The Spell of Artaud

The entire text of the spell dedicated to Roger Blin (recto and verso) reads;tumblr_lo6x592APT1qhwx0o[1] ‘All those who have gotten together to keep me from taking HEROIN all those who have touched Anne Manson because of that Sunday May 1939 I will have them pierced alive in a Paris square and I will have them perforated and their intestines burned. I am in a Mental Asylum but this dream of a Madness will be enacted and enacted by ME-Antonin Artaud.’

In 1937 the French writer, actor and dramatist Antonin Artaud landed in Cobh, Ireland with a letter of introduction from the French Embassy. Without that letter the Irish officials would have denied Artaud admittance. From Cobh he travelled to Galway where he holed up in a hotel room he couldn’t pay for. The purpose of this strange odyssey was to return a walking stick he had acquired which he believed was the staff of St Patrick, as well as being previously owed by both Jesus Christ and Lucifer. After a brief stint in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison Artaud was deported as a ‘destitute and undesirable alien’. On the return ship voyage he attacked two crew members and had to be restrained and put in a straitjacket.

The previous decade Artaud had been one of the leading lights of the first phrase of Surrealism, writing addresses to the Pope, Chancellors of the European Universities, the Dalai Lama and the Buddhist Schools. In January 1925 Andre Breton announced that Artaud was assuming direction of the Bureau of Surrealist Enquiries, cryptically commenting that ‘The Central  Bureau, more alive than ever, is henceforth behind closed doors, but the world must know that it exists.’  However after the bitter criticisms Breton levelled against Artaud (along with many, many others) in the Second Manifesto Artaud left the movement, aligning himself somewhat with the renegade Surrealists who published in Georges Bataille’s Documents.

The return from Ireland brought about for Artaud a period of confinement in different asylums which ended only with his death in 1948 from an overdose of choral hydrate. 1938 saw the publication of his most famous work The Theatre and Its Double where he outlined his vision for the Theatre of Cruelty but he wrote little again until 1946, instead concentrating on writing up spells, casting horoscopes and drawing disturbing pictures.

But then Artaud would have doubtless have approved of Mick Jagger’s character Turner’s paraphrase of the central tenets of the Theatre of Cruelty in the 1970 movie Performance, ‘The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness. Am I right?’ Judging by those lights Artaud made it all the way.



32 thoughts on “The Spell of Artaud

  1. That self portrait is angst defined. Is it pain or a deep confusion that inspired it, I wonder. Why do the brilliant ones suffer so much? Even with friends supporting him he felt isolated and attacked. Poor darling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and liking, I was quite proud for that post with the story of his visit to Ireland and the mad, mad spell but nobody before you seemed to have liked it.If you compare a still from The passion of Joan of Arc which he starred in 1928 and a photo ten years later it is one of the most dramatic declines I have seen. An absolute tragedy and actually hard to even look at.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a shame. Mental illness and genius. It’s quite heartbreaking really. I love Ireland and I’ll be in Galway at the end of August. It’s full of stories and storytellers, the publicans and the bus drivers all have stories.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. It is. And it really shouldn’t be romanticized like it is. It’s probably not the case here but with some writers, artists, poets, their “madness” is almost treated like a higher state of consciousness when actually they’re most likely in anguish.


    1. Thank you Miss Heart. One of his most important essays is Van Gogh: The Artist Suicided by Society… so I definitely do believe that society contributed, or rather that Artaud thought society contributed to madness. I am often haunted by the comparison of Artaud in Joan of Arc, very Gallic but handsome, and the later photographs, the devastation, the complete dissipation, the utter ruination of the man. He seemed a very fragile person, though Breton was immediately taken with his magnetism, intelligence and charisma, he later feared a rival which led to the excommunication. Breton, in a rare note of apology, stated that he regretted going too far in Artaud’s case. This is definitely dark and heavy Cake.


      1. Thin line indeed in this case. His heavy drug use certainly didn’t help. He wanted to recreate magic and ritual in a disenchanted world, impossible dreams that dissolve the soul like sugar in water.

        Liked by 1 person

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