Author’s note: Artaud’s cane disturbed people, but Breton had one (and he used it as a weapon), Anaïs Nin’s father had one (and killed a cat with it), and Nin’s lover/psychoanalyst René Allendy beat her with one – but only Antonin Artaud got locked up in asylums. Though Artaud’s later embrace of celibacy (or sham celibacy as I suspect) shocked people, I can see what led up to it, and his tragic encounter with Anaïs Nin was key.
I laid my hand on his arm, risking his anger, but he allowed me to touch him. Gravely he obeyed my hands as they gently pulled at him, and he stretched out on the sofa to lean his cheek on my thigh. My fingers ran through his hair, stroking it back out of his face. The strands were soft and thick. “You frighten me sometimes,” I said. “Now that you’re better you must not cling to illness. That piece you wrote a few years ago, on suicide—”
“Which one?” he asked. “Eighteen Seconds? I remember that one bothered you particularly.”
“Any of them! It tears me apart that you write about it! But yes, that one disturbed me.”
His arms slipped around me. It always surprised me when he responded, but he did so reluctantly. “Don’t be frightened by what I write,” he said. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to kill myself. I’m adamantly against suicide. I follow an idea to its conclusion out of a commitment to honesty, to explore its limits because society won’t, but that does not mean the idea is a wish.” His arms tightened, and I tightened my grip on him. “I want to live. I would never just give up. Everything I do is out of my fight to live.”
“But now you’ve become suspicious of me. Please don’t be. And you are so bitter toward women. They ‘destroy’ everything. ‘A novel from the clitoris,’ although—” My laugh crept in. “That’s a choice phrase. How you combine words! I love that phrase but it frightens me, too.”
“Ah—that!” he intonated dismissively. “That was a conversation between men. Don’t impart deep meanings to everything I say.” His hand slid into mine. I pressed it in gratitude. I could help him after all and he saw this. “In her potential I consider Woman the equal of Man,* but in their lives women are stupid, shallow and weak. They say they want a man who loves them body and mind but when I offer that, they run away to fuck unfaithful brutes who degrade them! It was inhuman, what Nin asked of me—‘I cannot love both intellectually and physically,’ how could any man believe that?”
“What bullshit,” I agreed. “She was letting you down easy. All she had to say was, ‘I don’t want you as a lover.’ It sounds like she was ambivalent about you.”
“I admit I chased her but she had me so I couldn’t think straight. I knelt at her feet and gave her adoring words, yet Nin ran to Allendy who beat her with a cane!”
Nodding, I brought his hand to my face, thinking too of Josette who slept around on him and then succumbed to the director Léon Mathot on his casting couch. Doing so had not made her famous; she was still primarily known for her work in Artaud’s Theatre Alfred Jarry! Yes, women could be as stupid as men, but Justine denied this even as she complained about the fact women were judged more harshly for acting as stupid as men. Perhaps I was bitter, too. “I know about that. But Allendy—” This wasn’t big of me, but Allendy deserved a little bad-mouthing himself. “He caned Nin to arouse himself, and it didn’t work. He seeks exotic pleasures because a gentle touch no longer stimulates him. He has no right to analyze you. Allendy is dead within himself.”
Artaud gaped up at me and as always his eyes caught whatever light there was, even though his face was in shadow. I’d never known anyone with such luminous eyes. “I’m not even going to ask how you came by that information!”
“Straight from the horse’s mouth,” I said. “I overheard those two talking.”
“Naturally.” That look skewered me but his mouth lifted a bit. He settled back on my leg. I smoothed his hair while he lay staring. After a moment he continued, “So after her whipping, that little prick-tease runs to her father—ironic, that—and then back to Miller. And have you heard him talk about his wife? ‘Bitch, whore, I could kill her,’ et cetera. This from a man who allowed his wife’s lesbian lover—not Nin—to live with them in New York! How am I to make sense of it all?” He flung out a hand.
I shook my head, repulsed by this tangle of egos. “No, you are the reasonable one in this.” I pressed my hand between his shoulder blades as he lay glaring. “Nin should just stick with Miller, as he’s obviously the love of her life—but that would take courage, which she doesn’t have.” I wondered if he caught my implication.
*In her memoirs Cécile Schramme describes Artaud as a feminist but does not go into detail. I’ve found many instances of his belief that men and women had equal potential. He was not a political feminist, but believed all life should find its expression. Yet Artaud is considered a misogynist by some because of his letters to Genica, when she like Nin was put off by his drug use but did not accept it dulled his suffering. I think Henry Miller and René Allendy were more misogynist than Artaud could ever be.