“Read here,” Breton said, pointing out a passage. “I never know what he’s talking about, but I think it might mean something to you.” I read it out loud:
The Time has come when the Son and the Holy Ghost will enter into conflict and destroy each other to permit the disappearance of what is.
For if the Son Shiva the christ is going to raise up a Furious One to tear down his ridiculous Church, the Holy Ghost-Vishnu-Krishna will raise up the antichrist. Yes, it is the Holy Ghost itself which will raise up the antichrist. Incredible as that may seem.
Now, just as the Furious One exists today the antichrist exists too, and you yourself, Breton, know him. For, André Breton, this is what must be understood, it is that the Incredible, yes the Incredible is the Incredible which is the truth.
He who will become the antichrist, you know him, you have shaken his hand, he is younger than me, and he loves Life as much as I hate it.
For ludicrous as this idea may seem to you, the antichrist frequents the Deux-Magots. And another figure of the apocalypse has also been seen at the Deux-Magots.
This is so and I swear to you that I am not joking.
“He calls someone the antichrist,” Breton told me, “and I think it’s you. But I don’t know if it’s meant as a compliment or not.”
“You’re right, and it’s not,” I replied. “He accused me of loving his madness.” That was not quite it, but I didn’t know how else to put it.
“We all love his madness,” Breton replied. “He wouldn’t be as compelling if he were just another handsome, shallow, happy—”
“But that’s terrible of us,” I broke in. “You rejected madness as a source of inspiration. It’s misery. He suffers. People don’t think he wants to climb out of it but he does, I’ve seen it. I don’t believe in God, but if there ever was a christ who lived it is Artaud, but his is a lifelong crucifixion without a resurrection and what should we do? Worship him?” I shook my head. “We must not love his madness, but his sanity through it all. I’ve betrayed him.”
“But to love his sanity through it all,” Breton told me gently, “his courage, requires his madness. Don’t you understand? The way you’ve cast it, there is no way you cannot betray him, but as I know you, you show only devotion. You and he discover paradoxes. I think that is the nature of your quarrel.” He gave me an undisguised look of concern.
I sat back in my chair. “You’re right,” I said slowly. I felt all the air deflate my lungs and then fill them again. Breton occasionally saw beyond, as Artaud always did. “You’re right; I’ve set up an impossible conundrum in which I am always guilty, as he did for himself. Thank you, that’s probably what I needed to hear. But I cannot see clearly because I’ve been taken over by this separation from him, which is hell for me. It’s death for me, like not having a body. I am dead.”
Breton could sit so still sometimes, looming like a mountain. “Yet you and he seem to be joined, beyond what Duchamp and Desnos claimed to be.” He took back the letter and pocketed it.
“I wonder who the other figure of the apocalypse is,” I mused. Two lethal enemies Artaud would warn Breton and especially Jacqueline against, the Antichrist, and…who was the second one? Louis? Barrault? Balthus? I hoped none of them.
“I wish I could adequately describe for you,” said André Breton then with his grey eyes focused past me, “the very first moment that I first saw Antonin Artaud. This was long before he would be introduced to me by André Masson. The year was 1920, I believe. Spring—yes. Four years before we made him our president. Were I to Hazard a guess, I’d estimate it was just a month after he arrived in Paris.” He laid his large hands on the table and folded them, tapping his thumps over his interlaced fingers.
“I was on my way to the Jardin du Luxembourg and this young man was walking toward me. He was very striking, of course, and so I noticed him right away. But what jolted me about him were his eyes. I suppose that’s the first thing anyone notices about Artaud. He was looking at me—really at me, deep into my eyes. Even at forty meters apart his eyes were boring into mine, and he didn’t drop them or look away as we approached each other. And I found that remarkable—an absolute lack of self-consciousness.
“Well, naturally I averted my eyes, but I couldn’t help looking at him again as we continued to walk toward each other. He hadn’t taken his gaze away from me. There was nothing rude or forward about him; he was merely looking at me, and looking as if he had the perfect right to stare. Which of course he does.” Breton laughed. “There’s nothing wrong with people looking at each other, but try it and see if you can maintain it! Even Péret, who has pulled a lot of outrageous pranks, admits he cannot force himself to look into a stranger’s eyes for long.
“The young man walking toward me, almost into me, was very polite, and he nodded to me but he never took that penetrating gaze away for me for one second. And after he passed me, and I felt those eyes were finally off of me, I turned around to watch him as he continued walking. Then I watched the other people behind me who were walking toward Artaud as I had just done. I wanted to see if he would look at the others as well and how they would react to him.
“And as I watched, I saw the same reaction in each person that Artaud approached: at first the walker did not see him, then was suddenly attentive, and automatically looked away. Then each person’s eyes darted back toward Artaud, who was successively staring into every one of their faces as he had done with me. And as I stood there on the pavement, I saw each person that Artaud passed turn and watch his effect upon the next person, just as I had done, until eventually there was a line of men and women who had stopped all along the pavement, down the whole length of it, and had stopped in their tracks to turn and look back at him, at an absolutely unheeding Artaud who was now walking away from all of us. And I thought to myself, ‘If I were to run after this stranger right now and catch up with him, where would he take me? If we were all to follow him this moment, to what wonders would he lead us?’”
Breton and I merely sat for a moment, me thinking of that retreating form turning all of those heads on that Paris sidewalk, a form that could make even anticlerical André Breton follow a fisher of men.