Artaud in Madison (with Lotringer)


Sylvère Lotringer was in Madison.

Sylvère is a living archive and a promise for the future.

During the workshop I co-organized with Sarah Wells, I read the following text:

Artaud and the Poetic Justice

I would like to speak about Artaud, and more precisely about the difficulty to speak about him. What is this difficulty? To speak “about” him is to turn him into an object that can be analyzed, studied, and taught. Yet Artaud kept repeating that he was exploited, that his body was colonized, “occupied” by beings who were “tasting” him, “pumping” and “sucking” him: “Man”, Artaud wrote, “Man is born and made to enjoy Artaud who never wanted to enjoy anything.” So to speak about Artaud, to write a book on Artaud, or to describe his drawings as works of art, is to strengthen the exploitation of his body, to perpetuate the causes of his sufferings.

But what is the alternative? To not speak about him? To keep silent? Artaud knew very well what silence is: a trap, a “spell (envoûtement)” that was put on him in order to prevent him from speaking. To be locked up in a psychiatric hospital, to endure electroshocks, to be suppressed (censuré), all these physical and psychological tortures were material spells for Artaud, different attempts to erase any trace of his existence.  Thus to not speak about Artaud, to refuse considering his writings and drawings as works of art, would turn culture into a lethal machine, into a social machine aiming to suppress those, like Artaud, who do not speak its language – it would be to suppress or to “suicide” him, to refer to Artaud’s book Van Gogh: The Man suicided by society.

Is it possible to escape this aporia, or this double bind: to speak and not to speak about Artaud, to recognize and not to recognize him, to consider him as a part of culture without turning culture into a coffin? It’s true that this double bind does not only concern Artaud, and – borrowing from Walter Benjamin’s 7th thesis on history – it’s very difficult to prevent any document of civilization and culture from becoming a document of barbarism, if we add that barbarism here would have two faces: the barbarism of a forced silence; and the barbarism of a neutralizing culture. Lack of words; too many words. But what is special with Artaud is that he intensifies the double bind I try to describe, he turns it into a triple bind, compelling us to think about the double bind itself, having to decide whether or not we will decide or not to be bound by it. Artaud turns us mad.

Let’s reconsider my analysis with the question of madness. What can we say about the madness of Artaud? Several times, Artaud wrote imaginary dialogues in which someone says that he is crazy: « Vous délirez, monsieur Artaud. Vous êtes fou », “You are delirious, mister Artaud. You are crazy”, or “De quelque côté qu’on vous prenne vous êtes fou, mais fou à lier”, “Whatever the side we consider you, you are crazy, you’re raving mad.” Should we merely agree on that, and ask for the eternal internment of Artaud? Or should we say that Artaud was a normal guy? To escape this aporia, let’s pay attention to the last quotes I offered: I described these as imaginary dialogues; I should have called them real interpellations, interpellations à la Althusser, l’interpellation en sujet, That is to say, I quote Althusser, the way “ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects, by the functioning of the category of the subject.” This interpellation or hailing, I quote again, “can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace everyday police (or other) hailing: “Hey, you there!”” The effect of this interpellation is that the subject “turn[s] round” and this “conversion” – as Althusser says – is a subjectivation, the production of the subject as such.

But for Artaud, the situation is quite different: a/for him, the police is everywhere, the police is not someone in the street but a global spell in which even the local grocer is involved (“Everybody does magic,” Artaud said, “even your local grocer, he does not always know it, but he knew it and it will come back to him”); b/the interpellation aims to prevent Artaud from becoming a subject. It’s not “Hey, you there” but “Hey, non-you there!” or “Hey, non-you nowhere!”; c/ the interpellation is real, made with electroshocks and internments. So, mad, Artaud? Really? Is not the police everywhere? Aren’t we nowadays experiencing a sort of global attempt to liquidate the subject as a tension between autonomy and dependence? And where are we, exactly? How much time do we spend in what anthropologist Marc Augé calls “non-places” from airports to malls to social media? Maybe the persons who are listening to me are going to say: “Whatever the side we consider this philosopher, he seems crazy, he’s raving mad.”

In a way, that’s true: reading Artaud, really reading him, experiencing the fact that his literature is not only literature, interpellates the reader as a paranoiac subject. But the trouble with paranoiacs, as everybody knows, is that, sometimes, they are right. My thesis is that what we call Artaud’s madness is the expression of the colonial psychosis of the Western civilization: Artaud’s body was colonized by colonization itself, by the colonial scheme of the West. I will not develop this idea today, as I just want to say that his madness was not only his madness. Instead of saying “Artaud was mad,” we should try to understand how Artaud’s madness constituted an attempt to receive and transcript not the unheard of the West, but that what was never written, never said; not something repressed, but something excluded, ab-jected (to use Julia Kristeva’s concept).

To deal with the abject, you need to become a receiver transmitter that refuses to be subjugated to any sort of network, that is to say to become, poetically, the abject. That’s why I completely agree with a formula of Sylvere Lotringer’s Fous d’Artaud, a formula that I chose as an epigraph of my book on Artaud (Instructions pour une prise d’âmes): “Le délire n’est qu’une manière d’administrer poétiquement la justice” translated or rewritten in Mad like Artaud as “Delirium is just a way of administering poetic justice.” I think it’s the best way to approach Artaud’s madness: as a counter-spell, a poetic intervention in the field of an impossible justice.”


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