Antonin Artaud

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Antonin Artaud

Antonin Artaud short form of Antoine Marie Joseph Paul Artaud (born September 4, 1896 in Marseille , † March 4, 1948 in Ivry-sur-Seine ) was a French actor , playwright , director , illustrator, poet and theater theorist.


Antonin Artaud was born in a middle-class family in Marseille. His mother Euphrasie Nalpas (1870–1952) came from Smyrna (now Izmir) in the Ottoman Empire . After Antonin, the mother gave birth to eight more children, but only two of them, Marie-Ange and Fernand, reached adulthood. His father Antoine Roi Artaud (1864-1924) was a ship's captain. The parents were cousins and came from families in which incestuous relationships were common. Childhood is overshadowed by chronic nerve disorders attributed to inherited syphilis . He attended a high school run by the Marist Fathers , to whom he owed a solid knowledge of Catholic theology and liturgy - the aesthetics of his later oeuvre reveal the traces of his Catholic influence. At the age of 14 he read Charles Baudelaire , for whom he was enthusiastic, as well as for acting. He began to perform self-composed scenes in the family circle.

In 1920 Artaud moved to Paris, where he joined the Surrealism movement, and began to write: first poetry, then prose and other contributions to Surrealists' magazines and screenplays. A work frenzy seized him: as a writer, as an actor and as a director. Artaud made a contribution to 22 films (including Fritz Lang's Liliom 1934) and wrote 26 books. He earned his living u. a. through his work at the Théâtre Alfred Jarry , which he founded in Paris in 1926 with Roger Vitrac and Robert Aron . In the same year he broke with the surrealist movement when a large part of its supporters wanted to give surrealism a more political, revolutionary orientation. Around 1930 he lived in Berlin on Passauer Strasse , met Georg Wilhelm Pabst and worked on his film adaptation of the Threepenny Opera . In a letter from the Rodez asylum to Adolf Hitler on December 3, 1943, he mentions a meeting in May 1932 with Hitler in the Berlin artist's pub Romanisches Café . It is unknown whether the meeting took place. The years 1926 to 1935 were filled with new attempts to try out his theater ideas and to realize his vision of what theater can / should be. In 1935 Artaud founded his theater of cruelty ( Théâtre de la Cruauté ) and staged his own play Les Cenci (based on the tragedy The Cenci by Percy Bysshe Shelley and the eponymous story by Stendhal ). He had a long friendship with Balthus , whom he praised profusely in an article in 1934. In 1935 Balthus designed the set for the Theater of Cruelty.

In 1936 Artaud went on a trip to Mexico , where he lived with the Tarahumara Indians for a few months . On his next trip to Ireland to visit the Celtic Druids , he believed he had obtained the staff of St. Patrick . In Dublin he was arrested for "disturbing public order" and forcibly returned to France. After arriving in France, he believed in the imminent apocalypse . From 1937 he was repeatedly admitted as a patient to closed psychiatric clinics because of “danger to public order and security”. Schizophrenia was diagnosed . Years of treatment with electric shocks , lithium , insulin , mercury and bismuth preparations resulted . In 1946 he was released from the Asile d'aliénés de Paraire , an institution in Rodez , with financial help from friends . Artaud worked on the piece Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu ( End with the judgment of God ) for the radio ; at the Sorbonne he gave a lecture against psychiatry .

Artaud took drugs such as laudanum , opium , heroin and peyote for decades because of chronic pain . (Heroin was not banned as a drug until 1930 ; Artaud and René Crevel , among others, filed public protests against the ban.)

On March 4, 1948, Antonin Artaud was found dead sitting in front of his bed with a shoe in his hand. He had terminal rectal cancer . The cause of death is an overdose of the sleeping pill chloral hydrate .

Theater of want and crisis

Artaud propagated an idea of ​​a theater of want and crisis, the theater of cruelty . In this form, text, language and movement on the stage should no longer form a suggestive unit. Rather, Artaud wanted to reduce the central role of the text in the theater and ensure that the performance, i.e. the spectacle of the staging, came to the fore. For Artaud, a staging always meant a legible, self-contained text, so that the words themselves were given less importance.

Artaud placed his theater of cruelty on three premises :

  1. The scattered text: The appearance of text on the stage does not follow any discursive context in the framework of a spoken language, as is otherwise the case in traditional Western staging practice. For Artaud, this fragmentation of text represented a rebellion against civilization and culture .
  2. The disfigured body: Artaud found inspiration in traditional Balinese theater. The arbitrariness of signs such as certain gestures or facial expressions, a costume or just the appearance of a body itself was important for his theater theory. Aggression and desires should be represented by such physical signs. The physicality of the breath was important to Artaud; for him the breath was something shared by the performers and the audience and thus a connection between stage and audience.
  3. The suppressed voice: Blocking the voice, articulation and being heard played an important role at Artaud. For him, his own oppression became visible through a silent scream, and in a certain way audible through the silence. He was less concerned with words than with noises that should touch the viewer painfully.

The theater and its double

Artaud saw the plague , metaphysics and cruelty as a double of the theater . For him, a performance should not be a mimesis , i.e. an imitation of reality, but a reality in itself. The theater is therefore not a double of reality, but rather: the reality, which for Artaud was always cruel, doubles the reality of the theater.

The desired results of Artaud's theatrical utopia can thus be abstracted into the statement that previously existing boundaries within the theatrical space on various levels lose their meaning or are resolutely dissolved: The boundary between stage and audience space, aesthetic value and worthlessness falls of the staged event, between the signified and the signified . In order not to be at the mercy of the "uncertainty of the times", Artaud postulates a concept that stages the image of an unreality, which is understood as a mythical ground suitable for the masses, in such a way that it displaces everyday reality from the position of reality claim and even this Seat occupied. That the processing of a "fearful, catastrophic period" only seems possible by turning away from it in order to finally be able to mobilize the internal forces of mass society against them appears paradoxical - as does the fact that the design of a theater of cruelty owes itself to an immanent moral drive.

Artaud is considered to be one of the forefathers of performance art . The idea of ​​a “non-representative” theater, a theater of the directly implemented energies of being itself, first articulated by Artaud in its full acuteness, had a great influence on many artists and theorists of the 20th century: Jerzy Grotowski , Tadeusz Kantor, among others , David Esrig , Werner Schwab , Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Sarah Kane , on performance and action art , on the composer Wolfgang Rihm , but also on philosophers such as Jacques Derrida , Gilles Deleuze , Michel Foucault and Félix Guattari .

The performance concept of the "Theater of Cruelty"

In his conception of the Theater of Cruelty, Artaud defines the staging as the starting point for stage creation and accordingly calls for the duality of author and director to be abolished. The focus of a performance should not be on the literary model, but rather on an entangled complete work of all the design elements available to the theater. Artaud thus emancipated himself from the theatrical conventions prevailing at the time.

“The masterpieces of the past are good for the past: they are not for us. We have the right to say what has been said, and even what has not yet been said, in a way that is supposed to correspond to us, that is immediate and direct, that does justice to the present feeling and that is one everyone will understand. "

According to Artaud, the theater of cruelty should be generally understandable. The viewer should be able to get into a kind of trance state with the help of a theater that appeals to all senses. Artaud received the inspiration for this return to the primeval through Balinese dances, among other things. It should be noted that Artaud's penchant for exoticism is reflected in large parts of the theater of cruelty performance concept. For the theater of cruelty, for example, Artaud provides "ritual costumes". Bernd Mattheus writes in his text about the theater of cruelty of an "organic staging" and means a staging in which Artaud "[...] wants to address the sensitivity of the viewer from all sides [...]" The theater should itself addressed to the whole of human beings and generally to the masses and therefore also thematically deals with mass fears, as named by Artaud. In contrast to Wagner's concept of the total work of art , Artaud also emphasizes the unrepeatability of the theatrical gesture. With the Theater of Cruelty, Artaud strives for an all-encompassing drama with reference to real life. Similar to Wagner's operas, Artaud sees the design of motifs as a musical or onomatopoeic manifestation of characters as an important design element. Artaud's Theater of Cruelty can be described with some reservations as theoretically similar to the Gesamtkunstwerk concept, because Artaud intends to interlink and coordinate the elements described above in order to achieve a common goal, namely to appeal to the audience's organism. According to Artaud, theater, and art in general, should be all-encompassing, both in terms of its design and its impact and the ability to create new, independent forms.

"Once and for all enough the expression of a self-contained, selfish and personalistic art."

The stage language that Artaud envisages for the theater of cruelty is moving away from the pure reproduction of a written text towards "[...] new means (s) of the notation of this language [...]". Not only language, but also objects should be in their symbolic character are increased. Artaud writes of a "[...] lavish wealth of forms of expression [...]" available to the theater, which must be reproducible and catalogable. The production should use all the possibilities and innovations of the theater. Artaud, for example, describes a wave-like light as desirable for the theater of cruelty; at that time, however, it was not yet possible to implement this idea.

Artaud designed the auditorium in the middle, surrounded by a stage with different levels. This arrangement should enable a dynamic expression in the room. According to Artaud, the theater of cruelty should not contain anything superfluous or unintentional and should be presented according to a rhythm and encrypted.


Tom Peuckert staged Artaud remembers Hitler and the Romanisches Cafe at the Berliner Ensemble in 2000 . At the end of the film drama Despair - A Journey into the Light by director Rainer Werner Fassbinder from 1978, it is written in the credits that the film is dedicated to Antonin Artaud, Vincent van Gogh and Unica Zürn .

Works in German translation

  • The nerve balance . Introduction v. Maurice Blanchot . Henssel, Berlin 1961.
  • Texts and letters . Wolfgang Hake, Cologne 1967.
  • The theater and its double . S. Fischer, Frankfurt 1969. (New edition: (= works in individual editions. Part 8). Matthes & Seitz Berlin , 2012, ISBN 978-3-88221-658-5 .)
  • Heliogabal or the anarchist on the throne . Rogner & Bernhard , Munich 1972.
  • Van Gogh , the suicide by society and other texts and letters on Baudelaire , Coleridge , Lautréamont and Gérard de Nerval . Matthes & Seitz, Munich 1977.
  • Early writings . ibid. 1983.
  • Surrealistic texts . Matthes & Seitz, Munich 1985, ISBN 3-88221-227-6 .
  • Letters from Rodez . ibid. 1988.
  • Last writings on the theater . ibid.
  • Mexico: The Tarahumaras. Revolutionary messages. Letters . Translated by Brigitte Weidmann, Cornelia Langendorf and Bernd Mattheus. With an essay Why Mexico? by Luis Cardoza y Aragón. Matthes & Seitz, Munich 1992, ISBN 3-88221-259-4 . (A first, as yet incomplete edition was published by Rogner & Bernhard in 1975 under the title Mexico. The Tarahumara. Revolutionary Messages. ISBN 3-8077-0043-9 . The 1992 edition was compared to the 1975 edition by Artaud's texts on Mexico increased.)
  • The peyotl rite of the Tarahumaras . Matthes & Seitz Verlag, Berlin 1992.
  • The cenci. In: Spectaculum 75. Six modern plays and materials. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2004, ISBN 3-518-41618-9 .
  • Black Bag - Sinister Flesh . Radio play by Klaus Farin . Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-88221-712-4 .
  • Texts about the film. ibid. 2011, ISBN 978-3-88221-612-7 .

Filmography (selection)


  • Frieda Grafe : Against the language and against the spirit - Antonin Artaud and the cinema . First published in: film review. No. 147 of March 1969. In: From the Off - To the cinema in the sixties. (= Selected writings in individual volumes. Volume 4). Brinkmann & Bose, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-922660-84-3 , pp. 54-62.
  • Martin Esslin : Antonin Artaud. New York 1977.
  • Raymond Chirat : Paris scene, Philippe Garrel, dossier "Antonin Artaud and the cinema". Center d'information cinématographie de l'institute française de Munich, Munich 1985.
  • Paule Thévenin , Jacques Derrida : Antonin Artaud. Drawings and portraits. Schirmer & Mosel, Munich 1986, ISBN 3-88814-158-3 .
  • Karl Alfred Blüher: Antonin Artaud and the "Nouveau Théâtre" in France. Narr, Tübingen 1991, ISBN 3-87808-958-9 .
  • Jens Andermann: Healing at the end of the world. Antonin Artaud in search of the fountain of youth. In: Friedhelm Schmidt (ed.): Wild Paradise - Red Hell. The image of Mexico in modern literature and film . Aisthesis Verlag, Bielefeld 1992, ISBN 3-925670-77-7 , pp. 91-110.
  • Michel Camus : Antonin Artaud. Une autre langue du corps , Opales, Bordeaux 1996, ISBN 2-910627-05-5 .
  • Sylvère Lotringer: I talked to Antonin Artaud about God. A conversation between Sylvère Lotringer and the neurologist Dr. Jacques Latrémolière. Alexander Verlag, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-89581-020-7 .
  • Bernd Mattheus : Antonin Artaud (1896–1948). Life and work of the actor, poet and director; for the exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art, Ludwig Foundation, Vienna. (= Batteries. Volume 3). Matthes & Seitz, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-88221-202-0 .
  • Bernd Mattheus , Cathrin Pichler (Ed.): About Antonin Artaud. For the exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation, Vienna. Matthes & Seitz, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-88221-834-7 .
  • Ulli Seegers: Alchemy of Seeing. Hermetic Art in the 20th Century; Antonin Artaud, Yves Klein , Sigmar Polke . (= Art History Library. Volume 21). König, Cologne 2003, ISBN 3-88375-701-2 . (Additional dissertation University of Stuttgart 2002)
  • Jacques Derrida : Artaud Moma. Exclamations, heckling and appeals. Passagen Verlag, Vienna 2003, ISBN 3-85165-550-8 .
  • Artaud, a staged life. Films, drawings, documents. Exhibition catalog. Museum Kunst-Palast, Düsseldorf 2005, DNB 980154847 .
  • Richard Wall: Antonin Artaud with the staff of St. Patrick on Aran. In: Richard Wall: Small luggage. On the move in a different Europe. Kitab Verlag, Klagenfurt 2013, ISBN 978-3-902878-06-9 .
  • David A. Shafer: Antonin Artaud. Reaction books, London 2016, ISBN 978-1-78023-570-7 .
  • Jacob Rogozinski: Healing Life. The passion of Antonin Artaud. Turia + Kant, Vienna / Berlin 2019, ISBN 978-3-85132-935-3 .

Web links

Commons : Antonin Artaud  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Allen S. Weiss: Feast and folly. Cuisine, intoxication, and the poetics of the sublime . State University of New York Press, Albany 2002, ISBN 0-7914-5517-3 , pp. 65-72.
  2. Jens Andermann: Healing at the end of the world. Antonin Artaud in search of the fountain of youth. In: Friedhelm Schmidt (ed.): Wild Paradise - Red Hell. The image of Mexico in modern literature and film . Aisthesis Verlag, Bielefeld 1992, pp. 91-110.
  3. ^ Antonin Artaud: The theater and its double: The Théâtre de Séraphin . Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1968, p. 79 .
  4. Bernd Mattheus: The theater of cruelty. A major misunderstanding. In: Antonin Artaud: The theater and its double. (= Works in separate editions. Part 8). Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2012, p. 276.
  5. ^ Antonin Artaud: The theater and its double: The Théâtre de Séraphin . Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1968, p. 91 .
  6. ^ Antonin Artaud: The theater and its double: The Théâtre de Séraphin . Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1968, p. 84 .
  7. ^ Antonin Artaud: The theater and its double: The Théâtre de Séraphin . Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1968, p. 100 .
  8. ^ Antonin Artaud: The theater and its double: The Théâtre de Séraphin . Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1968, p. 103 .
  9. A collage of letters from AA with Jacques Rivière , as well as his writings: Nabel, Nervenwaage, Hellentagebuch and Kunst und der Tod. 55 min.