The Sorceror’s Assistant

After his Mexican adventure, Antonin Artaud longed to visit other cultures that still believed in magic. A Dutch surrealist had given him an ancient cane with thirteen knots, and Artaud convinced himself that the magic cane had belonged to Saint-Patrick. He decided to go to Ireland to return the cane and look for traces of Druidic rites in the Aran sands.Arriving in Dublin in the summer of 1937, he wrote a postcard to a friend that said, ” My life is the realization of a prophecy.”

---Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) There is in every madman a misunderstood genius whose idea, shining in his head, frightened people, and for whom delirium was the only solution to the strangulation that life had prepared for him. (Writing about Vincent Van Gogh)---Read More: image:

Thereafter, in September, he wrote Andre Breton that a horrible uprising was being fomented against him by the forces of high capitalism, but that the woman who had organized it would be publicly massacred. The letter was decorated with cabbalistic signs, rows of numbers and bizarre drawings.

Uri Hertz: Artaud was carrying a magic cane during his journey to Ireland after returning to Europe. This cane becomes the object of the disturbance leading to his deportation and incarceration. It was a cane which had supposedly once belonged to St. Patrick. Artaud decided to return it to its country of origin. He took a boat to Ireland with much the same intent as when he went to Mexico, “in search of the last authentic descendants of the Druids”. In Dublin, hungry and penniless, he sought refuge in a convent, where he caused a disturbance with the cane and was arrested in a violent episode during which the cane was lost. He was deported back to France and interned in a psychiatric hospital upon debarking at Le Havre. Artaud related in a letter to André Breton the delusion that Breton had braved machinegun fire to rescue him in Le Havre, a surrealist act par excellence. Read More:

At Le Havre, Artaud’s head was shaved, and he was forced to wear the grey uniform of state asylums. His personal belongings, manuscripts, and notes were taken away from him and later mysteriously disappeared. Artaud was moved from asylum to asylum. He was all but forgotten by his friends, who had more urgent concerns  in those troubled pre-war years and his family did nothing to obtain his release. His first letters were sent after a year and a half of internment. “I am a fanataic-I deliberately had myself locked up so I could carry out the prophecies of Saint-Patrick.

In 1943, thanks to the efforts of poet Robert Desnos, Artaud was transferred to a private psychiatric hospital in the peaceful south-central French town of Rodez. He could come and go in the town as he pleased, and he spent many hours praying in the cathedral. But his psychiatrist, Doctor Ferdiere, while lenient, believed that Artaud’s delirium made him violent, antisocial, and dangerous to public order. Ferdiere treated him with electroshocks that took on, for Artaud, the aspect of a torture to make him give up his visions and accept the rational world of other men.

Artaud. 1926. photo by Man Ray. Stephen Barber: At that time, electroshock therapy was new and had an aura of innovation, and Ferdière was a young doctor who wanted to experiment. Artaud experienced the treatment (over fifty sessions in all) as agonizingly painful, and as triggering severe memory losses. Many of his final writings (in the years 1946-48, after his release from Rodez and return from Paris) are outcries against his treatment at Rodez. I met Ferdière in 1985, when he was nearly eighty years old, and he was a poignant, isolated, maudlin figure by that time — though still combatively certain he had applied the right treatment on Artaud, and still practicing electroshock therapy even then, on children, at a private clinic in Aubervilliers, in the northern suburbs of Paris. My feelings were divided between having the chance to talk at length with him, over the years until his death in 1990, since he had had a unique life-experience and was a fascinating character in his own right. (He had been a Surrealist poet himself in the early 1930s, and his own obsessions, at the time I knew him, were with pornography, drugs and bouffant hairstyles). Everyone who knew Artaud well has now died, so, whatever merits or otherwise of my books on him, at least they draw on a primary contact with people like Ferdière. But I side with Artaud on the question of electroshock. Read More: image:

With the war over, steps were taken to obtain Artaud’s release which was granted by Dr. Ferdiere provided his friends would guarantee his livelihood. A benfit aution was held at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre and the paintings and manuscripts sold netted Artaud one million francs. He still believed he had magic powers. Once, when a concierge in a building in Paris took exception to his shouting of verses of Gerard de Nerval out an open window, Artaud told her, ” Be quiet, if you persist in preventing me from reading poetry I am going to turn you into a flat-headed serpent.”

Heather Elton:Before his memory was erased and his passion silenced, Blin came to his rescue and organized a benefit to raise funds for his release. The Gallery Pierre held an exhibition of Artaud’s paintings, and Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, Giacometti, Léger and Dubuffet also donated canvasses to be auctioned; Sartre, Gide, Eluard and Mauriac contributed autographed material to be sold. On June 7, 1946 there was a charity performance at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in which Blin took part. Together the two events raised over 2 million francs. Later on Dullin, Jouvet, Barrault, Jean Vilar, and Roger Blin took part in a gala matineé. For the remainder of Artaud’s life – not quite two years – he had continuous financial security. Read More:

Artaud’s final stab at notoriety and society was a recorded radio broadcast called “To End God’s Judgment” but the director of the French radio network banned it. It began as such:

I learned yesterday
(I must be behind the times, or perhaps it’s only a false rumor,
one of those pieces of spiteful gossip that are circulated between
sink and latrine at the hour when meals that have been ingurgitated
one more time are thrown in the slop buckets),
I learned yesterday
one of the most sensational of those official practices of American
public schools
which no doubt account for the fact that this country believes itself
to be in the vanguard of progress,
It seems that, among the examinations or tests required of a child
entering public school for the first time, there is the so-called
seminal fluid or sperm test,
which consists of asking this newly entering child for a small
amount of his sperm so it can be placed in a jar
and kept ready for any attempts at artificial insemination that
might later take place.
For Americans are finding more and more that they lack muscle
and children,
that is, not workers
but soldiers,
and they want at all costs and by every possible means to make
and manufacture soldiers
with a view to all the planetary wars which might later take place,
and which would be intended to demonstrate by the overwhelming
virtues of force
the superiority of American products,…Read More:

The end of Artaud’s life, ravaged, cancer-ridden, toothless, emaciated , with disorderly hair tumbling about his shoulders; once he began to speak at his last performance in January, 1947, those present realized that they were not going to be entertained, but rather they were being put into the unsettling position of watching a man live out his torment in public to a captive audience that would not dare leave.This was the Theater of Cruelty. To see Artaud stutter, sob and shout as he told about his treatment in asylums and made them reflect on a society that could produce an individual at once so lucid and yet so demented.

“As witnesses reported, the evening took place according to plan until Artaud, having read the poems, which had duly impressed everyone, began to read his life story from a manuscript, from which he soon deviated into free speech. Finally, after he could no longer find his place among the manuscript pages and began gathering the pages that were scattered across the stage, he broke off, and, confused, was gently escorted away by Andre Gide after the three-hour performance ….

Artaud. 1931. Raymond Vonquiel. ""openly signalling abominable human distress, a sort of irreprievable damnation, with no possible escape, except into frantic lyricism, nothing of which could reach the audience except scatological flashes, curses and blasphemies." Then, little by little, he became seized with panic. He heard his own voice, and it frightened him. The packed theatre, the silence, made him feel ill at ease. Suddenly, he made a clumsy gesture. His notes, all at once, scattered over the floor. He lost his train of thought. He tried to pick them. He tried to improvise. Then, seized with panic he turned from the platform, and fled from the building in terror. In another ending to the evening, Artaud went on talking and shouting abuse until his voice gave out. The pathetic silence that ensued was not broken until André Gide climbed on stage to embrace him. It was a devastating affair, an absolutely shattering evening."---Read More: image:

…What some, Andre Breton included, saw as the unbearable exhibition of a mental patient was for Artaud the unprecedented attempt at exploding the boundaries of a theatrical event . The recitation of his poetic texts, which meant a representation of the text’s voices and thereby constituted a theatrical form in nuce, had to be followed by a new form that might today be called “performance,” that is, the manifestation of a subject’s presence by his doing –here attempting to make the causes of suffering audible through the reality of that suffering. On the evening of Artaud’s performance at the Vieux Colombier, this manifestation of the Real–whose impressive cruelty was attested to by all who witnessed it–made it impossible to hear what Artaud had to say about the causes of his suffering. In the context of the symbolic contract implicit in a lecture on a theatre stage, the irruption of the Real in the form of sickness, suffering, and insanity was perceived as sensational exhibitionism and histrionics. Artaud became aware during the course of his “performance” of the impossibility of making himself heard in a theatre of the Real and later said that only bombs could have achieved the desired effect  . Rather than throw bombs, Artaud looked for a new form for articulating the Real with voice and words. Read More:


Shoham:Madness for Artaud was a means of extricating himself out of history and onto synchronicity, the atemporal refuge of Noah’s Ark. There, with the mythogenic innovations of the nonconformist, stigmatized, and inspired madman, he would be stored in cultural limbo, outside history, until the olive branch in the beak of the dove signified it was time for his innovations to land back into history, where they would be welcome and accepted, not rejected and ignored as before. Noah’s Ark is the mytho-empirical  storage of the great innovations in art and science, which were liable to “rock the boat,” to upset the cultural system in their time. Hence, Noah’s Ark is the mytho-empirical projection of the Authentic Domain and serves as a storage for extreme innovations; when the time comes for the acceptance of these innovations, they will enter the more favorable atmosphere and be readily accepted by the artistic and cultural institutions. Read More:

“Artaud was never insane- sure he may have banged on his unkempt forehead a couple of times, but he was just a contrary Saint. The rest of his theories however, continue to push up into meat handles of a staid culture. A diseased society consisting of boiling leaves scattered upon scalding imprints. He was always the champion in regards to the dissociation of language. This is evident and is upheld from the original theories belonging to The Theatre Of Cruelty. They lowered him into the sky and he saw that the stars are all just Icicle Whines, humming against broken eardrums. Antonin Artaud was just the facing fever before the shift of sight. The mainstay of the muttering earth however, hasn’t change due to him confirming that the muttering earth stinks. Ideas and more importantly actions change because he was the Hangman Of Space. Make no mistake, since the crucifixion of Jesus, the human body has been splintered from this layer, into a layer that has no effort in tapping the vital spleen. Artaud had no more vocals to give – so he rotted and then died of cancer.

Levitsky:In the actual text of "To Have Done With The Judgment Of God" America is denounced as a baby factory war-mongering machine. Bloody and apocalyptic death rituals are described. Shit is vividly exalted as evidence of life and mortality. Questions about consciousness and knowledge are pursued and answered with more unanswerable questions. It all dead-ends in a scene in which God itself turns up on an autopsy table as a dissected organ taken from the defective corpse of mankind. In the recording all this would have been interspersed with shrieks, screams, grunts, and an extensive vocabulary of nonsense words-- a glossolalia of word-like sounds invented by Artaud to give utterance to the dissociation of meaning from language. Read More: image:

His incarceration gave us what? It delivered the renowned and expected involvement of revenge. Artaud enacted it upon his keepers with a diabolical disregard, it was more violent because of the lack of violence. His tongue became the slashing barb and he made us all feel erotic in the slicing up of our skin. His keepers who once held him captive were now hooked into the trapeze by Artaud’s mechanical day of atonement. Before his death, Artaud became celestial – he held the radio audience with a microphone of piss, blood, bleeding and sperm. He made us realize how of us are the REAL MEAT!” Read More:

Read More:

…So it is man whom we must now make up our minds to emasculate.

– How’s that?

How’s that?

No matter how one takes you you are mad, ready for the straitjacket.

– By placing him again, for the last time, on the autopsy table to remake his anatomy.
I say, to remake his anatomy.
Man is sick because he is badly constructed.
We must make up our minds to strip him bare in order to scrape off that animalcule that itches him mortally,

and with god
his organs.

For you can tie me up if you wish,
but there is nothing more useless than an organ.

When you will have made him a body without organs,
then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions
and restored him to his true freedom.

This entry was posted in Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Literature/poetry/spoken word, Miscellaneous, Modern Arts/Craft, Music/Composition/Performance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>