From Book Four: Body without Organs

Author’s note: This takes place in 1975, the year my epic story of Antonin Artaud finally ends. This section is also in memory of Robert Artaud, no relation to Antonin, who was a member of the French Resistance, and in memory Artaud’s young brother Robert who died in infancy.

            We flew to Marseilles and stayed there for a few days, and I let out a few, safe details about my life as I escorted them around, showing them the city and my grandparent’s home, the home of my Aunt Therese, which was now occupied by strangers. “But I thought you didn’t have any grandparents, Geoff,” Merle teased. Merle questioned me incessantly about Paris, wanting to go there, longing to check out the old Surrealist haunts, but we were not to meet [name redacted to prevent spoiler] there until the following week. After longing to come back, I felt fear at seeing Paris again. I didn’t want to be haunted by the absences of my friends, by the familiar chairs in the Dôme and the Coupole and the Select filled now by other people, people who didn’t wear monocles or horrid green suits or threadbare jackets that were too small. I didn’t want to round a corner and expect to see Artaud buried in thought and scribbling in a manuscript at a café table only to see the table empty or taken by a hip youngster. So I dragged Marcel and Merle around the cemetery near the zoo, showing them the graves of my relatives, laying flowers at the crypt that held Yvonne’s body and Catherine’s, Franz’s too. I avoiding answering certain questions and I avoided the subject of Artaud, fearing his ghost at Rodez and his grave at the Ivry Clinic.

            Merle wandered ahead of us in the cemetery to where Artaud’s parents had been buried, and Marcel and I followed her. When I saw the inscription, I stopped in my tracks. Gone was the marker that I had seen so long ago dedicated to Antoine-Roi, and in its place, rearing up at me unexpected was one large crypt which said simply:

THE FAMILY OF ANTONIN ARTAUD

Always the unexpected with Artaud. I smiled and felt tears again. Merle, mistaking my reaction for anger, looked aghast so I put an arm around her. Marcel stared at me now, seeing finally something besides all my carefully crafted deceit. I sank down to sit before the crypt and leaned my face into my hands, and we all sat there for a long time while I wiped away tears. Of course, of course—of course it made sense that his descendants would move his body back home, to rest beside his parents and especially his grandmother, but it jostled me to find him here as if waiting for me, or in reproach for trying to avoid him.

Où vous ne pourrez
plus jamais
m’oublier
.

As we were leaving the cemetery I hailed the groundskeeper and asked him when Antonin Artaud had been transferred. “Oh,” he said brightly, “it happened just a little over a month ago, Monsieur. It is a very touching story.” He was squat and portly too, like my father-in-law and like the Robert Artaud who was not Artaud’s brother. Leaning on his rake, he waved his other hand about as he talked. “He was not given last rites but his family always wanted the man to be brought here and to rest with his loved ones.” At the request of Serge, Antonin Artaud’s nephew, the Ivry Clinic had exhumed Antonin Artaud and by fire reduced his bones—for he was only bones now—to fit into a smaller pine box for transport. Marie-Ange and her husband, Georges, her daughter Ghyslaine and her son Serge then drove the box in Serge’s car, stopping at a hotel along the way. Because they feared that thieves might steal the car and inadvertently take this small coffin with them, they took turns to guard the vehicle at night with its sacred relic inside. Despite my atheist’s sense that a body wherever the earth takes it is never lost, I was deeply moved by this little ritual, this pilgrimage, this night watch, this nocturnal changing of the guard by his family, and I was glad that Artaud should inspire one more act simultaneously mundane and poetic, and which contrived a final greeting between him and me. And now the tomb bore his name as the patriarch of his family and the father of his most loved daughters of the heart. He had reinvented the family, who had journeyed with him in a Body without Organs.

“You’re right,” I finally said to Merle. “We should go to Paris. We’ll go tomorrow.” [Unnamed] and I had agreed to meet next week but I had his address. “Maybe the blow will be softer if I surprise him.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” said Marcel, yet after that both Merle and Marcel stopped their incessant questioning. It was as if they sensed that no answer from me could come out except through the passage of time.

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