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A window on the life of Antoine Artaud

I have always been very prone to prying into difficult lives like Antoine Artaud, perhaps because my childhood was not the most serene. Then my curiosity and passion for reading led me to read, to study, to research.

Antoine Artaud French poet, playwright, essayist, novelist, theater director and actor

This time I bring you a little insight into the life and work of Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud, commonly called Antoine Artaud, born September 4, 1896. Artaud was a French poet, playwright, essayist, novelist, theater director and actor, thus a well-rounded and multifaceted artist with also a mysterious personality full of extremes and contrasts.

This author was the creator of a vast body of work exploring most literary genres, which he used as pathways to absolute and “total” art. His first books of poems (he would later abandon, disappointed, poetic preciousness) L’ombelic des limbes (The Navel of Limbs), 1925, and Le Pèse-Nerfs (The Weight of Nerves) already announced the explosive character of his later work. . .

To me, his whole creation is truly brilliant.

The Theater of Cruelty

However, the artist is best known as the originator of the theater of cruelty (see The Theater and its Double, 1938; Manifesto of the Theater of Cruelty, 1948), a notion that had a great influence on the history of world theater.

To account for his “versatility,” the artist worked in 22 films in the 1920s and 1930s, including Napoléon, by Abel Gance, and The Passion of Joan of Arc, by Carl Theodor Dreyer.

Due to the influence of his work and dramatic ideas, he has been considered “the father of modern theater.”

Childhood, illness and personality

“Remember that the reason for being has not been discovered.”

Antoine Artaud

Let us return, however, to his childhood… at the tender age of four, the quiet life of a well-to-do boy was disturbed by illness: the child was struck, in fact, by a rather severe form of meningitis, believed to be the cause of the neurological problems that would arise later (stuttering, neuralgia, and episodes of severe depression). In his teenage years Artaud underwent several hospitalizations in a sanatorium, although between June and July 1916 he still managed to enlist in the army: however, he was rejected due to self-induced episodes of somnambulism. His increasingly frequent personality crises led him to numerous recollections. During such hospitalizations, he spent most of his time reading. In May 1919 he began in spite of himself, to become addicted to opiates, due to the prescription of laudanum made by the sanatorium director. Experiences that marked his work.

But let us try to understand his personality with these quotes.

“There are things to be destroyed. There are deformations of thought, habits of mind, vices, finally, that contaminate man’s judgments from birth. We are born, we live, we die, in the atmosphere of lies.”

Antoine Artaud

Antoine Artaud the Inferno and Life

“Whoever wrote, painted, sculpted, built, modeled, invented, did so only to escape from hell.”

Antoine Artaud

And I wonder what was Artaud’s hell?

Perhaps probing deep within himself, to the point of losing himself? Perhaps the non-acceptance and criticism from people who should have supported and/or loved him?

Surely art was his salvation.

His curiosity was a way to “be” in the journey of discovery of how to be and who to be. For Artaud, living is an eternal doubt.

“Living is nothing but burning in questions. I do not conceive of the work at the margin of life.”

Antoine Artaud

I feel more and more drawn to these personalities who have experienced in the fullness of time the plunge into their own hells, but I believe that they in turn have also felt drawn to other artists who have experienced hells similar to their own.

I quote below a sentence Artaud expressed about Vincent Van Gogh:

“And what is a true madman? It is a man who chooses to go mad – in the sense in which the word is used socially – rather than betray a higher thought of human dignity. This is why society uses asylums to gag all those it wants to get rid of, or to defend itself because it refuses to become an accomplice to the greatest filth.”

Antoine Artaud, from (Van Gogh, the Killed by Society)

Given my admiration for this artist, I also dived into his fertile correspondence and found elements and thoughts that I fully share. I even feel like I thought them up.

Indeed, there are often these in my thoughts, even before I had read them written by a great man like Artaud.

I invite you and recommend reading the letter written by this artist in 1925 addressed to the directors of the asylum, which he called the ‘Asylum for the Insane’.

Yuleisy Cruz Lezcano.

Below are links to his books:

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A window on the life of Antoine Artaud
In this article by Yuleisy Cruz Lezcano we will discover the difficult life of Antoine Artaud. Through The Theater of Cruelty all the way to Van Gogh.
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