Notes on: Vaughan-Johnston, T. (nd) A Artaud: To Have Done with the Judgement of God.  http: www.

Dave Harris

The Americans are developing artificial insemination to create an army of adults for the future, in order to defend consumerism.  This is why they take a small amount of sperm from all children entering public school.  The Terahumara knew better with their Rite of Black Sun [an earlier piece of work], with their rituals involving horses, men, blood, uprooting crosses, and recognizing shit as being, as a sign of humanity.  Shit stands for meat on the bone and for the earth on its own bones.

[A sequence of nonsense language, or so I assume, ensues]

Men become animals, they become debased.  This is at the beginning of the world.  They wonder about the infinite and the infinitesimal, but decide to explore the infinitesimal, with an inward focus, and this is how they discovered God.  God is from the body.  God is either shit or is nonexistent, a void.

Transubstantiation is a farce.  Christ is the crab louse of God.  When we eat his body in the ritual, we want to shit him out.  Men want to revolt, to have done with God's judgment, but there is another order of the world too, genuinely infinite, and not even yet realizing the extent of its open possibilities [presumably, modernity and modern technology].  That exceeds consciousness, which is a matter of not knowing.  Consciousness shows links with sexual desire and hunger, but these are not the only or the most real factors: consciousness is an appetite which is not the same as hunger [so the new humanist order is insatiable]. 

Necessity and nothingness have abolished the role of ideas and myths.  Thoughtlessness becomes affirmation.  The human body becomes reduced to a matter of 'stinking gas'.  Space, time, becoming, being and non being, self and non self are all nothing.  Only one thing is something - bodily suffering, the presence of the body.

Yet others manipulate my body.  They press me with questions, they press and press so that my idea of the body is suffocated [perhaps a reference to his obvious maltreatment and subjection to ECT when he was in the asylum at Rodez?].  Now, however, my body can never be touched.

[An imaginary dialogue takes place with a critic] What was the purpose of this broadcast?  It was to announce the social obscenities and official policies covering things like the obligatory sperm test, American imperialism.  Is it not too bizarre?  Yes, it is bizarre -- the preColumbian Indians were extremely civilized, and their civilization was based on cruelty [perhaps the Terahumara again?  Apparently, Artaud had actually visited Mexico and contacted some of the Indians].  Do you have a definition of cruelty?  I have no definition, but cruelty means eradicating by blood.  God is an accident of human animality.  Man is erotic and his pulsations produce Creation.  The American Indians knew this, but creativity has also been rediscovered in modern science.  Science now works with microbes.  Microbes are God: atoms are made with the microbes of god.  Is this not raving, and mad?  The new idea is of God as consisting of microbes.  God has been invented via unhealthy sexuality and morbid cruelty, under the guise of purity and innocence: it is suffocating.  My hallucinations are to lead to an end to 'this ape'.  People believe in Man, but he needs to be emasculated.

Is this mad?  At my autopsy they will need to remake anatomy.  Man needs to be scraped off, of the residue of god and therefore of his organs.  We need to make a man into a body without organs to remove automatic reactions and restore freedom.  Then he will be able to 'dance wrong side out', and this will restore his true place.

There is now a full transcript of the play here

[Overall, I can see that there are some important themes and arguments for and into this short play, heavily overlaid in with Artaud's attempts to shock the bourgeoisie and annoy the catholic church.  It can be read as an argument about the increase in and change of the creative powers of human thinking, and the way in which overcomes constraints. First religious ones are overcome as people understand that god is a human creation and, for that matter, that many of his miracles can be duplicated by modern science.  However, a new set of constraints soon emerges in the form of modern consumerist and imperialist social formations which limit human consciousness to instrumental goals, to use Habermas's terms for a moment.  These also have to be overcome, in the form of the remodelling of the human body, which is seen here as a metaphor.

The human body becomes a metaphor for god himself in the early stages of human civilizations.  Products of the human body, including shit, but, according to Levi Strauss other bodily fluids like sperm or blood, become important for constructing myth, including myths of origin.  Artaud does mention both sperm and blood in his discussion: sperm appears in the bizarre opening claim that all American male children have to donate some when they attend school, so that American scientists can start producing artificial humans; and blood appears in his brief summary of the Rite of the Black Sun. To borrow Levi Strauss for a moment, these products are special because they are midway between nature and culture, and thus are ideally placed to form myths about how human beings sprang from nature.  I cannot remember the details of Levi Strauss's analyses, but I imagine that shit became a metaphor for the earth itself, the primeval ooze, the swamps which rose above the waters [I am probably quoting a vulgarised version of the Egyptian myth of origin, clearly based on the emergence of fertile land from the Nile floods every year.  While I am here, I understand that the ancient Egyptians also saw the scarab beetle as sacred because it seemed to be able to spontaneously call forth life as its tiny eggs hatched and the little beetles swarmed out into the world - they swarmed out from balls of dung].  It is easy to see how these myths connects with notions of the divine order, of gods.  Artaud references a central Indian society, the Tarahumara, who might well have had similar myths of origin.

Being Artaud, he cannot resist putting this in a very provocative way, hoping to wind up the Catholic church.  He says that God is shit, which is a statement based on this metaphorical analysis above, showing a certain logical quality even though it ends in bizarre conclusions, and, as an aside, refers to an ancient theological problem with the catholic transubstantiation.  If the communion wafer is indeed miraculously turned into the body of God, then it must also turn back into an ordinary wafer: the alternative would be to insist that the body of God is then carried through the intestinal tract and crapped out at the end.  He gets in a few jibes about God, the ambiguities of Jesus as both divine and human, and the creation of rather unlovely creatures such as crab lice.  Above all though, he raises the mystery of God's judgments - God often seems to us to be punitive, unfair, cruel, or arbitrary.  These doubts must lie still in the Catholic consciousness.

He then turns to the development of human consciousness away from religious constraint.  However, the wonders of modern science and technology, which have been produced by this break, are still themselves highly limited.  There is a lingering Christian conception of God underpinning nature still, hence the argument that conceptions like the modern molecule are still seen as God's molecules.  There is also a serious constraint introduced by directing science and technology towards imperialism and consumerism.  Artaud wants to suggest that the important thing about consciousness is exploring what it is that we do not know, the open possibilities.

There is a more personal account about how bodies are heavily repressed, which reminded me at least have the terrible treatment that Artaud underwent during his confinement in the lunatic asylum at Rodez.  According to the documentaries about his life, the physician in charge of his treatment used a punitive regime based on behaviour modification through confinement and restriction of diet, combined with ECT, which Artaud found painful and damaging.  He would be constantly interrogated about his bizarre beliefs, and constantly punished.  He came out of the treatment addicted to laudunum, toothless and in seriously bad health

It follows from this that if we want to liberate consciousness and human creativity as we have to do away with these old constraints.  Again, the focus will be on the human body as the source of mythical constraint.  His own body will demonstrate the possibilities at autopsy.  The human body needs to be scraped clean of the residues that led to religious sensibilities, both shit and the organs that produce it [and other bodily fluids].  The famous remark about needing to make a body without organs ensues, virtually at the end of the whole piece, and this is actually about the only reference to bodily organs specifically.

Deleuze is clearly influenced by the play, which he assumed, no doubt, would be well known by the literary avant-garde of Paris.  He uses the phrase body without organs to indicate a state of freedom, an escape from limiting forms of thought.  The metaphor might indeed be extended so that the organs stand for the organs of State specifically, which would give it a kind of Marxist twist, although there is no sign of Marxism in Artaud's play - a generalised idealism, about releasing the full powers of human creativity, supplies the critique and the alternative.  Artaud's use of nonsense language is also cited as an example of how nonsense makes sense: Artaud include some nonsense syllables in his play, and as the documentaries about his life also show, nonsense language and bizarre ways of expressing it, including screams and wails, featured in other plays, and also in Artaud's own speeches and presentations.

There is also a reference to this play in a shorter piece written by Deleuze called To Have Done with Judgment (in Essays).  This is a more general discussion, however, picking up on themes in other writers, including Spinoza, and turning, if I recall it correctly, on the need to abandon transcendental argument in general as some superior world which can be used to judge this one.

The (double)documentary about Artaud:
My LIfe and Times with Artaud/Artaud the Momo (dir Mordillat, Laura Productions, USA, 1995)

back to Deleuze page