To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Three Previously Unpublished Letters from Antonin Artaud to Colette Thomas

       Translated with a note by Peter Valente


Henri Thomas, the young novelist who had been corresponding with Artaud about an article he was writing on The Theater and its Double, came to visit Artaud at Rodez on March 10, 1946, and brought his young wife, Colette Thomas, who was an aspiring actress. She was only 23 years old when she met Artaud and her marriage was falling apart at the time. For Artaud she seemed to represent a life of new possibilities and freedom. Soon she became one of his “daughters of the heart,” and occupied, for a time, a central position in Artaud’s fantasy world. They often wrote letters to each other during this time and Colette incorporated fragments from these letters in her one book, The Testament of the Dead Daughter, published in 1954. But her devotion to Artaud led to an over-identification, with him and his writings, which became intense and obsessive. She delivered a reading of texts from Artaud’s Fragmentations in June 1946, during a benefit for him in Paris. Despite her anxiety and terror she performed them with powerful enthusiasm, during a power outage, and to great applause. Artaud continued to see her during the Autumn of 1947, but she was becoming more estranged from him as he began to accuse her of claiming that she had written his texts herself and that he had stolen them from her. He also accused her of wanting to seduce him in order to have a child. She refused to participate in a reading of Artaud’s texts in November of that same year. This angered Artaud who felt it was simply a “gratuitous caprice” on her part. But it was becoming clear to the people in Artaud’s inner circle that her mental state was deteriorating under actual or imagined pressures. Colette Thomas’ mental condition worsened in later years, so much so that she could not remember who Artaud was. She spent the rest of her life in private clinics. The following letters were previously unpublished and first appeared in Samantha Marenzi’s important book, Antonin Artaud et Colette Thomas. I would like to thank her and Stephen Barber who first alerted me to the presence of these letters. 

                                                                                                            Paris, June 14, 1946
My very dear Colette, 

I waited for you at the Reine Blanche [1] for 2 or 3 hours. They told me at your hotel where I phoned that you were going to leave this hotel and were arriving tonight to take your luggage.

Do you also intend to leave Paris?

All this has extremely worried me and I wonder if there is not in you a species of despair that like a lost illusion incites you to want to leave Paris suddenly.

Yet, I, as far as it concerns me, have taken nothing and deceived you on no point.

If you had come to see me this afternoon your heart would have been completely reassured, without waiting for a new Deluge or for another fall of Sodom, and I needed you for my work.

Must I consider myself alone forever?
Write to me and schedule a meeting in Paris.
I am sure that you think I did not quite devote myself to you.

I wanted to describe my life without hiding anything, but you did not come.

I await a word from you.

I embrace you.
                                                                                         Antonin Artaud

                                                                                        Paris, Sunday, June 24, 1946 [2]

I suffered immensely for 50 years including 9 years of internment to be able to withstand the recriminations of a consciousness. 

I tried to help you exist there is something that has afflicted you, it does not surprise me, that’s life, for the rest, I do not understand what the word permanence means, I don’t even have a baccalaureat in philosophy.

I have nothing more to tell you, nothing more to say in response to your final word.

                                                                                           Antonin Artaud

P.S. I do not particularly believe that you took the place of Anie [3], but I think someone who believes in the permanence of beings, though you don’t give a fuck, replaced you, but the question will be resolved by the wrath of the Apocalypse, although what does it matter to you who I thought was interested in front of the Montparnasse station the last time we met.                                                                                           

                                                                                            Paris, June 26, 1946

I cannot forget the horrible story of internment at Bon Sauveur [4] combined with the treatment of cardiazol. [5]
I cannot forget the event at the Sarah Bernhardt Theater [6] where it was good Colette Thomas and not another who intervened in order for it to be implemented.

I cannot forget either, and especially the marvelous consciousness that came to work with me and read to everyone with all her heart at Ivry-sur-Seine [7] the texts which I had just written at Espalion and Rodez.

I know, Colette, a long and terrible history and the pneumatics [8] that you sent me about Anie show me that you were conscious of it in many ways, but so that you can see your exact position and also mine will require a total upheaval of all that appears to us. In the meantime I would prefer that your soul is not unfairly tormented, but I have heard from you many unjust and especially undeserved words. Because I am conscious of not only having wanted to help you live and the impression of having been badly rewarded, but I do not believe you are able to recognize this now, yet as you read at the Sarah Bernhardt my text, the
children of the mise-en-scène principle, [9] I want you to read the continuation on the Radio, and I do not want you to miss this last opportunity. I composed a new text to follow the one against the doctors. [10]

I need to transmit a pneu [11] to decide on a meeting about this subject. 

                                                                                                            Antonin Artaud


1 The Reine Blanche (“White Queen”) is a hotel in Paris.

2  Sunday fell on June 23

3 Anie Besnard - A friend of Artaud and one of his “daughters of the heart yet unborn.” The first meeting in 1933 between Artaud and Anie Besnard has the quality of a fairytale. During the night Artaud saw her, on the boulevard du Montparnasse, sitting on a bench, crying. She is sixteen years old, a runaway, and starving. Despite his own poverty, he managed to feed her and comfort her and they become friends. Stephen Barber writes, “The border between paternal purity and incestuous jealousy in Artaud’s attitude towards Anie Besnard was highly charged. Always resistant towards his own family, Artaud filled this absence with parallel relationships.”

4 A psychiatric hospital in Caen.

5 Colette had been interned in a mental hospital during her student years where she had been placed in a straightjacket and given cardiazol, “a seizure-provoking drug generally administered as a prelude to electroshock.” Artaud writes in a letter to her written on April 3, 1946: “The story of the asylum, of the treatments and the cardiazol, suffocates me when I think of it because it strangely resembles all those stories I experienced since the age of puberty in 1914.”

6 Colette Thomas read from Artaud’s Fragmentations at the gala benefit for him held at the Sarah Bernhardt Theater on June 7, 1946.

7 In 1946 Artaud was released to his friends, who placed him in the psychiatric clinic at Ivry-sur-Seine.

8 Artaud is referring to the system of delivering letters through pressurized air tubes, called pneumatic mail or post. Artaud rarely sent mail by ordinary post during the late period, from 1946-1948. Usually they were registered letters that the recipient had to sign for, or pneumatiques.

9 Another slight variation in this title that appears in the late letters was and the children of the mise en scène principle. Both were the original titles of a text that ended up with the title “Fragmentations” in the book also called Fragmentations. Artaud changed the title to “Fragmentations” for an edition of Suppôts et Suppliciations which was planned but abandoned. But the title remained in future publications.

10 After recording Patients and Doctors at the Club d'Essai (June 8, 1946), Artaud prepared another a text for the radio reading, Alienation and Black Magic; he believed that Colette would participate in the reading. But he read the text alone, on July 16, and then inserted it in Artaud le Momo.

11 Artaud’s use of the word “pneu” recalls the word “pneumatic” above. “Pneu” was the shortened and frequently used name for pneumatic mail. He uses the word frequently in letters written during his last months. For Artaud, the word had a special significance, suggesting a force of the breath. In ancient Greek, “pneuma” was the word for that which is breathed or blown.

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