Artaud, Antonin (1896-1948) By Jannarone, Kimberly
Antonin Artaud was a French writer and theatre-maker of the early twentieth century. His work includes manifestos, correspondence, poetry, criticism, drama, film acting, and theatre directing. His impassioned writing combines impulses of historical avant-garde movements and the apocalyptic atmosphere of the interwar era. His legacy in the world of arts and letters is that of a visionary: his creative output, largely unedited, is scattered across genres but unified by a set of themes, obsessions, and impulses, such as the split between ‘real’ life and social life and the need for violence to regenerate civilization.
Born in Marseilles in 1896, Artaud spent much of the First World War in a sanatorium, where he developed a life-long addiction to opiates. He moved to Paris in 1923, working in theatre there for the next thirteen years with major experimental directors including Georges Pitoëff and Charles Dullin and acting in films directed by Carl Dreyer, Abel Gance, and Fritz Lang.
Suffering setbacks in his financial and artistic life, he travelled to Mexico in 1936 to participate in the peyote rituals of the Tarahumara Indians. His mental health, never strong, deteriorated quickly around this time. He spent from 1937 to 1946 in asylums. When he was transferred to a clinic near Paris in 1946, he was greeted with enthusiasm by artists who had read his work while he was confined.