Antonin Artaud

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Antonin Artaud

Antonin Artaud (September 4, 1896March 4, 1948) was a playwright, actor, and director.

In his book Theatre and its Double, Artaud expressed his admiration for Eastern forms of theatre, particularly the Balinese Theatre. He admired Eastern theatre because of the codified, highly ritualized physicality of Balinese dance performance., and advocated what he called a "Theatre of Cruelty". By cruelty, he meant not sadism or causing pain, but rather a violent, physical determination to shatter the false reality which, he said, lies like a shroud over our perceptions. He believed that text had been a tyrant over meaning, and advocated, instead, for a theatre made up of a unique language halfway-between thought and gesture. He also believed that sexual activity, including masturbation, was harmful to the creative process and should be avoided if one hoped to achieve purity in their art. Antonin Artaud described the spiritual in physical terms, and believed that all expression is physical expression in space. Although he advocated a system of "social therapy" through theatre, Artaud was institutionalized for some time because he was considered insane.

"The Theatre of Cruelty has been created in order to restore to the theatre a passionate and convulsive conception of life, and it is in this sense of violent rigour and extreme condensation of scenic elements that the cruelty on which it is based must be understood. This cruelty, which will be bloody when necessary but not systematically so, can thus be identified with a kind of severe moral purity which is not afraid to pay life the price it must be paid."
– Antonin Artaud, The Theatre of Cruelty, in The Theory of the Modern Stage. Edited by E. Bentley. Penguin, 1968, p.66

An outline of Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty

  1. Artaud had a pessimistic view of the world, but he believed that theatre could affect change.
  2. Remove the audience from the everyday and use symbolic objects to work with the emotions and soul of the audience.
  3. Attack the audience's senses through an array of technical methods and acting so that the audience would be brought out of their desensitisation and have to confront themselves.
  4. Use the grotesque, the ugly and pain in order to confront an audience, thereby being cruel to them.

Biographical Information

Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud was born in Marseilles on September 4th, 1896. He died in Paris in 1948. In 1937 on a return trip from Ireland, Artaud was arrested, put in a straight-jacket, and interned in the war-time asylums of France, where he experienced anguish and starvation, then fifty-one electroshock comas.

Antonin is a diminutive form of Antoine (little Anthony), and was among a long list of names which Artaud went by throughout his life. Although his mother had many children, only Antoine, his brother, and his sister survived infancy. At the age of four, Antonin had a severe attack of meningitis. The virus gave Antonin a nervous, irritable temperament throughout adolescence. He also suffered from neuralgia, stammering, and severe bouts of depression. Artaud's parents arranged a long series of sanatorium stays for their disruptive son which were both prolonged and expensive. They lasted five years, with a break of two months, June and July 1916, when Artaud was conscripted into the army. He was discharged due to his self induced habit of sleepwalking. During Artaud's "rest cures" at the sanatorium he read Rimbaud, Baudelaire and Poe. In May of 1919 the director of the sanatorium, Dr. Dardel, perscribed opium for Artaud, precipitating a lifelong addiction to that and other drugs. In March of 1920 Artaud moved to Paris. In November of 1926 Artaud was expelled from the surrealist movement, and also wrote his manifesto, Manifesto for an Abortive Theatre. In January of 1948 Artaud was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. On March 4th, 1948 Artaud died, alone in his pavilion, seated at the foot of his bed, holding his shoe. It was suspected that he died from a lethal dose of the drug chloral, although whether or not he took it knowing it was a lethal dose is not known.

Selected works

  • The Theater and Its Double published by Grove Press
  • The Artaud Anthology published by City Lights Publishers
  • Artaud: Blows and Bombs by Stephen Barber
  • Antonin Artaud: Selected Writings by A. Artaud and Susan Sontag, published by University of California Press
  • Watchfiends & Rack Screams: Works from the Final Period by Antonin Artaud, Clayton Eshleman (Editor), Bernard Bador (Editor), published by Exact Change
  • The Monk (The Modern Classics Series) by A. Artaud and Matthew Lewis, published by Creation Books
  • Heliogabalus : Or, The Crowned Anarchist (Creation Modern Classics) by A. Artaud, published by Creation Books

External links


  • "Artaud believed that damage was being inflicted on him by malicious activities . . . He was convinced there had been gatherings of Mexicans, Tibetan lamas, and rabbis to weaken him by masturbating collectively. He wanted to retaliate by leading a party of fifty friends, armed with machine-guns, to Tibet."
    -Ronald Hayman.  "Artaud and After"
  • "Repent! Why? Repentance is in God's hands. It is up to him to rue my actions. Why did he make me the father of a being whom I desire so utterly? Before anyone condemns my crime, let them accuse fate. Are we free? Who can maintain we are free when the heavens are ready to fall on us? I have opened the floodgates so as not to be engulfed. There is a devil within me destined to avenge the world's sins. No fate can prevent me carrying out my dreams now."
    -Antonin Artaud.  "Les Cenci"
  • "To attempt a comprehensive account of Artaud's influence would be like trying to map the currents in an ocean."
    -Ronald Hayman.  "Artaud and After"
  • "The course of all recent serious theatre in Europe and the Americas can be said to divide into two periods - before Artaud and after Artaud."
    -Susan Sontag
  • "It is essential to put an end to the subjugation of the theatre to the text, and to recover the notion of a kind of unique language half-way between gesture and thought."
    -Antonin Artaud.  "The Theatre and its Double"
  • "The cruelty that Artaud names his theatre after is not the common and vulgar physical definition of cruelty, at least not exclusively; it is creating a spectacle that, because of the state of degeneration he thinks we have fallen into, must by necessity be so excruciatingly powerful as to wake us up from our slumber and give us a new understanding of what it is to be alive. It is a metaphysical cruelty."
    -Mitchell Tribbett.  "Necessary Cruelty"
  • "Electric shock, Mr. Latremoliere, reduces me to despair, it takes away my memory, it dulls my mind and my heart, it turns me into someone who is absent and who knows he is absent and sees himself for weeks in pursuit of his being, like a dead man alongside a living man who is no longer himself, but who insists on the dead man being present even though he can no longer enter into him. After the last series I remained throughout the months of August and September absolutely incapable of working, thinking, and feeling that I was alive."
    -Antonin Artaud.  "To Jacques Latremoliere."bg:Антонен Арто

de:Antonin Artaud el:Αντονέν Αρτώ fr:Antonin Artaud gl:Antonin Artaud ja:アントナン・アルトー pt:Antonin Artaud


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