Antonin Artaud and the Healing Practices of Language
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Antonin Artaud and the Healing Practices of Language

How Life Matters in Artaud's Later Writings

Joeri Visser

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eBook - ePub

Antonin Artaud and the Healing Practices of Language

How Life Matters in Artaud's Later Writings

Joeri Visser

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About This Book

The life of Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) was tormented by physical and mental illnesses. Already in his earlier works, Artaud tried to express his physical and mental suffering, but perceived, in describing his feelings, the obstructive and illness-inducing role of language. This is the first book written in English that analyses the role of a healing language with which Artaud engaged in his later writings. Joeri Visser guides us through the years in which Artaud suffered increasingly from mental instability and considered the act of writing his only means of survival. In doing so, Visser unfolds a literary and a philosophical analysis of how language and life work together and how a creative play with language can help us to reengage sustainably with the joyous as well as the terrible forces of life.

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Year
2021
ISBN
9781501372339
1
The Healing Practices of Language: On Flesh, Mind, and Expression
I surrender to the fever of dreams, but only in order to derive from them new laws.1
—Antonin Artaud, “Manifesto In Clear Language,” SW, p. 109
Do We Know What the Body Can Do?
The question if we know what our bodies can do is raised by Spinoza (see E3P2Schol) and is reiterated by Deleuze and Guattari, who claim that “[w]e know nothing about a body until we know what it can do, in other words, what its affects are, how they can or cannot enter into composition with other affects” (TP, 284). In his rereading of Spinoza’s question, Deleuze is interested in the forces, the energy, and the intensities that are inherent to matter and therewith constitute a philosophy of immanence. This book is also concerned with the question of Spinoza and is therefore interested in the Deleuzian philosophy of immanence. Claiming that language is also a body of forces, energy, and intensities of which we do not yet know what it can do, this book reinvestigates Spinoza’s question and similarly perceives language in its agential materiality.
The negligence of Spinoza’s question is reflected in the still ongoing developments within mental health care: focusing upon what a body is rather than on what it can do, mental health care imposes a falsely appropriated image of the body and therewith reduces the forces, energy, and intensities of the body and thus restricts the vitality of what a body can do. In this chapter, we focus on the impulsiveness of matter and the healing powers of a body with which one immanently reengages. Claiming that language only differs from the body in degree, this chapter mainly focuses upon the healing practices of an affirmative language—a language understood in its agential materiality—in the reengagement with our bodies. It is through this creative play with language that another remedy is proposed as a healthy, sustainable, and critical alternative for the current developments within mental health care.
Articulating the Flexional Singularity of the Body
In his reading of the use of language in the writings of Pierre Klossowski, Deleuze contends that language loses its denoting function because of its expressive or expressionist use (LS, 299). Discussing this alternative use of language, Deleuze concludes that
[e]voked (expressed) are the singular and complicated spirits, which do not possess a body without multiplying it inside the system of reflections, and which do not inspire language without projecting it into the intensive system of resonances. Revoked (denounced) are corporeal unicity, personal identity, and the false simplicity of language insofar as it is supposed to denote bodies and to manifest a self. (LS, 299)
Considering language as a formalized system of signs that falsely appropriates the singularities of bodies, Klossowski’s novels would disclose the ground that makes both thinking and speaking possible. In his literary and critical works, Klossowski is interested in the tension, preoccupying so many writers and poets, between the expression of the forces, the energy, and the intensities of the body and the limitations of the formalized system of signs.
In exploring and reflecting on ways to express the linguistic inexpressibility of flexion, that is the vitality, singularity, and intensity of a body, Klossowski is therewith constantly confronted with language as a formalized system of signs and language in its agential materiality or, following his words, with the tension between a pure language that evokes an impure silence and an impure language that articulates a pure silence. It is in this tension that we can similarly raise the question: do we know what language can do? Reading Deleuze and Guattari’s materialist linguistic model, DeLanda rightly summarizes that “the sounds, words, and grammatical patterns of a language are materials that accumulate or sediment historically, then they are consolidated by another process, like the standardization of a dialect by a Royal Academy and its official dictionaries, grammars, and rules of pronunciation” (qtd. in Dolphijn and Van der Tuin 2012, 39). It is through this process of consolidation, which paves the way for a transcendentalized and formalized system of signs (that thus neglects the agential materiality of language), that we lose sight of what language can do and that we are caught up in a system that structures our ways of acting and thinking or, in the words of Rahimy, “[b]eing into language suggests that we are willing to speak, willing to relate and communicate while knowing that we cannot communicate fully and clearly” (156). Making a minor use of this consolidated language means that one should speak differently and creatively engage with the formalized patterns. Again following Rahimy’s nomadic take on language, we must “speak poorly [which] is philosophy on a diet, a philosophy that is not slaved by its past, but uses its age to enter in different ways” (157). A cure of detoxification or a treatment of auto-immunization through language thus means that one arms oneself against the toxic, weakening, and passive forces that act upon the body through a consolidated language.
Following again Klossowski’s play with body and language, Deleuze argues that “[t]he body is language because it is essentially ‘flexion.’ In reflection, the corporeal flexion seems to be divided, split in two, opposed to itself and reflected in itself; it appears finally for itself, liberated from everything that ordinarily conceals it” (LS, 286). In other words, it is only through the repetition, that is, reflection, that we can perceive the initial difference—the flexional singularity of both body and language. There is thus only flexion through reflection. This flexional singularity of the body can be conceived, hence inevitably reflected, as a field of forces that are empowering or weakening or, putting it differently, leading to actions or passions or, considering Artaud’s life, mere happiness, or suffering.
This field of forces in which the body is immersed ultimately shows what the body is capable of in its potency to affect or to be affected by these forces. Although reflection precedes flexion in a certain sense, Deleuze considers its effectuations and violations improper or, to use a word that is closer to Klossowski’s writings, obscene. Deleuze therefore notes that
the obscene is not the intrusion of bodies into language, but rather their mutual reflection and the act of language which fabricates a body for the mind. This is the act by which language transcends itself as it reflects a body. “There is nothing more verbal than the excesses of the flesh … The reiterated description of the carnal act not only reviews the transgression, it is itself a transgression of language by language.” (LS, 281)
These last sentences from Klossowski’s essay on Georges Bataille in Such a Deathly Desire are interesting since they notice the transgressive nature of a description of carnal excess, but Klossowski similarly indicates the transgression of language through the act of description. The excesses of the flesh are events that cannot simply be reproduced by a pure language which he considers to be a too limited formalized system of sings, and must thus consequently be reiterated in a description of the carnal act that finds its articulation in an impure language. In line with Klossowski’s reasoning, Deleuze therefore considers flexion as a double “transgression”; “of language by the flesh and of the flesh by language” (LS, 286–7). Putting it differently, whereas flexion disrupts both flesh and language, reflection creates bodies for the mind and an obscenely doubled language. It is in this obscenely doubled language that mental health care in an age of advanced capitalism can prosper since it neutralizes the flexional singularity that essentially resists reflection. It is important to notice for our further analysis, which Deleuze differentiates between “body” (“corps”) and “flesh” (“chair”). As discussed earlier, Deleuze concludes that whereas flesh is flexion, the body must be seen as a product of reflection. But in what way, then, does the flesh relate to the body? And if expression becomes intelligible, or linguistically expressible, within a formalized system of signs, how can language ever adequately and intelligibly denote this flesh? And how, finally, might we then ever touch upon these vital powers of flexion?
To Believe in This World
Revaluating and reengaging with the vital powers of flexion, the intensity of the flesh, and the singularity of expression is difficult and a seemingly insignificant task in an age of advanced capitalism that Deleuze characterizes with symptoms such as sickness, sluggishness, and burnouts—an age where we, following Spinoza, still don’t know what the body is capable of. Looking at the increasing popularity of social media—which undeniably have an enormous political potential that should be cherished—one perceives the development of a virtual reality in which a false simplicity, a fixed identity, and a determined unicity that tend to restrict and control the yet unexplored forces of the body are postulated. This outsourced potential stimulates the rise of depressions,i the emergence of a whole new range of various personality disorders, and an ever increased feeling of cynicism, indifference of passiveness which is essentially the outcome of a detachment from this world; one does not experience the capability to act in this world. Along with the developments within mental health care—which overmedicalizes the body and tends to neutralize, normalize, and cure any caprice—our age reactively longs for what Protevi rightly, following Deleuze and Guattari, calls an experimentation with “bio-social-technical body relations in diachronic transversally emergent assemblages” (2009, 112). Ascertaining that we keep holding on to a paranoid and narcotizing fixity within body that is the idea of a definable and healthy organism; mind that is the transcendentally formalized spirit of man; and language, understood as an overcodifying, subjectifying, and subjugating system of signs, Deleuze sets his hope on the “creation of a health […], that is, a possibility of life” (CC, 4). As a genuine physician, he diagnoses our age of advanced capitalism as a time where the vital and healthy link between man and his body is broken and where we have stopped believing in this world—this world, a world of immanence that is not predetermined; that escapes determination, interpretation, and definition; and that is consequently full of potency, vitality, and still unexplored creative forces. In The Time-Image, Deleuze consequently contends that “[t]he modern fact is that we no longer believe in this world. We do not even believe in the events which happen to us, love, death, as if they only half concerned us” (C2, 166). No longer believing in this world essentially means that we scientifically understand the world reflectively, that is, selecting and transcendentalizing singular actions into a realm of normalization. In this process, the modern fact cynically stimulates the developments within mental health care and advanced capitalism, because this world, that is this world of absolute immanence that is traversed by inexplicable and untranslatable forces, no longer seems a healthy or valuable possibility of life. In a more healthier society, we are assisted by intercessors who enable us to engage with the vitality of flexion, explore the intensity of the flesh, and reappropriate the singularity of expression and are thus in this world through a vital link. This vital link finds its articulation in an act of flexional singularity and can thus not be known, thought, or represented, and Deleuze consequently asserts that we must believe in this impossible but vital link. It is thus not believing in a different world or a world beyond this world, but believing in this world. To believe in this world therefore means that man reengages with hitherto unexplored forces of this life, this body and this world. The link between man and this world is broken because man seems to have lost the power and force to genuinely think and therewith believe in the vital forces. The detachment from this world makes man megalomaniac and specular but also passive, indifferent, and cynical.
If we want to heal—in its etymological sense of “curing” and “making whole”—this broken but vital link between man and his body, we must dare thinking the unthinkable and, from there, believe—we must keep in mind that a belief is something different than a knowledge or a science—in the vital forces of this world, this life, and this body. Intercessors can assist us in this conversion and stimulate us through their artworks or writings that plunge us into a hitherto unexplored reality, to express a more healthy and happy singular flexionality in which we can only believe. Deleuze specifies that to believe “is simply believing in the body. It is giving discourse to the body, and, for this purpose, reaching the body before discourses, before words, before things are named […]. Artaud said the same thing, believe in the flesh […]. Give words back to the body, to the flesh” (C2, 167, emphasis in original). Alluding to Artaud as a genuine initiator, pioneer, and physician in the process of healing and reconverting man to a belief in this world, Deleuze contends that “[w]e need an ethic or a faith, which makes fools laugh; it is not a need to believe in something else, but a need to believe in this world, of which fools are a part” (C2, 167). A belief in this body and this world is thus essentially a commitment and a conversion to absolute immanence in which a reading of Artaud’s writings, as Deleuze rightly suggests, is relevant. This commitment or conversion to absolute immanence essentially implies a process of dis-identification and disordering. In an interview for the monograph New Materialism, Braidotti rightly points at the dangers of this commitment, because “[d]is-identification involves the loss of cherished habits of thought and representation, a move that can also produce fear and a sense of insecurity and nostalgia” (35). These fears and counterforces should be taken into account and are worth a more thorough and critical discussion.
In this chapter, we discuss the immanent conversion that Deleuze prescribes as a remedy for the broken link between man and his body. I think that Artaud’s writings can function as intercessors because they unfold still relevant healing practices of language in a process of auto-immunization that is articulated as a critical cure of detoxification of the modern fact. In doing so, we look at an early work of Artaud—in which he describes the forces of matter that are the “true nature of evil,” which eventually leads to a revelation of both the joys and miseries of what he calls “flesh”—after which we analyze the poem “The Patients and the Doctors” in which he radically affirms his suffering and the forces besieging him. Before doing so, we firstly select the concepts for our analysis by discussing Deleuze’s differentiation between body and flesh. The interrelatedness of body, flesh, mind, expression, and language will be further developed in the analysis of the two works by Artaud that describe, evoke, and perform the vitality and the impulsiveness of the materiality of language.
The Dance of the Flesh
Before reading Artaud’s works, we discuss some concepts that were introduced by Deleuze and that will help us in our analysis of the commitment to immanence that we see at work in these writings. In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze does not extensively elaborate or exemplify the distinction between body and flesh, which are interesting but also necessary concepts with which we, in a rereading of these concepts, understand the distinction between language as a formalized system of signs and a more vital language that is understood in its agential materiality. In order to understand these terms thus more clearly, we read these two ...

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