAnne had all but given up on treating him. He teaches Avant-Garde cinema at the Universit de SaintDenis. (Certain names have been changed in order to protect those involved)

Prosper Hillairet: So theres this guy Romieux who was a nurse and a doctor at
Ville-vrard, and who wrote a history of Ville-vrard, about Artauds stay there.80


Ville-Evrard is the first of two asylums that Artaud spent any extended period of time in, from 1939 to
1943. The other is the more infamous Rodez, later on, where he would receive electro-shock therapy
and produce writing almost constantly. By contrast and for whatever reasons, as this interview makes
clear, Ville-Evrard was a dry period in which his primary production were letters, many of them spells
(written in like blood and ink spatterings and whatnot) sent to either bless or curse the receiver. Artaud
declared himself dead upon entering Ville-Evrard (Antonin Artaud est mort.) he meant the author
a declaration that was mimicked in the decision of his previous clinic, Saint-Anne, Frances foremost
mental institution (and potentially, as a result, Jacques Lacan, Saint-Annes then chef-de-service), to send
him there: patients transferred to Ville-Evrard were reputedly those that Saint-Annes doctors had given
up on, and were usually being sentenced to essentially rot away in its impoverished conditions. The
much-quoted, relevant anecdote about Lacan is from As friend Roger Blin, who at the close of a visit to


And so we had these two old men wander around the whole of the site, and tell
different episodes of Artauds life there during that period. And what was especially
good was that we were the first to be able to well, not go in, because there were
some photographers who photographed at one point what used to be referred to as
the agitated patients building, which we talk about at one point, which was
where they put the most lets say untenable patients, in these quasi-carceral living
conditions. And this building is the last one that remains intact from that period,
all of the other ones have been renovated so as to be recycled for the hospitals use,
and this one is at the very end of the structure, and so they havent touched it
since. And so were the first ones to have obtained permission to film in the large
room upstairs, I mean most of the rest of the building we werent really allowed to,
they gave us permission only with a lot of precaution, and so we couldnt film
everything, there were things we werent supposed to film.

Oh yeah?

P.H.: Yeah, well because of the communications manager, for a stupid reason
really, well two stupid reasons. The first is that the buildings are falling into decay,
of course, which is normal since there havent been any renovations, and he was

Saint-Anne was by his own report told by a young Lacan talking about Artaud: hes fixated, he will live
to be 80 years old, he will never write another line, hes fixated. This prediction might have proved
accurate had A not been brought into the care of Ferdire at Rodez, given the records we have of his.
Oddly enough this has been used to legitimize Lacan, although it is also anecdotally reported that
Artaud was in fact writing at Ville-Evrard but that, nutcase he was assumed to be, his writings were
either rolled into cigarettes by his inmates or swept up by the cleaning service and thrown out. In any
case, while the fact that but for Ferdire, Artaud might not have ever written again, has been give
credibility to Lacans prediction, it could equally be used against him & psychoanalytic treatment, given
that his statement and As subsequent transfer suggest that while he gave up on A both as a writer and as
a patient, the person who saw that what A needed was to have a pen put back in his hand was also the
psychiatrist sticking the electrodes on him, even though the finding a form of expression strategy is one
that goes right along with Lacans notion of the sinthome as a way out of psychosis, as developed in his
work on Joyce.


afraid that it was going to taint the image of Ville-vrard, that people would think
that Ville-vrard was just that

Ohh ok -

P.H.: And especially because, how to say it, hes really there to sell his Hospital and
Psychiatry today: open, urban, stay-at-home psychiatry, without walls, without
medication, etc. And he was very scared that were going to give a sort of carceral
image of the place. And he even lied, actually. Because he would say as we were
walking by a window for example, there were never any bars here, but
Romieux, my friend who had worked there, later said no no, there were bars
there up till and into the 1960s and 70s! what is he talking about! There was even
a ditch and then a wall to keep the madmen from getting out. Now theres open
access to the city, its an open space, but at the time, well you know, it was an
insane asylum, a place of complete confinement, as you can imagine. And so what
they lived in was really a closed-in garden, beyond which there was an alleyway,
and then a ditch, and then a wall. I mean really, to have any kind of access to the
city, I mean, it was a prison, really, theres no question.

And its in the south-west of Paris, isnt it?

P.H.: South, well, south-east, actually. Near Marne-la-Valle

Next to Disneyland?

P.H.: Yes exactly. On the same train line, well its a little beforehand. But its a
huge complex, the hospital, in and of itself. Its a city within the city. Its one of
those old 19th century hospitals well, that were created beforehand, but whos
architecture as it stands today dates from the 19th century that were city-


hospitals. So that theres the administrative building, which is basically a town hall,
the church, the dining commons, the washroom, all of the functional buildings are
in a central alleyway, and then on each side is a series of buildings, one for the
women, one for the men. Its worth going to, its really impressive.


P.H.: Yes and its really

Yes, elongated buildings all in a straight line

P.H.: Yes straight lines, its like a how shall I say like a very rationalized
organization of space, oh yes, where of course every movement is controlled, and
at the center, the administrative buildings, that allowed one to oversee the entire,
very imposing complex. Its very much this 18th/19th century asylum, around
which theyve built up a whole bunch of new buildings, including residential

But so do they use any of the old asylum?

P.H.: Well a part of it.

Yeah, maybe not so much the part you got to film, as you were saying

P.H.: Well not the building we filmed, which has remained the same. Theres also
a section from that era that theyve converted into a film studio, in case anyone
needs the very 19th century architecture to film a hospital or a clinic or whatever.
Some fairly famous films have been shot there, I think. But especially because the
idea here today, Im sure its a similar story in the US, well I dont know, is to
commit people as little as possible, and to have them followed from their homes.
Its whats called sectorization. Instead of having a central building where everyone


is lumped together, there are small satellites all over the place. Ville-vrard is just
the center of a network that covers the whole of greater Paris, which consists of
satellites with doctors who meet with patients who go home at night, who come
only during the day, well who of course take medication but, well you know
instead of physical imprisonment now its mental

Yeah well psychiatry

P.H.: And so as a result there are very few people. There was even this deserted
aspect to things. When we went there, we would walk through these alleys forever,
once in a while youd see a silhouette in pajamas going by, like that, it was very
strange, but you didnt get the impression that there was any kind of real life there.
Whereas once upon a time there was, because well there was still a church, a
cafeteria the cafeteria, for example. A theater troupe transformed it into a stage,
for the theater. The church was turned into an auditorium where we presented
our films, as a matter of fact

Is that where he staged that play not Marat/Sade?

P.H.: Oh, Marat/Sade, by Peter Brook?81 Oh its possible, I think that, well I dont
know. No theres a theater man who did some work there, I dont know if you
know of him, Armand Gatti82, who died not too long ago, who did some work


Marat/Sade is a 1963 play by Peter Weiss, later adapted into film by Peter Brook. The play is set in
the asylum of Charenton, and there is no connection to Ville-Evrard. My confusion probably arose from
the connection that is often made btw Marat/Sade and Artaud (e.g. in Marie-Hlne Huets Rehearsing
the Revolution, which argues for a parallel between the French revolution and the changes in the theater of
the time, from a highly artaudian perspective). This connection can be gratuitous in the sense that it can
be merely about the creativity of the insane similarity, but can also be important in terms of its pitting
of, with Marat, a Brechtian, immediate-political-change argument for the theater against, with Sade, an
Artaudian perspective that insists more on the need to subvert the subordination of the body with its
desires and different ways of knowing - to the mind as the necessary means for change.
82 French journalist-turned-playwright/dramaturge who, after a young indigenous Guatemalan named
Felipe told him in 1959, a few days prior to being shot to death by the army, that you gringos, you


around Artaud, and who used the space thats now been converted into a stage to
do some of his performances. I dont know about Peter Brook though

No but Artaud himself at one point had a performance

P.H.: The Cenci?

Yeah maybe.

P.H.: No, that was at the Folies Wagram.83


P.H.: Yes, yes. [giggle] Ville-vrard wasnt long after that though, since it
happened in 1933, 34, something like that, right before he left for Mexico, which
happened in 1935.84 No but so whats remarkable about the Ville-vrard period,
which goes from 39 to 43, so its fairly long, he doesnt write at all anymore. He
doesnt produce. Whereas once he gets to Rodez, the infamous Docteur Ferdire is
going to push him to start writing again, hence the famous Rodez Notebooks that

Yankees, your words tell, but they never say anything. You throw your words out, but you never make
them exist, (Faber, Claude and Gatti, Armand, La Posie de lEtoile, ed. Descartes & cie., Paris, 1998, p.
95) devoted himself to a revolutionary, non-representational, non-consumer friendly theater that would
be a university for the poor. He is (was, according to Hillairet, although I cannot find evidence to
corroborate this) interested in theater as a process rather than as a final product, and has written around
the theme of madness and social exclusion (for example in Four Schizophrenics in search of a country whos
existence is contested, and apparently in his work at Ville-Evrard), although the degree to which he was
influenced by Artaud is unclear.
83 An unenviable cabaret-esque theatre on the outskirts of Paris where The Cenci was performed from
May 7th 1935 to May 21st, when the performances stopped for want of financial support, good reviews,
and an audience. It was built traditionally, with operettas in mind, which made it a fairly last resort for
A, whos theater of crueltys action was meant to revolve in different scenes with certain areas
designated for the more crucial parts of a performance surrounding a central audience. Nevertheless, it
housed the only textbook demonstration of a Theater of Cruelty ever to hit the stage, although Artaud
considered the performance a mere shadow of said theater, as far from the real thing as A thought that
the daily, mind-filled life of the pre-ToC was from the real life that his ideal performances would
produce. (There will be between the Theater of Cruelty and The Cenci the difference which exists
between the roaring of a waterfall or the unleashing of a natural storm, and all that remains of their
violence once it has been recorded in an image. - The Cenci, text written for La Bte Noire, Complete
Works vol. 5, pp. 36-7, quoted in Barber, Stephen, Antonin Artaud: Blows and Bombs, London, Faber and
Faber, 1993, p. 70)
84 Hillairet can be forgiven for quoting from memory, and is almost right but a year off: Artaud left for
Mexico on January 6th, 1936; btw the end of The Cenci and that time he was preparing for the journey
and dreaming up ways of giving his theater a little boost and a new birth.


comprise years of non-stop writing. But Ville-vrard is a period of non-creation.

So there are letters, lots of letters, he writes letters to the whole world, and its
during the period where he was making spells, casting spells on people with his
letters, his friends, he sends letters to Breton. Even though hes locked up, hell say
I saw you at Saint-Germain the other day, you were talking to so-and-so, I curse
you and then he would take his cigarette and burn through the letter paper with
it. Those are the documents we have from that period. But theres no literary
creation, on the contrary, he breaks completely with

But the letters he sent, some of them are

P.H.: Well yes, there are the letters.

But does he develop any of the themes in his thinking in them?

P.H.: Not so much, really. Thats whats so interesting. Well, yes, in the sense that
Artauds life is his work. So yes, and thats one of the things that we incorporate
into the film, there are moments for example where he describes, where he
requests food items from his mother, and they become a kind of poetic delirium85,
he asks for dates, for pineapples, I dont know stuff like that, and makes long lists
that turn into a kind of poem, an inventory in the style of Prvert86, but its always
with a pragmatic end in sight, relating to his real life. Its not about creating a work
or a poem or anything like that. There are only letters, sent to people with a very


At the height of WWII a starving Artaud fantasizes to his mother (in yes maybe salivating but
dubiously poetic language): And I repeat to you, my dearest Euphrasie [As Moms first name], it is
completely false that provisions are scarce in Paris. All the other inmates receive an abundance of
provisions in the form of butter, cheese, dates, real spice-bread, figs, apples, pears, REAL jams, sugar,
chocolate, bananas. Your maid and your supplier have, moreover, lied to you in claiming that chocolate,
bananas, walnuts, and hazelnuts are reserved for children. (Antonin Artaud, Dessins, CGP, Paris, 1977,
p.8, quoted in Barber)
86 Jacques Prvert, one of the most ubiquitous French poets of the 20th century, used in primary schools
everywhere, and whos inventories consisted, somewhat surrealistically, in long lists of, in his case,
unrelated objects.


specific goal in mind. But that goal can be delirious. He writes a lot to one of his
Doctors, Doctor Foux, even though he sees him every day, since hes his doctor, he
sends him these letters damning him to hell, talking to him about nighttime But
the letters from Ville-vrard are really powerful from that point of view. You have
to understand, there may be no literary creation as such, but the letters remain a
kind of production. But he really gives the impression of wanting to break with
everything. At one point, Romieux [the ex-nurse] tells this anecdote, there are
these projections of movies, and the other inmates go, but Artaud doesnt, and
when they come back, it turns out that they went to see a film in which Artaud had
acted, and they recognize him on screen, and they say hey but so we saw you on
screen and he says no, thats something else, that is that its not him, really. Its
really, well because he has the impression of being buried, while hes at Villevrard. Already its this image that hell take up again later of himself as a pile of
laundry that gets carried around. After he gets back from Ireland, before getting to
Ville-vrard he passes through I dont know like 3 or 4 psychiatric hospitals, Le
Havre, Rouen, and Saint-Anne, in Paris, where he would have met Lacan.

Yeah, thats a question I have

P.H.: According to Virmaux, yes. According to Virmaux he did in fact meet

Lacan, who says, who uses the expression, theres nothing to be done, hes
fixated, hes fixated.87

So he would have said that but [inaudible: car noise]

P.H.: Yes no well I dont claim to be a part of the discussion

, Well because I interviewed this Lacanian, Elizabeth Lagache.


Cf. footnote 1.


P.H.: Oh yeah?


P.H.: Beware of Lacanians. [laughs]

[also laughs] Yeah

P.H.: No Im kidding. Well but still beware.

Anyways so according to her, well she looked it up in this reference book, and in
his written work at least, in the seminars, there wouldnt be have been anything
explicit about him [Artaud]. According to her.

P.H.: Oh in Lacans works in themselves?

Yeah. So it would just have been a comment made in passing.

P.H.: Yes well I think anyways thats what it was.

Or maybe a diagnosis that got lost in the annals of history

P.H.: But I dont know youd have to see because, well and I have to be careful
now, but that yes in fact it would be more in the actual files on Artaud. Because all
of As files from Le Havre to Saint-Anne are in the archives of Ville-vrard. And I
didnt work on them so I didnt consult them, but I think that the work of JeanPaul Virmaux and others is based more on the files than on what Lacan might
have In fact I dont know what someone like Artaud could have represented for
Lacan at the time, who was famous of course, but who may not have represented
that extraordinary of a case, at the time.88


It is unlikely that Lacan treated Artaud directly, as I stated earlier, and the quote about Lacans
diagnosis is merely anecdotal, reported by Roger Blin. It is possible that he contributed to his treatment
(or lack thereof) or briefly supervised it (he was after all heading the clinic). The case then presumably
either slipped through his fingers, a flawed instance of rapid psychoanalytic observation, or its also
possible that Lacan was through and through convinced that A was incurable and fixated in the sense
of stubbornly obsessed with a goal that was preventing him from leading a relatively stable psychic life,


Yeah no its sure that now

P.H.: Yes, retrospectively, but for the time, for him, probably, it was just a passing
diagnosis But there are different diagnoses from different doctors.89

And are they accessible, the ones at Ville-vrard?

P.H.: Well I think that you, in the context of your research, could probably have
access to them, yes. Its in their archives there are two things there, a library for
the sick, and then theres a whole complicated service for the archives and all the
medical documents. But I think that there is a reference, because for instance we
used, do you know Evelyne Grossmans edition, in Gallimard? Of Artauds works.

I dont know, I dont know if I do, yes I think90

P.H.: Its Collection Quarto, its only one volume, since Thvenins takes up I dont
know how many volumes, like thirty-something. And I think that that stuff has to
be in Grossman. Part of it, at least. She managed to get certain texts. She obtained

since, also anecdotally, he would in later years have warned his students against going the same
direction as Artaud had. As own opinion of Lacan (assuming Doctor L. refers to him and not, say, to
Dr. Latrmolire) as voiced in the late essay Van Gogh the Suicide of Society, is that he was a filthy, vile
89 One line of thinking that is possible in this direction would be to look at the diagnoses of the different
doctors who treated Artaud throughout his life, who were completely polarized as to how he ought to be
treated and how much his delusions ought to be tolerated. Lacan, for example, or Ferdire, seem to
have been fairly intransigent (Ferdire would threaten another batch of electric shocks every time Artaud
indulged his beliefs in any other context than written for example any muttering, spitting and handwaving undertaken to chase away demons). People like Delmas who treated him in the last stage of his
life, after Ferdire allowed him to be released into the semblance of a social life that he was to regain,
freeing him on the condition that he be in some sort of home - were more understanding of his
eccentricities (upon learning of As gesturing and shouting, which he also did while writing, Delmas had
a block of wood put up in his room, which A threw various blunt and sharp metal objects at), up to and
including his need for/addiction to heroin. Finally there is the position of people like Foux who
corresponded in depth with A at Ville-Evrard or Latrmolire, the person who actually administered
the electroshocks at Rodez, a devout catholic who spent long hours with Artaud discussing theology,
which may or may not have had something to do with Latrmolires later deeply disturbed condition
in which he became obsessed with mystical concerns (Barber, p. 107), but who nevertheless diagnosed
him: A., 46 years old, former drug addict, suffering from chronic hallucinatory psychosis, with
luxuriant, polymorphous, delirious ideas (doubling of the personality, bizarre metaphysical system).
90 The most recent version, published in 2004, which unites into a single Quarto (necessarily selectively)
edition of 1800 pages the works the last mutation of which had been spread across 25 tomes by Artauds
friend and daughter of the heart, Paule Thvenin.


diagnoses that she wasnt able to use because well for legal reasons one cant use
the documents in the archives for publication purposes. But she was able to use
certain documents that Grossman herself got permission to publish. So in the case
of a special deal she made.

But so nevertheless there remain certain documents that arent

P.H.: Yes there are certain things, like his medical file Because in fact Thvenin,
I think, had glossed over that aspect, which didnt interest her. Whats interesting
in the Thvenin version is that she omitted the letters from Ville-Evrard. Which
comes from the fact that it isnt a huge creative period. So its a period that, well
even for me, before we thought about making this film, I had heard of VilleEvrard, but I had no idea of what it could mean in relation to Artaud.

Yeah thats it, I hadnt really heard of it either, I mean yes, vaguely, but

P.H.: Yes there you go, because in fact nothing really happens. So theres his trip
to Ireland, and then his return, and then people skip straight to Rodez in 4391,
they go straight to Rodez.

But so then what is it that you found interesting about the years spent at VilleEvrard?

P.H.: In the years of Ville-Evrard? Well I think that, thats it, that its then that
were at the heart of his imprisonment and of his non-being. He has the feeling, in
fact he begins his stay by stating I am dead.

So because Artaud died?


After trying to return to the Irish the knotted walking stick that he was given during his trip to Mexico,
which he was convinced had belonged to Saint Patrick, A had a breakdown in Dublin, at which point he
was forcibly re-patriated. Upon his arrival in France, Artaud was for a short time trotted around various
asylums, first in Le Havre, then in Rouen, and was only sent to Ville-Evrard after being transferred a
third time, from Rouen to Saint-Anne.


P.H.: He died in 48.

Yes yes, but on the back of this [the cover of P.H.s film, that he has just handed to
me] you wrote Antonin Artaud is dead

P.H.: Yes, thats what he says.

Well but why does he say

P.H.: Why does he?

Well, I mean, is it connected to Ireland, the fact that he thinks hes completely
finished, that his life is over?

P.H.: [uncomfortable laugh] Im not sure I fully understand The poor guys
been committed! I mean, he feels like he no longer exists.

Ok. And wasnt he incarcerated before-hand though?

P.H.: Yes, yes, thats it, but its the accumulation that does it. Hes incarcerated as
soon as he gets back from Ireland.

Ok. But so thats the first time92

P.H.: Because well while hes on the boat back, you know, its this episode in which
he may even have hit a steward, well in any case he has a crisis. Its his first real
episode of insanity. So already on the boat hes put aside, and as soon as he arrives
in Le Havre, the police, whom the boats captain has informed of the situation,
comes to pick him up and take him to the station, and thats when the series of
incarcerations begins. So but its with that transfer, from Saint-Anne to Villevrard, that he really gets that feeling of plus, Ville-vrard is really cut off from


It wasnt. A had been repeatedly hospitalized in his late teens and early twenties, but not for any
extended period of time, and he hadnt yet suffered from the complete breakdowns that were the
impetus for this, his most important period of shoulder-rubbing with the psychiatric institution, from
September 30th 1937 until May 26th 1946, 22 months before his death.


Paris. He leaves it [Paris], so you know, its over. Certain people will come and
visit him, actually, he ends up receiving a lot of visits, ultimately he isnt all that
isolated. But surely in his eyes it was like a death sentence, totally. And whats
more when you look at the building and the conditions hes living in, hes really
like a prisoner, in fact, at that point. And no ones giving any thought to his status
as a poet, or as an artist, or anything. Plus especially because hes put in the section
of the asylum thats really for the poor, because his mother doesnt have the
means, and he himself doesnt have the means to pay. Theres one section, well
there were two sections at the time at Ville-vrard, theres the asylum for the rich,
you might say, which is closer to a sanatorium or a house of rest, and then theres
the section thats really an asylum. And he of course is in the section thats really
an asylum, with the other madmen and the destitute. And I think that thats what
gives him this feeling of abandonment and of death Because after all he refuses
to see his mother. And thats one of the stories they tell, that the doctors had these
stratagems, in which his mother would stand at a window, and they would have
Artaud walk in front of the window, so that she could see him. Because he didnt
have a mother anymore. Thats the moment when he starts to use a different
name: his mothers maiden name was Nalpas, and he starts to sign his name
Nalpas. He abandons the name of Artaud and starts to call himself Antonin
Nalpas.93 Which was a fairly important family, in fact, on his mothers side, they

In a letter to Ferdire A wrote: Antonin Artaud died of pain and sadness at Ville-Evrard during the
month of August 1939 and his corpse departed from Ville-Evrard over the course of a sleepless night,
like those that Dostoyevsky speaks of, and which lasted several days / I succeeded him and added
myself on to him soul for soul and body for body in a body which took shape in his bed, concretely and
in reality, but by magic, taking the place of his body / My own name, Dr Ferdire, is Antonin
Nalpas (Nouveaux Ecrits de Rodez, Gallimard, Paris, 1977, pp.28-29) Upon re-assuming his birth name
later on, and in keeping with the constant theme of the double in his work, Artaud describes the previous


were involved in the cinema. Louis Nalpas was an important film producer in the
20s and 30s, for whom Artaud actually worked when he was himself an actor, in
fact; he worked for his cousin. But there is a negation of Artaud dies, in fact. Its
a real death. And his rebirth, quote unquote, well you know the figure of Ferdire
is very controversial because the electroshocks and all that are associated with him,
but at the same time, he was the one to hand him pen and paper and who made
him start writing again, and who gave him life again, in a way, by allowing him to
write. And by encouraging him to write. A sort of therapy through writing. And so
I think I mean really, Im not an Artaud specialist, but from what I gather, I
think its a kind of total collapse for him, and yes, a kind of complete death. And
already theres this sense that he constantly has of de-realization, of non-life, that
traverses him well here hes there, how should I say, in reality, he isnt just there
in his head, but in his own life. Maybe he wrote, at his best, some interesting
things, well its been hypothesized that he may have been writing, but well, and
this is something that Artaud complains about in his letters, the other inmates stole
his paper from him and used it to roll their cigarettes, and Romieux expresses this
in a very pretty way, he says that maybe in fact Artauds text went up in smoke,
smoked by the madmen in the asylum but well its purely hypothetical, because
all we have are the letters. But the letters are very impressive, because really, they
come out of the blackest of nights, they really come from the depths of horror, for
him. Whats more he continues to take drugs, a lot of people bring him drugs.
Jacqueline Lambac, who is Bretons wife Breton himself never goes to see him,
persona, if that word is even accurate here, of Antonin Nalpas as a mortal enemy of his. Nalpas was the
double who signified the death of A in the sense of the death of writing, of the end of the work and of the
poetic alter-ego capable of keeping psychosis at bay.


hes afraid of going to see him -, but his wife, who is a friend of Artauds, goes
regularly, and we now know that she was bringing him drugs regularly. And so he
continues to use drugs regularly while at Ville-Evrard. All of which makes for a
body thats really in the process of falling apart.

Was it opium?

P.H.: Yes but a lot of laudanum as well, which at the time was taken as medication
against suffering

General suffering?

P.H.: Yes, yes, well ever since childhood he had suffered in his body. He took stuff
throughout his whole life, in fact.

Oh yeah -

P.H.: Yes he never stopped, he never stopped taking both meds and opium. He
was always on drugs. But not towards how to say ecstatic ends or anything like
that, but really because his body was suffering. Early on, hes been found to have
had some form of syphilis, but very early, starting from adolescence. But its very
interesting because two years ago there was a colloquium of psychiatrists on the
subject of Artaud, Artaud and Psychiatry. And there are doctors who studied his
whole file, which we still have, and it turns out that all of the symptoms are there
for syphilis. Which is very strange, because apparently he wouldnt have had any
sexual experiences at the time. So it is hypothesized that he suffered from a
hereditary syphilis, inherited from his father. I mean there have been cases like
that And he also has a fall, thats going to give him permanent muscular
problems, and from that point on, he goes to the hospital, to the sanatorium, and


starts to take medication for the pain, and hes hooked for the rest of his life, hes
forever under the influence of heaps of different drugs. So the period of the
psychiatric institutions might have been the time during which he was most
deprived, and so during which he could have tried to get unhooked. Well when it
comes to Rodez I dont know , but at Ville-Evrard people came fairly regularly,
Desnos for example, and they provided him with drugs, in fact. Which doesnt
help things, like the delirious aspect of his letters which regardless are very
beautiful, you know, theyre really beautiful texts, especially the ones written to
doctors, because he has this apparently symbiotic, but also hate-filled relationship
with his doctors, who are both his companions and his enemies, who are there of
course to destroy him, who are Satans representatives on earth.


P.H.: And so you then, whats your work on?

Um, me Immmm Hm. Me, Im. Doing a thesis about oh you know, its fairly
spread out for the moment.

P.H.: [laughs] So what does the spread consist in?

Well Im taking a look at the prose poems, The Umbilicus of Limbo, Art and Death, and
The Nerve-Meter. Especially The Nerve-Meter, actually. Ive already done a bit of work
on it, and I think its very, well some of his best quotes are from there. So Im
doing that and then Im also working on the idea of the development of the self, of
a modern self as distinct from a renaissance self. So I talk about Shakespeare and
Milton, Im using King Lear and Paradise Lost.

P.H.: So its a literature thesis?


Yes, a literature thesis. Roughly its a tracing of the development of the self and of
the development of the psychiatric clinic, with Artaud there sort of to focus things.
Because well hes the case, or, well I think that the question of the self, well that
there is a search for a different relationship to it in his work. And there are plenty
of people who have searched for a way, with psychoanalysis, but with other things
to, for a way to de-stabilize the notion of a stable and unified self, who have tried to
show how its nonsense. That we are composed, that we are a composite of many
different things, that we are in every person, in a way. So I want to use Artaud as
an example of that, and yes, and

P.H.: Nietzsche?

Yes Well, not especially, but theres some Nietzsche in there, for sure. But its
especially Foucault, actually.

P.H.: Foucault? Mh, I was thinking of that.

Yeah, thats it but I dont know, I dont necessarily have all that much to add to
what he says [laughs].

P.H.: Oh, well its done then! Foucault Deleuze, no?

Yes, yes, but more so

P.H.: So this 70s era philosophy

Well like for instance Foucault, when he talks about Artaud

P.H.: And what is Foucault on Artaud? Im not familiar


Well he doesnt explicitly talk about it, but History of Madness, his rejected thesis94,

would have been based on the Artaud case. And at the end of the book he talks
about him a bit. Because you know Foucault is very elusive, and he doesnt always
say what it is hes talking about, or well, he doesnt always show his sources. So its
hard to say for sure. But it [A] would have been the basis for History of Madness.
And if it is the basis for the HoM, then its the basis for all of Foucault, since its
there that he starts to think up this specifically Foucauldian logic of the as you said
over-rationalized institution that closes in around the madman. And then his
ideas about marginalization and about disciplinarity, they all come from there.

P.H.: Yeah.

So I think that Artaud is really this central figure. And for Deleuze too, well and
Guattari. I mean for one thing theres the body without organs phrase that
comes from him. But with them, its almost even more difficult to know where they
went and got their ideas, because schizo-analysis, or however thats pronounced,

P.H.: But their works are fairly thorough with their references, no? The references
to Artaud.

Yes, yes, of course, but its just that much more spread out.

P.H.: Oh yes, of course. Well I dont know, its especially in Anti-Oedipus/A thousand
plateaus that they discuss Artaud.

Yeah, especially A Thousand Plateaus, I think.


Rejected at the Swedish University of Uppsala under the direction of Stirn Lindroth, but later
successfully defended back in France with the sponsorship of Georges Canguilhem and of Daniel
Lagache (father of Elizabeth Lagache, incidentally).


P.H.: Yes, the body without organs is in A Thousand Plateaus, I think. Well which is
a magnificent work! But as I was saying to you I havent really worked on
Artaud as such. I know the film part, and the texts on the cinema, and it was sort
of random, in the context of the series of films that we do with Alain Virmaux,
whos a specialist of Surrealism and of Artaud. And were doing a series of films
about different authors that hes worked on. So we did a thing on the Grand Jeu, on
Andr Delon, one of its less well-known poets, now were doing a thing on
someone completely unrelated, Colette, but whos a good rebound off of Artaud.
But so when it was question of Artaud, we had worked on The Seashell and the
Clergyman, the film that was based on his screenplay, and then we saw that the
Ville-Evrard episode was the one that got least talked about, and so that well for
practical reason, because it was easier to access. My knowledge of Artaud is sort of
confined to, well when I was a student in the 70s everyone had to read Artaud,
because he was The Poet.

Yes and well in fact nowadays hes become fairly obscure well, not obscure, but
in the US yes, obscure. But I dont know its like there was this momentum of
interest in the 70s, and in the United States as well. And now I bring him up and
most people dont have a clue what Im talking about.

P.H.: But I think hasnt stopped, really, in France. It may be less vivacious, but if
people read Artaud, its because it awakens something, that may even be clich at
times, but still And then, in fact, I was a student at the University of Vincennes,
where Deleuze taught, so I followed Deleuzes classes for ten years or so, and of
course Artaud kept coming back, which added this layer


There are videos of those.

P.H.: Oh yeah? Yes, on the internet Yeah, it was fairly impressive. The period
was like that, especially at that university, which is sort of a strange university. I still
teach there, well I mean weve left Vincennes and gone to St-Denis.

But was that the new school?

P.H.: Yes, that was created after 68, yes.

And you teach, as well?

P.H.: Yes, but I teach the 20s, actually. The Avant-Gardes, especially, French,
German which is why Artaud, you know, because hes one of the theoretical
poles of the period. And Artaud as an actor, who already is important in the parts
he played

Yeah, because hes not just a theoretician.

P.H.: Yes, that too, as a screenwriter too. Because thats sort of one of the forms of
the Surrealists at the time, they invented a literary form, which is the screenplay:
the screenplay as literary form. Most of the time they werent made to be filmed,
yes, they wrote, they were poems of sorts, prose poems. There are some very
beautiful texts by Soupault that are sort of imaginative narratives. But it may be
that the one who went furthest with the idea of realization was Artaud, who
probably would have seen himself as a filmmaker. And in the case of The Seashell
and the Clergyman, for example, theres this idea that it was in fact his production.

And did he participate in the actual production?


P.H.: No no, not at all. No, because Germaine Dulac95 kept pushing him away.
There was for a brief time the possibility that he was going to play the role of the
Clergyman. In fact there are those who think that it is him in the movie

When in fact the man playing him?

P.H.: Is an actor who has nothing to do with Artaud! Which is precisely one of the
films problems. But, probably up until the last minute, he was meant to play the
role. But during the same period he has a part for Dreyer, for Jeanne dArc, by
Dreyer, in which he plays the monk Massieu, and Dreyer doesnt want to let him
off for the dates imposed by Dulac, so its two or three days off from working out.
Which is the reason - one of the reasons, in my opinion, its also because Dulac
probably didnt want the author of the screenplay present on the set, even as an
actor; she who considered herself the metteur en scne, the real creator of the film.
And in fact this is something that s going to pursue him throughout the editing
process, because he really wants to take part in the editing process, and she pushes
him back, and he takes offense, and the famous quarrel that ensues is an aesthetic,
filmic quarrel, but its also a sort of grievance, with Artaud claiming that he was
completely excluded from what he considered to be his film. In later letters, when
he talks about the film, he says my film. Which is strange because on the one


Famous (originally commercial) French filmmaker of the period (also theorist, known for her
impressionism and feminism). Her adaption of Artauds screenplay outraged the Surrealists to the point
that they briefly re-banded with Artaud after excommunicating him (or after he excommunicated
himself, depending on who's telling the story. They were trying to justify a synthesis of Surrealism and
Communism; Artaud was not game) in order to go to the Premire on February 9th 1928, so they could
heckle the cast & audience and generally wreak havoc. What followed was one of the most memorable
brawls of Frances cultural history, rather than a screening. There are two accounts of Artauds behavior
throughout the screening: in one, he ran around the room smashing the movie theaters mirrors and
screaming Goulou! Goulou!; in the other, he sat with his mother and, as the audience raged around
him, simply said Enough. Both are suspect. The film was immediately taken off the theaters program,
and has only enjoyed the occasional screening since. (all in Barber, pp. 31-32)


hand he disavows it, he thinks that Dulac takes the oneiric aspect too far (the
facile excuse of dreams, he says at one point), whereas he wants to work on, in a
way that is reminiscent of his own thought, he wants to work on the dark side of
thought. And not its oneiric dimension. In which aspect hes unfair towards Dulac,
because her big fault is not to have betrayed him, but to have been too faithful to
him. And, well, from a text that is very strong from a poetic point of view, to
convert it to film, its something else, cinema isnt the putting-into-image of a text.
And in fact, give or take an image, she follows the text very precisely. In the
History of Cinema, shes considered, in the story of Artaud, for Artaudians, to be
the one who betrayed the Poet. Which is unforgivable evil. Shes really thought of
as someone who didnt understand anything, etc. If one day you take the time to
closely read the screenplay & watch the film, in fact, she follows Artaud as closely
as possible. Well and then, follows him to the letter, but maybe hardly touches on
the spirit of the work. But theirs are really two worlds that have nothing to do with
one another. The meeting of Artaud and Dulac is improbable, it shouldnt have

Because Dulac, whats her deal?

P.H.: Dulac is a filmmaker of the French School of the 20s, which is more about
the poetic idea of movement, of rhythm, of harmony. Its a highly visual cinema,
that shows feelings as they are expressed precisely not by the screenplay but by the
image itself, by the putting-into-image of the world. So shes part of a group that
includes Abel Gance, Jean Epstein, Marcel Verdier, well the French School of the
period. Which is very far from the universe of [A], because whats more is that its
part of this post-impressionist, lit-up universe, with great skies, water, whereas


Artauds world of course is an obscure, interior world. So something she had little
in common with. Ive often wondered why she accepted to film such a screenplay,
which has nothing to do with what she had done beforehand and what she would
do later on. But she was someone who wanted to experiment with a lot of things,
and I think that she saw in the film the possibility of familiarizing herself with a
world that she hadnt previously known. The contact between them happens via
Doctor Allendy, who helped treat Artaud at the time, and Mrs Allendy, he was a
psychiatrist, and supported Artaud for a long time96, and it was Mrs Allendy who
really insisted that Dulac make the film. And so he disavows it, except for in
certain letters where, on the contrary, he has a lot of good things to say about it.
But he holds on to this resentment for having been cast aside, and so when the
premier comes along, he gets his friends, well yesterdays enemies, friends for the
moment, the Surrealists (Breton, Aragon) to come and crash it. This is the famous
premier of The Seashell and the Clergyman, at the Thtre des Ursulines, where the room
turns to chaos, and they briefly come together to insult Dulac, and then two days
later he gets into a fight with Breton again, but I mean well the internal quarrels of
the group are another matter. But so the film will remain marked by that sort of
opprobrium that Artaud and the Surrealists tainted the film with. And the film
may not be extraordinary, but it doesnt deserve utter rejection either. And
especially because I think that Artaud is honest in certain letters, he recognizes that
she follows his textual work very closely. Hence his attempts to re-claim the film as

Dr. Allendy who was both psychoanalyst and psychiatrist is probably the only man under whom
Artaud considered starting the analytical process, although he ultimately decided that it would be
pointless. As for Allendys position on A, Barber reports that the Dr., who was known for his
attachment to flagellation, considered Artaud to be a dangerous, homosexual drug addict. (Barber p.59)
Maybe a positive outcome of the relationship btw A & psychoanalysis was doomed from the get-go.


his. Theres another quarrel later, like if you look at some of the News titles of the
period, they read The Seashell and the Clergyman, a film by Antonin Artaud.
And that infuriated Dulac. Theres a famous opposition in which Gallimard, in the
NRF,97 publishes the screenplay, and he puts a promotional band on the cover,
that reads The Seashell and the Clergyman, a film by Antonin Artaud. Which
refers to the text, in a way, which is in fact by Artaud. But it infuriates Dulac
nevertheless, and she sends Gallimard an incendiary letter, and makes them
change it to The Seashell and the Clergyman, screenplay by Antonin Artaud,
directed by Germaine Dulac. And its a very interesting moment because its the
first time in the History of cinema that the director of a movie claims to be its
author. This the Seashell and the Clergyman as a movie is me, Germaine
Dulac. There may be a text that the film comes out of, but Which is why she
excludes him. In my opinion, she sees him coming, and she thinks, there cant be
two authors. Plus she knows him a little, shes heard a bit about him, and already
when its mentioned that he might make the film, people around her are saying
no, itll be a disaster if he directs it, hed better not. So she keeps him at bay not
so much for personal reasons but because of the matter of authorship: Im the
author, the creator of the film, she says. And so Mr. Artaud, he can go ,

But do you know how she obtained the rights to the film?

Nouvelle Revue Franaise, which under the direction of Jacques Rivire refused Artauds work but
initiated the famous correspondence between Rivire and A. By the time of the debate in question,
however, Rivire had died and Jean Paulhan had taken over its editorship. Paulhan was considerably
more supportive of Artauds work, and gave A almost all the leeway he requested (just short of giving A a
regular column in the NRF). Later, Paulhan would not only be, during certain periods of crisis, Artauds
sole supporter on the Parisian literary scene, but also the primary vehicle and promoter of his works
while both lived.


P.H.: Well yes via this Allendy couple, whom Artaud was very close to, in fact,
Doctor Allendy treated him and helped him to publish some of his texts. And Mrs
Allendy knew Germaine Dulac from elsewhere. But they were very close to the
Surrealists, to that whole literary world. He himself wrote texts about
psychoanalysis and cinema, and Mrs Allendy was a screenwriter well, an
amateur screenwriter. And so it was their idea to ask Germaine Dulac to make the
film. And the only trace of Artauds will in the movie is the presence of Gnica
Athanasiou98, who was the lover, even though they had broken up by that time,
and but he had asked, she plays the woman in the film, he asked for her to be
present in the film, a condition which everyone readily accepted.

But its true that we dont know if, well, if he would have managed to make a film.

P.H.: Oh yes that would have been something else We cant say, we have no
idea. Well if you take into account the Cenci, I dont know. I think it would be taken
very badly today. I had the chance to see a production, completely at random, in
Madrid, there was a staging of the play in French. I didnt think it was very good,
but it was interesting to see, for my knowledge, I had really wanted to see it. But as
you know the play was a complete failure, there were only 3 or 4 showings A few
authors see something in it, we were talking about Colette earlier, Colette will
write a very positive text about the play, two texts in fact. But regardless the play is
a disaster on the levels of finance and of reception with regards to the theater
world. Which of course doesnt say anything about its quality, but But its

98 The first significant girlfriend. Hyperbolic till the end, A wrote long letters to her professing his
boundless & soul-crushing love (projects their relationship onto global, even infinite levels Barber
p.17). She seems to have been more reserved about him, and interested in pursuing her career as an
actress. She was a notable later omission from the list of daughters of the heart.


important for him, because its there that for the first time he thought that he was
putting into practice all of his theories about the theater. And some see in it an
instance of rupture, the moment when things are going to start for him; theres the
voyage to Mexico, and then to Ireland, which to begin with he had embarked on
for fairly strange reasons, I mean to bring back Saint Patricks cane to the Irish

Mmh. But there were other plays beforehand, no?

P.H.: Yes, well he had worked with [and co-founded] the Alfred Jarry Theater.
But you have to be careful there because theres this troupe aspect to it, it was like
a troupe, really. So there werent things that he signed per se As Im talking Im
trying to think of the name of the man he founded it with, the one who wrote
Victor, or Children in Power Roger Vitrac. So he had this little troupe with Vitrac
[and the writer Raymond Aron], and The Cenci happens precisely once hes broken
with the Alfred Jarry Theater. He feels that, there are often these personal
questions, that hes been betrayed, so he writes letters to Vitrac, he calls him all the
names you can think of And then he begins the project of The Cenci, alone.
Which is why I say that its into there that he himself wants to insert all his
thoughts theories on the theater, on space, on mise en scne, on the body, the body of
the actors. Whereas before that hes still, well either hes an assistant, working for
Dullin, or hes making a collaborative effort, with Vitrac. But The Cenci is really his
time to shine. Its his work, his creation. But I had read, there were even these
interviews with some of the somewhat famous actors of the period who were in the
play, and apparently he really threw himself body and soul into this production.
Hence, probably, the impression of failure, that he has constantly throughout his


life, that you see in his letters, but here its a spectacular failure in front of
everyone, its not just in his own eyes. Which is why, that is it plays into this sort of
mechanism of collapse thats always there, with him.

Yes its true that it could have been the beginning of that because to see what
you think and believe in get completely undone, thats bound to make you feel
completely crazy, or at least alienated, stuck in your head.

P.H.: Mmh. And but its at the same time that hes writing the texts on the theater
of cruelty and all that, well his big theater period is then, in the middle of the 30s.

Yeah because thats the moment when his poetic and filmic periods are sort of
coming to an end

P.H.: Yes well although hes in films throughout that whole period, all the time.
From the beginning of the 20s Sorry I mean, the beginning of the 20s, thats not
right, but from 1924 up until the middle of the 30s, actually I think that the
movie he did with Fritz Lang, Liliom, was in 33, which was one of his last films, in
33 or 34.99 Just before his theatrical experiments and his departure for Mexico.


November-December 1933, to be exact, and his last role of any significance in film. Artauds
relationship to film is different from his relationship with the other arts for one thing because he
permanently disavowed it (as opposed to, say, poetry, which he abandoned but later returned to) in favor
of the theater because he thought it lacked the necessary immediacy, corporeality and potential for
improvisation that is specific to the theater. This career was also littered with commercial films that
Artaud himself disliked but accepted minor roles in, in order to support himself (this was another
primary point of contention with the Surrealists: the fact that he made a living off of commercial film
was regarded as a betrayal of everything the movement stood for, artistically). When later on Artaud
remembers the movies he acted in, it is often with a sense of humiliation; one of the functions of a
successful performance of his would have had for him would have been to erase in the eyes of his
audience all of the previous humiliations failed theatrical performances, but also filmed
embarrassments like, oddly enough, his role in a filmed production of Brechts The Threepenny Opera,
which he hated on the basis of its vulgarity and complete disorientation. Besides this, there was of
course a time when Artaud first as a potential actor and then as a potential director fully invested
himself in the cinema and infused into it his own ideas (such as the use of sound as a spatializing rather
than temporalizing supplement to the visuals, or the exploration of dreamscapes not for the sake of
depiction but in order to investigate the way they function, their structures-in-collapse(Barber p.32),
which was his main objection to the Dulac production), but by the time of the writings on the theater of
cruelty (i.e. early 30s), he had mostly given up on it as a medium.


But even though his performances are always very short roles, theyre just
appearances most of the time, today theyre stunning, they have an incredible
force, he has this presence Which is why if he had acted in The Seashell and the
Clergyman, if everything had gone as planned and he had played the clergyman, the
film would have a certain incandescence that it sort of lacks today, because the
actor that Dulac chose wasnt all that great, or at least, his style had nothing to do
with the static style of Artaud, it was more in the Burlesque tradition of say Harold
Lloyd, or of those comedians of the bodys movement. But there isnt the same
stare, the same irradiance that Artauds face possesses in Dreyers film, or in Abel
Gances, in which he plays Marat, or in other movies. Theyre always these short
appearances, he never stars in anything, but theres something that burns through
the screen when he comes on. Theres a historian, its fairly interesting, who put
together a montage of all of the Artaud sequences, and theres always something of
this as though hes excavating the depths of the screen. And one can imagine
that on stage it would have been much the same thing. But at the same time,
maybe, Im not saying that he runs head on into disappointments, but still, theres
a moment of disappointment with cinema, theres a moment of disappointment
with theater, every time he thinks of his current medium as the greatest, most
unsurpassable art form, and if every time you put too much faith in something,
well the productions themselves often arent up to his standards.

Yeah no he just throws himself into these projects, and thinks that theyre going be
the instigator of the Last Judgment or something like that, that he can, that
everything is going to culminate -


P.H.: Yes thats it. In the years 1926-27 ish, maybe 28, he writes some texts about
the cinema, like he wrote a preface to his screenplay, The Seashell and the Clergyman,
and all of a sudden the cinema becomes the beacon of all thought, the
incandescence of the world and its magnificent

yeah absolutely

P.H.: when you read them you yourself burn with excitement, too, you think
yeah, thats it! And then I think that sometime in the beginning of the 30s he
writes this text, the cinema has betrayed the cinema is the vilest, feeblest thing
ever to have existed, I mean, you know, its over.

Yeah well I mean thats just like the rest of the Surrealists, anyways, they were
constantly making these 180 flips in their opinions regarding each other,
regarding art

P.H.: Yes, but well its always asymptotic, thats how you get somewhere, its
normal, I mean you have to be critical of it, but still thats the very movement of


P.H.: But maybe where there remains a trace of a very strong production is, are
you familiar with the radio play, To Have Done With the Judgment of God?

Yes. I havent been able to listen to it, but yes.

P.H.: Oh you have to. Theres Artauds voice, and in this case you really get that
kind of corporeal manifestation he who talks about the body so much, about the
bodily, about the voice in the process of emerging even as it is constantly collapsing


in on itself.100 This sort of double movement thats always there in Artaud, this sort
of hyper-exaltation of life, and of the non-life within. This very strange dialectic
between life and non-life that you get with Artaud. And here, in his very voice, its
there, beyond the force of the texts itself, which you know discusses sperm, - sperm
in relation to young American girls [giggles]. But even if you put the text aside.
Suddenly the ear is trembling because of something, and thats really, probably, its
really the plus its his last work, he dies just a little after that.

In 48?

P.H.: Yes, 48, 47-48 [November 1947, ed.]. And but the play gets censored by the
director of the radio station, and so itll remain unknown for a long time, and now
its reappearing

Yeah well thats one thing that still gets a lot of playback, I think, of all of his works
thats the one that gets the most attention, well apart from the theoretical stuff.

P.H.: Yes. I dont think its possible to remain indifferent, even to the text itself.
Deleuze will take it up again, the idea of judgment, of the last judgment, Deleuze
who attempts to formulate a thought without judgment, in which it is impossible to
judge, and he writes a commentary about Artauds text. Theres an article that was
published, you know there were two collections of articles by Deleuze that were
published posthumously, one was called, The Islands, the other I dont
remember And this article was published in there, about Shakespeare,
Rimbaud, Artaud... and Kant.

and Kant?


This is where Derridas notion of the closure of representation, of the point where language
encounters its own limits and caves in as a result, comes in.


P.H.: Yes, Kant on Judgment.

Well ok Kant whatever, but the other three- wow I didnt know about that at all.

P.H.: Yes, yes, Ill send you the reference. Its Practices of Judgment, or

Shakespeare and Rimbaud are two of my main subjects.

P.H.: Well concerning Shakespeare theres the question of Time, and he takes up
the expression I dont know what it is in English Le temps est sortit de ses

Um Sorry?

P.H.: [laughs] Time is out of joint.

Out of its gond Whats a gond? [obviously enough, yours truly is familiar with
the English word joint]

P.H.: A gond is the piece of a door that allows the door to turn.


P.H.: So time goes outside of itself. Because if you take away the thing that allows
the door to turn, then there isnt any time any more. theres no more door, so
youre outside of time.102 He takes that up again, and also I dont remember what

It turns out he was referring to two articles of Deleuzes, both from Critique et Clinique (Criticism and
Clinic): On four poetic formulas that could be used to summarize Kantian philosophy (from
Shakespeare, Rimbaud and Kafka) and To have done with judgment (about Nietzsche, Lawrence,
Kafka & Artaud).
102 The translation of the Hamlet quote into the French here is something that, literally and phonetically,
sounds more like Time has leapt off its hinges. Where the English gives more the impression of a
disjunction in time and has the bodily connotation of joint the French translation suggests (at least
to me) that a personified time has taken a hike, leaving only its shoes behind, and some sort of empty,
condensed space in which to act something like what dramatic time does.


expression of Rimbauds,103 but anyways, there are four different times/beats [pun
untranslatable] in the text.

Thats interesting.

P.H.: Yes, it could be very interesting for you, if youre interested in both
Shakespeare and Artaud.

Yeah, Rimbaud too

P.H.: Oh?

Yeah I translated A Season in Hell at one point, in fact. Do you know what the
articles called?

P.H.: I know that it was published in Critic. But it was re-published in the
posthumous collections.

Yeah no well In my thesis, in fact

P.H.: [laughs] No but yes, I mean were also here for that!

Um. No yeah, well one of the goals, well, one of the goals. One of the * things *
that Im trying to put forth is that Artauds problem lies in his relationship to time,
in fact, and that it is in his quest for immediacy, in his search for absolute and
immediate change, that his self-destruction is first of all there, it isnt just in the
process of staging, but just in that immediacy. And that as a result, and Im
drawing inspiration from some queer theorists like Judith Butler and Judith
Halberstam, I dont know if youre familiar, no, well Butler is someone who took
up the work of Lacan and of Foucault and who writes gay and feminist theory104


I is another and To get to the unknown through a disordering of all the senses a long, immense
and reasoned disordering of all the senses. (both from the so-called Letter of the Seer)
104 This brief introduction for the benefit of Prof. Hillairet is presented on paper with apologies to the
Butlerites of this world.


and Halberstam is well anyways, they talk a lot about the sort of different
relationship to time that those whose lives are marginalized, in short, experience
its sort of like Deleuzes idea of Becoming Woman. And that you cant look for,
that the moments of real life and of change appear in sparks, but are not
something that can be searched for. Because its true that the moderns

P.H.: Yes there are these bifurcations

Yeah. Instead of some sort of cataclysmic event. Because like Deleuze who talks
of becoming as a sort of progression, as opposed to say Badiou, who sticks to this
same notion of an Event that has to happen

P.H.: Yes. Although at the same time, there is a theory of the Event in Deleuze


P.H.: Which is probably not the same, but

But I think that thats one of the tensions between Badiou and Deleuze, in fact, is
that there isnt the same, I mean there is an idea of the Event, but

P.H.: The event as something that comes from the outside, precisely as this sort of
bifurcation The Event as exteriority.

Yes, well thats one of the things, Benjamin talks about this a bit, that the Event is
something that sort of falls out of the sky. So its something that comes from the
outside, and then theres Messianic Time, which is the time of redemption or of
paradise or whatever, but its not something that we ourselves can produce. Its
something that just shows up, that interrupts time.


P.H.: Its funny you should mention Benjamin, because I just did a conference
about [Italian filmmaker Luchino] Visconti and used some of the Benjamins notes
on History, where precisely there is this notion of the Event
Yes, well thats just it, thats the passage in the Illuminations, with that little angel105

P.H.: Yeah, thats it, the Angel of History. And we were talking about Death in
Venice and Conversation Piece, and it worked magnificently... But so you, youre still in
the research period, for the moment?

Yes. Come December Im supposed to have finished.

P.H.: In December?

Yeah. So well see. But Ive written the first chapter, on Shakespeare and Milton.

P.H.: And so youve got to get back to the States, to write! [laughs] No but youre
allowed an extra year, arent you? Cant you defer?106

No, its too expensive.

P.H.: Yeah, its true that with the inscription for universities, and the French
system is so different well, deferment can be a problem, but not on that level.
And are you working on the side?

Yes a bit. One of the questions Id like to ask, before we finish, since its on my
mind, and because I think its hard to find a definition for it, is: what is, for you,

the theater of cruelty?


The passages are not unrelated, but the one that I am referring to here, in which Messianic Time is
discussed more in depth, with an emphasis on the difference between religious and political conceptions
of it, is the Theologico-Political Fragment, in the Reflections, not the Illuminations Thesis on the
Philosophy of History.
106 It was only sometime after conducting these interviews that I realiszed that my use of the word
thse (i.e., thesis) to describe my project lead most French academics lead most French people to
assume that I was a doctoral student. Unaware of this at the time, I didnt correct them, with the result
that everyone, myself included, remained politely confused.


P.H.: [sigh & long laugh]

Its tough, I know

P.H.: Oh, you saved the death blow for the end! I dont really know, in fact No
but I dont know, how does he himself defines it, I dont know anymore, its about
realism, a realism of the body and of space.

Yeah, he says

P.H.: This putting forth of I think, whats interesting, is this notion of space107 in
relation to the theater in his work, thats whats really essential. He uses the words
mise en scne, spectacle, precisely against the text, thats the opposition: space of mise
en scne vs. text. Since he defines it as a textless theater, or at least as a theater that,
ideally, should be textless. And so as a result, the force, the energy that comes from
the body: it is up to the body to express the spirits part. And so doubtless its in
that tension between body and spirit that you find, well I dont know if its cruelty,
but his cruelty is one of the actors realism in relation to his body.

As in the fatal reality, like of the fact of the body?

P.H.: Yes. I was almost going to say the real reality,108 not in the sense of I
think that at some point he has a passage on illusion not in the sense of the
illusion of thought and of representation, but of the fact of representation itself.
Theater as fact. We were talking about Events earlier, Theater really as an Event
of - and maybe its here that you get back to a notion of the Instant, of the
instance of the body in space, in a certain way making itself. But that isnt a mere


It is true that Artaud is constantly emphasizing the theatrical space, as a space that is outside of time.
Which inverted usage of the world real to mean that which is precisely outside of the common
consensus known as reality is just another Artaud/Lacan parallel. For a strong discussion and elucidation
of the different reals the real real, but then also the real of performance, or the legal real, etc., see
Peggy Phelans Broken Symmetries, in Unmarked: The Politics of Performance.


materialism of the body, since with him it always refers to the depths of the
spirit.109 But theres this sort of putting-into-tension of the spirit, and but for which,
in the theater, the vector is the body. And this is an interesting thing that hell see
in the cinema, not so much in relation to the actor as in relation to the world. The
cinema is full of the reality of the world, and the image of the world transmits this
quote unquote metaphysical dimension of the spirit, although I think he uses the
expression metaphysical in the Theater of Cruelty

Yes, and in fact he apologizes for using it.

P.H.: Yes thats it exactly. Yes but thats what he means. Theres a maybe this
isnt the right kind of expression but the body exalts the spirit, in its, or in both of
theirs, body and spirits, intolerable, unbearable aspects. Because theyre precisely
there as such, theres no mediation between them, textual or otherwise. And so
thats why I would link the idea of cruelty to the idea of realism, not realism in
representation, but realism as such. Hence the emphasis that he places on notions
of space and of the body; its the theatrical fact, in fact. I dont know if all thats
quite correct, but

I mean its subjective!

P.H.: [laughs] Yeah, well and then Id have to go back and look at the texts

Because its extremely difficult to define, I think.


In the context of Artaud in particular, the word Esprit is difficult to translate, because it can mean
Mind, Wit (as in faire de lesprit, to make a witticism, lit. to make spirit), Spirit, Soul in any case, it
refers to the something ethereal that is connected to the body, but the (by turns all-purpose, by turns
seemingly highly-specific) ambiguity of As use of the word should be kept in mind A better, if more
awkward, translation would probably have been mind/spirit.


Definitely. Theres something attractive about it that you can feel, but beyond
that I mean yes, I know that it has something to do with a question of
metaphysics, and some sort of search

P.H.: But its Metaphysics Incarnate. Its important to not forget that. Because I
think its important not to forget that in life, well in ones life, in anyones life you
might say, but in his life especially since its Artaud were talking about, and in his
work, important not to forget this sort of incarnation of non-life and I think
Deleuze has something to say about this as well, the words wont quite come to me,
but this incarnation of non-life. And which is why, theres an interesting dialectic
with him between on the one hand incarnation, the body, suffering and on the
other, the spirit, metaphysics, forces, energies, he uses the word energies, the one
necessarily passing through the other. But if you take the theater, or if you take the
cinema, theres this obligatory, and I think hes very modern in this sense, there
always has to be a materialization of that, be it in the form of the actor or in the
form of the image, but in both cases, he does a kind of exaltation of the space
inhabited by the actor or by the image. There are some very beautiful passages on
the image in the texts about the cinema. In fact, at one point, he writes an image
must generate another image as if there was some sort of autonomation of the
I dont want to use the word media but of the material itself, of the matter itself,
in fact, there isnt any other word, of the image-matter, theres really this imagematter, and theres a body-matter, a space-matter, in the theater. And I think hes
not the only one, because it comes from masters like Jouvet, like Dullin, like
Copeau, who were already doing that theater, the theater of putting-into-space,
which wasnt only about the question of the fact of the text, but was also a creation,


a reading, almost, of the text, by space itself and by the process of mise en scne. Its
the period when the Metteur en scne as creator is born, in the theater. Theres this

Yeah yeah, the idea that what comes first are bodies in space, that its there that a
certain operation takes place.

P.H.: But maybe the part thats difficult to link is how, then, that links with this
idea of cruelty, and I think that for him cruelty referred to, not to realism, but the
real as such, in fact, to a real of the real.

Yeah thats it, no yes, thats absolutely it, its about seeing if, in the process of the
search for something real, for the sharing of something real with the public, that
happens in real time, that cruelty is exercised, that it comes into play.

P.H.: Mhm. Thats it. And then I think that theres also this other aspect, of the
impact, of what it is that gets created between the actors and the spectators, of that
link. Hence, doubtless, the importance of the cry, the importance of the gesture,
that brings this physical aspect into play. Theres a physical dimension to his
thinking on the theater, and its through this physical aspect that the act and the
event of the theater comes about.

Yeah, it happens in the body. Because he wants to create a language of the body.
And he may have occasionally succeeded.

P.H.: Yes, which is the part that today we can know nothing about, of what it
might have looked like. Which is why I was talking about Artaud as a movie actor,
earlier, because, well even though of course hes catering to different directors, he
does what hes asked to do, some of those films are bad, others are masterpieces


But I think that every time theres something of what were trying to describe right
now that passes into the image, in a look, in an expression, theres something, like
in the role of Marat, theres that sort of madness, of revolutionary folly, but that
then all of a sudden Artauds body itself becomes Marats body, suffering and
offering itself up for assassination. So maybe there we have some idea of that. But
beyond whatever productions he was able to go through with, I think that what
hes proponing is that, in fact, is that sort of real of the body, insofar as the body is
like a medium for the expression of the suffering of the spirit, of the suffering of the
being, in the sense of its impossibility, the impossibility of being. Which is why
theres this constant tension, that contortion in Artauds work. Then of course one
can say that thats just the clich of the Tortured Master, but I dont think thats
the point, because its in his very creation that that tension exists, in a way. And
maybe its that, - on the one hand you have to incarnate, to materialize, and at the
same time its an impossibility. One is always on the edge - I think that this
comes up in the correspondence with Jacques Rivire, this poetry thats both
possible and always impossible at the same time, one is always on the edge of that
impossibility to do. And thats where the theater of cruelty is, in that sort of hole,
that void thats inside of what he expresses. Even though where theres poetry,
where theres theater, where theres cinema, there always has to be some kind of
materialization, of word-body-image, with that triad of theater, cinema, the text,
all that, and its always a matter of expression.110 Which is why Artaud is

Its true that this is one of Artauds more surprising twists: he is firmly rooted in expression, which fact
is easily either overlooked or re-routed in the post-death-of-the-author world of words referring only to
themselves. Although as with his conception of metaphysics, what hes looking to express is definitely
not the gently melancholy soul of the romantic self, but something thats both vaguer and in a way selfreferential (in fact his language is simultaneously expressive and self-referential, and his is a case in point


interesting, because while he may have been the most materialist, the most
corporeal thinker its always there in his suffering, in his self, in his cry but at
the same time the most, well maybe the word metaphysical is wrong, but I dont
know, spiritual

Yeah, a kind of ascetic, which yes is very weird

P.H.: The bodys constantly disappearing. And a sort of apparition. That is, theres
a dialectic of appearance and disappearance thats always there. Whats said about
the impossibility of saying, whats done about the impossibility of doing, etc. Being
as an expression of non-being. And the being doesnt exist, in a way.

Yeah thats what we were saying earlier, this attempt to present non-life.111

P.H.: Yes. But like the Body without Organs, which I think is Deleuzes expression,
in which there is the tension, the contradiction, even in the expression itself, of
inorganic life, this inorganic life that is both life which is to say existence, despite
everything - but that contains its own non-possibility. And Deleuze writes a lot on
his side about this idea, that art happens against a backdrop of silence, of nonpossibility, etc., which is more Deleuzian than Artaudian -

Yeah but theyre still similar in that, in this search for some sort of void

P.H.: But maybe where the two meet up is in the fact that theyre not just about
materialization and incarnation, but at the same time theyre not just about the

that the two arent inherently contradictory), and at the same time extremely specific in that its topic is
clear: thought, or rather its absence; the real; the void.
111 E.g., If you could only taste your nothingness, if you could rest well in your nothingness, and that
that nothingness wouldnt be a certain kind of being but wouldnt be death exactly. / It is so hard to no
longer exist, to no longer be in something. Real pain is feeling your thought move away inside of you.
But thought as a point certainly isnt suffering. (AA, Lombilic des Limbes suivi de Le Pse-Nerfs et autres
textes, Posie Gallimard, Paris, p.103)


purely spiritual or metaphysical. And in this way theres an attempt to link the two,
theres a spiritual aspect to the flesh, in fact. Flesh itself has its own spirituality.

Yes exactly. Its this thing that aims at making the world of the spirit re-enter the
world of the physical, by a kind of perverse fusion, through language for example.
But absolutely, I dont think, I mean thats why the use of the term metaphysical
is bizarre, because even though he uses it, hes not using it in the sense that some
15th century monks with dreams of ascending to some higher place might.

P.H.: No, its not about the celestial world.

Yeah, its some kind of celestial world on Ea

P.H.: On earth, yes, thats it. And I think maybe thats where theres a link back to
Nietzsche, in this terrestrial dimension. Where theres almost the same profile
between the suffering body and the thought that he encounters in the suffering
body. Which may not be at the origin of everything, the body, its not that, but
that it is in fact the very site of the process. The processes of thought are just as
much processes of the body. And of life, you could say it that way too.

Yeah I mean thats a fairly phenomenological point: thought happens within a

certain time-frame, with various corporeal inputs, you cant detach yourself from
your senses, etc. But Nietzsche, its true, is also very much after this change, I
wont call it desperate, but you know, he wants to go beyond man I mean that
everyones after to some degree.

P.H.: That we ourselves are after. [laugh] Well, so I dont know whether I
answered correctly, Professor, but


Youre being graded.

P.H.: No but Id have to take up the text again, to re-read it Its been a while
since Ive read Artaud. Authors like him should be read constantly.

Mmh. But the question is also, what do you read? Because people read a few of his
poems, and even then, the surrealist poems, which arent necessarily all that
worthwhile at the beginning The prose poems are very good, there are some
great poems, and then there are some screenplays, and there are the manifestoes.
But when we talk about Artaud, we only use quotes and little pieces, and its hard,
because he himself is brilliant only in moments, and the rest of the time hes and
well its tedious. I mean its not him whos tedious, but he wallows around in his
own thought, and hes very frustrated by it, I think.112

P.H.: Yes but despite all that once you get to the Rodez period, the last texts have
this intense beauty, obscure to be sure, because theres something And then
maybe it would be interesting, with the last texts, and its not that madness is a
particularly superior state of creation, but theres this sort of, you could employ the
expression, in the real Surrealist sense, of the automatism of an instant in which
the thought is all of a sudden photocopied onto the page. In a way. This
hammering Theres an anecdote that gets told, he was working on his texts with
actors, and here was a young actress who came to see him at Ivry, and she was
having trouble saying the text, and so he would hit, he would mark the beat
[rhythmically beats fist on the table in imitation], and its this idea of hammering,
this physical aspect, - because for him, to say a text wasnt about saying the


By no means is this, obviously, a reason to dismiss him entirely its merely a hurdle. Nevertheless it
is something most readers of A encounter and one of the reasons hes forever either falling back into
obscurity or being elevated to a rather vapid and clichd mythical status. Cf., e.g., Susan Sontags closing
paragraph to Approaching Artaud, in which she refers to the task of reading him as extremely boring.


meaning of the text, but about providing ones vocal, sonorous force, the
materiality it keeps coming back to that - that had to be given by the actor, but
not only for the sake of signification - in the performances its always the same
thing, its always about what can the body, and what can it give. Whether its in the
writing or in the actors expression, its always that, this sort of instant seized, this
thing created in the instant itself. Thats in this I dont know if this makes any
sense in the materiality of the instant. You have to seize it, its there, its There.
There you go, I dont know