Tuesday, December 6th, 2016...11:47 am

Cautionary tales

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artaud-3This post is part of an ongoing series featuring recently cataloged items from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

As Nazi occupation expanded into France, Antonin Artaud (1896-1948), the avant-garde dramatist, actor, poet, and theorist of the Theatre of Cruelty, was committed to a mental hospital in Rodez. There he came under the care of Gaston Ferdière, a medical doctor and poet, who subjected Artaud to hundreds of electric shocks across 51 sessions of electro-shock therapy, then a new and experimental treatment. It was during this period that Artaud annotated this copy of Les nouvelles révélations de l’être, his astrological pamphlet of 1937. Nouvelles révélations contains a number of prognostications, among them the rise to power of a world-conquering autocratic ruler – Artaud himself. Perhaps seeing in the war a parallel to his earlier prophecy, Artaud inscribed this copy with a dedication to Hitler:


To Adolf Hitler, in memory of the Romanische café in Berlin one afternoon in May of ’32, and because I pray God give you the grace to remember all the wonders by which HE has GRATIFIED (RESUSCITATED) YOUR HEART, this very day, Kudar dayro Zarish Ankkara Thabi. Antonin Artaud, 3 December 1943.*

(It bears mentioning that Artaud did claim to have met Hitler personally, as both frequented the Berlin café scene in the early 1930s, during Artaud’s time as a film actor; in some retellings of this story, Artaud asserts that the encounter ended in a fistfight.)


Artaud also annotated this copy extensively with additional passages and corrections to the text. This extraordinary copy comes to us from the Santo Domingo Collection in a similarly extraordinary case, designed by the French binder Renaud Vernier in 1990. The tan calfskin enclosure mimics the red and black type of the pamphlet’s cover with stamping, and the whole is housed in an additional slipcase.

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As for Ferdière, he would write, in an article published in a special issue of the poetic journal La tour de feu dedicated to Artaud, that the dedication to Hitler was a “specific example of Artaud’s mental derangement … One recognizes here the faulty memory (so frequent with Artaud along with mistaken identity), mystical ideas, glossolalia, etc….”* But the doctor’s assessments were not uncontroversial, and neither were his practices. A subsequent patient of Ferdière’s, the Lettrist artist and poet Isidore Isou, lashed out against Ferdière’s diagnosis and treatment of Artaud in a book-length screed, Artaud torturé par les psychiatres.

*Translations from Antonin Artaud anthology (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1965), by the editor of that volume, Jack Hirschman.

Les nouvelles révélations de l’être: FC9.Ar752.937n (B).

Thanks to bibliographic assistant Ryan Wheeler for contributing this post.

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