Translated by Peter Valente & Cole Heinowitz
With an introduction by Jay Murphy
Illustrated by Martin Bladh and Karolina Urbaniak
Hardbound, 220 pages, 190 x 148mm
Artaud writes he “was never born,” and “will never die.“ But in this exact period of missives, collected and translated by Peter Valente and Cole Heinowitz, Artaud is also overwhelmingly aware that, at least in this form of life, that he has put in question from his earliest writings, he is about to die. So this is the penumbra cast over these ‘late letters.’ Often refused opiates in the asylum for intestinal pains Artaud complained of, the doctors thinking Artaud was merely gaming for drugs, these were likely the first symptoms of the rectal cancer Artaud developed. Not told of this eventual medical diagnosis, nevertheless Artaud realized an end was near. One of Artaud’s very closest confidants, one of his filles du coeur, naître, Paule Thévenin, claimed Artaud died when and likely how he wanted. This doesn’t mean Artaud didn’t see his death as a major defeat. As he frequently alludes in these letters, there is no death that is not a result of someone’s will, or malevolent magick. Artaud realized he, too, was succumbing:
And they have pushed me over
there where I ceaselessly eat
at all my meals,
all those of THE CROSS.
This fuels an extreme urgency: it is as if each letter, fragment, exclamation, dictation, gris gris or drawing, not only relatively ‘finished’ works like Artaud’s remarkable radio broadcasts, are not only a stance of counter-sorcery, while constituting a sort or spell themselves, but are an ongoing dynamic last will and testament. Artaud conveys this is a final battle, as he envisages defenders converging from across the world, since a “small army is necessary”, even as he describes this as a cosmological conflict that has already gone on for aeons. Like the rest of Artaud’s enormous corpus of writings (the 24 volumes of the Gallimard complete works being left unfinished), his letters herein careen from the eminently practical and precise, to the visionary and fantastical, to paranoiac and mystifying, no surprise given such threatening views incurred psychiatric retribution. Artaud consistently claimed all poetry, even “all language/is untranslatable”, yet Artaud against all odds often produces a communicable world, certainly a contagion with his close associates, still uncannily projected to us some seventy years later.
The world we inhabit is an unrealized world where the person you greet on the street turns out to be a double who from a distance appears like a blind wall; jealous, he bewitches you because he thinks you have more genius, consciousness, personality, soul, and physical density than he does, and he works by all necessary means to abduct your being and consciousness for his own. This was not commonly known until recently but now it has become a fact that no one can ignore, yet which the full force of wickedness and universal criminality still works to prevent from being publicly acknowledged. It has been a long time, Jean Dubuffet, since these have been individualized maneuvers, reduced and confined to a few specific individuals who practice black magic at home; these are public maneuvers in which the whole population of Paris participates, in Paris, and in the countrysides and fields of France, under the influence of these waves of bewitchment cast from Afghanistan, Turkey, Burma, Bengal, and Tibet. —And the masses of all the Catholic churches of the earth are used to support these bewitchments which sweep over, at times, and asphyxiate all conciousnesses: yours, Jean Paulhan’s, René de Solier’s, all my friends’, that of all those like you and me who want to defend their personality against intrusion by the petit-bourgeois rapacity of the priests, the shopkeepers, the employees of the administration, the clerks, the workers, and all this horrible vomiting of wickedness, jealousy, selfishness, and utter stupidity which comprises the whole of humanity and which assembles at all hours of the day in groups in the streets of Paris, on the forecourts of churches or cathedrals (Saint-Augustin, Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Notre-Dame de Paris) like other populations that congregate in the streets of Delhi in the Indies or on the slopes of the Himalayas etc., etc. I do not have to hide from you the fact that I am the reason for all these bewitchments whose secret aim is to make me lose my personality and my consciousness, to take over my body and replace it with a soul other than my own, one as cowardly and vile as that of all beings, that is to say, given over to all base acts, which is a stupidity, an absurdity, an idiocy, and on top of that, plain muck. I do not even know by what absurd villainy all men on earth, just about, have come to take me for the central object of all their impure desires and their suggestions to be vile, dishonest, messy, as without honor or consciousness as they are, but it is a fact that I am surrounded day and night by an obscene horde of recriminating jackals, black magicians, succubi, and incubi who masturbate the soul, who are not the demons of Martin Schongauer or of Brueghel the Elder, but of Mr. Durand, Mr. Dupont, Mr. Cop, Mr. Priest, Mr. Abbot, Mr. Monk, Mr. Doctor, Mr. Rabbi, Mr. Imam, Mr. Brahmin, Mr. Lama, Mr. Everyone, etc. We are all suffering from this state of things and all the more since it is protected by the police who are under the thumb of these black magicians, except for some agents who quit out of disgust.
The so-called Jesus Christ whose real name was, I believe, Antonin Nalpas, was a magician like his father and mother and I had to fight with him many times. —Because morally he was an utter coward and I surprised him more than once, just as I see his shadow here in Rodez enter my body in dreams to magnetize my testicles or bewitch my excrement.
I cannot elaborate at length on all this because time is running out and it is important that this collection of letters be published without further delay, but just yesterday I recalled, to my horror, a final memory of my life in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. —I know I was already called Mr. Artaud there, that everybody took me for a simpleton and a crackpot, accused me of hearing voices, of ranting and singing at the top of my lungs, of speaking to myself, and because I wrote and declaimed poems, of being an idler and a good for nothing.
One day I tried to get something to eat by going to work in the shop of a locksmith, but on seeing me talk to myself and laugh at my dreams, he showed me the door the same day. I did not eat every day at that time, and I went by certain roads searching for a house of fate where I could lodge; one day a woman pretended to be interested in me, but when I understood what she wanted from me and at what price of prostitution and shame I would have to purchase the food and shelter she offered me, I turned back and did not enter her house. —Judea and especially Jerusalem were at that time infested with magicians and sorcerers who never stopped harassing me to take the last strength I had left, I who had no shelter and who ate when I could, which is to say almost never. —I succumbed at times to terrifying rages that made me burn everything and imposed silence on the pack that surrounded me. —I have the same pack now in Rodez, but I strike it from a distance and not up close as in Jerusalem because it is known as all of humanity with few rare exceptions, those of the friends of my works, I mean the true friends of my works, whose account would be quickly made. In any event, the police and the rabbis of the time decided one day to get rid of me and arrested me at night in a garden of olive trees where I slept under the stars, not having a roof to shelter me. I went to trial, but although I was recognized as innocent of any crime by a certain Pontius Pilate, the people, filled with imbecility, rose up to demand that I be crucified. I remember a place where, sitting on a stepladder, a crown of thorns was placed on my head and a cane of bulrush was put between my hands to replace the cane that had been stolen and which assisted me, with its 200 million fibers, in crushing all of my sorcerers. And on the threshold of the door open to the afternoon sun the rabble approached in order to spit on me, to beat and to curse me. I also remember the vile torture of the crucifixion in a place called Golgotha and the cry which tore out my entrails as the cross was straightened and planted in the ground, and that my entire body plunged all at once toward the earth under the nails that held it by the hands and the feet. —I will spare you the details of all that followed until the middle of the afternoon.
Once dead, my corpse was thrown into a heap of manure and I remember stewing there, I do not know for how many days or how many hours, waiting for them to wake me. Because I did not realize right away that I was dead and I had to resolve to understand this so I could lift myself. Then some friends who had at first completely given up on me resolved to come embalm my corpse and were astonished, but not rejoiced, to see me alive again.
One must believe I bothered them.
But sensing my hands pierced and leaking with blood, the stench of my body, and my face dried up with bird shit on the corpse that lived on, I was so horrified by my state and by things that a shiver of fury overtook me, an earthquake which made me overturn everything, and all of us fought for more than a day in Judea. —Will it be the same once again in Rodez?
In saying that I am not of this world I wanted to say that I am here, but that I come from somewhere else than this world’s morals, its religion, its mystifications, its physics, its metaphysics, its science, its medicine, and also its anatomy and physiology. —I am not formed like other men because it is I who made my body and not a father and a mother. —I work ceaselessly with the powers of my breath, which I may call innate since I do it myself without the intervention of a god, a jesus christ, or a spirit. I don’t know if Henri Thomas showed you my letter, but I am that man who, in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, was quartered on a poorly hewn tree trunk crossed with a plank to suspend me there with nails, and whose body when I was dead was thrown into a heap of manure. And on top of that a shepherdess came to insult me by pissing on me when I was dead in my manure. And I remember thinking in the manure that I had to wait, being already dead, to be finally dead in order to manage to stand up and walk. But I heard death chuckle and tell me: It is you who exist, I do not exist, and I thought since that’s how it is all I have to do is get up and I will walk. And when I succeeded in believing this I began indeed to walk. But when I remembered having been whipped till I bled by the cops of the day, stripped naked as in Rodez for electroshock, my skull torn to shreds by a strong rose branch full of thorns that had been driven into my head in the shape of a crown, I burst into such a rage that the soldiers who had seen me rise up from my heap of manure all fled. As did the head mechanic and the steward on the “Washington” who tried to assassinate me with a monkey wrench.
This is how the events in Jerusalem occurred and I was already called Artaud at that time, and there was a Jewish priest, a pederast, who believed he possessed the spirit of Jesus Christ and was called Salem or Nalpas. I remember all this as I remember the battles of the Coupole and these memories came back to me for the first time one day when under the spasms of electroshock I collapsed on the corner of a table, scratched my nose, and lost my last golden tooth. You too, Colette Thomas, are a poor girl martyrized over the course of centuries whom the priests have never left alone because you are a great soul and a great being.
I have always been martyrized for being always in revolt
1st against the idea of God,
2nd against the idea of the universal spirit of beings,
3rd because of the weapons of my breath that everyone has tried to take away from me, because you too, Colette Thomas, by spitting all your breath onto the guilty consciousness, you can impose silence on legions of evil beings. Not all men can do this. But you are one of the rare few that can and the nuns who martyrized you knew it when you didn’t quite know it yet but they were duplicitous enough not to tell you anything in order to avoid awakening your consciousness on this point. Magic is quite simply to impose silence upon beings by the power of the breath, will, and thought; black magic consisted to this day in binding the flow of breath in another’s thighs, uterus, or anus, or in obscenely swallowing consciousnesses in one’s tongue or palate. This is what numbers of people gathered in sects or in isolation everywhere on earth do not cease doing and it is to prevent me from denouncing them that I was locked up during 9 years in a lunatic asylum. —I got out, but all these people still live and as long as they do not disappear this earth will no longer be viable. For there are men who bewitch not only by the sex or the throat but by the feet. And there are millions of them all over the earth who take what they call the spirit of others’ pain to give themselves a consciousness, a self, a soul, a duration. Fighting them is an immense endeavor and a small army is necessary.
I have a certain number of female and male friends throughout the world who think like me on this point and want to fight. I will introduce you to them.
So that everything that rebels is declared insane, poisoned, imprisoned, pushed to suicide, paralyzed.
It is Baudelaire’s lucidity that one day got him struck with aphasia. It is the tragic impossibility of getting rid of a heterogeneous spirit that made Edgar Poe sink into alcoholism and that caused him an attack of delirium tremens the day he discovered that this spirit was retained in him by a certain number of human wills, which were men of flesh and bone, who saved themselves from being magicians only by provoking in Edgar Poe the attack of delirium tremens that killed him.
Bewitchments are what made Gérard de Nerval go mad and forced him to commit suicide the day when, in a crisis of lucidity, he realized he could never get rid of his madness because all the earth was interested in it.
As for me, it has been years since I realized that only maneuvers of obscene magic, scrupulously carried out against me without respite day and night as always, have caused the difficulties I had writing at a given time, and those I have always had in living normally, that is to say, as a man in physically good health who would not need opium to be able to recover himself (to manage to maintain himself as he is).
The interest that society and the actual world may have in applying this magic on me, I know it, but it is a thing that, at my stage, can no longer be proven with words.
In any case, nine years of internment, three years of secret detention, five months of systematic poisonings, two years of electroshock, a sudden aggression on a ship, two stabs in the back with a knife, a blow with an iron bar to the vertebral column, are sufficient proof that there is in my case something odd going on and that destiny is pursuing a man with quite singular relentlessness for reasons too little explainable in themselves for folly and persecution and delirium to serve them any longer as covers and as […].
The true explanation is not a thing that can be given in speech or in a book, and it requires wholly different means.
As for me, whom a doctor forbade during three years to talk about bewitchment or magic under penalty of a treatment designed to remove memory, I have only one last thing to say, and that is that it has become impossible, physically and materially impossible, for me to go on living with, on my stomach and under my testicles, armies of succubi and incubi who are live men, very much alive, taken from all nations and all races of the earth, and who spend their nights sinking their tongues, their lips, their uvulas, their glottises, their clitorises, into my organs,
and oblige me to awake ten and twenty times a night, drunk with a deathly
What I want to say, André Breton, is that, like a formidable yeast of obscenities, the mass of consciousness elevates itself at times, outraged, in the atmospheres, and not as a supposition but as a being, as some kind of immense thinking vagina that speaks, a vagina with a thousand million heads that threaten Gérard de Nerval, Charles Baudelaire, Edgar Poe, the Marquis de Sade, the Comte de Lautréamont, Arthur Rimbaud, André Breton, and Antonin Artaud.
For me, it has been 10 years exactly since my journey to Mexico that I have not stopped seeing it, sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other, sometimes with a certain shape, sometimes with another, at every hour of the day or night.
I had seen it but I did not want to believe it. I saw men lying on the ground, on the slopes of mountains, in Mexico, in strange positions. I asked my guide what it meant, he began laughing and said to me: Don’t you see they’re masturbating to prevent us from advancing.
Because this is how it is from the beginning of life and not “consciousness,” the sacrosanct consciousness, but mr. such-and-such, madame such-and-such, just as they fart, shit, belch, drool, fuck or get totally fucked while getting a kick out of it on the sly, so they masturbate also while thinking of all they hate, and that is how I, Antonin Artaud, see their figures advancing in slits of space not internal but truly spatial, and this too is scientific, space is not just filled with dust particles which in all the rays of the earth swirl in the sun, there are also palpable animalcules, like little hateful gobs of spit, like the drizzle of rainy droplets which are not water but other ponderable states of bodies, where the body is no longer inert, but where it already assumes that form, enough to hate and to bully.
And so this is, André Breton, what I saw and what I believe and I remind you of the words of my New Revelations of Being:
and whoever will say that I did not see what I saw, I’ll tear his head off right now, for all that I accuse is real.
My dear Marthe,
No, what you tell me in your letter only confirms my certainty that it is no longer Anie Besnard who lives at 45 Quai Bourbon, but a double.
Anie Besnard was assassinated between Paris and Rodez during the night of October 14 to 15, 1944, and her body was buried in a field, just as the remains of Colette Prou, butchered with an axe in a cell adjacent to mine in September 1937, were buried in a garden in the suburbs of Le Havre. There may also be a Colette Prou in Paris at this moment but she is not the one I knew at the Dôme and who was assassinated. —Just as Sonia Mosse was incinerated.
I wish you felt as I do, Marthe Robert, the extent to which life is criminal and sinister.
The one who lies in my bed
and shares the air of my room
may play dice on the table
the very sky of my spirit
Life, Marthe Robert, is rigged, and it is rigged by a morbid police of which the intelligence service, the G. P. U., the general security, etc., are only façades.
Anie Besnard was assassinated and to conceal this infamy of initiates a young girl resembling her was put in her place and her being was magnetized by the subtlest operations to make her believe she was Anie Besnard, but it is not her: I have neither recognized her writing, nor her style, and I saw her assassination from a distance.
Marthe Robert, if you love me a little in the way of true love you must help me regain my strength. I am very strong but not as much as I should be for things to return to the way they were with my cane, which I must also retrieve. Because it does not suffice to accuse destiny, one must act, with hand and with hammer.
I have two friends whom Anie Besnard left behind (and it is because she betrayed that she was assassinated) and who for a year have wanted to join me to bring me back the means to act.
One is named Elah Catto. She translated Art and Death in Kabul in 1939. And I know she left Kabul to join me around Easter in 1945, but where is she now?
The other is named Mlle. Seguin. She was the nurse for a doctor from Bagnères-de-Bigorre in 1918 under a different name than Seguin, then she named herself Mlle. Seguin and was a nurse at the Hospital Saint-Jacques in Paris in 1932, ‘35.
In 1935 she published poems in the N. R. F. under the name, I believe, of Catherine Chilé. And took her diploma as doctor of medicine in 1938.
I know that she also left Paris in 1945, around Easter. But where is she now?
Dissolved by sorcery? Assassinated, strangled, magnetized, demagnetized, portioned into slices, metamorphosed, replaced in her body and in her own consciousness by some disturbing theory of the self, I mean of supplanting egos. And she wanders like a golem in her body for having tried to bring me a forbidden metalloid and something like the obscure stone of a forever-lost Graal.
There is a mystery in my life, Marthe Robert, whose basis is that I was not born in Marseilles on September 4, 1896, but that I passed by there that day, coming from elsewhere, because in reality I was never born and in truth I cannot die. For medico-legal asses this is sheer madness, for some it is poetry, for me it is the truth just like a beefsteak with French fries or a glass of white wine at the counter across the street. But all the earth has ganged up in the subterranean vaults of its sects of Initiates to prevent me from erupting and striking.
About the author:
Antonin Artaud’s work has a world-renowned status for experimentation across performance, film, sound, poetry and visual art. In the 1920s, he was a member of the Surrealist movement until his expulsion, and formulated theoretical plans across the first half of the 1930s for his ‘Theatre of Cruelty’ and attempted to carry them through. He made a living as a film actor from 1924 to 1935 and made many attempts to direct his own film projects. In 1936, he travelled to Mexico with a plan to take peyote in the Tarahumara lands. In 1937, preoccupied with the imminent apocalypse, he travelled to Ireland but was deported, beginning a nine-year asylum incarceration during which he continued to write and also made many drawings. After his release in 1946, he lived in the grounds of a sanatorium in Ivry-sur-Seine, close to Paris, and worked intensively on drawings, writings and sound-recordings. He died on 4 March 1948. His drawings have been exhibited on several occasions, notably at the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna in 2002 and at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris in 2006.
Peter Valente is the author of A Boy Asleep Under the Sun: Versions of Sandro Penna (Punctum Books), which was nominated for a Lambda award, The Artaud Variations (Spuyten Duyvil), Let the Games Begin: Five Roman Writers (Talisman House), The Catullus Versions (Spuyten Duyvil), two books of photography, Blue (Spuyten Duyvil) and Street Level (Spuyten Duyvil), two translations from the Italian, Blackout by Nanni Balestrini (Commune Editions) and Whatever the Name by Pierre Lepori (Spuyten Duyvil), Two Novellas: Parthenogenesis & Plague in the Imperial City (Spuyten Duyvil), a collaboration with Kevin Killian, Ekstasis (blazeVOX) and the poetry chapbook, Forge of Words a Forest (Jensen Daniels). He is the co-translator of the chapbook, Selected Late Letters of Antonin Artaud, 1945-1947 (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs). Forthcoming is his translation of Nicolas Pages by Guillaume Dustan (Semiotext(e), 2020), and a collection of essays, Essays on the Peripheries (Punctum, 2019). In 2010, he turned to filmmaking and has completed sixty shorts to date, twenty-four of which were screened at Anthology Film Archives in NYC.
Cole Heinowitz is a poet, translator, and scholar based in New York. Her books of poetry include The Rubicon (The Rest), Stunning in Muscle Hospital (Detour), and Daily Chimera (Incommunicado). She is the translator of Mario Santiago Papasquiaro’s Advice from 1 Disciple of Marx to 1 Heidegger Fanatic (Wave Books) and Beauty Is Our Spiritual Guernica (Commune Editions), and the co-translator of The Selected Late Letters of Antonin Artaud (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs). She is the author of the monograph, Spanish America and British Romanticism, 1777-1826: Rewriting Conquest (Edinburgh University Press, 2010), and is Associate Professor of Literature and Director of the Literature Program at Bard College. Heinowitz’s translation of Mario Santiago Papasquiaro’s Bleeding From All 5 Senses was awarded the 2019 Cliff Becker Book Prize in Translation.
Jay Murphy is the author of Artaud’s Metamorphosis (Pavement Books, 2016); he has contributed to CTheory, Art Journal, Deleuze Studies, Parallax, Culture Machine, Frieze, MAP, Afterimage, Parkett, Art in America, Metropolis, and Third Text, among many other publications. He has thrice been a finalist for the Sundance Screenwriting Labs, and his collaborative Internet projects have been shown at the Sundance Film Festival. He edited the alternative journal Red Bass and the book anthology For Palestine (1993). In 2009, 2011, and 2014, he organized exhibitions and programs of film and moving image work from the Middle East and North Africa for venues in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow; in 2011-12 the film series “First Person” for Inverleith House/Filmhouse Cinema in Edinburgh; and in 2008 gallery exhibitions in New York and Edinburgh. He is currently working on a creative nonfiction web project on the Middle East and other environs called Baraya/Perimeter.
Martin Bladh is a Swedish-born artist of multiple mediums. His work lays bare themes of violence, obsession, fantasy, domination, submission and narcissism. Bladh is a founding member of the post-industrial band IRM, the musical avant-garde unit Skin Area and co-founder of the publishing company Infinity Land Press. His published work includes To Putrefaction, Qualis Artifex Pereo, DES, The Rorschach Text, The Hurtin’ Club, Darkleaks – The Ripper Genome and Marty Page. He lives and works in London.
Karolina Urbaniak is a visual artist and co-founder of Infinity Land Press. Urbaniak’s published work includes To Putrefaction, 2014, Altered Balance – A Tribute to Coil, The Void Ratio, Artaud 1937 Apocalypse, and Death Mort Tod – A European Book of the Dead.
Her recent multimedia projects include the audio-visual installation On The New Revelations of Being, 2018 inspired by the work of Antonin Artaud, and Sandmann, a short film commissioned by the Sigmund Freud Museum. She lives and works in London.
p.s. Hey. The blog and I are very happy to do its and my part in helping to usher this beautiful new volume of Antonin Artaud’s letters from the impeccable Infinity Land Press into the world. Enjoy your peek, and, obviously, the matter at hand is highly recommended. Thanks! ** Corey Heiferman, I agree. I have sentence envy. I haven’t watched ‘Maîtresse’ in ages. I can imagine. Kinky sex is interesting to me because it’s such a self-cancelling thing or whatever. You’re more fully there technically than in a vanilla deal, but you’re simultaneously more far away and introverted. But, yeah, there is this kind of silly thing of adults trying to crawl back into their childhood with the toys and all of that. I do think the wish for company when you’re in that head space can be more doomed than not. Welcome back from your productive breakdown, and … congratulations? ** Wolf, Woof! Yes, we here in the big P got just a little dying, completely pretty wash of your storm last night. The UK footage looked nuts. Gee, yeah, I have no idea if the French name big storms. I guess I thought the naming thing was universal or something, but they’re always Anglo names, so I don’t know. Huh. Me? I went to a book launch/reading, which was pleasant although I didn’t much like the writing that was read aloud. Had a coffee with a cool guy, new friend here who’s a poet and artist and really nice. Worked on shit. Talked to my oldest friend Lee by Skype. Not wild, but not bad. Are you dried out? ** David Ehrenstein, Ha ha, you’ve got a song in store for everything. You should curate a musical theater piece or something. ** Bill, I often think that the escort and slaves sites must be commandeered by art students here and there, but I wonder. Note that my picks constitute one teeny percentage of what’s out there, and the gigantic bulk are rote as hell. Short films, including short animated films, seems like one of the very, very hardest forms to get right or do anything actually interesting in. It’s so extremely rare that I see a short film that isn’t just a forgettable exercise in something artsy or other. Enjoy the last 24 hours of your long weekend. ** Steve Erickson, I would imagine you’ll come to like if not love your emptied apartment and then de-empty it again in no time. Yikes, those were some very hard ass cleaners. Ouch. ** Damien Ark, Iowa, yes! It says the book comes out June 1st, so close to a birthday treat but no cigar. Glad you’re keeping your head well above water. I’m fine. The usual, good to okay. ** _Black_Acrylic, Yes, there did seem to be a bit of a crossover there. So you got evidence of but not trounced by your storm, good. Like I said, we got its exhaust last night. Now I really am the last person on earth to have not yet seen ‘Parasite’. Good luck getting your whimsy into acceptable wordage today. I bet you’ll ace it. And congrats on the dark accomplishment. ** Right. You know full well what is or was in store for you here today, so I’ll just take my leave and see you tomorrow.