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'Pressures of the Sun: manifesto against the electric drug'

Allen S. Weiss

Continuum:
The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
vol. 6 no 1 (1992)

Radio -- Sound

Edited by Toby Miller


State of nerves, states of mind, state of the world. There are moments when the universe seems to resemble most closely a scalp quivering with electric jolts.

'The liver is the filter of the unconscious, while the spleen is the physical guarantor of the infinite' (IX,37).


Flesh has never been as tormented, a soul has never been as bewitched, a voice has never been so threatened. Addicted to opiates early in life, Artaud's liver and spleen were both saturated with an artificial paradise, much more so that his spirit was enamoured of Baudelaire. The unconscious was skewed, infinity foreshortened, nerves frayed. 'Imagine that I now physically feel the passage of this volition, imagine that it jolts me with a sudden and unexpected electric shock, a repeated electric shock' (IX,43). Only by overcoming the difference between force and form - the very rupture at the base of metaphysics - can the essence of life be attained, that 'fragile and fluctuating core untouched by forms' (IV,18). Here the myth of force takes on a twentieth century dimension: the dynamo and the virgin vie for contact with the nervous system that constitutes the soul.

The soul is something of the body; God is the manifestation of organic secretions; grammatical reflexivity returns speech to its corporeal origins; thought is shaken to its core by a foreign volition, by 'sudden and unforeseen electricity' (IX,43). Theatre, the theatre of cruelty, will touch the marrow, or it shall no longer exist. Theatre as surgery (II,22). 'The theatre is an exorcism, a summoning of energy ... it must abandon individual psychology, enter into mass passions, into the conditions of the collective spirit, grasp the collective wavelengths' (V,153). Theatre as paroxysm. Indeed, a lifetime of opiates (and their moralistic pharmacological inversion, bismuth cures) hardly sufficed - a certain homoeopathy, a curative magic, was necessary. Perhaps the theatre would reach deeper, 'like a bath of psychic electricity in which the intellect would be periodically reimmersed' (IV,321).

Obsessed by the idea of Mexico, a Baroque Mexico, volcanic earth, Indian blood, magical realities, chimerical visions, a culture of fire, of the sun. An ancient solar culture founded on the supremacy of death, where destruction is a precondition of rebirth and transformation (VIII,260). Everything already hieratic, already cruel. Such is the immemorial Indian culture that burns organisms, boils the blood, irrigates the nerves: 'The civilization of Mexico lives on a nightmare of organs' (VIII,159) writes Artaud, echoing 'the limbo of a nightmare of bones and muscles' (IX,117) which characterized his own existence in Fragments of a Diary From Hell (1926). Even before his departure, Artaud's Mexico was bound by the cliches of his own partially ecstatic, partially pathological, partially visionary phantasms. This inner Mexico was a fertile nervous illumination or stimulation, strangely resembling Artaud's impossible theatre of cruelty. It was in the land of the Tarahumaras that Artaud discovered, or intuited, a scenario that coincided with his desires: the rite of Tutuguri. To reach this land, Artaud - having discarded the last of his opiates, thus being without narcotics for the first time in 17 years - traversed a forest of signs, bewitched. The mountains revealed hallucinated figures of men tortured by gods, amongst which nature capriciously disclosed the image of a nude man nailed to the rocks and tortured under a volatilized sun: Artaud crucified at Golgotha (IX,219), Artaud burnt at the Stake (IX,62). Besides every road sprouted a burnt tree in the form of a cross or of strange beings - signs that he was approaching his goal (IX,44-47).

Artaud habitually inscribed his life into his works: in The Theater and Its Double the ship that bore the plague to Marseilles was named the 'Grand Saint-Antoine' (IV,20); in Henchmen and Supplications the nomination is disarticulated: 'AR-TAU, where they always wanted to see the designation of a dark force, but never that of an individual' (XIV,147). Artaud's autobiography is an account of various transpositions of the personal into the sacred, across time and space: God is transposed into paranoid torments and psychic catastrophes, where God and the Devil are one, and where Tutuguri is confused with Christ (IX,103ff); and the ultimate desire is to void the unconscious of the God that perpetually and monomaniacally tormented him.

Tarahumaras. Tutuguri. Ciguri. Were these names, for Artaud, any less rich than the glossolalia that punctuated his years of madness and his last writings (XII,13)?

o dedi
a dada orzoura o dou zoura
a dad skizi o kaya
o kaya pontoura o ponoura
a pena
poni

In The Theater and Its Double, Artaud insisted that the theatre of cruelty must function as a sort of curative magic, where language will be manifested in the form of incantation (IV,56). In Mexico he sought one of the last places on earth where the curative peyote dance still existed, a festival that would liberate his body and illuminate his inner landscape. To reach the land of the Tarahumaras, Artaud experienced twenty eight days of arduous and hallucinatory journey, symptoms of drug withdrawal, psychic turbulence, vast expectations; he was reduced to 'a heap of poorly assembled organs' (IX,50).

His trajectory led him through a Tarahumara village dominated by giant decorated phalli (IX,125), which couldn't but cause him to recollect his own tale of that other solar God, Heliogabalus, and of the colossal ten ton stone phallus that preceded this emperor's triumphal march into Rome. The sun is the most generalized manifestation of energy, of force contra form, a sign of eternity, of God. Artaud would write in Heliogabalus of this Emperor-God as 'son of the summits, false Antonin, Sardanapalus, and finally Heliogabalus, a name that seems to be the auspicious grammatical contraction of the highest denominations of the sun' (VII,14). Antonin Artaud would inscribe his name in this solar theology, celebrating the false Antonin as a Sun-God who is the very principal of anarchy, the breath of chaos itself, a breath which would pierce the body and excite the nerves: 'The erectile member is the sun, the cone of reproduction on earth, as Heliogabalus, sun of the earth, is the cone of reproduction in the heavens' (VII,81). Heliogabalus begins: 'Just as there was an intense circulation of blood and excrement around Heliogabalus' corpse, dead without a tomb, his throat cut by his own police in the latrines of the palace, there was around his cradle an intense circulation of sperm' (VII,13). This scatological characterization is later echoed in The Tarahumaras, where the sorcerer speaking of the Ciguri explains that the realm of appearances presents itself as 'the obscene mask of he who sneers between sperm and caca' (IX,31).

Artaud finally participated in the Rite of Ciguri, the Rite of Tutuguri, lead by the Priests of the Sun acting as manifestations of the Word of God. (This heretical, abject Catholicism existed in both the Tarahumara-Catholic syncretism and the inner schismatism of Artaud's phantasms). Ciguri isn't simply peyote, but rather the God himself who enters one's nerves; Ciguri is infinity (IX,24). The therapeutic action of this remedy depends on the total pillaging of our organism; Ciguri is man himself assassinated by God (IX,27). This devastating metaphysical homeopathy is desublimated by Artaud into anticultural poetics (VIII,267).

The ritual dance takes place on sacred ground: a pyre surrounded by a circle traced on the ground, upon which are ranged ten crosses of unequal height, each bearing a mirror. As the sun sets, the sorcerers enter the circle and dance, possessed, as if epileptic, chanting, whirling, their heads deformed by the mirrors, swelling and disappearing in the flames of the pyre (IX,60) - as in The Theater and Its Double, where, to counter the aesthetic fascination with forms, actors must become as 'victims burnt at the stake, signalling through the flames' (IV,18). But the truth of the rite is not expressed by external forms; rather, an inner transformation, aided by the psycho-pharmaceutical effects of peyote, changes consciousness, activating the Marvellous, the Fantastic, and Producing visions of God. 'What emerged from my spleen or from my liver had the form of the letters of a very ancient and mysterious alphabet masticated by an enormous mouth, yet horrendously choked, proud, illegible, jealous of its invisibility' (IC,3233). The incantations of the Tarahumaras and the glossolalia of Artaud's madness merged and were hypostatized (IX,117):

rai da kanka da kum
a kum da na kum vonoh

But this vision was followed by another, in which the spleen was transformed into an immense emptiness, an oceanic void upon which a fire-sprouting root was stranded. This was the root of the peyote plant, the root of Ciguri, made one with self and world. The unconscious is a language; the cosmos is nothingness. As things returned to normal, Artaud didn't know whether it was he himself or the world that had fainted. Regardless, he had seen the spirit of Tutuguri.

His written reflexions on these visions end proleptically with the admissions of yet other, false and excruciating, perceptions and sensations which he suffered while incarcerated in the psychiatric hospital of Rodez during the summer of 1943, the very year in which this chapter of The Tarahumaras was written. They bespeak the electroshock treatment which he endured there. He saw himself encircled by demons, which he tried to fend off by making the sign of the cross, or by written and chanted incantations 'I also wrote, on any available scrap of paper or on the books I had in my possession, conjurations which had little value either from a literary or a magical point of view, since things written in this state are no more than the residue, the deformation or rather the counterfeiting of the lofty lights of LIFE' (IX,35-36). Insisting that Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky" was in fact a plagiarism of one of his own long lost works entitled Letura d'Eprahi Falli Tetar Fendi Photia o Fore Indi, he offered his publisher (in a letter from Rodez, 1945) the following sample of how a translation of the former should appear (IX,188):

ratara ratar ratara atara tatara rana otara otara katara otara ratara kana ortura ortura konara kokona kokona koma kurbura kurbura kurbura kurbata kurbata keyna
pesti anti pestantum putara pest anti pestantum putr.

A curse upon the rotten plague, a curse upon medically inflicted comas, a curse upon his wretched, shocked body. As with the Rite of Ciguri, religious mania manifested itself as a struggle, one now magnified by paranoid deliria - a paranoia based in part on what he suffered at the hands of his doctors.

In a post-script, we are informed that he wrote "The Rite of Peyote" in a state of religious conversion, after having swallowed between 150 and 200 hosts. No longer a theological homeopathy, this eucharistic overdose was part of a christological delirium, now syncretized, briefly, with Tarahumara theology. Yet Artaud seems to have ultimately won his struggle with God at Rodez: his vehement imprecations against his baptism bespeak a break with God and his minions: angelic, diabolic and priestly. He also informs us in this post-script that 'there is nothing more erotically pornographic that the christ, ignoble sexual concretisation of all false psychic enigmas', concluding that his 'basest acts of masturbatory magic engage the electric prison release' (IX,40).

Laudanum, bismuth, peyote, eucharistic wafers: at Rodez a new drug was utilized, the electric drug. Electroshock therapy - which passes a 200 volt current of between 5 and 250 milliamperes through the body for between a tenth and a half second - causes violent epileptoid seizures and a consequent coma, often resulting in loss of memory of the shock itself. This procedure was conceived by Hugo Cerletti in 1938, after having visited the abattoirs of Rome, where the animals were put in a state of shock before being slaughtered. Artaud suffered this avant-garde cure which caused both real and symbolic wounds, resulting in what he protested as being an 'artificial death' (XII,60). As Artaud declaims in "Alienation and Black Magic" (broadcast over French radio in July l946, just after his release from Rodez), psychiatric hospitals are repositories of black magic, a magic based on modern therapeutic techniques such as insulin shock and electroshock, which he renames BARDO. 'Bardo is the death throes that reduces the self to a puddle' (XII,58). Such 'electrical introspection', he explains, is akin to 'the spitting of the stalk' (le crachat de la rape), part of the Tarahumara rituals. Like the Rite of Ciguri, there are theological consequences: electroshock 'kills Artaud and makes God return' (XX,53). Thus it is appropriate that "The Rite of Peyote" ends with a discussion of electroshock, and conversely that his last works evoke Mexico. "Alienation and Black Magic" concludes (XII,60):

farfadi
ta azor tau ela auela
a
tara ila

It too is followed by a post-script, written just a month before his death, indicating that a blank page should be placed between the text and all the squirmings of Bardo which appear in the limbo of electroshock. In this purgatory, this borderland of lost souls, a special typography should be used to heighten certain verbal effects, specifically in order 'to abject God' (XII,61 ).

One of the texts that was to have been part of Artaud's radiophonic broadcast To Have Done With the Judgement of God (1948) was entitled "The Theater of Cruelty". It opens with the greatest scatological abjecting of God: 'Do you know of anything more outrageously faecal than the history of God and of his being: SATAN'(XIII,107). Earlier in this work, in the section entitled "In Search of Fecality", he insists that man has sacrificed his blood because he desires shit (XIII,84):

o reche modo
to edire
di za tau dari do padera coco

In yet another section of this work, "Tutuguri: Rite of the Black Sun", the earlier Christian-Tarahumara syncretism is reversed and abolished, in the desire to have done with the judgement of God. Writing anew of the Rite of Ciguri, Artaud exclaims: 'The major tone of the Rite is precisely THE ABOLITION OF THE CROSS' (XIII,79). This first version of Artaud's "Tutuguri" was followed by a second, completed two weeks before his death. It begins: 'Created for the external glory of the sun, Tutuguri is a black rite. The rite of the black note and of the eternal death of the sun. No, the sun shall no longer return' (IX,70). This apocalyptic text was a return to Mexico, now and always the phantasmatic projection of an inner conflict. In "The Theater of Cruelty", the guiding metaphor is no longer the sun: 'The human body is an electric battery whose discharges have been castrated and repressed, whose capacities and emphases have been oriented toward sexual life, while in fact it was created precisely in order to absorb, by its voltaic displacements, all the stray reserves of the infinite void' (XIII,108).

To Have Done With the Judgement of God was to have been Artaud's major radiophonic work, if its broadcast had not been suppressed at the last moment, due to its scandalous, blasphemous nature. Artaud (who apparently played Fantomas on the radio earlier in his life) risked his final work on the transmitting capabilities of modern media. Radio, like the plague, would directly attack the nervous system of the socius. Yet there were also inner psychic risks. Perhaps he realized the futility, or at least the unwieldiness, of the thousands upon thousands of pages of diaries he wrote at Rodez in Paris; perhaps he thought that their essence should be condensed into a single recording, which could then be played back at will, even during sleep, so that his deliria would then re-enter consciousness, transformed into the crystalline Apollonian coldness of dreams....

The spoken words of one's own voice resonate through the entire body before ever re-entering through the ears. I live my own voice as a simultaneous density of bodily overtones, with the tone centre consisting of a vibratory resonance between the pitch of my body and the echo of my speech recircuited and returned to the world. The recorded voice, the phonographic voice, the radiophonic voice, the played back voice of my own enunciations creates a certain disquietude, for this voice arrives from without, minus its usual corporeal thickness. The enunciatory mechanism entails a structural solipsism, a sort of psychosis, regulated by the corporeal parallax between speech and audition. In sound recording, the organic rhythms of the body are reified and ultimately destroyed by electromechanical reproduction, only to be returned by artificial means. Thus sound recording produces a theft and transformation of the voice, an alienation of the self in a mind/body split, with its consequent quotient of anguish. Is such a split the hypostatization of Cartesian metaphysics or the manifestation of psychopathology? The mind is no longer neatly attached to the body by means of the pineal gland, as Descartes insisted; though is now pandemonium (literally, the abode of all demons).

The psychiatric asylum may be deemed a representational, theatrical system, one which is particularly closed - as closed as the psychoses that breed within its confines. The asylum is thus a prosthesis of that other scene, the unconscious, always suppressed from public view. Compare the recording studio. The ontological risk of recording is evident: my own voice is returned to me as the hallucinatory presence of another, or of a God, as in paranoid and religious experiences. Yet while the radio broadcasts and thus externalizes the voice, the asylum interiorizes it, causing an impacting, an aggression of the voice within the body, within consciousness, within the unconscious.

Might it be supposed that, in revenge for the massive electroshock treatments he suffered, Artaud created To Have Done With the Judgement of God as a countershock? In electroshock therapy, the subject is wired; in radiophonic art, the subject is wireless. The dynamo replaces the virgin, electricity replaces the sun, schizophonica replaces schizophrenia, and potentially paranoid machines are directed outward to shock others, the listeners. Telephone, cinema, radio, television: parallel communication and representational systems exist as alternative prosthetic devices, lures and prisons for our fears and passions.

We see here the paradox, and the tragedy, of To Have Done With the Judgement of God: this unbroadcast broadcast, this anti-representational representation, this fixed spontaneity was repressed and transfigured according to the political, historical and technical exigencies of the radiophonic art. Did Artaud ultimately have done with the judgement of God, or did God finally prevail in the end, stealing Artaud's voice yet again - this time not to have the spirit descend into a body racked with pain and speaking in tongues, but rather to severe voice from body, transforming the voice into an object and casting it into the world, where it was doomed to be lost on the airwaves, or in the archives? In a letter to Paule Thevenin written just before his death, Artaud explains that henceforth he will create only for the theatre, never again for the radio: 'Where there is the machine there is always nothingness and the abyss; there exists a technical intervention that deforms and annihilates all that one has done' (MXXX,146).

Machines always plagued Antonin Artaud. In conclusion, or perhaps in belated resumption, consider the following. At the age of five Artaud began to suffer those debilitating headaches which were to plague him for the rest of his life. He had contracted meningitis, and risked imminent death. In desperation, his father attempted a therapy quite in vogue at the time: he purchased a huge machine that produced static electricity. As the air filled with ozone, electric sparks arced from its wires to an electrode attached to the young patient's head...


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Put up: 7 March 1996
HTML author: Garry Gillard: gillard@murdoch.edu.au