Artaud & Rodez, Proposal for a Monument

For me Rodez has always been linked to Antonin Artaud — & his stay in the mental institution down in the plain around the hilltop city from 1943 to 1946. Nicole remembered that a few years back there had been an exhibition of Artaud material in connection with his stay in the town, so I thought it would be easy enough to locate something — even if only some officilized honoring of the poet by the town — concerning AA. Not so — although everybody I asked knew that there had been a writer called Antonin Artaud, not one person could point me to such a connection. The main librarian in the town’s mediathèque said they did have some of Artaud’s works but that was all. The festival program being what it was, I did not go down to the plain to try & locate the psychiatric hospital, though I doubt that I would have found much there. It was a pleasure, however, to discover Artaud as a “live” figure in Claude Merle’s series of “neighbors” (a series that also includes poet friend Serge Pey, whom we somehow missed in Rodez, for which I am very sorry — though I may just run into him in Toulouse one of these days when I need to revisit the bookshop).

I would like, however, to propose a monument for Antonin Artaud right there in Rodez, to be made up of 51 “stations” (as in “stations of the cross” or maybe more accurately as in the “mawqif” stations of Arab mystical poetry) each to consist of an enlarged reproduction of one of Artaud’s drawings from that period — thus one for each of the 51 electro-chocs administered to the poet by Dr. Ferdière — to culminate in the last drawing done there, his first major self-portrait, which, writes Clayton Eshleman, “scathingly captures the asylums’ assault in a face cut through with sores and scars, and measled with black spots. One eye is glazed, dead; the other starkly watchful, and aware. This is probably the drawing that Artaud’s one doctor friend, Jean Dequeker, watched him rework for several days, ‘shattering pencil after pencil, suffering the internal throes of his own exorcism.'”

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