Antoine Henri Joseph Artaud
4 September 1896
|Died||4 March 1948 (aged 51)|
|Education||Studied at the Collège du Sacré-Coeur|
|Occupation||Theatre director, poet, actor, artist, essayist|
|Known for||Theatre of Cruelty|
|The Theatre and Its Double|
Antoine Henri Joseph Artaud, better known as Antonin Artaud (French: [a?to]; 4 September 1896 - 4 March 1948), was a French dramatist, poet, essayist, actor, and theatre director, widely recognized as one of the major figures of twentieth-century theatre and the European avant-garde. He is best known for conceptualizing a 'Theatre of Cruelty'.
Antonin Artaud was born in Marseille, France, to Euphrasie Nalpas and Antoine-Roi Artaud. Both his parents were natives of Smyrna (modern-day ?zmir),:15 and he was greatly affected by his Greek ancestry. Antoine-Roi Artaud was a shipowner. Euphrasie gave birth to nine children, but four were stillborn and two others died in childhood. Artaud was diagnosed with meningitis at age five, a disease which had no cure at the time. Biographer David Shafer points out, "given the frequency of such misdiagnoses, coupled with the absence of a treatment (and consequent near-minimal survival rate) and the symptoms he had, it's unlikely that Artaud actually contracted it." After a long struggle including a comatose period, a severely weakened Antonin survived. Artaud's parents arranged a series of sanatorium stays for their temperamental son, which were both prolonged and expensive. This lasted five years, with a break of two months in June and July 1916, when Artaud was conscripted into the French Army. He was discharged due to addiction to laudanum and mental instability. During Artaud's "rest cures" at the sanatorium, he read Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, and Edgar Allan Poe. In May 1919, the director of the sanatorium prescribed laudanum for Artaud, precipitating a lifelong addiction to that and other opiates. He suffered a nervous breakdown at age 19; this was not the end of his mental illness.
In March 1921, Artaud moved to Paris to pursue a career as a writer (against his father's wishes). While training and performing with directors including Charles Dullin and Georges Pitoëff, he continued to write both poetry and essays. At the age of 27, he mailed some of his poems to the journal La Nouvelle Revue Française; they were rejected, but the editor, Jacques Rivière, wrote back seeking to understand him, and a relationship via letters developed. Their compilation into an epistolary work, Correspondance avec Jacques Rivière, was Artaud's first major publication.
Charles Dullin is one of the celebrated French "teacher-directors" with whom Artuad worked, along with Jacques Copeau, André Antoine, and Firmin Gémier. Artaud was taken on as an apprentice by Dullin in 1921, at his Théâtre de l'Atelier in Néronville, France. He worked as a member of with Dullin's troupe for eighteen months, training ten to twelve hours a day.:119 Artaud was quoted as saying of Dullin, "Hearing Dullin teach I feel that I'm rediscovering ancient secrets and a whole forgotten mystique of production".:351
Artaud came to disagree with many of Dullin's teachings. He voiced concerns of the dangers relating to "psychological equilibrium" present in Dullin's vocal improvisation exercises stating, "These exercises of improvisation reveal and sharpen true personality. Intonation is found within oneself and pushed out with the burning power of feeling, not achieved through imitation".:349-350 He left the troupe after a disagreement over his performance of the Emperor Charlemagne in Alexandre Arnoux's Huon de Bordeaux, when Artaud entered the stage on 'all fours and crawled towards his throne like an animal' in one of the production rehearsals.:22
Artaud cultivated a great interest in cinema as well, working as a critic, actor, and writing film scenarios. Artaud's performance as Jean-Paul Marat in Abel Gance's Napoleon (1927) used exaggerated movements to convey the fire of Marat's personality. He also played the monk Massieu in Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). He wrote a number of film scenarios, and ten are listed in his Complete Works. As Ros Murray points out, 'one is a fragment, four were written under a pseudonym, and one was lost altogether.'
Only one of Artaud's scenarios was produced, The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928). Directed by Germaine Dulac, it is often considered the first surrealist film. This film influenced Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel, two key Spanish surrealists, when they made Un Chien Andalou (1929).
Artaud was briefly associated with the Surrealists, before being expelled by André Breton in 1927, shortly after the Surrealists aligned themselves with the Communist Party in France.: 274 Scholar Ros Murray asserts, 'Artaud was not into politics at all, writing things like: "I shit on Marxism."' Additionally, 'Breton was becoming very anti-theatre because he saw theatre as being bourgeois and anti-revolutionary.' Artaud ends his manifesto for the Theatre Alfred Jarry, 'The Manifesto for an Abortive Theatre' (1926/27), with a direct attack on the Surrealists, who he calls 'bog-paper revolutionaries' that would 'make us believe that to produce theatre today is a counter-revolutionary endeavour'.:24 He declares they are 'bowing down to Communism',:25 which is 'A lazy man's revolution',:24 and calls for a more 'essential metamorphosis' of society.:25
In 1926, Artaud founded the Theatre Alfred Jarry with Robert Aron and expelled Surrealist Roger Vitrac. They staged four productions between June 1927 and January 1929. The Theatre was extremely short-lived, but was attended by an enormous range of European artists, including Arthur Adamov, André Gide, and Paul Valéry.:249
The theatre advertised that they would produce Artaud's play Jet de sang in their 1926-1927 season, but it was never mounted and was not premiered until 40 years later.
In 1931, Artaud saw Balinese dance performed at the Paris Colonial Exposition. Although he did not fully understand the intentions and ideas behind traditional Balinese performance, it influenced many of his ideas for theatre. Scholar Adrian Curtin has noted the significance of the soundscape that accompanied the event, stating that Artaud was struck by
the 'hypnotic' rhythms of the gamelan ensemble, its range of percussive effects, the variety of timbres that the musicians produced, and - most importantly, perhaps - the way in which the dancers' movements interacted dynamically with the musical elements instead of simply functioning as a type of background accompaniment.:253
In 1935 Artaud staged a production of Percy Bysshe Shelley's The Cenci at the Théâtre des Folies-Wagram in Paris.:250 The drama contains themes of abuse, incest, violence, murder and betrayal. In Artaud's stage directions, he described the opening scene as "suggestive of extreme atmospheric turbulence, with wind-blown drapes, waves of suddenly amplified sound, and crowds of figures engaged in 'furious orgy'", accompanied by "a chorus of church bells", as well as the presence of numerous large mannequins.:120 In this scene, which is often referred to as "the banquet scene", Dullin's influence on Artaud is very clear, as both the sounds of bells and the sounds of amplified footsteps were present, along with the strongly emphasized theme of elemental forces. Scholar Adrian Curtin has argued for the importance of the 'sonic aspects of the production, which did not merely support the action but motivated it obliquely.':251 While Shelley's version of The Cenci conveyed the motivations and anguish of the Cenci's daughter Beatrice with her father through monologues, Artaud was much more concerned with conveying the menacing nature of the Cenci's presence and the reverberations of their incest relationship though physical discordance, as if an invisible "force-field" surrounded them.:123
Artaud's strong interest in oriental theater, specifically Balinese and Chinese, was in part shared by his mentor Dullin, but Dullin, unlike Artaud, did not think Western theater should be adopting oriental language and style. He was quoted as saying of Artaud's influences from oriental theater, "To want to impose on our Western theater rules of a theatre of a long tradition which has its own symbolic language would be a great mistake.":351 Artaud's implementation of Dullin's sensory awareness exercises into the stage production were clearly observable in The Cenci, Jane Goodall writes of the performance,
The predominance of action over reflection accelerates the development of events...the monologues...are cut in favor of sudden, jarring transitions...so that a spasmodic effect is created. Extreme fluctuations in pace, pitch, and tone heighten sensory awareness intensify ... the here and now of performance.:119
The Cenci was a commercial failure, although it employed innovative sound effects--including the first theatrical use of the electronic instrument the Ondes Martenot--and had a set designed by Balthus.
In 1935 Artaud decided to go to Mexico, where he was convinced there was 'a sort of deep movement in favour of a return to civilisation before Cortez'.:11 He received a grant to travel to Mexico, where in 1936 he met his first Mexican-Parisian friend, the painter Federico Cantú, when Cantú gave lectures on the decadence of Western civilization. Artaud also studied and lived with the Tarahumaran people and participated in peyote rites, his writings about which were later released in a volume called Voyage to the Land of the Tarahumara,:14 published in English under the title The Peyote Dance (1976). The content of this work closely resembles the poems of his later days, concerned primarily with the supernatural. Artaud also recorded his horrific withdrawal from heroin upon entering the land of the Tarahumaras. Having deserted his last supply of the drug at a mountainside, he literally had to be hoisted onto his horse and soon resembled, in his words, "a giant, inflamed gum". Artaud would return to opiates later in life.
In 1937, Artaud returned to France, where he obtained a walking stick of knotted wood that he believed belonged not only to St. Patrick, but also Lucifer and Jesus Christ. Artaud traveled to Ireland, landing at Cobh and travelling to Galway in an effort to return the staff. However, speaking very little English and no Irish whatsoever, he was unable to make himself understood. He would not have been admitted at Cobh, according to Irish government documents, except that he carried a letter of introduction from the Paris embassy. Most of his trip was spent in a hotel room he was unable to pay for. He was forcibly removed from the grounds of Milltown House, a Jesuit community, when he refused to leave. Before deportation he was briefly confined in the notorious Mountjoy Prison. According to Irish Government papers he was deported as "a destitute and undesirable alien". On his return trip by ship, Artaud believed he was being attacked by two crew members, and he retaliated. He was arrested and put in a straitjacket.
His return from Ireland brought about the beginning of the final phase of Artaud's life, which was spent in different asylums. It was at this time that his best known work The Theatre and Its Double (1938) was published. This book contained the two manifestos of the Theatre of Cruelty. There, "he proposed a theatre that was in effect a return to magic and ritual and he sought to create a new theatrical language of totem and gesture - a language of space devoid of dialogue that would appeal to all the senses.":6 "Words say little to the mind," Artaud wrote, "compared to space thundering with images and crammed with sounds." He proposed "a theatre in which violent physical images crush and hypnotize the sensibility of the spectator seized by the theatre as by a whirlwind of higher forces." He considered formal theatres with their proscenium arches and playwrights with their scripts "a hindrance to the magic of genuine ritual.":6
In 1943, when France was occupied by the Nazis, Robert Desnos arranged to have Artaud transferred to the psychiatric hospital in Rodez, well inside Vichy territory, where he was put under the charge of Dr. Gaston Ferdière. At Rodez Artaud underwent therapy including electroshock treatments and art therapy.:194 The doctor believed that Artaud's habits of crafting magic spells, creating astrology charts, and drawing disturbing images were symptoms of mental illness. Artaud, at his peak began lashing out at others. Artaud denounced the electroshock treatments and consistently pleaded to have them suspended, while also ascribing to them 'the benefit of having returned him to his name and to his self mastery'.:196 Scholar Alexandra Lukes points out that 'the "recovery" of his name' might have been 'a gesture to appease his doctors' conception of what constitutes health.':196 It was during this time that Artaud began writing and drawing again, after a long dormant period. In 1946, Ferdière released Artaud to his friends, who placed him in the psychiatric clinic at Ivry-sur-Seine.
Artaud was encouraged to write by his friends, and interest in his work was rekindled. He visited an exhibition of works by Vincent van Gogh which resulted in a study Van Gogh le suicidé de la société [Van Gogh, The Man Suicided by Society], published by K éditeur, Paris, 1947 which won a critics' prize. He recorded Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de dieu [To Have Done With the Judgment of god] between 22 and 29 November 1947. This work was shelved by Wladimir Porché, the director of the French Radio, the day before its scheduled airing on 2 February 1948. The performance was prohibited partially as a result of its scatological, anti-American, and anti-religious references and pronouncements, but also because of its general randomness, with a cacophony of xylophonic sounds mixed with various percussive elements. While remaining true to his Theatre of Cruelty and reducing powerful emotions and expressions into audible sounds, Artaud had utilized various, somewhat alarming cries, screams, grunts, onomatopoeia, and glossolalia.
As a result, Fernand Pouey, the director of dramatic and literary broadcasts for French radio, assembled a panel to consider the broadcast of Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de dieu. Among the approximately 50 artists, writers, musicians, and journalists present for a private listening on 5 February 1948 were Jean Cocteau, Paul Éluard, Raymond Queneau, Jean-Louis Barrault, René Clair, Jean Paulhan, Maurice Nadeau, Georges Auric, Claude Mauriac, and René Char. Although the panel felt almost unanimously in favor of Artaud's work, Porché refused to allow the broadcast. Pouey left his job and the show was not heard again until 23 February 1948 at a private performance at the Théâtre Washington.
In January 1948, Artaud was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. He died shortly afterwards on 4 March 1948 in a psychiatric clinic in Ivry-sur-Seine, a commune in the southeastern suburbs of Paris. He was found by the gardener of the estate seated alone at the foot of his bed, and it was suspected that he died from a lethal dose of the drug chloral hydrate, although it is unknown whether he was aware of its lethality.
Artaud has been cited as a profoundly influential figure in the history of theatre, avant-garde art, literature, and other disciplines. His work proved to be a significant influence on the Theatre of the Absurd, particularly the works of Jean Genet and Samuel Beckett, and helped inspire a movement away from the dominant role of language and rationalism in contemporary theatre. Artaud also had a significant influence on the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, who borrowed Artaud's phrase "the body without organs" to describe their conception of the virtual dimension of the body and, ultimately, the basic substratum of reality in their Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Poet Allen Ginsberg claimed that his introduction to Artaud, specifically "To Have Done with the Judgement of God", by Carl Solomon had a tremendous influence on his most famous poem "Howl".
A very important study on the Artaud work comes from Jacques Derrida. According to the philosopher, as theatrical writer and actor, Artaud is the embodiment of both an aggressive and repairing gesture, which strikes, sounds out, is harsh in a dramatic way and with critical determination as well. Identifying life as art, he was critically focused on the western cultural social drama, to point out and deny the double-dealing on which the western theatrical tradition is based; he worked with the whirlpool of feelings and lunatic expressions, being subjugated to a counter-force which came from the act of gesture.
Theatrical practitioner Peter Brook took inspiration from Artaud's "Theatre of Cruelty" in a series of workshops that led up to his Royal Shakespeare Company production of Marat/Sade in 1964, which was performed in New York and Paris as well as London. The Living Theatre was also heavily influenced by Artaud, as was much English-language experimental theatre and performance art; Karen Finley, Spalding Gray, Liz LeCompte, Richard Foreman, Charles Marowitz, Sam Shepard, Joseph Chaikin, and more all named Artaud as one of their influences.:6-25 In the winter of 1968, Williams College offered a dedicated intersession class in Artaudian theatre, resulting in a week-long "Festival of Cruelty," under the direction of Keith Fowler. The Festival included productions of The Jet of Blood, All Writing is Pig Shit, and several original ritualized performances, one based on the Texas Tower killings and another created as an ensemble catharsis called The Resurrection of Pig Man.
Charles Marowitz's play Artaud at Rodez is about the relationship between Artaud and Dr. Ferdière during Artaud's confinement at the psychiatric hospital in Rodez; the play was first performed in 1976 at the Teatro a Trastavere in Rome. The writer and actor Tim Dalgleish wrote and produced the play 'The Life and Theatre of Antonin Artaud' (originally called 'Pigshit') for the English physical theatre company Bare Bones in 1999. The play told Artaud's story from his early years of aspiration when he wished to be part of the establishment, through to his final years as a suffering, iconoclastic outsider. In Canada, playwright Gary Botting created a series of Artaudian "happenings" from The Aeolian Stringer to Zen Rock Festival, and produced a dozen plays with an Artaudian theme, including Prometheus Re-Bound. The Latin American dramatic novel Yo-Yo Boing! by Giannina Braschi includes a debate between artists and poets concerning the merits of Artaud's "multiple talents" in comparison to the singular talents of other French writers. The band Bauhaus included a song about the playwright, called "Antonin Artaud", on their album Burning from the Inside. Influential Argentine hard rock band Pescado Rabioso recorded an album titled Artaud. Their leader Luis Alberto Spinetta wrote the lyrics partly basing them on Artaud's writings. Composer John Zorn has written many works inspired by and dedicated to Artaud, including seven CDs: "Astronome", "Moonchild: Songs Without Words", "Six Litanies for Heliogabalus", "The Crucible", "Ipsissimus", "Templars: In Sacred Blood" and "The Last Judgment", a monodrama for voice and orchestra inspired by Artaud's late drawings "La Machine de l'être" (2000), "Le Momo" (1999) for violin and piano, and "Suppots et Suppliciations" (2012) for full orchestra. Filmmaker E. Elias Merhige, during an interview by writer Scott Nicolay, cited the writings of Artaud as a key influence for the experimental film Begotten.
Works by Artaud