Antonin Artaud (ahr-toh), a poet, dramatist, and essayist, was a central figure in the European avant-garde movement. An inquisitive student and a voracious reader, he became so deeply depressed at age nineteen that he destroyed all of his early works. His parents committed him to a nearby sanatorium. During the next five years, he was sequestered in several clinics. In 1920 his parents finally sent him to Paris, where he began his career in the arts.
Artaud’s first collection of poems, Heavenly Backgammon, published in 1923, was a slim volume of eight poems written in a mixed style of gothic romanticism and Symbolism; it showed the influence of Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe. Artaud later dismissed this work because it followed an established literary tradition. More important during this time was Artaud’s preoccupation with the theater. Until 1924 he worked with Charles Dullin’s experimental Théâtre de l’Atelier, where he collaborated on set and costume design; he also acted in many of the productions and in the budding film industry.
Artaud’s precarious mental and physical states were exacerbated by the laudanum and opium which he had been taking since 1919. This caused him to be erratic and moody, making it impossible for him to sustain personal and professional relationships. Yet Artaud was able to document his experience with pain in the well-received Correspondence with Jacques Rivière, the first of his texts to attract wide attention. The year 1924 marked another important beginning for Artaud: his association with the newly formed Surrealist group, led by André Breton. Attracted by the group’s spirit of revolt against bourgeois standards, Artaud became an active contributor to La Revolution surréaliste, the official publication of the movement. Artaud’s first two important collections, Umbilical Limbo and The Nerve Scales, come from this period. The style was vastly...
(The entire section is 806 words.)