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Antonin Artaud in 1926

Antoine Marie Joseph Paul Artaud, better known as Antonin Artaud (pronounced [ɑ̃tɔnɛ̃ aʁto]; 4 September 1896 – 4 March 1948), was a French writer, poet, dramatist, visual artist, essayist, actor and theatre director. He is widely recognized as one of the major figures of the European avant-garde. In particular, he had a profound influence on twentieth-century theatre through his conceptualization of the Theatre of Cruelty. Known for his raw, surreal and transgressive work, his texts explored themes from the cosmologies of ancient cultures, philosophy, the occult, mysticism and indigenous Mexican and Balinese practices.


Legacy and influence

Artaud has had a profound influence on theatre, avant-garde art, literature, psychiatry and other disciplines.

Theatre and Performance
Artaud’s has exerted a strong influence on the development of experimental theatre and performance art. His ideas helped inspire a movement away from the dominant role of language and rationalism in performance practice.[citation needed] Many of his works were not produced for the public until after his death. For instance, Spurt of Blood (1925) was not produced until 1964, when Peter Brook and Charles Marowitz staged it as part of their « Theatre of Cruelty » season at the Royal Shakespeare Company.  Artists such Karen Finley, Spalding Gray, Liz LeCompte, Richard Foreman, Charles Marowitz, Sam Shepard, Joseph Chaikin, and more all named Artaud as one of their influences.  

His influence can be seen in:

  • Barrault’s adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial (1947).
  • The Theatre of the Absurd, particularly the works of Jean Genet and Samuel Beckett.
  • Peter Brook’s production of Marat/Sade in 1964, which was performed in New York and Paris, as well as London.[citation needed]
    The Living Theatre.[citation needed]
  • In the winter of 1968, Williams College offered a dedicated intersession class in Artaudian theatre, resulting in a week-long « Festival of Cruelty, » under the direction of Keith Fowler. The Festival included productions of The Jet of Blood, All Writing is Pig Shit, and several original ritualized performances, one based on the Texas Tower killings and another created as an ensemble catharsis called The Resurrection of Pig Man.
  • In Canada, playwright Gary Botting created a series of Artaudian « happenings » from The Aeolian Stringer to Zen Rock Festival, and produced a dozen plays with an Artaudian theme, including Prometheus Re-Bound.
  • Charles Marowitz’s play Artaud at Rodez is about the relationship between Artaud and Dr. Ferdière during Artaud’s confinement at the psychiatric hospital in Rodez; the play was first performed in 1976 at the Teatro a Trastavere in Rome.
  • The writer and actor Tim Dalgleish wrote and produced the play The Life and Theatre of Antonin Artaud (1999) for the English physical theatre company Bare Bones. The play told Artaud’s story from his early years of aspiration when he wished to be part of the establishment, through to his final years as a suffering, iconoclastic outsider.[citation needed]

Artaud also had a significant influence on philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, borrowed Artaud’s phrase « the body without organs » to describe their conception of the virtual dimension of the body and, ultimately, the basic substratum of reality in their Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Philosopher Jacques Derrida provided one of the key philosophical treatments of Artaud’s work through his concept of « parole soufflée' ». Feminist scholar Julia Kristeva also drew on Artaud for her theorisation of « subject in process ».

Poet Allen Ginsberg claimed Artaud’s work, specifically « To Have Done with the Judgement of God », had a tremendous influence on his most famous poem « Howl ». The Latin American dramatic novel Yo-Yo Boing! by Giannina Braschi includes a debate between artists and poets concerning the merits of Artaud’s « multiple talents » in comparison to the singular talents of other French writers.

The band Bauhaus included a song about the playwright, called « Antonin Artaud », on their album Burning from the Inside. Influential Argentine hard rock band Pescado Rabioso recorded an album titled Artaud. Their leader Luis Alberto Spinetta wrote the lyrics partly basing them on Artaud’s writings. Composer John Zorn has written many works inspired by and dedicated to Artaud, including seven CDs: « Astronome », « Moonchild: Songs Without Words », « Six Litanies for Heliogabalus », « The Crucible », « Ipsissimus », « Templars: In Sacred Blood » and « The Last Judgment », a monodrama for voice and orchestra inspired by Artaud’s late drawings « La Machine de l’être » (2000), « Le Momo » (1999) for violin and piano, and « Suppots et Suppliciations » (2012) for full orchestra.

Filmmaker E. Elias Merhige, during an interview by writer Scott Nicolay, cited Artaud as a key influence for the experimental film Begotten.

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