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                        Antonin Artaud





Introduction:                                                                               3


Part I: The poet                                                                           7

          The Surrealist Revolution                                         7

          Artaud alone, …                                                                9
Part II: Life and Theatre                                                            11
          ‘Aesthetics of life’ or Artaud’s metaphysics                     11
          A ‘re-Orientation’ of theatre                                             14
Part III: How relevant is Artaud today?                                      16

          His place within contemporary thinking                            16

Artaud today                                                                   18


Conclusion:                                                                               20

Bibliography:                                                                              23



Antonin Artaud





Antonin Artaud was a poet, a play writer, an actor, a director, a theorist, an aesthete, a mad man, and an illuminated or enlightened man; there are many aspects of him, sometimes opposed, sometimes even contradictory. There are chronologically two different Artaud: Antonin Artaud, the young and beautiful actor and poet, whose sensibility and sensitivity were already tearing apart, stealing his words and even his thoughts:

Je souffre d'une effroyable maladie de l'esprit. Ma pensée m'abandonne à tous les degrés. Depuis le fait simple de la pensée jusqu'au fait extérieur de sa matérialisation dans les mots. Mots, formes de phrases, directions intérieures de la pensée, réactions simples de l'esprit, je suis à la poursuite constante de mon être intellectuel. Lors donc que je peux saisir une forme, si imparfaite soit-elle, je la fixe, dans la crainte de perdre toute la pensée. Je suis au-dessous de moi-même, je le sais, j'en souffre, mais j'y consens dans la peur de ne pas mourir tout à fait.[1]


And there is also Antonin Artaud after the nine years of madness, looking old and scary after the numerous electroshocks treatments he had been through, Artaud the man who was comparing theatre to the plague, literature to excrements, Artaud who doesn’t try to be accepted as a writer anymore as when he was writing to Jacques Riviere, Artaud the ‘antisocial’ man who made strange noises, who was hammering a piece of wood as he was writing, going out during a certain period, always with his dagger and his ‘magical cane’ that he thought to belong to St Patrick first, and then, after his trip to the Arran Islands, he thought his cane belonged even to the Christ…


But if one looks closer, all the facets of his personality were always within him, he didn’t actually change his mentality or his theories, he even seemed to have applied what he discovered concerning his mind to a new form of theatre: both his mind and his theatre had to get rid of the domination exerted by speech, text, and try to express themselves no longer with words, but to go beyond language. Like Paul Valery who was writing that a piece of art should always teach us that we did not see what we saw, Artaud wants his theatre to work upon the spectators, upon their ways of perception as much as their thoughts and their consciousness, make them different, make them feel different. But he went beyond Paul Valery in that he wanted his theatre to be more sensory, and affect through perception of sensations, rather than reduced to the passive act of listening to a text interpreted by some actors. Antonin Artaud wanted to create an artistic revolution by making theatre more alive, more metaphysical; he wanted to ‘close the gap between life and art’. The theatre of Cruelty served this purpose, and the fact that Artaud was hesitating to call it the ‘Alchemist Theatre’ or the Metaphysical Theatre, or the Theatre of the Absolute, reinforces this new orientation of theatre as a mystic, esoteric theatre of transformation.


What is left today of Antonin Artaud? Why is Artaud relevant within the context of critical theory and all theories concerning the concepts of art and perception? Not only his vocabulary and ideas are to be found in the texts of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (particularly the notion of ‘body without organs’ in the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia), not only have his theories been examined by writers like Jacques Derrida, Susan Sontag, or Jean-Francois Lyotard, but it seems that actually his revolutionary ideas are to be studied today more than ever: one could wonder what Antonin Artaud could have produced if he had lived at the beginning of the twenty-first century…


Today, not only would he probably have been less marginalized as a person, since the concepts of normality/sanity have been somewhat revised and extended since the 1930’s,  maybe Antonin Artaud would also not have been considered to be as much of a mad man within today’s society. Perhaps more importantly one could question wether he would have had to suffer nine years of internment in mental hospitals. Possibly with the technological progress that has been achieved today, he may even have found new means to realise his theatre. Artaud was fighting against the absolute reign of the text in theatre, he was criticising what can be called logocentrism, which reduced theatre to a representation of the thoughts of the writer; nothing like that which Artaud conceived as a total art, a total representation where not only language but also gestures, mime, music, colours, lighting and movement all  participated in making the spectacle a unique experience, not a mere representation.


Personally, when I read his poems (L’Ombilic des Limbes, suivi de Le Pèse-Nerfs et autres textes), I was seventeen and something strange was happening to me: not only could I recognize my own feelings within some of Artaud’s letters to Jacques Riviere, but, when I started reading his poems, it seemed to me that he was almost stealing my words, and expressing the sensations I myself had felt at that time, before I could formulate them. But out of respect for Antonin Artaud, and through the fact that I trust in the absolute reality of his sickness, I realise it is something that I may not share. Indeed, as he wrote to Jacques Rivière,  no one else other than him can experience a similar pain. So why did I feel his texts, why did it seem so real as if it had happened to me? Today I would say that he had definitely created an interactivity of feelings within me, an interactivity that affected my consciousness.


Whatever progress computation achieved,  and however highly developed today’s means for attaining interactivity become, one part the computer cannot touch still is our consciousness. Antonin Artaud did act upon my consciousness, and although some say he never actually managed to materialise his theories in his work, I believe that at least in his poetry, he did manage to achieve art as a ‘shock treatment’, affecting consciousness: for his theatre (he believed theatre was the only art that could be a total art) he wanted the public to ‘go to the theatre as you go to the surgeon or the dentist’. Today, certain things that can still affect our consciousness physically are electroshocks and drugs, both of which were well known to Antonin Artaud, as they were part of various attempts to cure him. Interactivity concerns communication or physical bodies: only language and physical material things, it is impossible yet with today’s technology to affect one’s consciousness. Today, the audience is still as passive as before, whether it is the passive spectator of theatre, television, or even the passive computer user. One can response that arts, and all the other interfaces with which we are confronted in our daily life (people, weather, luck…), do affect our consciousness in some ways (through feelings brought on by a book, a painting, a spectacle, or just through simple interactions such as communication or the vision of a landscape or a smell), yet they do not effect as ‘directly’ as Artaud expected his theatre of cruelty to.



Part I: The poet


The Surrealist Revolution


Antonin Artaud is mainly remembered as a man of theatre, known for his book on theatre, Le Théâtre et son Double published in 1938, and the poem written in 1947, Le Théâtre de la Cruauté. He was also first of all a poet, and, in the 1920’s in France, he was a member of the Surrealist group to which numerous writers at that time also belonged: André Breton, Paul Eluard, Philippe Soupault, Louis Aragon; painters such as Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, André Masson, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Joan Miro, Alberto Giacometti,  etc.; and other artists including the photographer Man Ray and the film director Luis Bunuel.


The word ‘Surrealism’ was first used by Guillaume Apollinaire (Les Mamelles de Tirésias 1917), but by the time the Surrealist group was formed, Guillaume Apollinaire was dead and Tristan Tzara took the head of the group of Dadaists, first with Breton, Eluard, Soupault and Aragon. In 1919, Philippe Soupault and André Breton, published Les Champs Magnétiques, a first example of automatic writing (writing without fixed determination but at set speeds, in order to put down only automatic thought, unconscious mechanisms). In 1922, the Dadaist group separated from Tristan Tzara, to become the Surrealist movement with Robert Desnos, Roger Vitrac, Benjamin Péret, and René Crevel. Consequently, the First Manifesto of Surrealism was written in November 1924 by André Breton. Soon, they were joined by Michel Leiris, Jacques Prévert and Antonin Artaud.


Inheriting the lineage of Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud (Illuminations was published 1886), Lautréamont (Chants de Maldoror 1890), Mallarmé, and all other symbolist writers at the end of the 19th century, the surrealists shared the belief of a necessity to change everything, to make a revolution, because they felt that they didn’t belong to the society they lived in. Thus, an ideological revolution was needed to change the established order. In search of new forms of art no longer imitating nature, through a new form of language, they believed in the value of the unconscious, in the existence of ‘a superior reality’. Charles Baudelaire in his poem Correspondances, described the phenomenon of ‘correspondances’, symbols linking our world, our reality to another superior reality. Through his Fleurs du Mal, Baudelaire brought forward the idea that ‘artificial paradises’ (alcohol, drugs) could bring the individual closer to this Other reality. One spiritual follower of Guillaume Apollinaire, Pierre Reverdy, who did not belong however to the Surrealist movement wrote in his revue Nord-Sud:

Plus les rapports des deux réalités rapprochées seront lointains et justes, plus l’image sera forte, plus elle aura de puissance émotive et de réalité poétique. [2]


Emotional power is associated here with poetic reality, and as esoteric or mystical experience have always been associated with a search of Truth, the idea that art can bring to this mystical Truth is part of the Surrealist experience. Perception therefore has to be reoriented towards this Other reality. Emotions, dreams, altered states of consciousness are part of our unconscious, that is why they become the means to get to the Other mystic reality. Unfortunately this change of attitude concretely turned into more of a social revolution rather than a transformation of the Self: the Surrealists joined the Communist Party. This became the main reason why Antonin Artaud left the Surrealist movement, because he did not want a political revolution, but a radical transformation of the Self.


Artaud alone, …


In 1926 and in 1927, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, André Breton and Benjamin Péret joined the Communist party, and soon after, Philippe Soupault, Roger Vitrac and Antonin Artaud were officially out of the group. Artaud was however from the start a bit apart from the Surrealist movement: what they did in a ludic manner was for him a vital gesture, or more an attitude inherent to his personality. He was not really seeking for a new form of thought, but more trying to find his place in the world, particularly in the literary world.

Antonin Artaud describes his condition very well in his letters to Jacques Rivière (presented as a first part of L’Ombilic des Limbes). In a very humble manner in some parts (and in others more arrogant when, disappointed, he believes that Rivière misunderstands him), he tries through these letters to get his poems published by the Nouvelle Revue Française. When Rivière refuses to publish his poems, Artaud justifies his writing by explaining his mental condition: physically unable to keep one thought, hence unable to ‘materialise’ this thought into words, he accepts himself the forms that he can grip, even imperfect, because they are the only productions of his mind, they are the only ‘manifestations of his spiritual existence’:

C'est pourquoi par égard pour le sentiment central qui me dicte mes poèmes et pour les images ou tournures fortes que j'ai pu trouver, je propose malgré tout ces poèmes à l'existence. Ces tournures, ces expressions mal venues que vous me reprochez, je les ai senties et acceptées. Rappelez-vous : je ne les ai pas contestées. Elles proviennent de l'incertitude profonde de ma pensée. Bien heureux quand cette incertitude n'est pas remplacée par l'inexistence absolue dont je souffre quelquefois. […]Il m'importe beaucoup que les quelques manifestations d'existence spirituelle que j'ai pu me donner à moi-même ne soient pas considérées comme inexistantes par la faute des taches et des expressions mal venues qui les constellent.

Il me semblait, en vous les présentant, que leurs défauts, leurs         inégalités n'étaient pas assez criantes pour détruire l'impression d'ensemble de chaque poème.

[…] Car je ne puis pas espérer que le temps ou le travail remédieront   à ces obscurités ou à ces défaillances, voilà pourquoi je réclame avec tant d'insistance et d'inquiétude, cette existence même avortée. [3]


Despite the fact that what he expresses seems imperfect, clumsy, Artaud has the right to exist, therefore he claims that his poems have the right to exist literarily as well, i.e. to be published. The literary existence of his poems becomes a condition of the acceptance of his mental existence (as he suffered from a real mental problem), and of his ability to think; therefore he perceives Jacques Rivière’s decision to publish his poems as a decision concerning his own right to exist and think.



Part II: Life and Theatre


 ‘Aesthetics of life’ or Artaud’s metaphysics


Already in his early correspondance with Rivière, Artaud’s artistic vocation was more of a way of life, in the sense that he thought his poems had as much of a right to exist as he himself did. From this point, and for the rest of his life, Artaud had always considered himself in the same way as he conceived his poetry, theatre and the arts in general: they all exist upon the same level, follow the same lines, and are as essential as his own life. Consequently, his theatre, his poems’ existence, and his mind are correlated: what he discovers or knows about his mind, is a discovery for his art. He wants to ‘close the gap between life and art’, by making theatre as life, theatre the double of life (and life the double of theatre).


The dysfunction of his expression, separating his thoughts from their ‘materialisation into words’, leads to Artaud’s desire for liberation from the norms of discursive speech and from the domination of language existing in the arts, in literature or theatre. Language is inadequate to express the totality of our feelings, words even reduce our feelings through their ability to express only that small, nominable part of our sensations. His writings about himself echoe his notions of the artistic revolution: art liberated from the domination of language, giving a place to all other forms of expression that can be used for the purpose of a total art.


Artaud’s ideas were close to Gnosticism and most mystical traditions: Gnosticism is centred upon the ways of gaining knowledge—knowledge being Truth—and, mystical traditions in general, are based on a system of dualities—the duality between the mind and the body amongst others—and share the concept that salvation of the soul will occur when these dualities are abolished, when the mind and the body will be reunited. From these beliefs, Artaud understood that the salvation of the soul from the body would happen through the body: transcendence of the body by the body itself. He wanted consequently to liberate his mind from his body through his body, his ‘flesh’:

Both the obstacle to and the locus of freedom, for Artaud, lie in the body. His attitude covers the familiar Gnostic thematic range: the affirmation of the body. The revulsion from the body, the wish to transcend the body, the quest for the redeemed body. “Nothing touches me, nothing interests me,” he writes, “except what addresses itself directly to my flesh.” […] Recoiling from the defiled body, he appeals to the redeemed body in which thought and flesh will be unified: “It is through the skin that metaphysics will be made to reenter our minds”; only the flesh can supply “a definitive understanding of Life.”[4]


‘Metaphysics’ had to ‘reenter our minds’ through the flesh, so that flesh and thought can be united. The evil is matter: a ‘world clogged with matter (shit, blood, sperm)’[5], it is the inclination to make thought into a material object that causes a separation of thought from flesh. Language is the will to transform thought into matter, into material words. Literature is dominated by words, by language, therefore it is matter in itself, and literature is similar to ‘excrement’ and theatre like the plague (both strangely designated by words concerning the physical body). The demonic forces for Artaud are physical matter and the natural necessity to transform everything into matter: ‘language is thought turned into “matter”’ (just as ‘body is mind turned into “matter”’[6]) and that is why literature dominated by the reign of language can be assimilated to the realm of excrement.


His sickness was principally to be unable to materialise his thoughts into physical words, into matter, but thanks to this sickness he was to propose an art not dominated by words: he turned his physical inability into an inhuman or even superhuman clairvoyance, putting himself into the position of a universal helper that seeks the good for society through a general transformation of the self, as if he was suffering for the good of humanity. In “Van Gogh ou le suicidé de la société” (published in September 1947) Artaud recognises himself in Van Gogh: both had been interned in psychiatric institutions because of their individuality (he saw an exhibition of Van Gogh at the Orangerie in January 1947). The martyrdom of the artist is also a Romantic theme (Baudelaire’s L’Albatros): the poet suffers for the others and it is in his quality of a ‘poète maudit’ that he can help others to see better, because through his martyrdom he can see the Other Reality, the mystic reality. Again for Artaud this situation was extreme, not only he was suffering for the sake of humanity but he thought at some point, that he was the Christ himself persecuted by demonic forces, by the Anti-Christ.


A ‘re-Orientation’ of theatre


Another theme found in Artaud’s theories, is the necessity to turn towards the Other. With the rise of Romanticism at the end of the 19th century, the taste for exoticism was introduced: Romantic writers turned towards the East, the Orient. It is also in non-Western philosophy that are found mystic traditions stating the existence of another reality. Artaud was very interested in Oriental philosophy (such as Buddhism or Yoga), rejecting in this way the coldness of Western philosophy and logic. He had twice seen representations of Asian arts: firstly, at the Colonial Exhibition in Marseilles in 1922, a Cambodian dance and then in Paris, on the occasion of the Exposition Universelle of 1931, a representation of Balinese theatre: in Balinese or Cambodian theatre, the costumes, the gestures, the dances and the music, everything has a religious meaning. Cambodian celestial dancers represent divinities, and they are dressed like the divinities depicted on the walls of the great Khmer temples; the plays are representations of the Hindu epics, such as the Ramayana or the Mahabaratta; the dancers hand movement all have a specific meaning, while each position of the fingers represents a different symbol. Other mystic traditions, such as Sufism, developed the idea of religious dances in which all movements have a symbolic value: in the Sufi dances of the whirling dervishes, the movements are meant to represent moving planets and stars. In Indian theatre, such as Kata Kali, the actor has to be a dancer, and even the movement of the eyes are part of the training of the actors. Yoga’s theories on breathing have probably also influenced Artaud. He was one of the first directors to emphasise the importance of costumes, music, lighting, mime, gestures, movements, screams and breathing in a theatrical representation. All arts, according to Artaud, merged into theatre, and theatre was the only possible ‘total art’.


These non-Western traditions (Artaud was also interested in Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, Manichaeism, Tantric Buddhism, Shamanism, the Cabbala, tarot, etc.) brought forward the idea that theatre is not only a play but can be a ritual, and opened the way to the conception of the artistic mission as an ordeal; and also, of the necessity of suffering in order to have a total transformation of the self. Theatre, for Artaud, had to have an esoteric value, theatre had the task of being the means to salvation, theatre as a ritual. In mystic philosophies, the soul and the body go through various stages before one can reach salvation, and the experience of pain is often considered as a step forward towards salvation: exorcising the inner self through suffering. That is why theatre had to be cruel in order to have an effect on the audience, to transform the audience.


Alchemical philosophy is based on the transformation of the self through different stages into some kind of superior being, a total man, one of the stages being the ingestion of metals (alchemy is also first of all the science which transforms base metals into gold or silver). Artaud wanted similarily the theatrical representation to transform the public, to affect directly the audience, and to be just as ‘going to the dentist or the surgeon’, a physical interaction. Theatre has to affect the senses and all the senses have to be involved. The body can be reached through physical sensations, therefore theatre has to be more sensory and has to aim to reach the body, but theatre is also the only art according to Artaud, in which other arts merge, and that can achieve a necessary transformation of the souls in order to save them.



Part III: How relevant is Artaud today?


His place within contemporary thinking


His theories about theatre were revolutionary, and deeply marked the history of modern theatre. He believed that since the Antiquity, theatre hadn’t changed, the main problem being the domination of speech and language, which made the play a mere representation of the writer’s thoughts. He thought that a ‘theatre of dialogue’ belonged to the books:

How does it happen that in the theatre, at least in the theatre as we know it in Europe, or better in the West, everything specifically theatrical, i.e. everything that cannot be expressed in speech, in words, or, if you prefer, everything that is not contained in the dialogue is left in the background? How does it happen that the Occidental theatre does not see theatre under any other aspect than as a theatre of dialogue? Dialogue — a thing written and spoken — does not belong specifically to the stage, it belongs to books. [7]


Artaud is now studied in the line of Descartes, Nietzsche, or Plato, because his theories were as revolutionary as theirs. As a Descartes he has a dual vision of reality, but Artaud compromises the limits of Cartesian logic by stating that his non-thinking is still art and proof of his existence, it is not because he doesn’t possess a thought that his thought doesn’t exist, in particular in the literary world: ‘Mais penser c’est pour moi autre chose que n’être pas tout à fait mort[8]’. As a Plato, he attacked the problem of perception, of how we see things: the reality we see is like a cave or a theatre, but for Artaud this theatre is the means for seeing reality as it is; theatre is a way to reach the truth. As a Nietzsche, Artaud was against the reign of reason in theatre, and wanted to re-orientate theatre towards something other, non-Western, because the cold logic of Occidental or Socratic philosophy was paralysing theatre. For both of them, there was also the necessity of a radical change in culture:

From the mid-nineteen twenties on, Artaud’s work is animated by the idea of a radical change in culture. His imagery implies a medical rather than a historical view of culture: society is ailing. Like Nietzsche, Artaud conceived of himself as a physician to culture—as well as its most painfully ill patient. The theater he planned is a commando action against the established culture, an assault on the bourgeois public; it would both show people that they are dead and wake them up from their stupor. The man who was to be devastated by repeated electric-shock treatments during the last three of nine consecutive years in mental hospitals proposed theater to administer culture a kind of shock therapy. Artaud, who often complained of feeling paralyzed, wanted theater to renew “the sense of life.” […] Artaud’s argument in The Theater and Its Double is closely related to that of the Nietzsche, who in The Birth of Tragedy lamented the shrivelling of the full-blooded archaic theater of Athens by Socratic philosophy—by the introduction of characters who reason. [9]


Artaud wanted theatre to ‘administer culture a kind of shock therapy’ so that it could renew its sense of life, because he thought theatre and society were ‘paralysed’, ‘petrified’, ‘inorganic’ (without organs) and needed a radical transformation in order to open the eyes of the public through a shock treatment. He wanted theatre to be cruel, violent and aggressive so that it could affect his audience. But not only the violence of the action has an effect on the public, for Artaud, the violence had to be physical and his theatre had to have a physical effect on its audience in order to truly affect them. It is only through the body that knowledge can enter him, and he believes that ‘it is through the skin that metaphysics can reenter our minds’[10]. At least it can be said that he administered theatre a kind of shock treatment by transforming the role of the actor, of the director, but also introducing lights, music, gestures, screamings. His theories on theatre are very avantguarde and impregnated many of the concepts of modern theatre. He was also the first artist to have made a Surrealist movie, in 1928, The Seashell and the Clergyman, before Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or.


Artaud today


Primarily it is the person of Artaud which has probably most marked contemporary writers. He made of his existential ordeal an artistic mission, and his sickness became in this sense a way to salvation. His sickness separated his thought from his mind, and the salvation would have been the unification of the flesh and the mind. The sickness seemed to give Artaud a very dualistic vision of life: body/mind, or thought/flesh, good/evil, object/subject, because the sickness is what divided him, what separates his thoughts from his mind, and from the words to express them.

Il y a donc un quelque chose qui détruit ma pensée; […] qui me laisse en suspens. Un quelque chose de furtif qui m’enlève les mots que j’ai trouvés, qui diminue ma tension mentale, qui détruit au fur et à mesure dans sa substance la masse de ma pensée, qui m’enlève jusqu’à la mémoire des tours par lesquels on s’exprime et qui traduisent avec exactitude les modulations les plus inséparables, les plus localisées, les plus existantes de la pensée.[11]


Through being persuaded that he was possessed by demonic powers, and because of this paranoia, upon his return from Ireland he became interned for nine years in mental hospitals. Antonin Artaud felt that he was outside society, and also that society was against him. He impersonated with an extraordinary intensity the romantic, mystic poet wanting to heal society, and consequently became too marginilised and was considered as a mad man in his time.


Today we seem better equipped to accept individuality and marginality; cultural singularity is even commodified. Art today expresses more the inexpressable, understanding or identication of a piece of art is no more essential to the appreciation of this art. Artaud today would have probably been very popular and would have been applauded as someone very profound because he doesn’t make much sense to ordinary people.


Artaud’s struggle with logocentrism would have also been different if he had lived today. The range of expressive possibilities have increased: it is much easier to control lighting, music, etc. So maybe Artaud would have chosen alternative means than theatre to create his cruel and cognitive transformation of souls. With a computer, Artaud would have had the means to create his total art. The means of expression given by video editing or a programme like Flash, would have probably made Artaud into another sort of artist. The variety of sensors that exist today in relation to air pressure, humidity, chemical elements, temperature or noise can make the computer into a complete or a total receptor for the various senses.


Artaud wanted the audience to feel a transformation through art, he wanted to produce what can be called today an interactivity upon the audience, a physical interactivity as well an interactivity upon thought. That is the reason he wanted the theatre to be a total art: so that it could affect the individual through many sensations. Although computers are capable of receiving all sorts of sensory information, man has not further developed his capacities of reception towards art, and is still as passive as he has ever been. He is still confronted by a visual and auditive spectacle. No technology has truly reached consciousness, that is why Artaud is still relevant. Touching consciousness is still at the heart of the artistic vocation, and poetry still has the right to exist because it is still a valid attempt to reach consciousness.





‘To read Artaud through is nothing less than an ordeal. […] It demands a special stamina, a special sensitivity, and a special tact to read Artaud properly.[12]’It is probably still hard to study Artaud, but it is because his writings bring in so many diverse directions. His theories about art and the mind are complex and many problematics are brought up. Problems of perception, consciousness, creation, artistic inspiration and vocation, meaning of art, function of art, are few among the numerous subjects Artaud examines. His theories of the self are complemented by the experience of his theories on himself, he was the living example of his philosophy.

He emerged from the Surrealist movement and believed in the existence of another reality and in the powers of the unconscious (dreams, alcohol, drugs). He was probably the only one who had really lived a Surrealist life, but his revolution was to be a total alchemical transformation of the self, neither a political revolution, nor a game. His theatre was to be a serious and cruel theatre, a theatre as the double of life, he wanted ‘to close the gap between life and art’. What was discovered concerning himself, he used as his conception of a form of total art, free from the domination of speech. His theatre was also to be cognitive, bringing knowledge to the audience, a knowledge about themselves that could save their souls. The salvation of the body is of a mystical nature for Artaud, and it is when the body and the mind are unified, that the soul becomes transcended through the body. The body and the mind are both liberated and unified, in accordance with most dualistic traditions. Artaud sees the evil in matter: ‘body is mind turned into matter and language is thought turned into matter’, matter ‘pollutes’ everything (literature, theatre, Artaud, etc.) Being confronted with the demonic powers, suffering for the good of humanity, Artaud seemed to have taken a trip to insanity to bring us back concepts about sanity and perception. He has undertaken something similar to the shaman’s journey, and like the shaman he wanted to help his public to see better, mainly through the fact they can feel Artaud’s art, as it is a sensory art. Art,for Artaud, has the task of being felt through body sensations and of becoming some kind of a ritual transformation of the spectator’s soul, making him more total through a physical experience. In this way art can save souls. Artaud’s heavily soteriological position is probably the most unreachable part, today, of his body of theories; every other notion he examined is still at the heart of the problematics of contemporary critical theory. The problem of perception has neither evolved much, nor has the position of the spectator. Artaud wanted art to ‘affect minds directly’, yet still today it is an impossible mission. Artaud’s notion of art is still relevant: even virtual reality does not require a higher degree of activity from the spectator than the one required to watch television. Practically, it is actually easier to passively watch television, rather than attempting to read a poem from Artaud or a text from Deleuze.
















Artaud, Antonin,

1968, L’Ombilic des Limbes suivi de Le Pèse-nerfs

Nouvelle Revue Française, Editions Gallimard, France

(originally edited in 1927, 1954 and 1956)

originally edited in 1934)


Oeuvres Completes d’Antonin Artaud

1964, Tome IV: Le Théâtre et son double, Le Théâtre de Séraphin, Les Cenci

1974, Tome XIII: Van Gogh Le Suicidé de la Société, Pour en finir avec le jugement de Dieu, suivi de Le Théâtre de la Cruauté, Lettres à propos de Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de Dieu


1976, Selected Writings with an Introduction by Susan Sontag

University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California



Bancquart, Marie-Claire

                                    1996, La poésie en France du surréalisme à nos jours

                                    Collection thèmes et études, Ellipses, Paris



Deleuze, Gilles

                                    1997, One Less Manifesto

In Mimesis, Masochism, & Mime, The Politics of Theatricality in Contemporary French Thought

Edited by Timothy Murray , University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan



Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix

                                    1972-73, Capitalisme et Schizophrénie, L’ Anti-Oedipe

                                    Collection ‘Critique”, Les Editions de Minuit, Paris


                                    1980, Capitalisme et Schizophrénie, Mille Plateaux

                                    Collection Critique, Les Editions de Minuit, Paris



Derrida, Jacques

1997, The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation

In Mimesis, Masochism, & Mime, The Politics of Theatricality in Contemporary French Thought



Durozoi, Gérard

                                    1972, L’Aliénation et la folie

                                    Librairie Larousse, Paris, France



Esslin, Martin

                                    1976, Antonin Artaud

                                    John Calder, London



Foucault, Michel

                                    1997, Theatrum Philosophicum

In Mimesis, Masochism, & Mime, The Politics of Theatricality in Contemporary French Thought



Kaufman, Eleanor et als

1998, Deleuze and Guattari, New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy and Culture

                                    Eleanor Kaufman and Kevin Jon Heller Editions

                                    University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis



Lyotard, Jean-François

                                    1997, The Unconscious as Mise-en-Scène

                                    1997, The Tooth, The Palm

In Mimesis, Masochism, & Mime, The Politics of Theatricality in Contemporary French Thought



Scheer, Edward et als

                                    2000, 100 Years of Cruelty, Essays on Artaud,

Edited by Edward Scheer, Power Institute: Centre for Art & Visual Culture, and Artspace, Sydney, Australia



Weber, Samuel

2000, The Greatest Thing of All, The Virtual Reality of Theatre

                                    In 100 Years of Cruelty, Essays on Artaud,

Edited by Edward Scheer, Power Institute: Centre for Art & Visual Culture, and Artspace, Sydney, Australia


[1] Antonin Artaud, L’Ombilic des Limbes suivi de Le Pèse-nerfs et autres textes, France, NRF, Gallimard Editions, 1968, p 20

[2] Pierre Reverdy quoted in Marie-Claire Bancquart, La Poésie en France du surréalisme à nos jours, Paris, Collection Thèmes et Etudes, Ellipses, 1996, p 10

[3] Antonin Artaud, Correspondances avec Jacques Rivière, in L’Ombilic des Limbes, pp 20-21

[4] Susan Sontag, Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings, University of California Press, 1976, pp xlviii- xlix

[5] Susan Sontag, Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings, University of California Press, 1976, p xlvii

[6] Susan Sontag, Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings, University of California Press, 1976, pp xlix-l

[7] Antonin Artaud quoted in Samuel Weber, The Greatest Thing of All, The Virtual Reality of Theatre, in 100 Years of Cruelty, Essays on Artaud, Edited by Edward Scheer, Sydney, Power Institute: Centre for Art & Visual Culture, and Artspace, 2000, p 20

[8] Antonin Artaud, L’Ombilic des Limbes suivi de Le Pèse-nerfs et autres textes, France, NRF, Gallimard Editions, 1968, p 70

[9] Susan Sontag, Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings, University of California Press, 1976, pp xxxviii-xxxix

[10] Susan Sontag, Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings, University of California Press, 1976, p xlix

[11] Antonin Artaud, L’Ombilic des Limbes suivi de Le Pèse-nerfs et autres textes, France, NRF, Gallimard Editions, 1968, pp 25-26

[12] Susan Sontag, Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings, University of California Press, 1976, p lvi