Now click on the 2nd photo. Yes, the face belongs to the same man. But it looks like the photo was taken a 100 years later. And it is the face of death as it was taken not long before he died. But this uttely f**ked face, destroyed seemingly by time, doesn't belong to an old man. It's not even that of a man in the same postcode as old age.
So what had happened in those 20 years? What had ravaged his face so he looked like a demonic ghost? What had reduced him to but a hollow shadow of his former self? To find the answers you don't have to delve too deeply into any Artaud biography to find the same recurring words popping out at you: 'mental illness, 'asylums', 'heroin addiction', 'straitjacket', 'chloral', 'schizophrenia' ....
I must admit it was through these 2 photos that I first came to know of him. I was a teenager and reading something on Surrealism when these photos popped out at me from the pages. The brief bio outlined his life and his kind of descent into a living hell. Then I found a book of French Surrealist poetry, translated into English by none other by, among others, Samuel Beckett, and his work was prominent. To me it served as a counterpoint to the sweet melancholia of a Desnos or the patriotic fervour of a Aragon. There was nothing pretty or easy in Artaud's poetry: it was hard, confusing, inexorable, and above all else, unforgiving.
His essays dealt with life and death, suicide, drugs, lunacy, religion and art. Perhaps today, outside of France at least, he is best known as an influential and radical theatrical innovator. His theories, production ideas, writings and plays brought a poetic impulse and dynamic intensity to the stage to replace the naturalistic theatre that preceded his own. Antonin Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty is one of the most vital forces in world theatre.
Antonin Artaud was one of nine children (only three survived infancy) born to Euphrasie Nalpas (from a Greek background), and Antoine-Roi Artaud, a wealthy shipfitter.
When he was
four or five, he had a near-fatal attack of meningitis, the results of which remained with him for the rest of his life. During adolescence, he suffered from neuralgia, stammering and severe bouts of depression. As a teenager, he was allegedly stabbed in the back by a pimp for apparently no reason.
Educated at the Collège du Sacré Coeur in Marseilles.
At 14 founded a literary magazine, which he kept going for almost four years. Still in his teens, he began to have sharp head pains, which continued throughout his life.
At 18, was the victim of an attack of neurasthenia and was treated in a rest home; the following year in 1915 he was given opium to alleviate his pain, and he became addicted within a few months. Read Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and Poe.
Inducted into the army in 1916, but was released in less than a year on grounds of both mental instability and drug addiction. In 1918 he committed himself to a clinic in Switzerland, where he remained until 1920.
On his release, he went immediately to Paris, still under medical supervision, and began to study with Charles Dullin, an actor and director. He soon began to find jobs as a stage and screen actor and as a set and costume designer. Within the next decade,
he appeared on film in Fait Divers and Surcourt--le roi des corsairs (1924); Abel Gance's
Napoléon Boneparte (1925); La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928);
Tarakanowa (1929); G. W. Pabst's Dreigroschenoper, made in Berlin (1930); and
Les Croix des Bois, Faubourg Montmartre,
and Femme d'une nuit (all 1930). On stage he had roles in
He Who Gets Slapped (1923), Six Characters in Search of an Author
(1924), and R.U.R. (1924).
At the age of 27, he sent some of his poems to the journal La Nouvelle Revue Française; they were rejected, but the editor wrote back seeking to understand him, and a relationship in letters was born. This epistolary work, Correspondence avec Jacques Rivière, is Artaud's first major publication.
At the same time, Artaud became seriously interested in the Surrealist
movement headed by André Breton and in 1923 published a volume of symbolist verse strongly influenced by Mallarmé, Verlaine, and Rimbaud,
Tric trac du ciel (Backgammon of the Sky). Two years later, at the height of his involvement with the Surrealists, he published L'Ombilic des limbes (Umbilical Limbo),
a collection of letters, poems in prose, and bits of dialogue; it contained one complete work, the five-minute playlet Le Jet
sang (The Jet of Blood), which was finally produced in 1964.
Artaud broke with the organized Surrealist movement in 1926, when
Breton became a Communist and attempted to take his fellow-members with him into the party. Yet Artaud continued to view himself as a Surrealist
and in 1927 wrote the filmscript for La Coquille et le clergyman,
perhaps the most famous Surrealist film, and Les Pèse-nerfs (Nerve Scales), another collection containing various literary forms.
It was also in 1927 that he joined with Roger Vitrac and Robert Aron
to found the Théâtre Alfred Jarry, named for the author of
play Ubu roi, which had so shocked the theatrical establishment of its time. Their theater had no permanent home, so they leased space in established theaters. In their first year they presented two programs, the first an evening of three one-act plays, one contributed by each of the founders,
and Léon Poirier's Verdun, visions d'histoire. The following year they produced one evening which combined the film of Maxim Gorky's
The Mother and the last
act of Paul Claudel's Partage de midi, another of
Strindberg's Dream Play, and their final effort, Vitrac's
Victor ou les enfants du pouvoir.
Working as a theatrical producer gave Artaud
an insight into the exigencies of the practical aspects of theater, with which he was not happy. Then, in 1931, he saw a Balinese drama at the French Colonial Exposition in Paris and found in this work, which stressed spectacle and dance, the ideal for which he had been searching.
In 1932-1933 he published his first work of dramatic theory, Manifestes du théâtre de la cruauté
(Manifestos of the Theater of Cruelty), and in 1935 staged the first work based on his theories, an adaptation of Les Cenci, heavily dependent on the earlier works on that theme by the British poet Shelley
and the French novelist Stendhal. Since one of Artaud's
theories involved the breaking of the barrier between actors and audience, Les Cenci may be have been the first play ever staged in the round. In any event, it was a total failure.
Shattered, Artaud went to Mexico in 1930 and stayed there for the better part of a year, spending some time with the sun-worshipping Tarahumara Indians. On his return to France, he became engaged to a Belgian girl and tried to end his drug dependence. In May of 1937, giving a lecture in Brussels, he went completely out of control and began screaming at the audience. In the fall of that same year, on a visit to Ireland, he was declared mentally unfit, put in a straitjacket, and sent back to France. Ironically, it was shortly thereafter that his most important and
influential work, Le Théâtre et son double (The Theater and Its Double), was published.
Diagnosed as schizophrenic, Artaud spent the next nine years in mental institutions including a psychiatric hospital in Rodez when the 2nd World War was on and Rodez was in Vichy territory, and a psychiatric clinic at Ivry-sur-Seine. Treatment included electroshock and no matter the controversy tied in with it, it is a fact that during it Artaud began writing and drawing again after a long period of abandonment.
He returned to Paris in triumph, acclaimed as a genius after his three-hour lecture-reading to an audience which included Andre Gide, future Albert Camus, and
Artaud died of intestinal cancer on March 4, 1948, in a rest home near Paris. He died alone in his pavilion, seated at the foot of his bed, allegedly holding his shoe. Maybe he didn't die from cancer - maybe it was from a lethal dose of the drug chloral that did him or maybe it wasn't.
His reputation rests entirely on his critical work.
Northampton's finest band Bauhaus (pretentious, them? never), included the song Antonin Artaud, on their album Burning from the Inside. Whether the lead singer Peter Murphy got the name from the index of a book on Surrealism or had actually read an entire Artaud poem remains unclear.
What Artaud went through in his life can't be summed up in 3 minutes. It's worth more than an 80s hairstyle. Schizophrenia isn't a fashion, it's horrific, desperate, beyond words. Bands like Bauhaus shouldn't be allowed to use his name.
Artaud had many shades of genius; Bauhaus many shades of nothingness.
Bauhaus was Walter Gropius; Murphy isn't even a cousin.
© ~ Paul Page for Lenin
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