stop screaming: ideas are the voids of the body … penetrating connexions – self-serving excerpts from Stephen Barber’s The Screaming Body

– Artaud, Portrait de Paule Thévenin, ditPaule aux ferrets,’ 24 May, 1947

Paule Thévenin [Artaud’s friend and literary executor]described to me the process of being drawn by Artaud as that of “being skinned alive.” … Artaud … standing up before a table … would scream, hum and invent new vocabularies … The sitter was forbidden to move … but was … encouraged to talk … to Thévenin, it seemed that Artaud was intent on drawing the gestural movements of her face, in particular those of her mouth as it disintegrated into a blur and then re-cohered in the process of forming and articulating words. The act of drawing, for Artaud, was that of a revelatory excavation into what he saw as the lost or neglected material of the human anatomy.

– Stephen Barber, The Screaming Body: Antonin Artaud: Film Projects, Drawings and Sound Recordings, Creation Books, 1999, p. 63 [all emphases throughout this post added]

– Artaud, Le Théâtre de la cruauté, March 1946

Why are we here? How have we arrived at the body without organs of Artaud?

We are here simply to draw attention to connections: Balthus [there] to Artaud (who has been here before, of course [link]). So primarily Balthus, looping back, in an unoriginal loop, Balthus whom Artaud called his double in the happier days of The Theatre of Cruelty, Paris, 1930s, before Dublin, Ireland, and Artaud’s arrest on September 23 [link], 1937, for living in a park, his deportation, and his committal to an asylum (for another sense of committal, see here), and under threat of being placed in a concentration camp, his circulation among asylums, during which time his teeth fell out and he lost his looks – he had been, as Stephen Barber comments, “one of the most dandified and elegant of the Surrealists” [ibid., p. 44], and was matched in beauty by Balthus, the latter, as Mieke Bal in her monograph on him, points out, resembled him to a “remarkable” degree, as did, she adds, doubly, Jean-Louis Barrault; there being then a whole clutch of dandiacal doubles, or handsome clones, in Paris -, during which time Artaud was submitted both to electro-shock therapy, at the hands of Gaston Ferdière, director of Rodez (as Barber draws his character, a curious and dangerous combination of experimenter and anarcho-narcissist; great exponent of and publicist for electro-shock therapy, just one session of which shattered one of Artaud’s vertebrae, also psychiatrist to various art stars, Hans Bellmer, Isadore Isou, and Unica Zürin: Isou with Maurice Lemaître wrote in the volume, Antonin Artaud Tortured By The Psychiatrists, “Dr Gaston Ferdière is one of the greatest criminals in the entire history of humanity: a new Eichmann” [Barber, op. cit., p. 50]), where he commenced the series of drawings illustrating this post, graphically reconstituting himself in your eye, and to the ministrations, between 1938 and 1939, of a therapist, whose star was soon and sure to rise, who again asserted the irrecoverability of Artaud’s condition, Jacques Lacan, and towards whom the invective against a “sexually obsessed psychiatrist” is directed by Artaud in his 1947 essay, Van Gogh The Suicide Of Society, a psychiatrist he calls “docteur L.” [Ibid., p. 91 n. 27]

– Artaud, La Maladresse sexuelle de dieu, 1946

It extends into the thereafter of Artaud’s final years, 1946-8, in which he wrote the essay on his double, Facts Going Back To 1934: The Misery Painter, indeed, in which he writes: “All painters bring their anatomy, their physiology, their saliva, their flesh, their blood, their sperm, their vices, their sexual diseases, their pathology, their prudishness, their health, their character, their personality or their madness into their works.” [In ibid., p. 79] He also wrote of Balthus that he “makes use of the real only in order to crucify it.” [Ibid., p. 78]

– Artaud, Couti l’anatomie, 1945

to validate an existence or the body, Artaud must reduce language and reduce corporeal matter to an extreme essence. Everything extraneous to the body is refused – all nature and all culture – so that the body is by itself, sharpened, bone and nerve, without family, “god” or internal organs. It can also move before itself in space, in order to create and generate itself. It is unprecedented and has no progenitor. … aggressive process of reduction [la soustraction {link}?] … absolute density in the image … transform the human body … language … is fragmented, but its screaming desire for physical transmission sutures the pieces back together again in the spectators bodies
– Ibid., p. 102

– Artaud, Le Totem, 1946

Another connection drawn attention to here is that celebrated under the emblematic skin of the BwO, or “body without organs,” between Gilles Deleuze and Artaud. Pictorially what this calls to mind, in light of Deleuze’s writing on him, is Francis Bacon’s figuration of meat before human flesh and the head before the face. But the demand made of spectators that they “suture” body (and language) parts back together and that they are placed under this injunction by a “screaming desire for physical transmission” theatricalises the moment, staging the action inside the bodies of the spectators, where, presumably, they make sense of the encounter with nonsense, a sense which does not lose, for being active and within an evental horizon, of the scream, its visceral, genealogical element, and does not forget or forego its ground in nonsense.

Dance is how the body patrols, tests and defends itself from obliteration: so, the body engaged in this act must by essence be distorted, painful and alert – as well as in ecstasy at its own movements and gestures. As Tatsumi Hijikata – the Japanese inventor of the seminal “Butoh” dance performance art of the 1960s, and the only artist ever to have advanced Artaud’s work – understood, the scream is the end point of dance; the scream exerts an exactly choreographed image of the body with all its extremes of sensation.

… awareness of the body’s necessity is made to develop [in the scream]…

… the scream is Artaud’s dense language – the tearing apart of meaning and representation, and the only way to project his authentic body.

– Ibid., p. 103

– photo of Tatsumi Hijikata in Revolt Of The Flesh

The next connection, then, is to dance, to a dance that we can care about.

At least in its original form of the 1960s, Tatsumi Hijikata’s “Ankoku Butoh” (“Dance Of Utter Darkness”), accords exactly with Artaud’s ultimate conception of the dancing human body in a state of violent self-interrogation, traversed simultaneously by sensations of ecstasy and annihilation [pain?]. Much of the initial imagery of Butoh emerged from the devastated Tokyo of the end of the Second World War, during which tens of thousands of the city’s inhabitants had been reduced to ashes by American and British firebombing, leaving only a few fragments of surviving buildings – such a complete return to zero necessarily resulted in a crucial sensation of liberation and sexual experimentation, manifested in Tokyo’s extreme forms of art, film and sex of ensuing riotous decades. Hijikata (1928-1986), a close collaborator of other Japanese 1960s avant-garde legends such as Shuji Terayama, Eikoh Hosoe, Kazuo Ohno and Tadanori Yokoo, read Artaud’s work assiduously as soon as it appeared in Japanese translation; another of his vital preoccupations was with the dolls created by Hans Bellmer. 1n 1971, he wrote an essay on Artaud entitled Artaud’s Slipper, but this intense enagement with Artaud’s work primarily manifested itself in his dance performances such as Revolt Of The Flesh (1968) and Story of Smallpox (1972), and in his filmic and photographic collaborations with Eikoh Hosoe, who was also responsible for the infamous book of photographs of Yukio Mishima, Killed By Roses, from 1963, in which Mishima’s body is depicted in erotic contortions of bondage and torture [guilty of sexuality?]. In 1984, Hijikata heard Artaud’s recording To Have Done With The Judgement Of God, which the writer Kuniichi Uno had brought back from Paris, where he had been collaborating with Gilles Deleuze. As a result, Hijikata worked on a performance based in part on To Have Done With The Judgement Of God with the choreography Min Tanaka, but both were dissatisfied with the result. Hijikata was formulating a new work based on his engagement with Artaud and his own revolutionary conception of the human body in crisis, tentatively entitled Experiment With Artaud, when he suddenly died of liver failure in Tokyo in January 1986 (much of his work towards the project had entailed five-day non-stop drinking bouts in the labyrinthine bar districts of Tokyo as he formulated his ideas with Uno). In February 1998, Min Tanaka undertook a series of three unique performances in Tokyo based on Artaud’s scenario The Conquest Of Mexico, which undoubtedly marked the most astonishing choreographic experiment with Artaud’s work to date. Interviews with Eikoh Hosoe, Min Tanaka, Akiko Motofuji, Kuniichi Uno, Tokyo, July 1997-July 1998.

– Ibid., note on Tatsumi Hijikata, pp. 109-110

– Artaud, Les Illusion de l’âme, 1946

I have cited this note in full because it is remarkable in several connections, or directions: 1) Artaud to Tatsumi Hijikata, and butoh; 2) its speaks to the role of Artaud’s influence in the Japan of the 1960s, and not to his influence alone; 3) an ongoing confluence is evoked which draws both from 1960s France, the elevation of Artaud in this milieu of revolution and experimentation, and Japan, wherein Gilles Deleuze collaborates in some wise, on something, with Kunniichi Uno (if you have any information in regard to this connection, please contact me here); 4) there is a closer connection here, in view of the importance of butoh in the world of dance in New Zealand, and, 5) the enormous impact Min Tanaka’s work has had here, through our leading directors of dance-theatre, Douglas Wright and Michael Parmenter, and through his many visits, both to teach and perform. … So, the question of this NZ connection and the resonance of this work in particular here arises, and it is twofold: 6) why is butoh central to local dance-theatre? 7) Can we say then that Artaud’s work and its revivification in the 1960s, in both Japan and France, is alive in NZ?

– Artaud, Portrait de Colette Allendy, 1947

This note in NOTES:

Eschleman, who devoted many years to his translations, is the only translator to have created an accurate English-language counterpart for Artaud’s language; virtually all other volumes of translations of Artaud’s work are erroneous and should be avoided like the plague.

– Ibid., p. 107


Skinned naked in a bath of electricity, each electro-shock patient is exposed to an artificially-created death – at this stage in Artaud’s work [1946], all manifestations of death are states of black magic that have to be overturned.

– Ibid., p. 96