Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Antonin Artaud's rediscovery of writing

Antonin Artaud, the great french playwright, essayist, actor, poet and theatre director, was never without a pencil and a notebook where he would scribble furiously his thoughts. In the last couple of years of his life, somewhere between 1946 and 1948, one day, while visiting some friends in Paris and as they were all seated at the table, Artaud felt empty and had a feeling that he was no longer capable of writing anything. This is how Domnine Milliex, who was a little girl at the time, remembers the scene when Antonin Artaud came over for lunch:

" As a child I belonged to the generation that had to stay at the table, quiet and eat with the grown ups and I have this memory of the meals taking too long. And there, that day, there was a long discussion at the table. I think Antonin Artaud was probably feeling a bit depressed that day and they were talking, and he said that he did not know how to write anymore, he was not able to write, he did not know how to write. I had just started school and had just begun to learn how to read and write. After the meal, I timidly approached him and told him that I could help him. I said to him, Monsieur Artaud, I go to school and I am learning how to write and I am willing to show you too if you want. You see, I took literally the discussion at the table. What is wonderful is that Artaud went ahead and played the game. We got dressed, walked downhill towards Marne to go find a stationary shop. We bought a notebook, pencils, a rubber and a pencil sharpener. When we got back, we sat at the table and I instructed him how to make the "i" in the alphabet which was the easiest letter to write. I can't say how much time this took because I do not experience time today the same way I used to do when I was a child. It could have been half an hour or a quarter of an hour or a whole hour, but I have the impression that we worked and Artaud worked hard on this, filling in the pages. In the end, I had taught him how to write letters like we learned at school. I had my notebook and he had his and I inspected his work. He played the game until the end."

Artaud, having filled a whole notebook repeating letters of the alphabet, showed it with pride to his fellow writers, playwrights, actors and intellectuals that formed his circle. This was his new work, equivalent to what he had written until then. The absolute derision of the process of writing by one of the greatest thinkers and essayists the world has ever known.

(This story is one of many surrounding the legend that was Antonin Artaud and can be found in Gérard Mordillat's and Jérôme Prieur's documentary "La véritable histoire d'Artaud le momo")   

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