Antonin Artaud

Artaud Through the Looking Glass

Dr. Ferdière and Antonin Artaud at Rodez

While Artaud was interned at the Rodez asylum, Dr. Ferdière suggested he work on a translation of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass as a part of his therapy. Since Artaud didn’t speak English, he worked alongside the chaplain, Henri Julien, who was also an English teacher. Father Julien explains the process the two undertook, saying that “during his visits, he listened to me read and translate the text. He then took up the translation and suggested different words and phrasing. It was in reading the resultant translation that one can sense his soul of fire, the grand actor …”[1]

Artaud arrives in Paris

Antonin Artaud moved to Paris in 1920 and boarded with Dr. Édouard Toulouse and his wife. They had been introduced by Artaud’s doctor in Switzerland in hopes that Artaud would be able to live close to Paris under the indirect supervision of a man with some medical expertise and an artistic inclination. Dr. Toulouse, who had also been born in Marseilles, was an ideal candidate for Artaud’s supervision. Toulouse’s 1896 book outlined a study of the connection between superior intelligence and nervous disorders, based on clinical observations of Émile Zola.[1] The critic Bernard Baillaud notes that “Toulouse’s work as a therapist crossed over easily into the literary and social domains. He saw himself as a novelist whose work was based on exact observations, and said that he had come to science through literary activity.”[2]

Antonin Artaud's 'Hyper-Negation'

Image 1: Watchfiends and Rack Screams. Image 2: Antonin Artaud: Man of Vision.
Image 1: Antonin Artaud, Watchfiends and Rack Screams: Works from the Final Period, Tr. Clayton Eshleman and Bernard Bador, (Boston: Exact Change, 1995.) Cover art: Nancy Spero, detail from “Codex Artaud XXIII,” 1972. Image 2: Bettina Knapp, Antonin Artaud: Man of Vision, (Chicago: Swallow Press, 1969.) Cover art: Still from La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, 1928.

When I asked the poet David Abel what first drew him to Antonin Artaud’s work, he said, “At least one dimension of that work is a grand negation. A gigantic no, which at a certain time in my life was absolutely thrilling. […] I feel like ‘no’ is a landscape that now is very rich and three-dimensional. And what I got from Artaud is foundational, a part of the architecture or a part of the geology of the no, but which now has lots of other structures in it.”[1] David Abel’s response captures a fundamental celebration of Antonin Artaud’s writings.

Antonin Artaud's 'Contradictions'

Nancy Spero, "All Writing Is Pigshit." Photo: Courtesy of Sophie Kitching.
Nancy Spero, "All Writing Is Pigshit." Photo: Courtesy of Sophie Kitching. www.sophiekitching.com

Two and a half years before his death, Antonin Artaud declared that he was “born otherwise, out of my works and not out of a mother.”[1] This assertion appears in a letter to Henri Parisot, Artaud’s editor at Editions Flammarion, who was soon to publish A Voyage to the Land of the Tarahumara. The letter to Parisot was intended to supplant an earlier preface to the book in which Artaud had stated his conversion to Christianity.

Mapping Antonin Artaud

“Nancy Spero’s Maypole: Take No Prisoners II, 2008 (detail).” Serpentine Gallery, London (March 3–May 2, 2011) Photograph © 2011 Jerry Hardman-Jones

The Google map below shows places, dates, and events from Artaud’s life. The red symbols mark biographical elements, the yellow symbols mark performance- or art-based elements, and the blue symbols mark Artaud’s continuing legacy. Where possible there are photographs, video, or links to further materials.

The Google map below shows places, dates, and events from Artaud’s life. The red symbols mark biographical elements, the yellow symbols mark performance- or art-based elements, and the blue symbols mark Artaud’s continuing legacy. Where possible there are photographs, video, or links to further materials.

 

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