Author’s note: I really, really mourn Nusch Éluard, too. She was Marvelous. Writing this novel series about Artaud and Desnos has led me to love – and to mourn – so many other people: André Breton (though I’m conflicted about him), Benjamin Péret, Paul Éluard, Picasso, Cocteau, Jacques Prével, Paule Thévenin, Jean Paulhan who also did so much for Artaud, and so many others. And it’s painful to love, write about, and lose all of these heroes but I choose the pain and would not live without it. If you love Antonin Artaud, do the same.
How can I explain that I consider Artaud the only true humanist who lived?
With rumors of war coming, my thoughts changed as well. I did not share the sunny outlook of Desnos and neither did Jean-Louis Barrault, who was also a regular at these dinners. All I could do was dread another day, the news was so dire. Reportedly the Reich Interior Ministry was drawing up a government form on which doctors and nurses would report any seriously disabled child under three years of age. The Ministry denied this was a euthanasia program. At the same time, many injured and diseased adults lived in near-intolerable conditions in Germany, and they petitioned Hitler’s Reich to be put humanely to death, but they were rebuffed due to the law that made assisting in euthanasia a crime! Hitler brutalized and humiliated the Jews of Austria. He locked dissidents up in the Dachau concentration camp. He mobilized the military. I waited in vain to hear a strong word from British Prime Minister Chamberlain or the American President Roosevelt, or from Mussolini—or even from Stalin—but no world leader stood up against Adolf Hitler. Hitler, unopposed, chose the fall of 1938 to occupy the Sudentenland, and the spring of 1939 to take over all of Czechoslovakia.
Lee Miller had married Roland Penrose and left England with him for New York. She resumed her work there as a photographer with Vogue magazine. She wrote me a letter urging me to move there but I couldn’t dream of it. Artaud was already far enough away from me. Hugh Guiler told Franz he and Anaïs were also thinking of moving back to the States and urged my brother to think about it, but Franz was not enthusiastic. I couldn’t leave Louis and I could not ask him to come with us; he was a black man and we had heard enough from Anita about the discrimination he would face there. When I told Nusch about this, she begged me not to go and I realized I could not leave Nusch, either. And what if Justine showed up at last?
I did not know what to wish for. Perhaps Artaud should never have gone to Mexico—his fortune-teller friend Marie Dubuc had told him not to, and indeed something there had frightened him off all sexual relationships at last. Or perhaps he should have stayed in the Tarahumara Mountains and sent for Cécile, and written to Breton to join him there, but his health would not last in the wilderness. Breton was in Mexico now. Surely that was far enough away from Hitler, but Artaud was trapped at Ville-Évrard. I felt trapped, too. Franz seemed to sense this and, perhaps remembering my promise to follow him anywhere, told me he didn’t want to go to the States.
During Breton’s stay at the house of Diego Rivera, Trotsky collaborated with Breton on the political tract, “For an Independent Revolutionary Art” which congealed the two men’s philosophies, but Jacqueline wrote Nusch that their work together was not going smoothly. Breton and Rivera enjoyed combing the countryside for Mexican votive figurines, but Trotsky disdained all artifacts. Yet Trotsky reacted with moral outrage when Breton slipped a few pieces that decorated a grave into his pocket. Trotsky envisioned a future without dance or poetry or painting, a utopia in which healthy food and the “harmonious movements” of peasants would replace all artistic yearning. This prospect horrified Breton, and it horrified me. Now I could understand Artaud’s argument with Breton over Trotsky. Rivera’s wife, Frida Khalo, was a painter and Marxist thinker in her own right, but naturally she and Jacqueline had been banished from all political discussion and had to content themselves with playing Surrealist games with the children in the kitchen. Trotsky wrote day and night and he berated Breton for not being similarly prolific (and this did remind me of Artaud). However, Trotsky could not tolerate a woman who smoked or wore makeup in his presence—decidedly unlike my puritan, who had held chain-smoking contests with Sonia and with Simon Breton, and who had admired Anaïs Nin’s outfits and Jacqueline Breton’s daring cosmetics. And of course my goody-goody had outrageously painted his own face while with Dullin and for Fait-Divers.
When I finished reading Jacqueline’s letter to Nusch I said to her, “What a disappointment Trotsky is! Artaud was right about him.”
“Paul and I don’t follow men,” Nusch replied. “We follow ideas. That’s how Paul and he have remained friends through the years.”
“I can’t tell you what your friendship with Artaud has meant to me, both of you,” I said, feeling emotional then. “And with me.” How dearly I loved Nusch, this former hypnotist’s assistant and so hypnotizing herself, this beautiful and strong collagist who painted on eggs and built figurines out of seashells—she had made for me a clergyman! It sat on my shelf next to my books, and Nusch along with Artaud and Louis sat next to my heart.