Frank Rubino’s letter of invitation and inspiration to the weekly Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of December 22
I got an early Christmas present from an old friend this week. It’s a beautifully produced book of Antonin Artaud’s drawings and portraits. It evokes the memory of an Artaud exhibition my friend and I saw a couple of decades ago in New York.
Artaud’s extremes still fascinate me: his private phonemes, elevation of the interior reality, and rage. I looked on his work more hopefully once, thinking it could reveal what I needed to know in order to create, rather than imitate; he seemed to produce the sound of someone who had committed himself to working with the real, not the aesthetic, and he got joined in my head to Kierkegaard’s 3rd stage of self development, the Truth Seeker. I had known about The Theater Of Cruelty, and some of his writing. When I looked at his drawings, I saw violent invention and I wanted my work to have the same fuel and the same rocketship take-offs.
It was a utilitarian way to approach his work (what can I copy here?), but Artaud’s inherent difficulty makes it impossible to “grasp” and you have to start somewhere. The book (https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/antonin-artaud) features an essay by Jaques Derrida that grapples with Artaud’s idiosyncratic vocabulary (notably the word “subjectile”; also “ thrownness”). Derrida wrote the essay To Unsense The Subjectile in French and for 40 years or so it was only published in a German translation. The exclusive German language rendition was part of the original plan. As Derrida is struggling to explain Artaud’s use of the term “subjectile” he starts talking about the fact that the Frenchness of his argument is the substance from within which he is writing. “How will they translate that?” he asks. Later, he says, “Artaud is against a certain Latinity.”
This is extremely difficult text to parse. Derrida quotes Artaud: “for me clear ideas… are ideas that are dead and finished.”
My friend and I have marveled at the difficulty of this language. Artaud fights against himself and against Derrida, who says “I don’t know if I am writing in an intelligible French.”
Artaud’s work conveys to me most of all a torturous need to integrate the disintegrated, and my friend and I admire his persistent fighting, and the bizarre, idiosyncratic language he created out of his struggle. But now, this book gives me a sadness I hadn’t felt before. It’s the sadness of futility and relentless brain chemistry: however far Artaud got, he was someplace that much harder to be.
Start a poem with “For me, clear ideas are ideas that are dead and finished.”
What artists did you once admire?
What gestures/words/appearances did you copy? Did you ever dead-end in a style? ( I have numerous times, and the feeling of dead ending is that the language I am using is suddenly useless to me.) Can you write a tribute to that dead style now?
Benefits of reading something you don’t understand? Is there any deliberately difficult work you return to?