Spontaneous Poetics – (Artaud – 2)

Antonin Artaud – Self Portrait, 24 June, 1947

AG: I think (that Artaud had) some influence on Samuel Beckett actually, and an enormous influence, in the (19)40’s, on American poetry, in Black Mountain, and on myself, immediately, about 1948, in a mental hospital with Carl Solomon. Carl had a copy in French of this poem [“Here Lies” (Ci-gît)] and introduced (to me), that “Dakantal/dakis tekel/ ta redaba/ ta redabel/ de stra muntils/ o ept anis/ o ept atra..” and it was, like, a very exquisite menacing mantra, penetrating through the babble of the language of the bughouse. Yeah?

Student: What’s the name of that poem?

AG: That’s “Ci-gît” in French (“Here Lies”), beginning – “I, Antonin Artaud am my son, my father, my mother/ myself/leveler of the imbecile periplum/rooted to the family tree / impaled/the periplus of papa-mammy/and infant/crud from the ass of grandmammy /much more than of pa-and-ma” – Well, of course, I was trying to show some of the origins of Philip Lamantias rhetorical style. Yeah?

Student: Allen, I don’t understand the spiritual sense of mantra, but it feels like this is all body just pouring out – it gives no chance for, you know, well, “I’m writing a poem about form “…

AG: Yeah

Student: …or thinking about (form)…

AG: It’s all breath. Total solidified breath.

Student: Well, what is some kind of practice that can be done…

AG: To do that?

Student: …to sort of.. locking yourself in a room and just..

AG: Get hysterical? – I don’t know if you can practice this. You’ve really got to be it. It’s not something you can practice on. You can modify it. I mean, you wouldn’t want to be Artaud.

Student: Oh God!

AG: There’s already been Artaud. You get it out of Lamantia. Just go be a junkie and get pain! , (No) I’m not answering (you). Let me work into this a little bit..

Student: Do you know anything about how he ended up in Mexico with the Indian thing [“Indian Culture”] ?

AG: Began in Mexico. That’s an early thing. In the (19)30’s he went to.. there’s a book called “D’un Voyage au Pays des Tarahumaras” (“Journey to the Land of Tarahumaras”). He went on a search both for peyote and to discover the rituals behind peyote and the secrets of the Chihuahua Indians, Tarahumara Indians. The text was translated and published in English, in Transition magazine in 1942, (’42 to ’43), and it was one of the earliest psychedelic texts available, turning people on to possibilities of that. He got paranoid and thought that the Indians were holding a secret from him because they wouldn’t let him go up on the mountain with them to search for the peyote, and I think that it turned him on and he got scared. The general theory was that it was primeval or original culture, the original human consciousness rejecting modern consciousness, and he felt that he was embodying moderm consciousness, which he didn’t want. He wanted to get into the primeval, and he felt that he was sent to some kind of limbo hell by the Tarahumara, because they wouldn’t accept him. It’s, like a typical white-punks-on-dope attitude, getting down in the jungle… But he wrote this really brilliant story of his voyage. You’ve read that, I guess? It’s available, I think, recently translated again, and published by Harper [editor’s note, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, actually] in the last twelve months, a new excellent translation of “Journey to the Land of Tarahumaras“, one of the earliest psychedelic adventure stories. Yeah?

Student: I have a translation of a section of it here

AG: That’s probably a chapter, translated by a lady, who used to be Kerouac’s girlfriend, oddly, back in 1957, Helen.. I’ve forgotten.. something.. the girl who translated that was Kerouac’s girlfriend and was also one of the people who formed a defense committee for Lenny Bruce in 1963. It’s a funny interconnected culture. I can’t remember her name. Can you remember? Do you have any idea? – Helen (Weaver).

Well, what I was trying to do was correlate (Philip) Lamantia’s style, and, I don’t know if you could tell, some of my own style in “America”, or, say, “Death to Van Gogh’s Ear“. The poem “Death to Van Gogh’s Ear” in Kaddish is predicated on that style, on this Artaud style, as I understood it from a really great essay by Artaud called “Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society” (“Van Gogh ou le suicide de la société”), which is one of the first really intelligent perceptive attacks on the whole cabal of psychiatrists and psychoanalysts that were driving everybody mad, he thought, in interpreting erratic behavior, or unusual inspired behavior, as schizophrenia or paranoia, rather than a break-out of mass-brainwash Western culture. So his was, like, a total assault on culture. That phrase of Ed Sanders – “total assault on culture” – is, I guess, maybe even derived from Artaud (do you know that phrase?, “total assault on culture”? – a ‘Sixties battle-cry slogan). So Artaud was, like, the man whose mind-knife cut through most (of the) entire facade of rationality in Western culture – but, from the point of view of poetics, he evolved this fantastic breath-line, a line where there’s an arrangement of speech, where each breath, each line, literally, is one emission of breath into the air, into the world, where each line is intended to have the intensity of a mantra, cutting through material planes of consciousness. It is said that his voice, as voice, has that quality (there is a tape made by Radiodiffusion Francaise, French radio of that time, of him performing another text, which is maybe his greatest, called Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu (“To be Done with the Judgement of God”), a total declaration of independence from all solidified forms of consciousness).

Student: Is that in that anthology?

AG: I don’t think it’s in here. Let’s see… No, I don’t think it is. It was originally published, the Van Gogh essay, “Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society”, was originally published in an odd little literary magazine in the (19)40’s, and then reprinted. “To be Done with the Judgement of God” – I don’t know where that is. Does anybody know that text? Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu? – Well, let’s see..

Student: Didn’t you cover that at Naropa a couple of years ago?

AG: I don’t think I got to that, no.

Student: You mentioned it

AG: Yeah, I mentioned it. I have it (at) home somewhere, in French (and I think there’s an English translation)..I know there’s a translation that exists by Jack Hirschman, who did most of this Antonin Artaud anthology for City Lights books in (19)68, or so [editor’s note, ably assisted by David Rattray] – It’s.. I’d say.. hysteric (I don’t mean to insult it, but it’s hysteric in the sense of.. a penetrant single-pointed minded shrill vocalization of terror, confronting apparently solidified material reality, which, he feels, is absolutely illusory and a by-product of CIA-capitalist cabalist conspiracy.

But, as I said, it’s said that his voice did have a bone-penetrating power. Carl Solomon claims that he was in Paris in the early (19)40’s as a merchant seaman on a day when Artaud held a poetry reading, a very celebrated poetry reading in a storefront, to which (Jean-Louis) Barrault and Roger Blin (and others) went, and he said that he heard him pronouncing some lines from this, (the) “..Judgement of God”, and that it caused a shiver in his body, and, (that) when he got back to America, Solomon put himself in the madhouse, on account of that voice. (It) cut through the appearance of reality and shook his sense of reference. Artaud has a theory, (in, I think, The Theater and Its Double, or else in the Van Gogh essay), which I always dug, which said that there were some sounds which, by the peculiar quality of their vibration, when they enter your nervous system, rearrange the molecules. In other words, certain sound vibrations entering the human body actually rearrange the molecules of the nerves. So he was seeing in poetry that much power.

Student: It seems (that) the oldest (cultural) traditions (were always) aware of that..

AG: Yeah

Student: It’s just been lost in modern society..

AG: I think Artaud was the one who, among modern poets, rediscovered that as a concept,  say, as a basic approach. (Well, so) you can see (now) his relation to (Philip) Lamantia, but the question remains – How can we use that? I think it’s, first, in the basic consciousness of the breath as a weapon in a sense, or the breath as an entity, and that each line, writing the breath, can be, like, a separate object thrown out into the world-consciousness (and there’s, in Artaud, a basic realization that each breath vocalized (or vocalized even with non-sense) is a little solid object that has the ultimate power to alter the universe – sort of like maybe an hysteric, magical, interpretation of the calmer (more gentle) beginner’s theory of mantra in Buddhism – It’s probably a perversion of essentially Buddhist ideas, or Oriental ideas – and, in fact, there’s a very funny text in here, called “The Letter to the Dalai Lama (“Adresse au Dalai-Lama“), Address to the Dalai Lama. I’m going to read that).
So this is French Surrealist poetry in, the, I imagine, late (19)20’s, sending a message to…
He wrote two letters at this time – one to the Pope, calling the Pope a dog (there’s one -addressed to the Pope, which, when published for the first time in English in Big Table magazine in (19)59, caused Allen Tate and a whole raft of poets to refuse to contribute to the magazine any longer – It was the first time that anybody (had) called the Pope a shit-faced dog in public, I mean, let loose on the Pope, totally let loose on the Pope, from the point of one who (himself) conceived of being a shit (which is, again, a sort of an odd inversion of Buddhist theory or Buddhism)) – [Allen proceeds to read Artaud’s “Address to the Dalai Lama – “We are your most faithful servants, O Grand Lama, give us grace/ us with your illuminations in a language which our contaminated European/ minds can understand…”..We are surrounded by bellowing popes, poetasters, critics, dogs, our/ Mind is gone to the dogs who/ think directly in terms of/ the earth, who think incorrigibly in terms of the present.”..”With the inward eye I contemplate you, O Pope on the/inward summit. It is inwardly that I am like you: I, dust, idea, lip, levitation,/ dream, cry, renunciation of idea, suspended among all the forms and/ hoping for nothing but the wind”] – Actually, that’s pretty good French poetry. It’s Surrealism and spiritual search taken totally seriously. And this spirit actually did somewhat invade America during the (19)50’s and the (19)60’s. It caused a lot of death and freak-outs, and probably precisely the style or approach that  (Chogyam) Trungpa is constantly denouncing as being more garbage, actually.

But there’s an intuitive intelligence in Artaud that I like, because it just almost approximates some kind of prajna, and it does have a funny Western Manichean version of sunyata (or (the) notion of emptiness, or hollowness) implicit in it. But it’s very Western, in the sense that it’s a total put-down of the body. Rather than seeing the transparency or emptiness of the body and the irrelevance of it, it’s mad at the body, and it’s mad at shit, and its basic reference-point is to earth and world and body as shit (which is pretty Western, actually – but, from that point of view, he took it to its extreme, as poet, with a lot more courage than any poet of his time did, and in the course of that, because he had to vocalize his anguish and pain, (he) evolved a poetry which is extraordinarily usable, in another way, by ourselves). How you would get to it? (is) I guess you have to throw yourself into taking your temporary ideas very seriously, and investing in them completely – sort of being your idea and the vocalizing of it, in the moment, or as poet actually.. – if you’re a poet and pronouncing your poems – actually throwing yourself into them, like, give it all you’ve got, like a great actor, (even if you don’t believe it), immolate yourself in the idea of what you’re saying, and pronouncing it as if it were totally real – and it gives.. it actually is very convincing, on a hallucinatory level, somewhat. (Of course, if you were facing a band of experienced Buddhists, all just breathing through their noses, you might not change any molecules, but if you did have timid and unsure people, it might make them guilty enough to join a nunnery…)

Student: Or (if you were addressing) anyone else who believes in the same (things) as you do.

AG: Yes

Student: In his case….

AG: In Artaud’s case?

Student: … it seems to have increased his (anxiety)

AG: Yeah, it did somewhat increase.. except that his exemplary quality is absolute conviction and intensity with which he approaches the task of being a poet and the idea of poet as a prophet, as someone who could penetrate through maya and earth and actually come up as deliverer in the consciousness. Much of the ideas, or the general idea of a new consciousness, or of a reclamation of an ancient consciousness, or the transcendence into a new historical awareness that was current in American poetry, comes directly out of Artaud. Artaud – and Jean Genet somewhat too (Genet, through accepting the worst image of evil as his own – being a murderer, thief, pimp and fink – and trying to find a new consciousness by accepting himself becoming a total fink – Like, he thought, maybe, through the lowliest, to arrive at a new vision – And all that, of course, (goes) back to (Arthur) Rimbaud‘s attempt to become a seer, by means of a “long reasoned derangement of the senses” – a long rational derangement of all the senses (“dérèglement de tous les sens“), by means of experimenting with dissociation, arriving at a plane of consciousness unconditioned by mama-papa (or papa-mama). And, actually, that’s not very far from Buddhist practice, because, by paying attention, in samatha meditation, (to) the breath, what you’re doing is interrupting the mechanical chain of tradition, or logical association and mind-reverie, to which you’re accustomed to doing your business in, in the world in which we’re accustomed to doing our everyday business, and emptying out the mind, or making those chains of flashing images more transparent, until they become less obsessive and less solidified, until they attain a state of transparency, whereat you no longer need (to) act on them. Or having, let’s say, an image of sexual ecstasy, and then running it through your mind over and over, sitting ten hours a day for thirty days, until, you know, you’re tired of it, actually (which is what (William) Burroughs does, actually, in Naked Lunch and the “Blue Movie” (section) – (in which) he takes his basic obsessional sexual themes – that is involuntary orgasm through hanging (which always preoccupied him) – and runs it through as a “Blue Movie” – scene after scene in different combinations – until, at the end, all he can… ..the last act is the actors coming out with the ropes around their neck(s) and (a) little sperm dripping from the(ir) lips, and a tired, fatigued, expression, totally bored, taking a bow. (That’s the “Blue Movie” section of Naked Lunch).

So that’s (Antonin) Artaud and (Philip) Lamantia and (Allen) Ginsberg at a certain point. The poem of mine that I suggest to check out is the one that begins “Poet is priest”, which – is “Death to Van Gogh’s Ear” – the title of which was taken from Artaud’s phrase – And what was crazy about Van Gogh? He only cut off one ear or something like that. He only cut off one ear when he was insulted by a whore – that wasn’t so crazy! – He only cut off one ear when there are monsters running around all over the joint setting off atom bombs. All he did was cut off an ear. So I had the title, “Death to Van Gogh’s Ear”.

(Audio for this class (Ginsberg on Artaud – 2) may be located here, approximately forty-two-and-three-quarter minutes in to just under sixty-five minutes in )…

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