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Antonin Artaud


Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud, better known as Antonin Artaud (September 4, 1896, in Marseillemarker – March 4, 1948 in Paris) was a Frenchmarker playwright, poet, actor and theatre director. Antonin is a diminutive form of Antoine (little Anthony), and was among a long list of names which Artaud used throughout his life.

Biographical information

Artaud's parents, Euphrasie Nalpas and Antoine-Roi Artaud, were of Greek origin (Smyrnamarker), and he was much affected by this background. Although his mother had nine children, only Antoine and two siblings survived infancy.

At the age of four, Artaud had a severe attack of meningitis. The virus gave Artaud a nervous, irritable temperament throughout adolescence. He also suffered from neuralgia, stammering and severe bouts of depression. As a teenager, he was allegedly stabbed in the back by a pimp for no apparent reason, similar to the experience of playwright Samuel Beckett.

Artaud's parents arranged a long series of sanatorium stays for their disruptive son, which were both prolonged and expensive. They lasted five years, with a break of two months, June and July 1916, when Artaud was conscripted into the army. He was allegedly discharged due to his self-induced habit of sleepwalking. 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.

Paris

In March 1920, aged 24, Artaud moved to Paris to pursue a career as a writer but quickly discovered he had a talent for avant-garde theatre. Whilst training and performing with the most acclaimed directors of the day, most notably Charles Dullin and Georges Pitoeff, he continued to write both poetry and essays. At the age of 27, he sent 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 in letters was born. This epistolary work, Correspondence avec Jacques Rivière, is Artaud's first major publication.

In 1925, Artaud effectively took over directing the surrealist movement, writing many of the articles for The Surrealist Revolution and running the Bureau of Surrealist Research, a loose affiliation of surrealists interested in exploring automatic writing, recording dreams and engaging in anything which rejected rationality. After about 18 months he grew increasingly frustrated by what he perceived as the surrealists' unwillingness to do any more than disrupt bourgeois art events and create scandal. They in turn, spearheaded by André Breton who possibly felt his leadership of the movement to be threatened by Artaud's dynamic energy and extreme radical commitment, set about ejecting him from the group after he publicly began to call their revolutionary bluff.

Artaud cultivated a great interest in cinema as well, writing the scenario for the first Surrealist film, The Seashell and the Clergyman, directed by Germaine Dulac. Dali and Bunuel, two key Spanish surrealists, took their cue for Un Chien Andalou from this. He also acted in Abel Gance's Napoleon in the role of Jean-Paul Marat, and in Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc as the monk Massieu. Artaud's portrayal of Marat used exaggerated movements to convey the fire of Marat's personality.

In 1926-28, Artaud ran the Alfred Jarry Theater, along with Roger Vitrac. He produced and directed original works by Vitrac, as well as pieces by Claudel and Strindberg. 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. The Theater was extremely short-lived, but was attended by an enormous range of European artists, including André Gide, Arthur Adamov, and Paul Valéry.

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. Also during this year, the 'First Manifesto for a Theatre of Cruelty' was published in La Nouvelle Revue Française which would later appear as a chapter in 'The Theatre and Its Double'. In 1935, Artaud's production of his adaptation of Shelley's The Cenci premiered. 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.

After the production failed, Artaud received a grant to travel to Mexicomarker, where he met his first (Mexican) Parisian friend, the Painter Federico Cantú in 1936 when he gave lectures on the decadence of Western civilization. He also studied and lived with the Tarahumaran people and experimented with peyote, recording his experiences, which were later released in a volume called Voyage to the Land of the Tarahumara. 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 in an effort to return the staff, though he spoke very little English and was unable to make himself understood. The majority of his trip was spent in a hotel room that he was unable to pay for. On his return trip, Artaud believed he was being attacked by two crew members and retaliated; he was arrested and put in a straitjacket.

1938 saw the publication of The Theatre and Its Double, his most well-known work. This book contained the two manifestos of the Theatre of Cruelty, essential texts in understanding his artistic project.

Final years

The return from Ireland brought about the beginning of the final phase of Artaud's life, which was spent in different asylums. When France was occupied by the Nazis, friends of Artaud had him transferred to the psychiatric hospital in Rodezmarker, well inside Vichymarker territory, where he was put under the charge of Dr. Gaston Ferdière. Ferdière began administering electroshock treatments to eliminate Artaud's symptoms, which included various delusions and odd physical tics. The doctor believed that Artaud's habits of crafting magic spells, creating astrology charts, and drawing disturbing images, were symptoms of mental illness. The electro-shock treatments have created much controversy, although it was during these treatments — in conjunction with Ferdière's art therapy — 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. Current psychiatric literature describes Artaud as having schizophrenia, with a clear psychotic break late in life and schizotypal symptoms throughout life.

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 [30450]. He recorded [To Have Done With the Judgment of god] between November 22 and November 29, 1947. This work was shelved by Wladimir Porché, the director of the French Radio, the day before its scheduled airing on February 2, 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 Theater 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 Among the approximately 50 artists, writers, musicians, and journalists present for a private listening on February 5, 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 February 23, 1948 at a private performance at the Théâtre Washington.

In January 1948, Artaud was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. He died shortly afterwards on March 4, 1948, alone in the psychiatric clinic, seated at the foot of his bed, allegedly holding his shoe. It was suspected that he died from a lethal dose of the drug chloral, although it is unknown whether he was aware of its lethality. Thirty years later, French radio finally broadcast the performance of

Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty

Artaud believed that the Theatre should affect the audience as much as possible, therefore he used a mixture of strange and disturbing forms of lighting, sound and performance.

In his book The Theatre and Its Double, which contained the first and second manifesto for a "Theatre of Cruelty," Artaud expressed his admiration for Eastern forms of theatre, particularly the Balinesemarker. He admired Eastern theatre because of the codified, highly ritualized and precise physicality of Balinese dance performance, and advocated what he called a "Theatre of Cruelty". At one point, he stated that by cruelty, he meant not exclusively sadism or causing pain, but just as often a violent, physical determination to shatter the false reality. He believed that text had been a tyrant over meaning, and advocated, instead, for a theatre made up of a unique language, halfway between thought and gesture. Artaud described the spiritual in physical terms, and believed that all theatre is physical expression in space.

The Theatre of Cruelty has been created in order to restore to the theatre a passionate and convulsive conception of life, and it is in this sense of violent rigour and extreme condensation of scenic elements that the cruelty on which it is based must be understood. This cruelty, which will be bloody when necessary but not systematically so, can thus be identified with a kind of severe moral purity which is not afraid to pay life the price it must be paid.
– Antonin Artaud, The Theatre of Cruelty, in The Theory of the Modern Stage (ed. Eric Bentley), Penguin, 1968, p.66


Evidently, Artaud's various uses of the term cruelty must be examined to fully understand his ideas. Lee Jamieson has identified four ways in which Artaud used the term cruelty. First, it is employed metaphorically to describe the essence of human existence. Artaud believed that theatre should reflect his nihilistic view of the universe, creating an uncanny connection between his own thinking and Nietzsche's:

[Nietzsche's] definition of cruelty informs Artaud's own, declaring that all art embodies and intensifies the underlying brutalities of life to recreate the thrill of experience … Although Artaud did not formally cite Nietzsche, [their writing] contains a familiar persuasive authority, a similar exuberant phraseology, and motifs in extremis …
– Lee Jamieson, Antonin Artaud: From Theory to Practice, Greenwich Exchange, 2007, p.21-22


Artaud's second use of the term (according to Jamieson), is as a form of discipline. Although Artaud wanted to "reject form and incite chaos" (Jamieson, p. 22), he also promoted strict discipline and rigor in his performance techniques. A third use of the term was ‘cruelty as theatrical presentation’. The Theatre of Cruelty aimed to hurl the spectator into the centre of the action, forcing them to engage with the performance on an instinctive level. For Artaud, this was a cruel, yet necessary act upon the spectator designed to shock them out of their complacency:

Artaud sought to remove aesthetic distance, bringing the audience into direct contact with the dangers of life. By turning theatre into a place where the spectator is exposed rather than protected, Artaud was committing an act of cruelty upon them.
– Lee Jamieson, Antonin Artaud: From Theory to Practice, Greenwich Exchange, 2007, p.23


Artaud wanted to (but never did) put the audience in the middle of the 'spectacle' (his term for the play), so they would be 'engulfed and physically affected by it'. He referred to this layout as like a 'vortex' - a constantly shifting shape - 'to be trapped and powerless'. [needs citation]

Finally, Artaud used the term to describe his philosophical views, which will be outlined in the following section.

Philosophical views

Imagination, to Artaud, was reality; he considered dreams, thoughts and delusions as no less real than the "outside" world. To him, reality appeared to be a consensus, the same consensus the audience accepts when they enter a theatre to see a play and, for a time, pretend that what they are seeing is real.

Artaud saw suffering as essential to existence, and thus rejected all utopias as inevitable dystopia.

Influence

Artaud was heavily influenced by seeing a Colonial Exposition of Balinese Theatre in Marseille. He read eclectically, inspired by authors and artists such as Seneca, Shakespeare, Poe, Lautréamont, Alfred Jarry, and André Masson.

Artaud's theories in Theatre and Its Double influenced rock musician Jim Morrison. Mötley Crüe named the Theatre of Pain album after reading his proposal for a Theater of Cruelty , much like Christian Death had with their album Only Theatre of Pain. The band Bauhaus included a song about the playwright, called "Antonin Artaud", on their album Burning from the Inside [30451]. Charles Bukowski also claimed him as a major influence on his work. Influential Argentinemarker Progressive 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 four records, "Astronome", "Moonchild", "Six Litanies for Heliogabalus" and "The Crucible" dedicated to Artaud.

Theatrical practitioner Peter Brook took inspiration from Artaud's "Theatre of Cruelty" in a series of workshops that lead up to his well-known production of Marat/Sade. The Living Theatre was also heavily influenced by him, as was much English-language experimental theater 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.

Poet Allen Ginsberg claimed 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".

Artaud also had a profound 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.

The survival horror video game Silent Hill: Origins contains a segment in which the protagonist must solve puzzles within the "Artaud Theatre", which is in the town of Silent Hill.

Bibliography

Works by Artaud

  • Artaud, Antonin. , Paris: Gallimard, 1961 & 1976.
  • Artaud, Antonin. Collected Works of Antonin Artaud, Trans. Victor Corti. London: Calder and Boyars, 1971.
  • Artaud, Antonin. Selected Writings, Trans. Helen Weaver. Ed. and Intro. Susan Sontag. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976.
  • Artaud, Antonin. , Original recording. Edited with an introduction by Marc Dachy. Compact Disc. Sub Rosa/aural documents, 1995.
  • Artaud, Antonin. The Theatre and Its Double, Trans. Mary Caroline Richards. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1958.
  • Artaud, Antonin. 50 Drawings to Murder Magic, Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. London: Seagull Books, 2008. ISBN 978-1905422661
  • Artaud, Antonin. Artaud Anthology, Trans. Jack Hirschman. San Francisco: City Lights, 1963. ISBN 9780872860001


In English

  • Barber, Stephen Antonin Artaud: Blows and Bombs (Faber and Faber: London, 1993) ISBN 0-571-17252-0
  • Derrida, Jacques "The Theatre of Cruelty" and "La Parole Souffle" Writing and Difference trans. Alan Bass (The University of Chicago Press, 1978) ISBN 0-226-14329-5
  • Esslin, Martin. Antonin Artaud. London: John Calder, 1976.
  • Goodall, Jane, Artaud and the Gnostic Drama. Oxford: Clarendon Press; Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. ISBN 0198151861
  • Innes, Christopher Avant-Garde Theater 1892-1992 (London: Routledge, 1993).
  • Jamieson, Lee Antonin Artaud: From Theory to Practice (Greenwich Exchange: London, 2007) ISBN 978-1-871551-98-3
  • Jannarone, Kimberly, "The Theater Before Its Double: Artaud Directs in the Alfred Jarry Theater," Theatre Survey 46.2, Nov. 2005: 247-273.
  • Koch, Stephen. "On Artaud." Tri-Quarterly, no. 6 (Spring 1966): 29-37.
  • Plunka, Gene A. (Ed). Antonin Artaud and the Modern Theater. Cranbury: Associated University Presses. 1994.
  • Rainer Friedrich, "The Deconstructed Self in Artaud and Brecht: Negation of Subject and Antitotalitarianism", Forum for Modern Language Studies, 26:3 (July 1990): 282-297.
  • Roger Shattuck, "Artaud Possessed", The Innocent Eye (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1984): 169-186.
  • Ward, Nigel "Fifty-one Shocks of Artaud", New Theatre Quarterly Vol.XV Part2 (NTQ58 May 1999): 123-128


In French

  • Blanchot, Maurice. "Artaud." (November 1956, no. 47): 873-881.
  • , 1969
  • Brau, Jean-Louis. Antonin Artaud. Paris: La Table Ronde, 1971.
  • Florence de Mèredieu, Antonin Artaud, Portraits et Gris-gris, Paris, Blusson, 1984, new edition with additions, 2008.
  • Florence de Mèredieu, Antonin Artaud, Voyages, Paris, Blusson, 1992.
  • Florence de Mèredieu, Antonin Artaud, de l'ange, Paris, Blusson, 1992.
  • Florence de Mèredieu, Sur l'électrochoc, le cas Antonin Artaud, Paris, Blusson, 1996.
  • Florence de Mèredieu, C'était Antonin Artaud, Biography, Fayard, 2006
  • Florence de Mèredieu, La Chine d'Antonin Artaud / Le Japon d'Antonin Artaud, Paris, Blusson, 2006.
  • Florence de Mèredieu, L'Affaire Artaud, journal ethnographique, Paris, Fayard, 2009.
  • Virmaux, Alain. Antonin Artaud et le théâtre. Paris: Seghers, 1970.
  • Virmaux, Alain and Odette. Artaud: un bilan critique. Paris: Belfond, 1979.
  • Virmaux, Alain and Odette. Antonin Artaud: qui êtes-vous? Lyon: La Manufacture, 1986.


References

External links




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