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ANTONIN ARTAUD, BALINESE THEATRE, THE “DOUBLE” AND SHIVA
In this text, Catherine Basset seeks to demonstrate (from a Balinese/Shaivite/Tantric perspective) that Antonin Artaud, poet, thinker and actor, experienced an initiatic process without a master, but based on reality, following a structural logic, after his discovery of Balinese drama in Paris in 1931 — on which he desired to found a supra-cultural sensory and metaphysical kind of drama (“Theatre of Cruelty”) — up to his identification with Shiva in 1937 and subsequent psychiatric internment.
1931. Colonial Exhibition in the woods of Vincennes, in the Paris region. Antonin Artaud, actor, poet and thinker, a figure of the literary and artistic avant-garde of Saint Germain des Prés, is struck and inspired by the performance of Bali (Indonesia) to such a point that he immediately writes an article on his experience, “On Balinese Theatre”. At this point he is midway, in terms of output, of what was to be his written production. Following the momentum initiated by the Balinese performance, he added to it texts written later, including “Le théâtre et la peste”, “La mise et en scène et la métaphysique”, “Le théâtre alchimique”, “Théâtre oriental et théâtre occidental”, as well as the two manifestos of the “Theatre of Cruelty”. He collected these articles in an essay entitled The Theatre and its Double1. This work is world famous, abundantly commented, and remains influential even nowadays in attempts at the exegesis and stage application of the “Theatre of Cruelty”.
The 1931 performance and assessments of Artaud’s view
Conceived for a foreign audience, the 1931 performance was not only out-of-context, but also disparate: a revue of pieces selected according to a formula invented for tourists at Bali’s first hotel, since become the mindless standard routine for tourism and tours abroad2. This is one of the arguments that have brought into doubt the validity of Artaud’s portrait of the Balinese theatre, another being the fashion of the cultural élite of the time: Orientalism, Spiritism, a mix of spiritualities of various origins and a whole range of esotericisms.
Artaud perceived “prodigious mathematics” and admirable “intellectuality” in this eminently embodied drama in which each concrete action had a heuristic resonance in his mind. Had Artaud been prepared by the enthusiastic and relatively well-documented article of Florent Fels, filled with metaphysics?3 In any case, one needs to be fairly ignorant of Bali and its theatre to believe and claim, as a good number of commentators have, that Artaud merely produced a subjective view of it, distorted by his own ideas and desires. On the contrary, the more intimately one knows Bali and its theatre, the more one admires Artaud’s description (and is sensitive to other sections of his work), as one is gradually more able to recognise the exactitude and breadth of his view.
The case of Antonin Artaud equally questions conditions of transculturality: a ‘horizontal’ transfer from one culture to another: take-over, appropriation and distortion from one culture to another; ascendant transfer towards a ‘supra-cultural’ absolute, universal principle — metaphysics, for Artaud; descendant transfer towards the tendencies and aspirations of the ego; or innate affinity, consonance… eventually including concretely vibrating aspects which, like Alain Daniélou, Artaud mentioned, explored and wished to develop.
From the Balinese theatre to Artaud-Shiva: ‘mad’ or ‘initiated’?
After the revelation that the Balinese performance produced in him, Artaud gathered information about Hinduism and Tantrism from reading and acquaintances4, but without ever going to Asia. As a result, his thought maintained the same configuration and his will remained pointed in the same direction, notably in his Héliogabale5 and in his Messages révolutionnaires6… until in 1937, in letters, he identifies himself with Shiva7. In consequence — at least, it was Artaud’s conviction — in order to “prevent him from being god”, he was forcibly committed to a mental hospital, where for long years he suffered the worst kind of treatments.
Only in Asia can such a divine identification be comprehended, admitted and enhanced. A reader totally unfamiliar with Hindu-Buddhist-Balinese conceptions cannot comprehend Artaud, or at least, not the Artaud of the 1930s. There were many misunderstandings and distortions in the attempts to stage the “Theatre of Cruelty” — starting from “cruelty”, which Artaud had however distinguished from the trivial sense of the word —, as well as in interpreting Artaud’s texts and on the subject of his personality itself, reduced to an ego, a prodigious poet who had revolted against society, which had set him aside and tortured him.
The aim of this article is to present some of the facts proving that Artaud’s identification with Shiva was anything but a delirium of egoistic infatuation and that, from a Balinese, Shaivite, Tantric point of view, his experience appears neither unique, nor senseless, nor devoid of reason, since in some way he underwent a painfully anarchical, spontaneous initiatic process.
In this article, “initiated” is used in the sense in which Artaud employs the term, keeping it for the awakening on the metaphysical, esoteric and/or mystic level, but without limiting it to formal, directed traditional initiations.
Indeed, outside the processes of voluntary, formal and directed initiation, we also find recognition (at Bali and elsewhere) of cases of self-initiation without any specific tradition, school, procedure and master, as well as cases of ‘subitism’, passive awakening, unexpected revelation that lastingly transforms a person, ‘reconfiguring’ his cognition. This drastic experience (with or without drugs) produces extraordinary perceptions — sought but not always achieved by voluntary initiates — making the person capable of learning and interiorising knowledge of the type that various traditions reserve for initiates. Differences of cultural and personal cognitive pre-formatting are replaced by a sensation of unity (to the extent of cancelling internal-external dualities – the world and I), by a perception that is often rhythmic and geometric (because it is vibratory), which will henceforth geometrise thought, as it did with Artaud. Like Artaud, the person feels straight away “at home” in metaphysics, esotericisms, abstractions and symbols. But, during and after the revelation, he no longer really feels he belongs to this world; the tantric initiate is sometimes described as “living-dead”. Artaud would also say that he was “dead to the world”8.
“One feels oneself returned and reversed to the other side of things and one no longer comprehends the world that one has just left.
I say: reversed to the other side of things, as if a terrible force had allowed you to be returned to what exists on the other side.”9
Actually, in Balinese and other Indonesian languages, “turnaround”, “reversion” and “restitution” (as well as “resorption” and “inversion”) are said in the same way: bali = wali = balik = walik. They are structural, geometric notions, essential in metaphysics and ritual.
Throughout almost all his life, Artaud consumed drugs, particularly opium derivatives, initially as pain-killers (laudanum); this probably helped ‘prepare the ground’ of his intuition with regard to Balinese drama, so visionary and so precise, that it exceeds that of experts in this field… Since Artaud’s thought was modelled on and by the structure of its object of observation, it became structurally identical with this object — this spatially-oriented, geometric drama, with multiple layers of meaning and dimensions of action and resonances of all kinds; this inner cognitive mirror is added to the multiple phenomena of “doubles” that explains the title The Theatre and its Double.
Cosmic, cognitive and sacrificial structure of the “cruelty” double
Artaud described the operation of his thought as obeying a spatialised geometric structure. Like vibration, it stretches in concentric graduations and moves in alternations of centrifugal movements sweeping towards the periphery, towards the concrete world, in the direction of disintegration – putrefaction – decomposition (the “cruelty of existing” that obsessed Artaud, the deadly sacrifice by dismemberment) and of centripetal resorptions towards and in the principial Double, alias, the divine if one wishes (defragmentation, unification, sacrifice of the concrete, another “cruelty” but desirable death, access to the “central void”).
This form of thought coincides structurally, as Artaud recognised, with the Hindu-Buddhist conception, which is also concentric10. Now, the human body-spirit is a microcosm and the concentric motions of thought are conjoined to the identical ones of the macrocosm, the breathing of the universe at all levels: alternations of exits and returns to meditation of Shiva, the principial Yogi, simultaneously the cosmic, physical and mental force of gravity, ‘yogi and black hole’. The universe is thus conceived of as a co-creation of Energy (Sanskrit. shakti, Balinese. sakti) and of the Spirit (Shiva, or in Bali and Java, Siwa-Buda11); its nature is ‘cosmic-cognitive’. Without employing the term shakti, Artaud, claiming inspiration from the latest advances in (Western) science of his time, expounds a rather ‘saktist’ concept:
“all life is energy and matter, its multiple forms being merely an expression of that energy. […]Human thought is also an energy that adopts forms.”12.
The cosmic Body-Spirit extends concentrically in fractal subdivision around a point of origin and return (bali/wali) where Shiva-Spirit and (his) Sakti-energy merge, as well as all the potentialities of manifestation, in the One, which becomes void, sunya, nirvana.
“We shall be merged into the One, the only One, the cosmic Great One, which will soon be replaced by the infinite Zero of God. […]In balance, there are no gods. Gods are born from the separation of forces and they die on their re-merger”13.
In the manifested universe, ‘reality’ is a question of cognition: it is contingent, relative to the point of view of the knower, stratified, gradual — “graduated”, as Artaud says —, like the view from the sides of a mountain, a mountain whose mandala is heuristic geometry, a cosmic-cognitive structure. The gods are cognitive creations, heuristic tools: not supernatural individualities and objects of belief, but Principles of cosmic-cognitive Nature, objects of knowledge contained in their name and, if they have any, in their attributes.
“I call these gods names; I do not call them gods. I say that these gods designate forces, ways of being, forms of the great power of being that diversifies itself into principles, essences, substances, elements.”14
Discerning and naming objects and beings in the graduated continuum, in the “Great All”, means reifying as entities (albeit illusory or relative) what are actually parts (kala) and individuals.
“A thing that is named is a dead thing, and it is dead because it is separated.”15
Thus the Spirit (Shiva) or cognition falls into split-up creation, drawn by the/his Energy (sakti) emanated in vibrating radiation/subdivision, down to decomposition, the bustling of the bhuta-kala, micro-constituents of the material world (bhuta: manifested). Artaud often refers to such bustling and sometimes calls it “humus”, humus that culture must “prepare”.
Comprehending a deity is ‘to be (re)born with/in” (this deity) [translator’s note: the Author’s play on words cannot be reproduced in English: ‘connaissance’ = ‘con-naissance’/co-naissance, since ‘con’ in Latin, or ‘co’ in French means ‘with’, and in French, ‘naissance’ is ‘birth’], by interiorising the meaning of the divine and thus identifying the self with the ontological Self (Sanskrit. Svah, Balinese. Swah, French. Soi, which has the same sound and meaning). When he recognised Shiva as the “centripetal force” that counters the “cruelty of existing” (ex-ist, exit), Artaud structurally identified himself with Shiva as a knowable ‘god-principle’ — and not as (a) God in whom one can only believe. Artaud judged belief decadent, as compared to knowledge (alias, for him, “culture”) and to “the superior and total idea of the world that Paganism would restore to us”16.
“[…]peoples [who] have ended up considering the gods as truly detached beings […]have mistaken the meaning of these gods […]17”
“[they have been]revealed as powerless to go back through the concentric touchings of forces, through the applied and concrete magnetisation of these energies, back to the initial discharge, back to the revelation of the principle that these gods wish to manifest”18
This second phrase is of the ‘cosmic-cognitive’ order, with a “double”: it describes the centripetal mental process leading to ecstatic – and sometimes violent – revelation, identical to the cosmic motion of resorption produced by Shiva returning to concentration.
Understanding these structural aspects, this spatialised, geometric view, is essential in grasping Artaud’s intentions — he translates it even in his way of writing in “Sur le théâtre balinais”, stratified and not linear, “double” here too in many sentences. Therefore the shortest route to reach “Artaud-Shiva” through the theatre (Balinese theatre and Artaud’s “theatre of cruelty”) must start there. In “The Meaning of Ganapati”, which appeared in the previous edition of this journal, Alain Daniélou provides an extremely clarifying summary of ‘cosmic-cognitive’ Nature, explaining what its Lord represents, the Hindu god Ganapati, half-elephant half-man, the son of Shiva and his consort-sakti (cosmic energy)19.
The centripetal Shaivite somya of the Balinese, as a principle and in drama
For the Balinese, imitating the act of resorption carried out by Shiva, as recorded in the name of their island — bali / wali = ‘return’, ‘inversion’, ‘sacred act of reversion’ — is a duty constituting their major occupation and their identity. They perform it in their sacrificial rites and other procedures with centripetal structure, many of which in drama. These resorptions aim at somya: the ascent in rank of all creatures or “states of being”, the “rejuvenation” of every level of the universe, in the opposite direction of time.
Now, in the 1931 Balinese performance, Artaud saw an abridged version of Tantric Barong / Calonarang drama, which in Bali is performed in cemeteries and other impure places of decomposition or fractionation (jungle, beaches, crossroads) with the aim of achieving somya (and also duels of sakti between initiates, which Artaud didn’t see in France, as he didn’t see the trances of possession). Even in this truncated performance, Artaud recognised Tantrism (the “Tibetan devil”, the Rangda mask [ill. 1 and 2]). Intuitively, he also understood that it consisted not in an exorcism that banishes evil, but the opposite, “an exorcism to make our demons POUR in”20: indeed, it is a bali/wali return-reversion procedure, thus logically an ‘endorcism’ (Author’s neologism)1.
Artaud’s identification with Shiva was anything but a delirium of egoistic infatuation. From a Balinese, Shaivite, Tantric point of view, his experience appears neither unique, nor senseless, nor devoid of reason.
Balinese drama and Artaud’s “Theatre of Cruelty”
Artaud’s “Theatre of Cruelty” displays the methods of a theatre of the future with the features of Balinese drama. We could match a Balinese reality with every phrase of Artaud’s in “Sur le théâtre balinais” and other works. Lacking the space to do so in this article, we shall describe simultaneously the main principles of Balinese drama and of the “Theatre of Cruelty” through which Artaud had undertaken to re-found drama, in order to “with the foundations of a real science, reconnect on a small scale […]with the whole of a lost tradition. […]for culture, IN culture and […]there is only one traditional magical culture”22. “On a small scale” refers to drama conceived as a microcosm (Balinese buwana alit), like the human body-spirit.
Artaud’s identification with Shiva was anything but a delirium of egoistic infatuation. From a Balinese, Shaivite, Tantric point of view, his experience appears neither unique, nor senseless, nor devoid of reason.
Like the “Theatre of Cruelty”, everything in Balinese drama is poles apart from the Western tradition of a ‘psychological’ ‘theatre of text’ hated by Artaud, the individual work of one author, which one might merely read; its incarnation on stage is secondary and subject to the text; its staging, including the play of actors, is merely the single deadpan performance of a deadpan text. The staging thus varies from text to text; its figurative naturalism — the imitation of daily life and its psychology — is thus the single unifying element to be understood by the audience, from one play to another.
Traditional Balinese drama, or the “Theatre of Cruelty”, a utopian project of the ‘new tradition’ of Artaud, emerges from space, a scenic space of actions and semi-abstract beings, between its lower concrete “double”, on the level of daily life and psychology in the manifested world, and its superior “double, virtual on the abstract level of cosmic Principles and metaphysics. The “true” drama connects levels and “doubles”. It brings superimposed levels of meaning. In Bali, each actor and spectator discovers and interiorises these levels, each with his own rhythm in the course of his life, with an ever-differing re-edition of the representation of the same narrative archetypal plots embodied in the same archetypes of characters (solah, “character”, “behaviour”, sesolahan, “dance”, “drama”).
The drama is acted out in the space of mediation, as an autonomous entity (microcosm), which is also archetypal, with its own codification: a set of invariables that may consequently represent and exploit all the narrative themes and plots. In Bali there are no written theatre plays. The performance is a live creation: like the words, the staging is created directly on stage, by the acting, according to conventions established by tradition irrigating everything with blood that is always identical and always new. In his two manifestos of the “Theatre of Cruelty”, Artaud laid the foundations of the twin of this tradition, reinvented with drafts of codifications and the ways of portraying characters and emotions.
The archetypes of characters, drastically transfiguring the actor-dancers, are codified in all their visual and sound aspects (and, in Bali, linguistic as well), totally depersonalising the actor: the annihilation of ego indispensable to life in Bali society and to the ultimate ideal identification of the self with the divine/ principial. The archetypal characters dance as such— in their “spectral state”, as Artaud says — before becoming, often much later in the performance, such-and-such a character in such-and-such a narrative plot, selected by the actors just before going on stage…
Everything is extremely stylised (except, in Bali, the long talkative intervals, simultaneously pedagogical and burlesque, cut out in the 1931 performance). Together, the gestures, the vocal and instrumental sounds, the postures, costumes and vibrating headdresses that form the geometrised “body-doubles”, rhythmic in space oriented by the four cardinal directions, weave semantic correspondences and vibrating resonances of all kinds.
Universality of affects and the inanity of the ego
For a genuine incarnation, in his “Theatre of Cruelty”, Artaud was planning, among other things, linked to respiration, a precise location in the actor’s body for each of the emotions, incorporating elements of Tantrism, Jewish cabala and Chinese acupuncture.
As in Tantrism and like, later on, Alain Daniélou, Artaud perceived the omnipotence of vibration (the emanation mode of sakti energy).
“Between “the Intelligible” and the world, the creation, there is precisely harmony, vibration, acoustics, which is the first passage, the most subtle and the most malleable, which unites the abstract to the concrete”23
Artaud’s “Theatre of Cruelty” is the idea of cosmicising the scene, which, like a performative “plague” contaminates and transfigures the whole culture.
Daniélou recommended using natural melodic intervals and micro-intervals for precise affective connotations and impacts, of which he took over the principle of the rāga (the highbrow music of India) and its establishment in a holistic Sanskrit conception of ‘all connected’. Artaud spoke of the “degrees of vibration of the passions”24 with a prescience of the scientific theory that Daniélou was to develop in his essay Sémantique musicale. Essai de psycho-physiologie musicale25. For his “Theatre of Cruelty”, Artaud rightly desired music with micro-intervals; to do this, he incidentally utilised Martenot Waves in his play Les Cenci. Daniélou invented the Sémantic Daniélou with its 53 notes per octave26 and Artaud dreamt of even more:
“We shall seek what remains of an ancient music of quarter-tones, which had up to sixty thousand notes.”27
Emotions are as archetypal as their dramatic expression, and in Bali they may only be expressed in drama, where they are not those of the ego. As in India, in Bali feelings, deemed universal, are called rasas, a Sanskrit notion that merges “taste” and feeling: sad, bitter, sweet, cold rasa, etc. The rasas are made to correspond to all kinds of elements of nature and culture, in the “Tantric cabalistic system” (an expression we owe to André Padoux)28 which presents the universe as classes of analogues (having at least partly vibratory relationships). Each class of analogues is a déwaloka: the realm of a Hindu ‘god-principle’. Together, the classes of analogues / déwaloka form a mandala, a basic structure concentric and fractal, that is simultaneously the structure of the universe and of the concentric cognitive processes.
Associated with the cardinal directions, the classes of the 4 universal ‘cosmic-selves’ (Balinese kandapat) of each ego depict 4 archetypal, universal types of temperament. Ego is merely the ‘nothing’ pulled in the different directions, taking from them different “colours” of temperaments (solahs) and affects (rasas). Everything in the tradition strives to refocus the individual in the centre between these 4 cosmic-selves, so that it attains supreme neutrality, the fusion of the colours to white (Shiva), also found in the colours of the stage masks and make-up. The notion of the 4 ‘cosmic-selves’ is omnipresent in Java and Bali, contrasting with the enhancement of peculiarities of the ego, which are taken for a ‘realisation of the self’ in Western culture.
Artaud sought an “alchemical transmutation up to the feeling of unity”29 and, with his “Theatre of Cruelty”, he worked to make Western or world drama once more capable of achieving that, as are the myths:
“a force dissolving individual peculiarities, a “unitary” and collective position that does not separate subject and object, matter and spirit, man and animal — in other words, the passages and analogies that efface the limited contours of human “characters.” (E. Grossman commenting Artaud)30
“[…]to understand nature and Man on top of that. Not Man in his singularity, but Man as great as Nature”.31
Unitary science, unitary culture, holistic… and universal?
In an initiatic Tantric culture like that of Bali, everything is “cosmicised” following a unitary science. The “Tantric cabala”, associated with the mandala, is simultaneously the key to total understanding and the unified plan for executing everything, in a holistic culture, in every field of application, in harmony (or disharmony, “black” magic), in linking everything together and to Nature, whether concrete or principial. The “Theatre of Cruelty” is, at the same time, the idea of cosmicising the scene, which, like a performative “plague” contaminates and transfigures the whole culture.
With his resonant, stratified writing, full of “doubles”, and with stupefying precision, Artaud was a poet in almost all his works. He considered poetry as a science, a heuristic science of analogies, correspondences and resonances. With his prescience, Artaud was the same as the kawis (Sanskrit kavya), the omniscient initiate-sage-poets of Indo-Javanese-Balinese tradition.
Artaud took an interest in numerous esoteric traditions because, like the poetic spirit, esotericisms match everything. And, like Daniélou, he found the same general spirit or similar aspects in different world traditions, as well as in ancient Europe.
“Anyone can see that these esotericisms are the same, and spiritually mean the same thing. They indicate a geometric, numeric, organic, harmonious occult idea that reconciles man with nature and with life. The signs of these esotericisms are identical; there are profound analogies between their words, their gestures and their cries.”32
Associating these cultural similarities with the unity he perceived in Nature, Artaud denounced Western science split into specialised disciplines, “reason separated” owing to a “loss of knowledge”.
“[…]we no longer know how to look at nature, feel life in its totality. Europe has torn nature apart with its separate sciences.”33
According to Artaud, true knowledge can only come from a “unitary culture”.
“We have the idea of a unitary culture and we call this culture unitary in order to rediscover an idea of unity in all manifestations of nature that man rhythms with his thought.”.34
“That man rhythms with his thought” is again an expression belonging to the ‘cosmic-cognitive’. According to Artaud, being global and holistic, unitary culture must develop a “science of the spirit” and thus become, like the “Theatre of Cruelty” (or Balinese drama), simultaneously sensory and headed by metaphysics, meaning connected by the body-spirit to the “Double”, “the unutilised real”, ignored by globalised Western modernity35. Artaud explains to his publisher his choice of the title Le théâtre et son double as follows:
“[…]if drama is the double of life, life is the double of real drama. […]metaphysics, the plague, cruelty, the reservoir of energies that constitute myths, which men no longer embody: drama embodies them. And by double, I mean the great magic agent of which the forms of the theatre are a mere figuration, waiting to become transfiguration.
It is on the stage that the uniting of thought, gesture, action is brought about. And the double of drama is the real unused by men today”.36
Artaud wrote the following about Mexicans, but it could also be taken as Shaivite exegesis echoing the concentric cosmological and cognitive structure described at the beginning of the article.
“I say that true culture can only be learned in space, and that it is an oriented culture, just as drama is oriented.
[…][The] spirit is located in the midst of space, meaning at its dead centre.
It is perhaps a metaphysical idea, this idea of the dead centre of space through which the spirit must pass.
But without metaphysics there is no culture.
Culture is a movement of the spirit that goes from the void to forms and the forms re-enter the void, into the void and into death. Being cultivated means burning forms: burning forms to win life. It means learning to stand upright in the incessant movement of the forms that one subsequently destroys. […]
According to Artaud, being global and holistic, unitary culture must develop a “science of the spirit” and thus become, like the “Theatre of Cruelty” (or Balinese drama), simultaneously sensory and headed by metaphysics.
This terrible inner station, this movement of breathing: it is this that is culture, which moves both in nature and in the spirit.
“But that is only metaphysics, and one cannot live in metaphysics”.
Yet what I say is correct: life must relive in metaphysics.”37
Vibrating with the ‘same’
Ego is a kind of sounding board rather than an actual entity. Yet, acoustically, it is to the ‘same’ that any resonator vibrates properly: a resonator must also be tuned; it must, for example, sound the same note as the bronze slat whose sound it amplifies, be attuned to it. According to Daniélou and Indian theory, there must be a vibratory reality, in our metaphor of the ego as a resonator and in current expressions such as “being on the same wavelength” or “being in phase” to describe all kinds of affinity and innate tendencies.
“Each of us is able to discover his basic vibration, his sa, the tonic that corresponds to our deepest nature. […]in a world where all is vibration, [it] is an essential element in our self-knowledge, the starting point of all knowledge. Discovery, awareness of what is our own sa, is the first exercise in the training of a musician […]which continues, in the practice of yoga, by the search for the nada, the primordial sound that is the manifestation of the creative principle, the nada brahman from which the world comes forth.” A. Daniélou38
Artaud in consequence vibrated too, to the ‘same’. The anthropologist Gérard Toffin, quoting Susan Sontag (À la rencontre d’Artaud, 1976) made the same mistake as she did, believing that it was just “‘l’ailleurs’ qui captivait Artaud” [“‘elsewhere’ that captivated Artaud]and insinuating that he would have drawn the same inspiration from any other exotic theatre39. Artaud vibrated just as initiates vibrate physically in recognising (Javanese, Balinese éling), in words or symbols, metaphysical notions and interiorised mystiques, or of which they have precognition, like those encrypted in Balinese or Javanese drama, encoded above several layers of more trivial meanings. Such recognition is reconnection with “origin and destiny” (éling sangkan paran dumadi) of the universe and the human together. One ‘con-nait’ [Author’s pun on French ‘connait’ (know) “born with”]; one is reborn in knowledge as ‘con-naissance’ [Author’s pun on French ‘connaissance’ (knowledge) “birth with”]. Artaud agrees with our puns on French words:
“Saying unity is saying knowledge [connaissance], since “to know” [connaître]is “to rise again with”40
Through the truncated performance for foreigners in 1931, Artaud could not get any idea of the rich utilisation of verbal language in Balinese drama… and wrongly he minimises its importance. However, his conception of verbal expression was still in harmony with it:
“the metaphysical way of considering the word [is] an active force, which starts from the destruction of appearances to rise up as far as the spirit”41.
Reading or re-reading Artaud may produce a fusion, well-known in Hindu-Buddhist spirituality, between the knowing subject, the known (object of knowledge) and knowing (the process), and even an identification between receiver and emitter (reader and author) — perhaps a consonance of the sa-s ? — like that of Artaud and the Balinese drama in which his thought participated: it is ‘he-that-I’ who thinks.
“the magical identification is accomplished: we know that we are the one who was speaking.”42
NB: This “we” means “I”.
Artaud was a kind of ‘super resonator’ but unstable, which is why he scoured almost all the vibratory and emotional spectrum, passing through chasms, plural identities and disavowals, a life of suffering.
From there to identifying with the Spirit Shiva is just one step, which Artaud, exalted, took in 1937… like an initiate. Furthermore, behaving as a madman is part of yogi discipline in certain ancient Tantric traditions43. In Bali, it is said of wandering madmen that they are (or have wished to be) too knowledgeable, meaning by this an initiatic apprenticeship poorly grasped or taken to the extreme. Furthermore, the temple priests (pemangkus) are designated, not by the citizens, but “from above” (duur), very often by some mental problem — a sign of election or propitious soil for cosmic connections? If they accept this office of mediation in the service of the ‘cosmisation’ of society, these madmen cease to be mad. In Bali, Artaud could have become an officiant in a Shaivite cemetery temple— the Balinese also recognise the ‘self-initiated’ among foreigners and sometimes assign them a ritual role.
“Here is what makes the saints and even the initiates: they have rediscovered the notion of the true, and have learned to distinguish in the true and consequential meaning of the term, in the vibrating sense, the vehement sense that grasps us, the lie and the illusion of things”.44
“Artaud-Shiva”, his sacred rod and his sacrificial mission in 1937
It was with the modern West that Artaud was not attuned, for which he was ‘other’ / alienated.
The resonator of Principles, was Artaud in some way pre-initiated by opium? In the past, in Bali (and in other Tantric traditions), it was common practice for initiates to smoke opium; Artaud lived as an addict of opiates. In August 1937, however, he declared he had been weaned off it for 4 months and had decided to “remain on a terrible path, without drugs, without women”, since that, too, caused “the loss of gifts he had acquired45. Thus he considered himself an initiate who had received the grace of certain knowledge-powers and had to render it by employing them in a sacred and sacrificial mission.
And/or was he pre-initiated through reincarnation, as he thought? Aggravating his case in the eyes of Western ‘rationality’, Artaud, still as an initiate and like numbers of Indonesians and other Asiatics, found powerful incarnations of himself in previous millennia and different identities in his present body — he was a Greek, Arland Antoneo, in Greek Arlanapulos, when he was thrown into prison in Ireland, then expelled, straitjacketed and interned in France and, writing from Ireland, he stated, amongst other examples during his life:
“Soon I shall no longer call myself Antonin Artaud, I shall have become someone else, and the Duty incumbent on me is formidable. It is formidable, Annie, to discover suddenly who one is and that in reality one was another and that this other was Ramses II in Egypt, truly, Annie, truly, and that one has been other men throughout time, all charged with terrible responsibilities supported by powers, which are also terrible, maybe, but overwhelming.”46
Artaud considered his birth in 1896 at Marseille as an “error”… but also, sometimes, as the sign of a mission to be carried out, in Europe (the West, judged decadent), among the ‘other Indians’, in Mexico (Amerindian tradition to be saved), and, in 1937, in Ireland (Druidic tradition to be rediscovered), as “Shiva-christ”, “christ” without a capital letter, about which he specifies at times that it is not the Christ of the Christians, but the principial, occult Christ “of the catacombs”.
“I shall preach the return of the Christ of the catacombs, which will be the return of Christianity to the catacombs. Visible Catholicism shall be razed owing to its idolatry.”47
Artaud wished to take to Ireland his “Rod of Christ”, a rod just as gnarled as the stick of Shaivist tāntrikās, a pusaka śakti, “treasure/regalia (charged with) sakti”… He may already have seen this rod in 1931: in Barong / Calonarang drama, it is in the hand of the sorcerer-queen, the figure of the follower of Tantrism said to be “of the left hand”, the science of decomposition, manipulating the bhuta-kalas, hence the mistress of epidemics… Mistress of the plague! [ill. 5]Artaud first identified himself with God, then, in “L’homme contre le destin”, he expounds the 3 cosmic-cognitive forces — “the repulsive and dilating force, the compressive and astringent force, the rotatory force” and lastly, in inflamed letters48, by virtue of the concentric motions of his thought, of a “centripetal” tendency, he identifies himself structurally, logically and nominally as Shiva in this trilogy of cosmic forces that he logically, structurally associates with the Hindu trilogy49, but also… with the Christian trilogy (“Artaud-Shiva-christ”)50. The summary is as follows:
- 1st force, centrifugal, creator of the impermanent manifested world, sacrifice-dismemberment of the unity and thus the cause of the “cruelty of existing” (exo, exit)” = Brahma = the Father;
- 2nd force, centripetal “astringent” (somya / ‘endorcism’, sacrifice-destruction of the forms, which it reintegrates and reinitialises) = Shiva = the Son, the Christ born of a woman, the sacrificed one returned to the origin = Antonin Artaud. “Prince of the destruction of things […]come to be the accomplice of those who saw the evil of Life. […]The christ-Shiva is the Negative of Creation” “The Christ has returned to bring to the light Pagan Truth, on which all Christian churches have shat with ignominy. The Christ was a magician who fought in the desert against the demon with a rod.”51 Artaud was convinced he had inherited this rod and this mission.
- 3rd force, rotatory/cyclical force of balance and the renewal of life = “Vichnou” (Vishnu) and Krishna = the Holy Spirit = the ante-christ, since this cyclical force perpetuates, with life, the “cruelty of existing” in the world of perpetual decomposition.
His structural logic is exercised on the political level: the parties of right and left must mutually annihilate themselves52, like the elements of the dualities in the Javanese and Balinese doctrine of manunggal (“to make one”).
“In the true doctrine of the Christ the Holy Spirit is the Bourgeois established and the Christ the Revolutionary in perpetuity. The 2nd force-god-Shiva is the revolutionary force, the 3rd force-god Vishnu is preservative.”53
At that time, while prophesying terrible global events and believing himself to be the victim of a plot, launched into a cosmic, metaphysical, religious and political battle, armed with his magic rod to attack and protect, Artaud cursed those of the cultural avant-garde of the cafés of Saint Germain des Prés, in whom he recognised “Vichnou – the ante-christ”. In Asia, it is customary to say “he is an incarnation of Vishnu” of any human being in whom one recognises the qualities of Vishnu, which one expects from rulers. Amongst other examples, Artaud wrote to André Breton:
If the Son Shiva the Christ is going to raise a Madman to bring down his ridiculous church, the Holy Spirit Vishnu Krishna will raise the ante-christ. […]The one who becomes the ante-Christ you know him, you have shaken his hand, he is younger than I and he loves Life as much as I hate it”.54
The following is the mental sacrificial somya inspired by a conjunction of Shiva and the archetypal christ:
“Jesus-Christ this man person came to institute, on the level of the spirit, a rite of the disappearance of things, on the same principle as human sacrifices.”55
At the same time, Artaud broke off his engagement with a woman and felt an attraction-repulsion towards women, again in coherence with his identification as Shiva and with his feeling of the “cruelty of existing”.
“Because it is the Holy Spirit, the monstrous dove (the Dove YONA, and YONI the vagina) that maintains life’s duration, in the contradictory delights of life.”56
The vagina yoni is a symbol of the female and thus of śakti, the energy-consort that leads Shiva to drop into the world of the ‘all-separated’. Aspiring to unity, a tāntrika may practise sexual yoga to merge sexual duality and its pertaining Principles; Artaud however took a dislike to this duality and conceived disgust for sexuality. After leaving the psychiatric hospital in 1946, he wrote again in 1947, a year before his death:
“Enough of man and woman,
Male and female.
Things are one”.
Whether Artaud knew it or simply felt it, Shiva Ardhanarisvara hermaphrodite represents this unity. In all cases, Artaud underwent and accomplished, with no concessions, his destiny as the Shaivite-christlike sacrifice.
“It is because I was convinced of being god, and to prevent me from remembering it, that everywhere I have been assassinated, poisoned, beaten to death, electrocuted;
— in order to prevent me from regaining the consciousness and the science of my capacities and faculties.”57
Despite the cultural moulding of the body-spirit, some persons have, through a mysterious predisposition, affinities with another culture and/or can be reconfigured by that culture on the cognitive level, in a process either of formal initiation or of ‘self-initiation’ —Balinese initiates recognise both: they say, “this person knows”. Artaud really had “a transcultural view of art”, as Gilles Louÿs said. But in affirming that Artaud “wanted to rediscover the ‘same’ in the other”, Louÿs is wrong because Balinese drama and Shiva are not “others”, but the ‘same’ as Artaud, whose identification with him was not desired, but was like a consonance of his vibratory sa. Wishing to compare him to Artaud, Louÿs wrongly attributes greater objectivity to Henri Michaux who, visiting Bali at the same period, concluded about Balinese drama with “the observation of its extreme singularity, which makes any view of a ‘same’ impossible […]”; Michaux, rather, had a more ‘obstructive’ Western cultural moulding and/or a different sa58.
Artaud described as real a supra-cultural level of natural Principles, where metaphysics and the mystical universally join. To connect to it and raise awareness of the “cruelty of existing”, he wanted to (re)invent “real drama” through the “Theatre of Cruelty” — a project that remained utopian, because, as he knew, it implies the creation of a holistic ‘new tradition’, including a hypothetical universal metaphysics and, to provide the feeling without discourse, an extreme stylisation of the bodies of hyper-articulated and hyper-connected actors, like those of the Balinese actor-dancers.
Artaud was a kind of ‘super resonator’ but unstable, which is why he scoured almost all the vibratory and emotional spectrum, passing through chasms, plural identities and disavowals, a life of suffering. The Balinese and many other Asiatics attribute to reincarnation temperaments, instilled knowledge, innate talents, as well as the accomplishment of improbable vocations, particularly concerning foreigners with a kind of prescience of their arts and/or their metaphysical conceptions. Did Antonin Artaud find a better reincarnation later in Asia? What is certain is that in a way he predicted his destiny post-mortem in the modern world:
“Who am I?
Where do I come from?
I am Antonin Artaud
And if I say it
As I know how to say it
you will see my present body
fly up in splinters
and gather itself up
under ten thousand notorious aspects
a new body
where you can
Antonin Artaud continues to prove a ‘super-resonator’, globally splintered in 10,000 truly “notorious” aspects, each reader having his own Artaud, resonating according to his own sa at these or those of his millions of phrases. The description of his centrifugal and centripetal apotheosis again recalls Shiva.
- Antonin Artaud : Le théâtre et son double, Paris, ed. NRF / Gallimard, collection Idées, 1964 (1938). Also included in the anthology Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, Evelyne Grossman (ed.), Paris, Quarto, Gallimard, 2004, pp. 505-593.
- Since the 1931 performance was thus spoiled, we did not reproduce it in an identical manner in 1998 — so as to have the same impact on the 1998 audience as in 1931 — to respond to the request for a Balinese performance to commemorate the one in 1931 and as a tribute to Antonin Artaud, with the troupe of the same princely family. On the latter occasion, with public support, I affirmed the accuracy of Artaud’s interpretation, against the opinion of Evelyne Grossman, a major specialist on Artaud, who confessed however to knowing neither Bali nor this performance.
- VU n° 173 dated 8 juillet 1931.
- These are, in particular, the Tibetan Book of the Dead Bardo Thodol, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Tao-Te-King, the Popol-Vüh, René Guénon, René Daumal and André Rolland de Réneville. Artaud even wrote an article to counter the opinion of Denis Saurat on the Upanishads and to distinguish the metaphysics of philosophy: “A “history of religions” written solely from man’s point of view”, in Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, (Evelyne Grossman, ed.), Paris, Quarto, Gallimard, 2004, pp. 482-484.
- Héliogabale ou l’anarchiste couronné, in: Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. pp. 405-474. Or the same work in a separate edition, Paris, L’imaginaire, éditions Gallimard, 1979.
- Ibid. pp. 685-745.
- Letters to Anne Manson and André Breton published in Antonin Artaud. OEuvres. Artaud had asked that all his writings be published. The divine identification process is documented by many of Artaud’s writings; it will be explained at the end of the article, in an abstract form, clarified however by the preceding content of the article.
- Les nouvelles révélations de l’être (1936-1937), in: Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p. 788.
- “Le Rite du Peyotl chez les Tarahumaras”, in Les Tarahumaras, in Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, ibid. p. 1689. Texts on the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico run up to 1948, the year of Artaud’s death, after his experience with peyotl in 1936.
- Philippe Cornu, a university teacher specialising in Buddhism, describes the cosmology of Tibetan Vajrayana Tantric Buddhism (of which he has long been an initiate) in the same terms as those that have inspired the author of this article in over 30 years of impregnation with Indo-Javanese- Balinese culture, known as Hindu-Buddhist. Among the numerous publications by Philippe Cornu: Longchenpa, la liberté naturelle de l’esprit (préface de Sogyal Rinpoché). Éditions du Seuil, coll. « Points. Sagesses » n° 66, Paris, 1994; Le miroir du coeur. Tantra du Dzogchen (translated from the Tibetan and commented by Philippe Cornu). Éditions du Seuil, coll. « Points. Sagesses » n° 82, Paris, 1997. 284 p.; Guide du bouddhisme tibétain. Librairie générale française, collection « Les guides Sélène », 1998. 351 p.; Avec Bertrand Dumas La mort, un passage ? Regards croisés bouddhistes et chrétiens, Editions du Cerf, 2018; Padmasambhava: Le Livre des morts tibétain, préface de Matthieu Ricard (translated from the Tibetan and commented by Philippe Cornu), Buchet-Chastel, Paris, 2009.
- Not Siddharta Gautama, the historical Buddha, but the ontological Adi Buda, the Principial Awakened One.
- “I have come to Mexico to escape from European civilisation”, in Messages révolutionnaires, in Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p.737.
- “The war of principles”, in Héliogabale ou l’anarchiste couronné, in Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p. 430.
- “The war of principles”, ibid. p. 430.
- “La guerre des principes », ibid p. 430.
- “La guerre des principes », ibid. p. 428.
- “La guerre des principes », ibid. p.429.
- “La guerre des principes », ibid. p. 428.
- Transcultural Dialogues, FIND, Issue 4 – May 2020, Spring Equinox. https://www.find.org.in/fr/dialogue-intellectuel/transcultural-dialogues. This deity is well-known in Bali, Java, Sunda and the surrounding area as Gana, Ganapati or Ganesha.
- “Sur le théâtre balinais”, in: Le théâtre et son double, 1964, op.cit, p.92 ou in Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op. cit. p.540.
- The Author of this article invented the term ‘endorcism’ at least twenty years ago, following a structural logic — opposite of exo is endo — since everywhere we unfortunately find “exorcism”, which in a great number of cases (in Bali and elsewhere) is a total misinterpretation. This endorcism, the only term suited to translate the purifying action of bali/wali/balik/walik, returning toward the inside and the origin, is absolutely not a borrowing from other authors (such as Michel Perrin) who, on their side, have applied the same structural logic to different cases where the term ‘endorcism’ has consequently a more or less different meaning. Nor must it be confused with “adorcism”, a neologism coined by the anthropologist Luc de Heusch, originally designating acceptance of possession (in the trance). However, in Bali, possession trances are as a rule desired (adorcism), being possessed is even a ritual duty; some possession trances belong to somya (endorcism) procedures, especially in connection with Barong / Calonarang drama, in which case we find adorcism in an endorcism.
- “Lettre à Jean Paulhan” (Mexico, 23 avril 1936), in Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p. 664.
- “Le shisme d’Irshu”, Appendix 1 d’Héliogabale ou l’anarchiste couronné, in Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p..472.
- “L’homme contre le destin”, in Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p.697.
- Alain Daniélou: Sémantique musicale. Essai de psycho-physiologie musicale, Paris, ed. Hermann, 1978.
- “La musique de l’invisible”, in Textes Mexicains (1935-1936), in Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit., p.675.
- We owe to André Padoux, specialist on Tantrism in India, the expressions “kabbale tantrique” and “système kabbalistique tantrique”, as well as the neologism “to cosmise”, which we employ in a wider acceptation than he does. André Padoux: “Contributions à l’étude du Mantrasâstra”, In: Paris, Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient (BEFEO). Tome 67, 1980. pp. 59-102. Et L’énergie de la parole. Cosmogonies de la parole tantrique, Paris, Fata Morgana, 1994.
- “Le Mexique et l’esprit primitive”, in Messages révolutionnaires (1935-36), in Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p.742.
- ibid. p. 403. Presentation by Evelyne Grossman concerning Héliogabale and other writings by Artaud in the years 1934-35.
- “Le théâtre et les dieux”, in Messages révolutionnaires (1935-36), ibid. p.700.
- “L’homme contre le destin”, Revolutionary messages 1935-36, in: Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p.698.
- “L’homme contre le destin”, ibid. p.695.
- “L’homme contre le destin”, ibid, p.698.
- Antonin ARTAUD: “Lettre à Jean Paulhan”, 25 janvier 1936, in : Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p. 662.
- “Lettre à Jean Paulhan”, 25 janvier 1936, ibid. p. 662.
- “Le théâtre et les dieux”, in : Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p. 702-703.
- Alain Daniélou, Origines et pouvoirs de la musique, Paris, Les cahiers du mleccha, Editions Kailash., 2003, p. 210.
- Gérard Toffin (CNRS): “Antonin Artaud et le théâtre oriental”, in : Jeu, (147), 165–169. North-American French language review, devoted to live performances of the arts.
- “Le Mexique et l’esprit primitive”», in Messages révolutionnaires (1935-36), in Antonin Artaud. OEuvres,ibid. p.742.
- “Théâtre oriental et théâtre occidental”, in : Le théâtre et son double, op.cit. p.108 ; or, in : Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p.547.
- Le théâtre et son double, ibid. p.102; or, in: Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p.544. In the French tradition to which Artaud belonged, it is incorrect to use “I” in formal texts.
- Andrea Acri: “Birds, Bards, Buffoons and Brahmans:(Re-)Tracing the Indic Roots of some Ancient and Modern Performing Characters from Java and Bali”, in: Archipel n°88 / 2014, Paris, Archipel, Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’homme (FMSH), 2014.
- “Lettre à Jeanne Ridel” (Laghouat, 21 juin 1934), in: Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p.487.
- “Lettre à mademoiselle Marie Dubuc” (Paris, août 1937), in: Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p.816-817.
- “Lettre à Anie [There is only one ‘n’ in “Anie”, whatever Artaud’s spelling]Besnard et René Thomas” (who had offered him the rod) (14 septembre 1937), in: Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p.834.
- “Lettre à Anne Manson” (14 septembre 1937), in: Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p.833.
- “L’homme contre le destin”, in: Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p. 697. “Lettres à Anne Manson”, op. cit. p. 831 and 833-834. “Lettre à André Breton”, op.cit. p.835. But the progress is seen to begin in earlier letters and a more complete view is obtained throughout numerous writings of the same period.
- I made the same association of trilogies of physical forces and Hindu gods before discovering it in an Indian author (whose references I have unfortunately lost) and now in Artaud, which has supported my impression (since my first reading of the Théâtre et son double) of being faced with the language of an initiate, a self-initiate.
- “L’homme contre le destin”, in: Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit. p.697. And “Lettres et sorts de 1937”, in: Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit., pp.313-838.
- “Lettre à André Breton” (6 septembre 1937), in: Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, p. 825.
- “Lettre à André Breton” (30 juillet 1937), in: Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, p. 811.
- “Lettre à André Breton” (14 septembre 1937), ibid. p. 837.
- “Lettre à André Breton” (14 septembre 1937), ibid. p. 837.
- “Lettre à André Breton” (14 septembre 1937), ibid. p. 837. 56
- “Lettre à André Breton” (14 septembre 1937), ibid. p. 835.
- “Suppôts et suppliciations”, in: Antonin Artaud. OEuvres, op.cit., p.1420 et 1423.
- Gilles Louÿs (Université Paris 10 Nanterre): “‘Avons-nous donc tellement besoin de démons ?’. Voyageurs français du XXe siècle à Bali», Viatica, revue en ligne, N°2, mars 2015: http://viatica.univ-bpclermont.fr/l-art-des autres, pp.1, 2 et 3.
- Olivier Penot-Lacassagne: Vies et morts d’Antonin Artaud, Saint-Cyr sur Loire, Christian Pirot Editeur, 2007, p.235.