In the summer of '84 Dr. Latremoliere, the assistant psychiatrist during Artaud's stay
at the Rodez asylum between 1943 and 1946, gave his first interview in forty years
on his experience with Artaud. This interview, excerpted below, was turned into a
play by Chris Kraus and Sylvere Lotringer, and presented at St. Marks Church on
April 21, 1985. Dr. Latremoliere was responsible for the administration of electroshock
to Antonin Artaud, still a highly controversial subject in French literary circles. In the
middle of the interview, Dr. Latremoliere produced a cassette-tape of an interview
that he himself had conducted ten years before with Artaud's sister, the late Marie-Ange
Dr. Latremoliere: I must tell you that when you called to set up this meeting, I wasn't wildly enthusiastic. The idea of raising the issue of Artaud's life again, thirty years after his death, seems to me beside the point.
For two years I was working with the director of the Rodez asylum, Dr. Gaston
Ferdiere. I was Artaud's friend. Have you read the article I've written about this
relationship? It's called "I Talked About God With Antonin Artaud." In it, I expressed
pretty much everything I thought about Artaud. Since then I've changed my mind.
I'm aware that Artaud Is being studied a great deal. It's too bad. Artaud had no
message, never had. He was a distinguished paranoiac, with extraordinary ideas of
grandeur and persecution. Those people he considered his friends were the ones he
contacted when he needed opium. We never gave him opium, but he asked for it.
We were his friends, but as soon as we were gone, we became his enemies.
To me, his written work is something of a cry. A cry of horror. Raised
by a man who had no sense. No sense of other people. He placed himself at the
center of the world. You'll see. It was just him and little birds.
Sylvere Lotringer : Well, at least there were the birds.
Dr. Latremoliere: Yes… But really… [knocks on table] In any case I find his fame
a bit exaggerated. How is it that he experienced such different things at such short
intervals? That really couldn't have been him. But as for me, I saw him scream, heard
him scream. Not against me! Never! He only yelled at me after he had left Rodez,
didn't he? So, I believe that people will find nothing in Artaud's work. It will not
advance civilization. I believe that someone who cannot control himself can be of
no help to anyone.
Sylvere Lotringer : But the horror at the bottom of the paranoia, isn't that what makes
his work important? His pain forced him to write what he wrote, then the writing itself
made a shock –
Dr. L: I have here Artaud's complete works – have you read them? – and I've digested
them little by little. I have the first editions of his books, haven't I? He gave them
to me! Well, when you've read everything he wrote, you see there's very little that's
understandable. Very little.
SL: You know, it's no coincidence that everything important in modern art since the turn
of the century looked toward primitive societies. Like Artaud. Civilization was already
limping toward a loss of substance, things appeared and vanished at incredible speed.
People needed to get back to the earth, to reinvent implacable rituals. And that's the
theater of cruelty. It took Artaud to Mexico and Ireland. Do you find that so weird? To
me, Artaud is anarchistic like the dadas. He's the echo chamber of this great breakdown
that dada responded to: World War I, the first big bloodbath, this craze for universal
annihilation. Artaud may be paranoid, narcissistic, megalomaniac, whatever, but it gives
him a certain perception. Almost inhuman.
Dr. L: Inhuman, that's it.
SL: The experience of inhumanity.
You see, you agree! If he's inhuman how can he contribute to humanity?
But humanity is inhuman!
I beg your pardon – ?
Maybe we're not seeing the inhumanity of the notion of humanity!
I can't believe you think Artaud is sensitive to civilization. I can guarantee he wasn't
in the least… He was only interested in himself. During the whole time that I knew
him he was Christ, the center of the world. Don't tell me he has contributed to the
progress of humanity. not in the least. … He was sensitive only to his tremendous
pain. And I studied his pain. With him. But his pain, hey. His alone.
So don't place him on a pedestal.
What was it like to be Artaud's friend?
Oh. we chatted a lot. For hours. About God. And god only knows, his ideas about
religion were disputable. He fashioned a kind of myth at which he was the center.
So hey, let me laugh when they talk about his "message". There's nothing, it's hollow
like this! [taps table] Besides, it makes no sense. I was there. Who reads him now?
Artaud thought he had a privileged relationship with God?
Privileged? [laughs softly] He was to be the one in power before the last appearance
of God on this earth.
Artaud may have thought he was the center. He was in a way so absent, so lost in himself,
so desperately deep into himself that he could connect to all despair. When you get to
this degree of suffering, all the suffering in the world is a part of you.
I'm sorry, sir, but i've practiced years of psychiatry and I'm afraid I have to say that
~his notion of yours is romantically absurd. The more turned in on oneself a person
is, the less open to the world…to love. That's why Artaud was junked. He was no
longer socially viable. If we treated him – which Is what we've been criticized for
doing all these years – it was only to protect him from himself. And we saw him come
around! He was able to write again, to draw, to talk with us. We gave that to him.
All my life I'll remember my friend Ferdiere saying, "If I had known what was to
come. I would never have let him leave Rodez. I'm immensely sorry…"
But look at what he wrote! What seems important isn't to know whether or not Artaud
deceived his friends. I'm sure he did, especially the ones who decided about his freedom.
That's the least he could do.
That is not great. That does nothing to advance society.
One of the pieces on the Tarahumaras was written at Rodez in 1943. A sort of delirium
on Christ and the Cross, which Artaud rejects a few years later as priestly bewitchment.
Bu tthe ones written in Mexico are very beautiful, crystalline. It's an extremely serene
vision of the world. Which is unusual with Artaud. Everything is in its place. God, men,
stones. Men are no longer the center of the universe. They're hewn in stone and the
stones are gods. There's a sort of material harmony… a rocky, primitive, organic feel for it.
You find an equivalence between stones and gods harmonious?
That's what the Greeks said. Why can we accept certain things from the Druids, accept
their beliefs as legitimate – but when someone takes himself for a Druid, and becomes
a Druid again, we lock him up pretty fast?
You don't seem to mind mixing things up.
I have something here that may appeal to you. This is a tape I have of a
conversation with Marie-Ange Malaussena, Artaud's sister, at Rodez. She doesn't
see it at all the same way you do.
Marie-Ange Malaussena: Well, I don't want to exaggerate, but I believe Artaud's love
for me was…total…in terms of…uh … let's say the love of a brother for a sister. I always
felt deeply loved by Antonin. And that feeling dates back to our early childhood since
we were always together, you might say hand in hand.
Dr. Latremoliere: Hand in hand … you were telling me last night about those times
when he would put his little hand in yours.
Marie-Ange Malaussena: Well, it usually happened during our required daily walks.
He always cared to know where I was and liked to walk alongside me holding my hand
tightly…so I wouldn't…escape.
Dr. Latremoliere: So he had the feeling that people could run away from him.
Mme M: Yes, he constantly had this feeling. Always.
Dr. L: Why…do you have any idea…?
Mme M: I don't…know. It was his personality, I suppose, his way of thinking. He always
feared losing those he loved. Well…that's exactly how he felt about Mommy, wasn't
it? He was always very attached to Mommy. He adored her. He really did. I've told
you about those childish little scenes he enacted in which I played the go-between,
carrying to Mother letters that Antonin had written begging her forgiveness.
And later, when he was a young man, if some argument arose between him and
Mother – nothing very serious, mind you – he would get a huge bouquet of flowers and
present it to her…so she would forgive him.
Dr. L: So she would forgive him … forgive him for what?
Whatever…whatever notion he had in his head concerning – well , let's see – in terms
of the behavior he had toward her. Oftentimes it would have to do with something which
most other people would consider insignificant, but which for him took enormous
Is it because he lived these things with an enormous intensity?
Always. Always. It was his temperament. He was extreme in everything he did, I believe.
The word is perhaps too strong? Not at all suited to Antonin's personality?
Both in terms of his relationships and in terms of what he liked to…work on. And since
he was a poet, in terms of poetry, in terms of working as a writer, in terms of a man
of the theater. He was always inclined…toward the absolute. He sought the absolute
in the smallest detail.
And how did he express this search when he was young?
His first impulse was to take a notebook and immediately start drawing boats boats boats
all the lime. So he was first affected by this matter of boats. Then at thirteen he started
writing poetry. And each time he wrote a poem, he read to me or to Mommy, la mère.
Boats … You didn't say … "the sea," "la mer".
Oh the boats were his passion. But suddenly, after a few years this passion fell by the
wayside and he started writing, writing, writing all the time.
Don't you think that the reason the boats became such a passion was finally because
they were his father?
Oh, yes, possibly, possibly. It's very likely that – how shall I put it? – Daddy's work
environment influenced him.
How did he relate to his father?
Well. In fact, Daddy got very involved with – how should I put it – his studies.
He was a humanist. A very pronounced humanist. And for many years he corrected Antonin's Latin translations.
He enjoyed his school work, his Latin translations?
Yes. He enjoyed Latin tremendously. All languages, Greek and –
Yes, but in terms of Math, he didn't like that at all.
On the other hand, he loved Latin. And as I said, Daddy helped him tremendously
and uh, he liked it a lot. In any case, he always got very good grades. He was known
as a "good student". I remember that at the end of each week he brought home color-coded
little cards. The pink card meant "very good," and the blue one meant "good,"
td the green one meant "satisfactory." He never had a green card. Almost never,
should say. And when he had one he was very, very unhappy.
…He took back the name of Nalpas…
That's Mommy's name. That's Mommy's name.
And how do you explain this metamorphosis, the fact that he finally abandoned, to
a certain extent, his father's name for his mother's (sa mère)?
Well, I'd like lo add something that seems to me quite exact. That is, when he wrote
letters in terms of mysticism, he signed Mommy's name. And when he wrote about
current everyday things, he signed Daddy's name, his real name.
Yes yes yes yes yes. I understand. And how soon did this come about? Did this happen
in his very youth?
Oh, very early. Very early. In his youth? No. It happened when he got sick.
Very well. Very well. Later, as you mentioned last night, he got interested in Mexico.
Yes. My most vivid recollection has to do with magazines. He bought travel magazines
which carried terrifying images of Mexico. I told you last night the story of a young
woman dismembered in the heart of a virgin forest. Anyway, he was obsessed by, let's
see, terrifying ideas. Yes. That's the word. He often frightened me. As a boy, he would
hide in the house and spring on me yelling and screaming – as a joke. …He wasn't
very talkative about his feelings. He didn't say much, but we understood him. The family
You told me something very beautiful last night. You made me understand that while
he was terrified of the outside, he took refuge near you. Holding your hand. And
Oh yes, indeed. You're referring lo the story of the famous dietetic bread. It's very
simple. I don't know how he managed to get hold of a piece of this bread and since
we slept in the same room – we were still children – when everyone was asleep, he'd
get up, tap me on the shoulder and give me half of the bread that he had taken from
downstairs. He probably found the bread very delicious and didn't want to keep just
for himself all the – let's see, hm. I'm lost for words, I'm feeling somewhat emotional,
Doctor… …Yes. Perhaps he felt that he wasn't loved the way he would like to be loved.
That's it. Yet, I'll tell you that in our house he always came first. My mother adored
my brother and my brother returned her affection
He was never completely abandoned.
Oh not at all. On the contrary. We were so happy to have him with us, so happy. He
loved the children. And he behaved very very lovingly. There's a letter that touches
on these things among those that have been reproduced. On the eve of his death I
was at his house. He had asked me to put his things in order. Then time came for me
to leave. He wante d to see me to the door. I told you about the great anxiety he showed
about finding a corner, a hiding place, for his last writings. So for a while, for a long
while, he turned around in the room, and finally I said : "The best way to hide your
writings is to place them amongst the new notebooks I brought you. No one will look
for them in this big pile." That – how should I put it – reassured him completely and
he grew calmer. All this goes to show that he didn't trust the people around him very
Do you think he guessed his approaching death on the very morning before he died,
since he said to you: "it's dangerous for me to take too much of this tranquilizer?"
Oh yes yes. He was taking chloral-hydrate at this time. The previous day, while I was
with him he wanted to take some chloral-hydrate with a glass of water. He took a
tablespoon and said: "See if I take just a little bit more, I could die of a heart attack,
or a blood clot." And that's what must have happened during the night because
the next morning they found him dead from a hemorrhage. I assume that somehow he must
have increased the dosage without meaning to. And he died…
What more can I tell you, Doctor, to try …to shed some light…on Antonin's anguished life?
Perhaps you could help, Madam, by telling about the place…God had in your youthful
Well, he was a very religious boy, you see. Up to the time he left home… And even
after… He was very religious. l've always seen him rosary in hand.
At home, I often found him kneeling and praying fervently. Very, very often. Despite what
people continue to invent about his character, he was a true believer. And I think his faith in
God survived all his misery.
I do too. …I was struck by…
I've been delighted to speak with you, but right now…with the medicine that I'm taking…
[End of Tape]
Dr. Latremoliere: I'm convinced he was impotent. That's what his "shouting" was
Sylvere Lotringer: If that were true, I'd pity potency.
Dr. L: Artaud was unhappy to be the way he was. Yes, unhappy. So he wanted others
to be like him. In emasculating others, he wanted to reduce them to his own
I talked about God with Antonin Artaud. I tried with all the patience I could muster
to have him look at the whole of Creation, including his body, thinking this would
free him from his mental prison. I could only guess what shameful erotic maneuvers
his demons were exercising over him. Artaud thought his failure to uphold personal
purity would prevent the Second Coming. Oh Jansenism, how much harm did you
do? Artaud conceived of human love in a very strange way, turning the human
procreative body into an object of abjection. I told him that the act of love was a
giving up of oneself in abandon – a death achieved by thinking of the other's joy.
Throughout the centuries, Christ has offered us a symbolic recreation of his Creation.
I tried to make Artaud perceive abandon existing outside the sphere of sin by
comparing it to his own ideas about art and death. But he was chained to a vision
of a world repulsively organic and profaned. The virginity that he wanted so badly
was outside-of-the-body; he fled in panic and disgust when confronted by any living
matter and saw only bestiality informed by horror. Artaud protected himself violently
against any kind of true abandon, rallying only his darker forces at the expense of
real creativity. I wanted him to see how much plenitude and joy he might find in God,
but sensitive only to his own resurrection-through-pain, Artaud pursued an evangelism
devoid of love, the hero of a private drama. Sometimes I get the shits at the mere
thought of what might have happened had Artaud actually looked for disciples, who
might well have been attracted by the magical quality of his speech and his inspired
appearance. What would have been the future of the human race?
Not surprisingly, when Artaud befriended members of the many couples
surrounding him a Rodez, he immediately cast the other person into an adversarial
role. He was never friendly toward my wife. At best, he mentioned her in the most
neutrally courteous terms. Have I mentioned the gestures that he made behind her
back to "exorcise" her alleged "spell" ? Pff, pff, pff. Impotent to accept his insertion
into the envelope of earthly being, impotent to accept the totality of himself, Artaud
was impotent, finally to conceive of Christian love and love itself. I felt obliged to
make him understand the unorthodoxy of these views. In my letter of July 18, 1943,
I offered him a few awkward and perhaps not very charitable comments suggesting
that only the whole of life turned toward the glory of God could stand up to diabolical
SL: When a crazy person writes and his texts are read and taught, they become literature.
What do you do w11h this kind of literature? Why do you read if? Why shouldn't you
[laughs] Yes. Well. Artaud will be forgotten very quickly. Very soon. I don't understand
him anymore. I don't even feel like listening to him. He has nothing to teach me.
Not about himself, nor about me. Nor about man. Especially not about man. Artaud
I didn't do literature with Artaud, you understand. I had a first-hand experience
with him. It wouldn't have meant much, if there wasn't so much controversy. But
if you want to know what I got from it, it gave me a notion of normalcy. The picture
of the normal man. I mean the man able to live in society.