Antonin Artaud: “Authentic Madmen,” Exclusion, and Spiritual Waste


Antonin Artaud, a Parisian actor, poet, and author of the celebrated “The Theater and Its Double” – the creator of the “Theater of Cruelty” – scaled the edge of madness in his work and eventually ended up in the madhouse. Speaking to his affliction, in 1947, Antonin Artaud wrote a literary-performance kind of piece entitled “Van Gough, the Man Suicided by Society.” It isn’t simply about Van Gough, it’s about Artaud and the artists who he loved and admired. He saw most of them as “authentic madmen” who were “suicided by society.” Artaud, impassioned, mad, and raving, writes…to “you,” society:

You dismiss as delirious a consciousness that is active even as you strangle it with your vile sexuality. And this is precisely the level on which poor van Gogh was chaste,

            Chaste as a seraph or a maiden cannot be, because it was they

Who fomented

And nourished in the beginning the vast machinery of sin….

Artaud goes on to claim that van Gogh was “untouched by sin” and “madness.” He also claims that there are “authentic madmen” who “guard themselves against sin”:

The body of van Gogh was untouched by any sin, was also untouched by madness which, indeed, sin alone can bring. And I do not believe in Catholic sin, but I do believe in the erotic crime which in fact all the geniuses of earth, the authentic madmen of the asylums, have guarded themselves against, or if not, it was because they were not (authentically) mad.

Artaud describes the “authentic madman” in the following terms:

It is a man who preferred to become mad, in the socially accepted sense of the word, rather than forfeit a certain superior idea of human honor.

What is this “certain superior idea of human honor?”

The cruelty against the madman shows us what it is by way of negation:

For a madman is also a man whom society did not want to hear and whom it wanted to prevent from uttering certain intolerable truths.

Society kills truth, in other words, by way of silence. And, ultimately, truth, for Artaud, is persecuted and driven mad.   For Artaud, madness is deeply tied to exclusion.

Near the end of his life, Artaud thrived in waste, which is excluded from the body. His poem, “Here Lies” spells out his wasted, abject life as spiritual. A final vision of madness (minus the authenticity), a cosmic vision of waste:

I, Antonin Artaud, am my son, my father, my mother, and myself

Leveler of the idiotic periplus on which procreation is impaled,

The periplus of papa-mama

And child,

Soot of my grandma’s ass,

Much more than of father mother’s…


To make us a little more disgusted with ourselves,

Being the unusable body,

Made out of meat and crazy sperm,

The body hung, from before the lice,

Sweating on the impossible table

Of heaven

Its callous odor of atoms,

Its alcoholic smell of abject








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