NOTE: While I use Anaïs Nin’s Diary as a source for events, after years of studying Artaud’s letters to both men and women I find her conclusion that Artaud was gay and attracted to Nin’s husband Hugh Guiler to be a load of crap. Antonin Artaud consistently and very accurately put his finger on what was going on inside people, whereas Nin was as screwed up and arrogant as René Allendy (and later, Dr. Jacques Latrémolière). Ambivalent and dishonest, she toyed with Artaud and hurt him, while he correctly named her pathology.* This incident is taken from her Diary, 1934-1939. The friend of Artaud’s who tells Nin and Gonzalo Moré (yet another lover of Nin’s) that he wants to kill the man imitating Artaud was never actually identified.
I didn’t know how to tell Louis and Desnos, especially Desnos whose state of mind was also worrying me these days, the news regarding my lawyer, but I was resolved to come clean so we could plan a next step, and one evening I waited for them at the Flore. It was a miserable night, rainy and chilly. I sat brooding at my table, my hand clutching a glass of beer. I debated writing Artaud, reaching out to him at last. Would he rail again, send me a spell of death like the one to Lise Deharme via Breton? But what if he took my silence as indifference? This debate flung me to and fro. His failure or refusal to recognize his own mother was a warning that contact from me might not be in his best interest. Reportedly, Artaud obeyed instructions meekly now. The idea of headstrong Antonin Artaud taking orders from his jailers filled me with horror. Any gesture I would make could not be anything less than, I resolved grimly, his release and a sustained plan of care.
I looked across the café and saw that Anaïs Nin sat at another table, reading a newspaper and glancing, frequently and quite nervously, at the clock on the wall. Then she glanced at me. Her gaze was harried and kindly. Instead of the hatred I expected to feel I sensed her consternation and her stress. She was indeed slim and a few people whispered that she and Hugh had had a “miscarriage” in August of 1934. I wondered if the child’s father was actually Henry Miller’s. I put her out of mind then; I waited for my friends and fixated on Artaud, knowing it was cold too where he was and wondering if he was chilled or comfortable, forlorn or befriended, comforted, or afraid.
At another table sat a man, a complete stranger, dull-eyed and slightly rotund, squirrel-faced. He looked nothing like Antonin Artaud but he began to loudly imitate Artaud, his speech, his gestures, his paranoiac accusations in the published letter. I whirled in fury when I realized what he was doing and I saw Anaïs Nin stand up and approach his table, her impish face twisted in contempt. He flung her small finger to within an inch of his face. “You are the man who should be locked up in an insane asylum,” she spat at the double, “and not Artaud!” He sneered back at her. “If you do not stop it right now,” I added quietly to him, “I’ll wring your fat neck.” People at the nearby tables stopped talking and looked at the three of us, at Nin and I glaring at that man, my eyes locked with his in silent hatred. It prompted the proprietor to walk over and tell the impostor to take his little act out to the street.
“And you,” he said, pointing to me as the false Artaud slammed out the door with a bang, “there will be no threats in my place. Understand?” I nodded sullenly. Anaïs Nin gave me a stricken look of sympathy and sat down again. Grimly I stared into my beer, willing Desnos to show up. Then I was jolted to hear, coming from the street, Artaud’s voice screaming out his hatred and persecution, his howl punctuated by the rapping of a stick on the pavement that echoed off the buildings. I sat bolt upright, my heart pounding, not daring to believe it. Now I ached to see him free, even caught up in his absurd delusions, even enraged with me. The whole café quieted. Everyone knew Artaud’s voice, even those who didn’t know his face or his name or the reason for his wild, manic pain. I looked through the windows of the café for the sight of his face. Then Artaud’s yells turned into laughter—mocking laughter from that fat man, that faker, that imposter!
“No! Wait! Young man—” called the proprietor after me, and worried faces turned to watch as I ran for the door. Anaïs Nin stood up again and put out a hand as if to stop me, and on my way out the door I bumped into one of her friends coming in, but it was not the Spanish radical (Gonzales? Gonzalo?) who she was waiting for and worrying about. Evidently drugged, this other friend who looked just like an English poet and who, I think, was an English poet, staggered backward with a moist and blinking gaze of enormous magnanimity when I shouldered past him.
The rain had stopped. “You!” I shouted to the street, my voice ringing in my ears. I could not see the rotund impersonator anywhere—but he was there, somewhere, and I would find him. “Damn you, damn you!” I yelled witlessly. The street was quiet for a moment. Then in reply came Artaud’s voice again, and the ringing shout of that laughter.
I ran after that voice. I searched for him, and I was shouting incoherently with rage as he led me, his voice taunting me, daring me to catch him. I bellowed that I was going to kill him as I turned corner after corner looking for him. His voice seemed to fill the whole city yet I kept coming upon only streets empty of him, streets with other people frozen in their doorways and silhouetted in their windows, watching me in curiosity, in contempt, in fear.
Eventually I doubled back to the Flore. In front of the Cathedral of Saint-Germaine-des-Prés a car was burning and firemen circled it like carrion birds, drawing near and backing away with their unwieldy hoses. I stepped toward it and saw Anaïs Nin walking by with a couple of her many male companions. One was that blinking English bard, and the other was a younger, more alert man—Gonzago or Gonazlo, her angry Spanish anarchist. From farther away the fake Artaud began to shout again, and I could tell they heard it too. “He’s imitating Artaud all over Paris!” I said to them as the younger man flung out an arm to protect Nin from me. “I want to kill him. Where is he? Tell me!”
“Let us pass, please,” the young man warned coldly. The older man had stopped himself in the action of reaching out to shake my hand and he gawked now in fear.
Anaïs pleaded, “Let him go. It’s not worth it. He’s an idiot. Don’t follow him.”
In disgust I turned from these faint hearts and ran down an alley in the direction from which the man’s voice seemed to come. It seemed to be coming from all around me. “I’ll get you,” I resolved.
Eventually I doubled back and squatted on the church steps, watching the firemen spray the fire. At length the flames stopped twisting beneath the bite of the serpentine water, and the automobile sat black and hollow like the shell of a dried beetle, and raining inside like the taxi at the Surrealist Exhibition. I eased myself up to stand and flattened myself against the shadows along the huge swinging doors of the church. A small crowd had gathered around the smoking car but too late for a spectacle, for the firemen were hauling their hoses away. People chatted about the fire, and their teeth chattered at the cold, and they began to move away. I waited. As the crowd dissolved back into the night I saw the man who I wanted to see.
He was standing with his hands in his pockets, his chest thrust forward, surveying the smoking remains with his chin upraised and his eyes staring down it. I stepped from the shadows and he didn’t see me. He sauntered on, his unreadable face looking past me. Shielded from view by the firemen, I let him pass, then followed him as he walked up the street. We turned corner after corner, circling the area, he in front and unaware of me following. We passed the Flore again and continued on to the Deux-Magots across the street, he the mocker and I his mockery; he, the villain and I, Buster Keaton as Sherlock Jr., the amateur detective, he the not-Artaud and I, Artaud’s shadow.
Once he was outside of the windows of the Deux-Magots, standing on the slick, deserted pavement he lifted his head and shouted again, shouted in Artaud’s voice, bringing the conversation inside to a standstill. I saw through the windows of the café people’s faces pressing against the glass to see what was going on. Through the windows of the Flore I could see that proprietor peering through a window while wiping a glass with a white cloth. He caught sight of me and stepped quickly up to the glass, which made his customers also stand up and crane their necks.
I clamped a hand on the fake Artaud’s shoulder. He whirled, recognized me, and took a step back. Then he scowled, but I didn’t give him further chance to react. The first blow landed on his jaw and sent him stumbling backward, his hand to his bloody mouth. Behind me I heard shouts muffled by the glass window: “There is a man who’s imitating Antonin Artaud.” “Someone is beating him up!” “He must be a friend of Artaud’s.” “Hit him again!” People, who moments earlier could have been laughing at Artaud through this impostor began to shout encouragement to me. My second blow threw back the impostor’s head and crumpled him to the pavement. I stood over him in satisfaction as he lay unmoving on the street. The crowd roared, and I turned to see faces pressed against the glass cheering me on. Fists waved in the air, echoing my own clenched hands, and leering, emphatic eyes met mine fanatically as if this were a boxing ring.
Then a rap sounded very close to my ear, and I saw that a man had shouldered through the crowd in the Deux-Magots and was knocking on the glass from inside. Since the glass was fogged he wiped at it, clearing a portal for his face. He wore a uniform, the unmistakable uniform of a police officer. Pointing at me he yelled for me to stay where I was, then crossed quickly to the café door and opened it.
My victim groaned, swore, and tried to lift himself. Ignoring the shouted command of the cop, I buried my foot in the stomach of Artaud’s mocker and he convulsed into a heap again. A truncheon caught me smartly behind the knees, forcing me to fall, but wild applause had burst from behind the glass of the cafés on both sides of the street, and when the cop whirled in confusion to look in the multiple directions of the sound, the crowd hissed its derision at him.
Lying face-down on the cobblestones, I was handcuffed, then dragged to my feet. The crowds inside the Deux-Magots and the Flore bellowed disapproval. “Let him go.” “This is a dispute between men!” “Let the cops stay out of it.” “Free Antonin Artaud!” Hearing this last statement, I decided to yell it and the crowd applauded again. “Free Artaud, free Artaud!” they shrieked. It became a chant as I was let away.
*Artaud accused her of having a sexual affair with her father. (” I must tell you this relationship with your father is an abomination.”) Nin denied it to his face, but finally admitted it in her posthumous diary Incest. (!) Nin admits she is fickle in a letter to Artaud, then calls him an “outraged castrated monk” for saying it himself. Nin whines, “He accused me of literary living. That has always amused me,” because so many other people accuse her of it, and it’s true. She complains Artaud wouldn’t hear her when she said, “I don’t want you as a lover,” but she never said this to him – instead she made up some BS excuse-challenge that she “cannot love both physically and intellectually.”
Incidentally, Nin at that time Artaud was seeing her (in 1933) was also having affairs with Henry Miller, Miller’s wife June and his roommate Fred Perles, René Allendy, Otto Rank, and others. She eventually opened a “practice” as a psychoanalyst despite her lack of education and had sex with her patients in her office! She also wrote a short story based on Artaud and took his dialogue, which sounds nothing like him, from a textbook on paranoid schizophrenia, essentially mining him (as she did with so many others) for her fiction.
After Nin’s death, her bigamy was revealed – she had a husband in California and one in New York (Hugh) who both tried to claim her on their insurance. Though she did insult the bully imitating Artaud, I don’t know how anyone can be a fan of hers.