From Book 3: Mexico and Trotsky

Days later, when I again visited the studio, Artaud had the gall to tease Sonia and me in front of Anita about knowing how to show an attractive young lady a good time on her first visit to Paris. When Anita in her effervescent voice demanded the details, Sonia threw a bottle of ink at Artaud. True to Thomas’s word he ran about in all weather including rain and heat, visiting this café, staying at that friend’s flat, popping in on Blin, Balthus and Barrault, and beating a path to the NRF that rivaled his library comings and goings. He seemed cheerful and was very popular among the visitors to the studio. And through all this, Artaud was still writing.

He was engulfed in research about Mexican paganism. He urged Jean Paulhan to raise money for a trip. In the cafés he talked on and on about finding the origin of poetry, theatre, gesture, and word amongst the Rarámuri Indians who still kept their traditional ways in the Sierra Tarahumara mountains. France, Artaud reasoned, was lost, morally shallow and irrevocably corrupt. The French could not—indeed, Western man could not understand what Artaud was trying to show them. The Cenci had been an approximation, but Artaud would no longer present theatre as the European mind understood it. Like poetry, like his explorations of consciousness, the theatre was another ossified form. He would introduce Westerners to the origin of culture itself. He, Artaud, would sail forth to a new land where the native races had not been corrupted by modern thought, by fashion and movie stars and cheap, light entertainment, by today’s Christians who were obsessed with owning things, who cozyied up to Herod instead of wandering and seeking. Artaud had no true appreciation for D.H. Lawrence aside from the fact Nin wrote about him, but Lawrence had gone to Mexico twelve years earlier and he and Artaud both loathed Marxism and the “superstition of progress.” Artaud would return to heal the rift between western civilization and primitive, visceral consciousness.

He, through Paulhan, was lining up speaking engagements in Mexico City. Artaud secured writing assignments for the NRF and Paris-Soir. “I’ll go to Mexico and participate in their soul-curing rituals. I’ll learn from Older Brother,” Artaud said, “what Western man, Younger Brother as they call us, has discarded and forgotten,” and I marveled at his tolerance and sympathy for these people, his willingness to embrace a culture that to most “civilized” men was a backward, heathen abyss.

Transported by this new goal, Artaud found his inner voice again and sat writing for hours in the cafés. I began to hope for him again. He was more enlightened than they were, the complacent public who never thought of desert-dwelling Indians as anything except poor souls who needed Christ and a proper suit or Communism and a work-slot. Artaud saw what people could not see. And André Breton agreed; Breton’s eyes took on a queer light whenever he mentioned Artaud’s plans.

I was relieved that he and Artaud were friends again, for Breton proved to be a faithful provider. Their friendship was rekindled one day after The Cenci had closed. While sitting with Roger Blin in the Coupole Artaud’s eyes had met Breton’s across the room, and their glance had stretched until the place became quiet with all the patrons looking askance at these two titans, enemies for so long, now holding a gaze that flowed like an ancient river between them. Artaud had excused himself from Blin. All of us had watched as slowly, Artaud stood. He was the same old Artaud, with his precise crush of a cold cigarette ash and his nervous gait as he moved. I and the others had watched Artaud walk right up to Breton’s table and stand there, gazing down at this massive man with the russet waves now tinged with grey. Breton was the same too with his familiar habit of rolling his cigarette lengthwise in his fingers and examining its burning tip, holding it like a pen as if he were about to lower the glowing end to his paper, or to the varnished wooden table top, or to the flesh of his own arm, and sear his words there. He and Artaud had continued to stare at each other until finally Artaud placed a hand on the back of the chair across from Breton. Breton, with no expression to betray his feelings, had watched and we had watched, as Artaud pulled out that chair. Only when Artaud lowered himself to sit did he break the gaze, and when he did so the air in the room changed. Breton was holding the burning end of his cigarette so close to the fingers of his other hand that I was sure that he was about to grind the cinder into his palm. He smiled a little and when Artaud, who with a new cigarette hanging from his mouth began patting his pockets for a match, Breton had extended his arm and held the burning end. Artaud had leaned forward, touched his virgin cylinder to Breton’s shrinking one, inhaled, then sat back, and answered Breton’s ironic smile with his own.

            June turned into July, and then August. Rob and Youki left for another vacation in the Pyrennes. They invited me to go with them, but I was waiting to hear from Justine. “Geoff, you’re worse than a mother,” scolded Lee Miller as I sat with her and Kiki in the Select. “Justine is her own person. She can take care of herself.”

            “She always writes me, though,” I objected. “We’re still friends.” How could I make them understand? I wasn’t like the other people in our group, the lovers who simply dropped each other like used bottles into the depository. Lee Miller was Man Ray’s ex-lover now and married to an Egyptian businessman that she was in the process of divorcing. She exchanged an affectionate eye-roll with fellow Man’s ex-ex-lover, Kiki.

            “Friends,” sighed Kiki. “that’s what everyone should be, especially lovers. Love is overrated. Like doesn’t get enough appreciation. We should have more of like in our lives.” I listened quietly, thinking Artaud probably wanted to forget the semi-sexual relationship between us and merely be friends again. My anxiety was not only for Justine’s absence. “Do you know the day just before you arrived in Paris, Lee, the very day before, I told Man I loved him and he looked right at me and said, ‘What nonsense, you cow! We’re fucking, that’s all!’”

            Lee nodded. “That bastard, I’m not surprised at all. So many men fall back on that excuse—‘It’s not love, it’s sex.’ And then after I left Man he lost fifteen pounds and hounded me to the four corners of the earth! Why is that?” They both turned to me with examining eyes.

            “Don’t look at me,” I warned them. Roger had said the same thing to Justine—“It’s just sex”—and yet along the banks of the Danube he had told me, I love her. “I’m probably too serious and need more ‘like,’ too. When you women figure out men, let me in on it.”

            Kiki and Lee nearly crossed cigarettes when they laughed toward each other over the table. “Geoff, you kill me! At least come to the beach with us,” Lee urged. “Nusch will be there. Nusch is fun to be with. She wants to see you, too. Come on!”

            I did go with Lee and Kiki to Juan-les-pins, a beach on the Mediterranean I had never seen before. I did go and it was fun. I enjoyed seeing Nusch again, talking with her, listening to her blistering wit and watching her deceptively innocent face tossed back with laughter. She told me, to my shock, that Justine did not like her though Nusch had genuinely wanted to be friends. Nusch was a Communist and while she was passionate about it and about social justice, she would let spiders fall from her lips like, “I went from hypnotist’s stooge to Stalinist scrooge, but I won’t join sob cults, won’t someone think of the adults!” She’d meant it in fun but apparently this enraged Justine, who supported certain Communist ideals now and did not want to have children but always thought of the children. I lounged in the surf and snapped pictures of Nusch as she, black curls flying and her lips ever puckered around a cigarette, slipped off her robe to reveal her daring two piece swim-suit. It was yellow with black polka-dots and left her mid-rift bare, and both my mother and Aunt Therese would have been mortified to see it.

With Lee to help me I mastered the camera, grasping it awkwardly in my large hands, and snapped pictures of disheveled Nusch posing with a stately Lee, her blond hair pulled back into a sleek knot and a slit in her skirt revealing a long, graceful thigh. I frolicked with Kiki in the sand, and the lot of us played a game of kitten-ball. I noticed with alarm that Kiki was drinking more and even doing cocaine in the morning, though she seemed to be her old self.

I fell asleep in the sun, my back roasting in the palpable light, my stomach shriveled against the cold sand beneath the blanket. And for some reason I dreamed often of Trotsky, Leon Trotsky who had fled Russia for Turkey, then had fled again to this country to hide out, and then had then been forcibly extradited from France. Leon Trotsky, the latest champion of André Breton.

And André Breton—I dreamed of him too. I dreamed of him as he should have been years ago when I first met him, and as he seemed to be at last—the Lion of Surrealism, a dangerous man, who shook his fist finally both at the Communist Party and at the world of belles lettres, at the police and now at Artaud’s detractors, those prigs who acted like police. André Breton who was demanding at last that there should be, without following someone else’s star, a revolution in the service of Surrealism, the freeing of man’s mind and body, a revolt against both numbed servitude and proletarian docility, a conspiracy of man and nature—finally, a Surrealist Revolution.

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