Aylett on Artaud

Monday, 19 May 2014

Born and counting, Antonin Artaud studied the world as if facing his accuser, seizing and turning to account each street and field presented to him. He had a face like a wet kestrel and more worries than a shaved lion in a rental car. His appetite for honesty had him digesting his own bones. Many put his desire for a ‘body without organs’ down to the fact that his own were rubbish. He struck an attitude that no-one could understand, wheezing like a hilarity. It’s been claimed that Artaud’s performances were kicked off by the writer rattling his limbic system in a hat and throwing it at the audience. It was then for the audience to remark upon whether he was entitled to do so. In fact his works were as closely appointed as daily life, a familiarity he then threw lopsided in five directions by introducing the nonconformist element of common sense. This put him out of favour with Breton, whose equational tirades and art deco synapses carried less juice than the moon. Artaud was soon booted out of the surrealists for his position that lobsters belong in the sea and other notions troubling to the movement. His belief that there’s no such thing as an amateur scream was unwelcome in a world where it’s not acceptable to scream in company, irrespective of the pain level. Artaud hadn’t learned such unspoken rules and never discovered where those mute lessons were held. In 1948 he recorded a spoken piece commissioned for French radio titled 'To have done with the judgement of god', a screeched diatribe on how to dance wrong-side-out and deliver man from all his automatic reactions, punctuated with viscerally terrifying shrieks and hoots. France had only recently commenced the denial of their four-year Nazi collaboration and a copycat genocide in Algeria - this feral squawking of Artaud’s didn’t fit the bill. After one listen it was officially declared unfathomable. Enforcement was unnecessary among a crowd that could be depended upon not to bother anyway. Nobody could remember for a long time afterward that Artaud’s mouth had distended into a sort of ribbed pipe like a duduk flute. In fact some of the shrieks heard on the recording are those of the sound engineers. And with his head now resembling that of a shovel-nosed sturgeon, it never fully recomposed itself. Doctors prescribed him enough chloral to kill him several times over, a measure which took account of his virulent desire to live. He died a month after the programme’s censorship. It was thirty years before it was broadcast. Artaud’s deathmask could double as a crowbar.

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Publication date: September 2015
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