Commentaries - February 2013

Antonin Artaud: The Old Caca Love Box

A first translation from French by Clayton Eshleman

                                                                 Paris, 27 December 1946
                                                                 To M. Gilbert 
Lély

          Sir,

     I did indeed receive your letter urging me to send you the promised text
for your special issue on love. But I did warn you that I could tell you only what I
think. It was you who questioned me, it is to you that I respond.
     For I have had, for a long time, nothing more to say about love. It’s a feeling
that I believed I had and understood, at a time when I was developing false ideas
about life, for in truth I never found any love in it, only in me:
     attachment (if that), selfish friendship, esteem, provisional consideration,
external sympathy,
     but love, in the, one could say, alchemical sense of the word, never.
     Example: the King of Thulé’s love,         IN Gérard de Nerval’s poem,
     love in the valley of the dappled lawn, from Edgar Poe’s Eleonora;
     as for love in Baudelaire, it reaches its highest expression in the A Martyr,
Carrion, A Voyage to Cytherea which are no more than a fall into the depths.
     André Breton alone remains, in his life as in his acts, faithful to this kind of
decantating, from a pure and detached attraction, from life into more than life.
     I mean: in his thinking, but who is there who will follow him in life?
     And then, what is love in reality? So many poets, philosophers, painters, heros,
clergy, saints, mystics, martyrs, tortured ones have passed through, and over,
that the thing sickens perhaps even more than the word.
     Love is a unique feeling, so unique that the idea of sharing it with others, of
having this feeling concomitantly with others, horrifies me.
     What I think about it, apart from this, is for me:
     for me alone, and I forbid anyone to talk about it, talking strictly to myself, to
speak of it at the same time as I.
     Besides I now believe that this feeling is called hate, and, for me, is called the
flagellation of a hate, which will lead me I don’t even know where.
     An old fetid smell of the idea of old love came back to me one day at Rodez, in
March of 1946, the day when I saw getting off at the Rodez station Marthe Robert
and Arthur Adamov who, after nine years of internment, were coming to look for
me and to claim me. And I have always asked myself what notion of repressed
love, one that had through time how many faces, through history how many
characters,
     sent them to me that day.
     I thought a great deal about love in the Rodez asylum, and I dreamed there of
some daughters of my soul, who would love me as daughters, and not as lovers, I
their pre-pubescent, lascivious, salacious, erotic and incestuous father;
     and chaste, so chaste as to be dangerous.

     For one can only love one’s creations.
     The woman who loves inclines to mother,
     the man who loves wants the tiny atom of life that loves him and which the
     (the what?)
     has pushed toward him,
     to feel itself, above all, descended from him.
     One cannot evade, in the world such as it is made, this idea of primogeniture,
not the first child of his father, but the father of the first child.
     As for the interpenetration of souls, the mystique of deep love, a woman wants,
if not on earth, at least in the depths of the arbitrary idea of I no longer know
what bottomless heaven, not to be born after the man she loves, but at least at
the same time,
     LIKE THE VIRGIN FACING GOD!

     In love there is the idea of service. And one does not indefinitely serve the same
being.
     There is nothing more exhaustible than the idea of devotion.
Besides, it seems to me a fundamental indiscretion that one can ask me this
question, that this question can be asked.
     Love is that untouchable thing of which one only speaks with a sealed mouth,
through how many strata of earth?
     And there is no secret drawer, there is no dark register that offers an account of
what it is, this pariah of satisfied realities.
     Nothing.
     Love is a forgotten feeling. And that’s all.

— No. Man’s passional body no longer delights in the King of Thulé! –Too many
lovers have cuckolded me for me to believe that this feeling still exists. And I am
not saying outside its place, outside its old dwelling-place, at Madam Poetry’s; for
I forbid poetry to still harbor the unfaithful, there is no life-long faithful, short of
decanting life. From life to more than life. And this is no longer poetry, but a kind
of ghastly autopsy.
     This decantation has to be brought about, on our old bodies gone to war against
the invisible and the uncreated (as if that had ever existed : the uncreated) –
with our bodies kept whole in the dungeons of the uncreated, in this same chaos
of the uncreated where life rekindles its wars, when there is no more to eat or to
drink, and when to drink is the same as to eat.

     Where has my lover gone? I would then say to the King of Thulé.
     And my lover’s just as good as yours!
     And do you know what the King of Thulé answered me before dawn, when his
legend was still being established, (but where did time go farther than its own
legend taking shape?)
     And it’s now that he answered me.
     Now, this very last night, spent in my chimney hole; --and all that was left to
me of love was a black, indescribable army, that unavowable army of succubi and
incubi armed with their sole hatred for what remains in me of an unused feeling :
     The feeling of love exhausted before it could be born, this machine of
magnetized rust between the blood and the shit of being, called
     sexuality.
     “My lover is not up to yours, and you will surrender yours to me at once!”
responded the King of Thulé.
     Thus is hell born.

     You wanted to devote this special issue of Variétés to eroticism. Then, you
changed it to the idea of love.
     That is not being half-mistaken, for nothing deserts love more, is further away
from the idea of love, than the machine used for fucking, copulating and
fornicating.
     It is in despair of love that all the old monkeys of hate, described in the
Ramayana, invented the obtuse machine, the old box of caca humus, called sex,
anus,
     And that!
     That, what?
     The dyke’s sloping tongue, which, in the garrets of the mind, wriggles over that :
     magma desire : Ca-Ca.
     And let breath, from Ca to Ca, end up strangling the Virgin.
After that, we’ll see.

                                                                 Antonin Artaud

     P.S. – Besides, the old box of caca humus will return when man has stopped
being that low ferret scratching at sex as if to force papa’s secret out from his very
mama mouth,
     And when papa-mama himself will have given up his seat to man, without
hieroglyph and secret keyboard.
     But it will take a lot of blood to cleanse the shit-box, awash, not with shit, but
with god-love.
     It’s the old haggler from Sinai who spread love-essence about;
     But why didn’t it occur to anyone that to fiddle with the essences
     (infinitesimals of principle, principles, embryos, magma larvae)
     was to let in all the microbes
     that are in the pruritus of the mind :
     sows, cinders of life.
                                                                 Antonin Artaud.

                                                                 31 December 1946

[The foregoing is translated from Artaud's Oeuvres Completes, volume XIV, Gallimard, Paris, 1978. The translator also thanks Mark Polizzotti for some helpful translation suggestions.]

A Conversation with David Antin: pdf of full 2002 Granary Book

Steve Clay of Granary Books has just released a pdf of the book I did with David Antin in 2002, including our long conversation and Antin's Album Notes

download free pdf


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archives (2006-April 2011) @ EPC

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Ashbery live webcast interview: audio recording segmented by topic

New at PennSound

On February 12, 2013, I interviewed John Ashbery in his Chelsea (New York, NY) apartment, and moderated a discussion with people gathered at the Kelly Writers House, while many hundreds more watched via live webcast. Thanks to Anna Zalokostas, PennSound’s Ashbery page now offers the audio-only version (in downloadable MP3 format, as always) of the discussion, and, also, links to audio excerpts segmented by topic. Here are those segments:

  1. on humor in Ashbery’s poems (3:53): MP3
  2. on Ashbery's relationship to nature and the country (4:00): MP3
  3. on “Auburn-Tinted Fences,” “Soonest Mended,” and living outside the margin (7:13): MP3
  4. on “Not Beyond All Conjecture” (9:01): MP3
  5. on aging, forgetfulness, and looking back at early work (5:06): MP3
  6. on “Homeless Heart” and not thinking in a straight line (3:44): MP3
  7. on Ashbery’s Three Poems and his need to constantly do something new in his writing (question from Ron Sillman) (9:22): MP3
  8. on translating Rimbaud (3:26): MP3
  9. on his writing process (2:34): MP3
  10. on writing that deals with institutions and bureaucracies (1:29): MP3
  11. reading and commenting on “Like America” (6:10): MP3
  12. on experiencing difficulty when writing poetry (2:43): MP3
  13. on “A Poem of Unrest” and trying to understand Ashbery’s work (1:29): MP3
  14. on Wallace Stevens, Harvard & F.O. Matthiessen (4:04): MP3
  15. reading and discussing “Just Walking Around” (8:57): MP3

"Reznikoff's Nearness" -- recording of Royaumont talk in 1989, introduced by Emmanuel Hocquard, translated by Pierre Alferi

From September 29 to October 1, 1989, the Literary Center at Royaumont, outside Paris, put on the first conference devoted to the American Objectivist poets. Emmanuel Hoquard and Rémy Hourcade were the organizers. Carl Rakosi came for the event (seeming startled to be the last surving member of a grouping about which he had often tenuous connections), along with Michael Davidson, Lyn Hejinian, Michael Palmer, Stephen Rodefer, and David Bromige. There was a large audience of French poets and critics.  (Niedecker was not officially featured in the program, a regrettable omission that was often noted at the event.)

Fall 1989 was my first semester teaching at Buffalo – as a visiting professor. I flew direct from Buffalo to Paris for the event, which was a magnificent tribute to the these poets. It 's remarkable that these four great Second Wave modernist Jewish-American poets received the first grand tribute of this kind in France, not in the U.S.

After a several more years or work, my talk on Reznikoff became "Reznikoff's Nearness" (first published in Sulfur and later collected in My Way). In this early talking version, Emmanuel Hoquard gives a long introduction and I am simultaneously translated (with commentary!) by Pierre Alferi. A pamphlet transcribed from the talk was later published as Notes 3

1:32: mp3

The New Polish Poetry

In Jacket 29

Polish girl: photo -- Poland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Polish girl: photo -- Poland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs

44 New Poems from Poland

An selection of poems from Altered State — The New Polish Poetry. Edited by Rod Mengham, Tadeusz Pióro and Piotr Szymor. Todmorden, UK: Arc Publications, 2003. Price: £10.95. This selection was chosen by Rod Mengham and John Tranter.

[»»] Marcin Baran: Hot embitterments

[»»] Julia Fiedorczuk: November on the Narew

[»»] Darek Foks: Farewell, Haiku

[»»] Mariusz Grzebalski: Slaughterhouse / Then

[»»] Krzysztof Jaworski: I used to be a slender guy

[»»] Bartłomiej Majzel: Scrumping

[»»] Maciej Melecki: Summer, getting away from yourself

[»»] Andrzej Niewiadomski: Retineo

[»»] Edward Pasewicz: Bird bones

[»»] Tadeusz Pióro: Bug hour

[»»] Marta Podgórnik: Final destination

[»»] Krzysztof Siwczyk: Metaphors and comparisons

[»»] Krzysztof Śliwka: Sestina

[»»] Dariusz Sośnicki: Washroom / Leaves / How to walk downstairs

[»»] Andrzej Sosnowski: A song for Europe / For children

[»»] Marcin Świetlicki: Battlefield / So long ago, so distinctly / McDonald’s

[»»] Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki: XII Moon rises over the Vistula / Dernier cri / LII (‘We drink…’) / LXXX Heat / XC (‘We’d just wept… ’)

[»»] Adam Wiedemann: Aesthetics of the word

[»»] Grzegorz Wróblewski: Tangerines / Argument from Enghave Station / I put off the knife from my hand till tomorrow

Supplement, 2006:

[»»] Maciej Melecki: Cases and Variants / Three Colours

[»»] Tadeusz Pióro: Some Methods of Crowd Control

[»»] Andrzej Sosnowski: Closer / On the Hoof / Founding a Colony

[»»] Agnieszka Wolny-Hamkalo: Event

[»»] Grzegorz Wróblewski: Eight Poems

[»»] Adam Zdrodowski: Sestine Mon Amour / Like a Tourist in a Milk Bar / Poem Written During Office Hours / Telling Fortunes