[While I was doing research on stage director Leonardo Shapiro, about whom I’ve blogged several times on ROT, I came across a quotation he cited from Antonin Artaud. It wasn’t from anything I’d read before and I didn’t recognize it, so I went in search of the piece (for which Leo hadn’t provided a title) and I soon found not only the text, but the exact translation Leo had used. (In fact, I posited that I’d found the book he had read, which apparently gave him other Artaud phrases he’d used: Artaud Anthology [City Lights Books, 1965]. It’s publication was right at the time Leo, then a college freshman, had begun to discover theater—he had started out to be a poet—and, especially, the avant garde theater of New York City’s East Village. I decided he’d not only read this particular collection but had probably bought it when he was a teenager.)
[The piece—I don’t know if it’s a poem or an essay or some kind of unique Surrealistic writing form—is so provocative (as are a lot of Artaud’s work and ideas) that I’m passing it along to ROT readers. I can’t duplicate here the idiosyncratic typography Artaud used so that part’s just an approximation. (There are other translations of this text in other anthologies; even the title is translated differently in other versions.)]
* * * *All writing is pigshit.
People who leave the obscure and try to define whatever it is that goes on in their heads, are pigs.
The whole literary scene is a pigpen, especially this one.
All those who have vantage points in their spirit, I mean, on some side or other of their heads and in a few strictly localized brain areas; all those who are masters of their language; all those for whom words have a meaning; all those for whom there exist sublimities in the soul and currents of thought; all those who are the spirit of the times, and have named these currents of thought—and I am thinking of their precise works, of that automatic grinding that delivers their spirit to the winds—
Those for whom certain words have a meaning, and certain manners of being; those who are so fussy; those who for whom emotions are classifiable, and who quibble over some degree or other of their hilarious classifications; those who still believe in ‘terms’; those who brandish whatever ideologies belong to the hierarchy of the times; those about whom women talk so well, and also those women who talk so well, who talk the contemporary currents of thought; those who still believe in some orientation of the spirit; those who follow paths, who drop names, who fill books with screaming headlines
are the worst kind of pigs.
And you are quite aimless, young man!
No, I am thinking of bearded critics.
And I told you so: no works or art, no language, no word, no thought, nothing.
Nothing; unless maybe a fine Brain-Storm.
A sort of incomprehensible and totally erect stance in the midst of everything in the mind.
And don’t expect me to tell you what all this is called, and how many parts it can be divided into; don’t expect me to tell you its weight; or to get in step and start discussing all this so that by discussing I may get lost myself and even, without even realizing it, start THINKING. And don’t expect this thing to be illuminated and live and deck itself out in a multitude of words, all neatly polished as to meaning, very diverse, and capable of throwing light on all the attitudes and all the nuances of very sensitive and penetrating mind.
Ah, these states which have no name, these sublime situations of the soul, ah these intervals of wit, these minuscule failures which are the daily bread of my hours, these people swarming with data . . . they are always the same old words I’m using, and really I don’t seem to make much headway in my thoughts, but I am really making more headway than you, you beard-asses, you pertinent pigs, you masters of fake verbiage, confectioners of portraits, pamphleteers, ground-floor lace-curtain herb collectors, entomologists, plague of my tongue.
I told you so, I no longer have the gift of tongue. But this is no reason you should persist and stubbornly insist on opening your mouths.
Look, I will be understood ten years from now by the people who then will do what you are doing now. Then my geysers will be recognized, my glaciers will be seen, the secret of diluting my poisons will have been learnt, the plays of my soul will be deciphered.
Then all my hair, all my mental veins will have been drained in quicklime; then my bestiary will have been noticed, and my mystique become a hat. Then the joints of stones will be seen smoking, arborescent* bouquets of mind’s eyes will crystallize in glossaries, stone aeroliths* will fall, lines will be seen and the geometry of the void understood: people will learn what the configuration of the mind is, and they will understand how I lost my mind.
They will then understand why my mind is not all here; then they will see all languages go dry, all minds, all tongues shrivelled up, the human face flattened out, deflated as if sucked up by shriveling leeches. And this lubricating membrane will go on floating in the air, this caustic lubricating membrane, this double membrane of multiple degrees and a million little fissures, this melancholic and vitreous membrane, but so sensitive and also pertinent, so capable of multiplying, splitting apart, turning inside out with its glistening little cracks, its dimensions, its narcotic highs, its penetrating and toxic injections, and
all this then will be found to be all right,
and I will have no further need to speak.
* * * *
[*arborescent: Having the size, form, or characteristics of a tree; treelike.
*aerolith: A chiefly siliceous meteorite.]
[In trying to ID Artaud’s "All Writing Is Pigshit," I happened on a website (several, actually) which had the text in the original French. As I had been curious what the French word(s) that had been rendered as 'pigshit' or 'garbage' (depending on the translation), I had a look. In French, Artaud wrote, "Toute l'écriture est de la cochonnerie". Cochonnerie is a French word for which there is no easy English equivalent--it means too many things all at the same time. Obviously, it's related to cochon, or 'pig,' but it doesn't actually mean 'pigshit' (which would be literally merde de cochon). It means 'filth,' 'trash,' 'dirty trick,' 'beastliness,' 'rubbish,' 'mess,' and any number of other colloquial renderings, depending on the context. (It can even mean 'junk food.') Perhaps the closest single English word is 'crap,' in the sense of "Everything Joe says is crap" rather than "The dog just took a crap on the rug." In fact, it can only be translated in context. I even have a dictionary on CD that doesn't give a translation for the word alone--it lists idioms with the word and translates them. It's more vulgar than 'garbage,' but less vulgar than 'shit.' (In French—and German, too—unlike in English, calling someone a pig is a fairly serious insult, more like calling someone an asshole.)