Some biographical information on Artaud for the uninitiated
LA VIE D’ANTONIN ARTAUD: EN ANGLAIS
EARLY LIFE : Born Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud in Marseille, France in 1897. His parents had given birth to nine children, however only Antonin and one sister survived infancy. When he was four years old, Artaud suffered a severe case of meningitis, leaving him with a nervous, irritable temperament throughout his adolescence. He also suffered from neuralgia, stammering and severe bouts of clinical depression, which was treated with the use of opium – resulting in a life-long addiction.
1920’s : Artaud was active in theatre, literature and cinema in the 20’s. He acted with Chalres Dullin’s company and in films by Abel Gance (Napolean, Artaud played Marat) and Carl Dreyer (Jeanne d’Arc, Artaud played a monk), to name a few. He was a member of the Surrealist group for a brief time, editing the third issue of La Révolutionn surréaliste. He wrote poetry all through the 20’s and his first published work was his correspondance with Jacques Rivière, editor of the Nouvelle Revue Française. Other collections of writing were L’Ombilic des limbes (The Ombilicus of Limbo) and Le Pese nerfs (The Nerve Meter).
1930’s : Along with Roger Vitrac Artaud formed the Théâtre Alfred Jarry and they put on several plays with a distinctive anti-bourgeoise flavour. He continued to act in films to make money and he started to formulate his theories about theatre that would eventually be published as The Theatre and It’s Double. This was a seminal work of theatre theory for the 20th century and contained Artaud’s manifestoes for his theatre of cruelty as well as essays about Theatre and the Plague and the Balinese theatre. With the failure of his play The Cenci (due in part to sabotage from Andre Breton and the surrealists), he moved further away from the theatre. During this period he gave «performance lectures» which were supported by Dr. René Allendy, also his psychoanalyst. During this time Artaud had a brief, ardent affair with Anais Nin. Towards the end of the 30’s his mental and physical health was deteriorating. He took a trip to Mexico, on a French government grant, to lecture about theatre and participated in peyotl rituals. Afterwards he voyaged to Ireland to return a cane in his possession that he claimed had belonged to St. Patrick (and originally to Lucifer and to Christ himself). He was deported from Ireland for vagabondage and was put in a straight jacket on the voyage back to France after he became violent. In 1937 he was interned and would spend the next nine years in various asylums.
1940’s : In the early 40’s Artaud’s mother and Robert Desnos, a friend from the Surrealist years, had him transferred out of the Occupied Zone (where mental patients nearly died of starvation under the Nazi rule) to the asylum at Rodez. Rodez was run by Dr. Gaston Ferdière, who associated with the surrealists in his youth. Ferdière submitted Artaud to 51 electroshock sessions, during which Artaud lost most of his teeth and fractured a vertebrae in his back. However, the therapy did rescue Artaud from imminent psychosis and after the sessions, however violent they were, he began to write and draw again with a new passion (he would write more than he had in his entire life during his last 3-4 years). At the intercession of his friends he was released from Rodez in 1946 and lived in relative independence at the Clinic Ivry just outside of Paris. After his liberation he performed at an evening organzied by his friends at the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt where he read several poems and recounterd the story of his life. Among the audience was Andre Gide, Picasso, albert Camus, Jean-Louis Barrault, Jean-Paul Sartre, and many other prominent French intellectuals and artists. He won the St. Beuve Prize for his book Van Gogh: The Man Suicided by Society and he was commissioned to record a radio play for Radio France, To Have Done With the Judgement of God, which was banned before it aired causing a scandal. In 1948 Artaud was diagnosed with rectal cancer and died of an accidental overdose of chlorophyl. He died at the foot of his bed, his shoe in his hand. He left his estate to Paule Thévenin, who took care of him in the last years of his life. Paule Thévenin subsequently oversaw the publication of his complete works, published by Gallimard in 24 tomes.
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