Commentaries - June 2016

Antonin Artaud's early years

Marseilles 1896, by Charles Bertram Black
Marseilles 1896, by Charles Bertram Black

Antonin Artaud was born in the metropolitan port town of Marseilles on September 4th, 1896. His parents were Levantine Greeks. His mother, Euphrasie Nalpas, hailed from Smyrna, now İzmir, in Turkey. In his younger years, Antonin spent summers there with his maternal grandmother. Antonin’s father — Antoine-Roi Artaud — worked as a ship-fitter in the family business, which often took him away from home — up and down the Mediterranean and up into the Black Sea. Within his familial constellation, adults spoke French (including Provençal,) Greek, Turkish, and Italian.[1] During his youth Antonin was, in Alain Paire’s words, “bathed in multiple languages” — a fact that Paire links to Artaud’s later glossolaliac writing.[2]

Those biographers who detail Artaud’s early life cast his childhood as a string of health crises and tragedies. The death of his maternal grandmother deeply affected the young Antonin. Bettina Knapp characterizes his summers with her in Turkey as filled with “a closeness and a calmness, a sense of belonging and an inner joy,” which contrasted with the “tense atmosphere” at home “created by an over-solicitous mother and an anxious father.”[3]

Languages of communion: in conversation with Cardboard House Press' Giancarlo Huapaya

New titles by Cardboard House Press.
New titles by Cardboard House Press.

One winter I found myself living in a strange land, in the middle of my own country, somewhere I had never been. No peaks or valleys, miles of flat covered with snow. For a brief time, I earned an income answering calls from all states, tending to a vexed populace, untangling corporate glitches through a headset device.

Inside that monolith of cubicles, patterns of speech shared a certain uniformity, an elongated o, a quickened pace. Where I was from, at least 185 languages are reported spoken, each with an attendant inflection, pitch, timbre. Homesick in my own nation, it wasn't English I missed but the multiplicity of language, even within a single one.  

'a few 'strong wrinkles' puckering the / skin between the ears'

I suggested in my previous post that poetic irritation, or maybe irritability (who, after all, is being irritated here?) has something to do with a tediously citational female word-labor, antithetical to poetry in the case of Nella Larsen’s constantly irritated fictional character Helga Crane, and the very “raw material of poetry in all its rawness” in the case of Marianne Moore. “[W]e discern Miss Moore being a librarian, an editor, a teacher of typewriting: locating fragments already printed; picking and choosing; making, letter by letter, neat pages” (Kenner 98).