Antonin Artaud’s eccentric essay on a great artist condemned to suicide by his contemporaries.
As the book’s translator Sergey Dubin points out, only a tiny fraction of Artaud’s many writings, published in the collection The Theatre and Its Double, are well known in Russia. A huge legacy of his philosophical and theoretical works, poetry, novels, film scripts, as well as his works in acting and directing, remain unavailable to the general reader. This small publication offers a new perspective on one of the most innovative authors of the twentieth century.
Written just a year before Artaud’s death, his account of Van Gogh is more poetic than critical, and definitely far from impartial. Artaud’s words mimic Van Gogh’s “convulsed” imagery, and his intonation resonates with the simplicity of his compositions:
A candlestick on a chair, an armchair of braided green straw,
a book on the armchair,
and there the drama is revealed
“Which other artist,” Artaud asks, “would, like van Gogh, have had the boldness to attack a subject of such disarming simplicity?”
Having, like Van Gogh, spent a long time in psychiatric institutions, Artaud envisages his protagonist as his alter ego. Launching a violent attack on psychiatry as a repressive institute that destroys patients’ minds, personalities and eventually lives, he sings the praises of the madness of the genius, anticipating the views that later crystalized in Michel Foucault’s History of Insanity.
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