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Artaud's true family, glimpsed at Pompidou.

I walked into the Artaud drawings exhibition, September, 1994. Facing me, taking up all of one wall was a stenciled presentation of

"Ten years that the language is gone, that there has entered in its place this atmospheric thunder, this lightning, facing the aristocratic pressuration of beings, of all the noble beings of the butt, cunt, of the prick, of the lingouette, of the plalouettee plaloulette pactoulette, of the tegumentary trance, of the pellicle, racial nobles of the corporeal erotic, against me, simple virgin of the body, ten years that I once again blew up the Middle Ages, with its nobles, its judges, its lookout, its priests above all, its churches, its cathedrals, its vicars, its white wafers. How? With an anti-logical, anti-philosophical, anti-intellectual, anti-dialectical blow of the tongue with my black pencil pressed down and that's it.

Which means that I the madman and the momo, kept 9 years in a lunatic asylum for exorcistical and magical passes and because I supposedly imagined that I'd found a magic and that it was crazy, one must believe it was true, since not a single day during my 3-year internment at Rodez, Aveyron, did the Dr. Ferdiere fail at 10:30 AM, the visiting hour, to come and tell me: Mr. Artaud, as much as you may wish, Society cannot accept, and I am here the representative of Society. If I was mad in my magical passes, what did it then matter to Society which could not feel attacked or injured and had only to despise and neglect me. But the Dr. Ferdiere presenting himself as a defender of that So- ciety and entrusted to defend it must have recognized my so- called magical so-called passes since he was opposing me with Society, I therefore say that the dismissed language is a lightning bolt that I was bringing forth now in the human fact of breathing, which my pencil strokes on paper sanction. And since a certain day in October 1939 I have not written anymore without drawing anymore either. But what I draw are no longer subjects from Art transposed from imagination to paper, they are not affective figures, they are gestures, a verb, a grammar, an arithmetic, a whole Kabala, and one that shits to the other, one that shits on the other, no drawing done on paper is a drawing, the reintegration of a strayed sensibility, it is a machine which has breath, it was first a machine which at the same time has breath. It is a search for a lost world and one that no human tongue integrates and the image of which on paper is even no more than a trac- ing, a sort of diminished copy. For the real work is in the clouds.

Words, no, arid patches of a breath which gives its full but there where only the Last Judgement will be able to decide between values, the evidences, as far as the text is concerned, in the moulted blood of what tide will I be able to make heard the corrosive structure, there where the drawing point by point is only the restitution of a drilling, of the advance of a drill in the underworld of the sempiternal latent body. But what a logomachy, no? Couldn't you light up your lantern a bit more, Mr. Artaud. My lantern? I say that look ten years with my breath I've been breathing hard forms, compact, opaque, unbridled, without archings in the limbo of my body not made and which finds itself hence made and that I find every time the 10,000 beings to criticize me, to obturate the attempt of the edge of a pierced infinite. Such are in any case the drawings with which I constellate all my notebooks.

In any case the whore, oh the whore, it's not from this side of the world, it's not in this gesture of the world, it's not in a gesture of this very world that I say that I want and can indicate what I think, and they will see it, they will feel it, they will take notice of it through my clumsy drawings, but so wily, and so adroit, which say SHIT to this very world.

What are they? What do they mean?

The innate totem of man.

Gris-gris to come back to man.

All breaths in the hollow, sunken pesti-fering arcature of my true teeth.

Not one which is not a breath thrown with all the strength of my lungs, with all the sieve of my respiration,

not one which does not respond to a real physiological activity, which is not, not its figurative translation but something like an efficacious sieve, on the materialized paper.

I am, it seems, a writer. But am I writing? I make sentences. Without subject, verb, attribute or complement. I have learned words, they taught me things. In my turn I teach them a manner of new behavior. May the pommel of your tuve patten entrumene you a red ani bivilt, at the lumestin of the utrin cadastre. This means maybe that the woman's uterus turns red, when Van Gogh the mad protester of man dabbles with finding their march for the heavenly bodies of a too superb destiny. And it means that it is time for a writer to close shop, and to leave the written letter for the letter.

April 1947"

Across from the stenciled wall was a small glass case with opened first editions and some letters

"Anyway, Antonin Artaud, I am now no longer able to live a single moment without feeling in the depths of my being that you are there Paule 30 June 1947"

To the right of this case was a 1992 photo of Paule Thevenin who met Artaud in 1946. She spent over forty years deciphering, editing, and annotating thousands of pages of his journals and notebooks. Thevenin was dying of cancer when this photo was taken. She is cradling her neck with her right hand, weary on a couch, wearing black Chinese slippers, her eyes still alert, suspicious, her left hand draped across her lap. She had just been denied permission by Artaud's nephew, Serge Malussena, to reproduce two Artaud drawings in her book, Ce desespere qui vous parle

I then wandered into other room displaying Artaud's drawings done in Rodez, along with portraits of his friends, done at Ivry-sur-Seine, after his release from Rodez. In these portraits there is ant shrapnel, exorcism as excoriation, an abrading of the face to reveal its abraxas, its cemeterial grue, its fecal infinity. In these portraits of his friends, I felt Artaud had assembled his true family (people in their twenties who had discovered his work while he was in Rodez, who then befriended him during the last two years of his life)

I looked at the portrait of Colette Thomas (August, 1947), at her semi-erased lips, her face swastikaed with shadow, bits of cuneiform milling in her forehead, her hair turning white and falling out in sooty clumps, her soft wondering eyes - the right eye appearing to weep a derrick. To the left of her head, Artaud had written:

paunctru nopi ler diaripa

ler d airipa or re chti ba

The writing in these portraits is the head's excrescence, its aura's dressed out insides, its apotropaic rags - but who is speaking? The portrait, or Artaud?

Jany de Ruy (2 July 1947) the girlfriend of Jacques Prevel who adored Artaud and supplied him with drugs. Jany de Ruy is depicted as infested with demons, an eye is ablaze in her neck, a diablotin hunches grinning by her left ear. Below the portrait, Artaud wrote:

I am still too young to have wrinkles, I beget these children from poor wrinkles, I send them to do battle in my body - Only I lack energy and that anyone can see, I am still terribly romantic like this drawing which in fact depicts me all too well, I am weak, a weakness -

To the left of de Ruy's blue shawl-like aura, Artaud has written: who today will say what? It is the postwar Paris question -

Henri Pichette (21 November 1947) pistons up into a void, tack-like sailboats race his shredding neck, his eyes are grigris, his face is responsible for its own demolition and without title to completion, face swept by derricks, cranes, the metalurgy of material encasement

The actor Roger Blin's touseled scalp lifts up as if in revolt against his stuttering, while his nose, cheeks, and jaw set like cement - unlike most of Artaud's subjects he has no torn neck, he is intact

No one is dressed up here, or combed. Jacques Prevel's hair looks like it's never been washed, it twists around into greasy rat-tails as if seeking escape from Prevel's hunchhead which is in the process of dividing, the right skullside bulging up and away from the left. Prevel's head looks like a mammoth in profile, part of his head a mammoth's head, the other part its sloping back. At the foot of his forehead, Prevel's eyes and nose are a winding, sardonic knot over braced valentine lips - "I see you as a man pestered by a certain kind of fly" Artaud told him

Around Paule Thevenin's portrait - like pieces of a broken frame - Artaud wrote:

I posted my daughter as a sentinel. she is faithful for Ophelia got up late

- the portrait is called Paule with ferrets (the irons used for trying melted glass); this is Artaud's annealing of Thevenin to withstand the inquisition she would face as his "gate guardian" and scholar. Here he takes a blowtorch to Thevenin's soul to reshape it as if it were molten glass. Paule with ferrets is also a love song. By portraying Thevenin at twenty-four and seventy, as very pretty and very battered, he plasticizes her shadowings, imbuing them with a shiver of eternity

Goodbye, Paule Thevenin, you have made a gift to all poets: editing with love, love as an editorial act, dedication to the soul of Antonin Artaud whose life, ruins, is now, because of you, a mountain to be climbed.

With Bernard Bador, Clayton Eshleman has translated a selection of works from Artaud's final period (1945-1948): Watchfiends & Rack Screams (Boston: Exact Change, 1995). Eshleman's own most recent collection of poems and prose poems is From Scratch (Santa Rosa, Cal.: Black Sparrow Press, 1998). Eshleman continues to edit Sulfur magazine (until 2000) at Eastern Michigan University (Ypsilanti), where he is a professor in the English department.
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Title Annotation:artist Antonin Artaud's Sep 1994 drawing exhibition at the Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou
Author:Eshleman, Clayton
Publication:Chicago Review
Date:Jan 1, 1999
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