Artaud was encouraged to write by his friends, and interest in his work was rekindled. He visited an exhibition of works by Vincent van Gogh which resulted in a study Van Gogh le suicidé de la société [Van Gogh, The Man Suicided by Society], published by K éditeur, Paris, 1947 which won a critics’ prize. He recorded Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de dieu [To Have Done With the Judgment of god] between 22 and 29 November 1947. This work was shelved by Wladimir Porché, the director of the French Radio, the day before its scheduled airing on 2 February 1948. The performance was prohibited partially as a result of its scatological, anti-American, and anti-religious references and pronouncements, but also because of its general randomness, with a cacophony of xylophonic sounds mixed with various percussive elements. While remaining true to his Theatre of Cruelty and reducing powerful emotions and expressions into audible sounds, Artaud had utilized various, somewhat alarming cries, screams, grunts, onomatopoeia, and glossolalia.
VAN GOGH: THE MAN SUICIDED BY SOCIETY
by Antonin Artaud
One may speak of the sound mental health of Van Gogh who, in the course of
his whole life, cooked only one hand and did no more, as for the rest, than
slice off his left ear only once,
in a world where every day one eats human organs cooked in green sauce
or the sex of a new-born child who has been flogged and roused to a frenzy,
as when culled at its emergence from the maternal sex. And this is not an
image but a fact daily and abundantly repeated and cultivated all over the
And thus is it that, wild as this assertion may seem, present-day life con-
tinues in its old atmosphere of debauch, of anarchy, of confusion, of delirium,
of derangement, of chronic madness, of bourgeois inertia, of psychic disorder
(for it is not man but the world that has become abnormal), of deliberate dis-
honesty, of mean contempt for everything that shows the thoroughbred,
of the demand of a whole order based on the carrying out of a primitive
in short, of organized crime.
Things are bad because the sick consciousness has a vital interest at the
present time in not leaving its sickness.
Thus it is that a tainted society invented psychiatry to defend itself against
the investigations of certain superior lucidities whose faculties of divination
Gérard de Nerval was not mad, but he was accused of being mad in order
to cast discredit upon certain fundamental revelations he was getting ready to
and besides being accused, he was again hit on the head, physically hit on
the head one night so that he would lose the memory of the monstrous facts he
was going to reveal which, as a result of that blow, moved within him to the super-
natural plane, because all society, occultly in league against his consciousness,
was at that moment strong enough to make him forget their reality.
No, Van Gogh was not mad, but his paintings were flame-throwers, atomic
bombs, whose angle of vision, compared to all the other painting that was going
strong at the time, would have been capable of seriously disturbing the larval
conformism of the Second Empire bourgeoisie and the myrmidons of Thiers,
Gambetta, Félix Faure, as well as those of Napoleon the Third.
For it is not a certain conformism of manners and morals that Van Gogh’s
painting attacks, but that of institutions itself. And even external nature, with
its climates, its tides, its equinoctial storms, can no longer, after Van Gogh’s
stay on earth, retain the same gravitation.
All the more reason on the social plane for institutions to break up and for
the medicine that declares Van Gogh mad to look like a stale and worthless
Compared to Van Gogh’s lucidity, which keeps working away, psychiatry
is nothing but a den of gorillas, themselves obsessed and persecuted, which, to
palliate the most frightful states of human anguish and suffocation, have
merely a ridiculous terminology,
worthy product of their tainted brains.
Not a psychiatrist, indeed, who is not a notorious erotomaniac.
And I do not believe that the rule of the inveterate erotomania of psy-
chiatrists can suffer a single exception.
I know one who, a few years ago, rebelled at the idea of seeing me thus
accuse the whole pack of high swine and licensed shysters to which he belonged.
As for me. Monsieur Artaud, said he, I’m not an crotomaniac, and I utterly
defy you to show me a single one of the elements on which you base your accu-
All I need do, Dr. L. . . . . . . is show you yourself as an element,
you bear its stigma on your puss,
you low down son of a bitch.
It’s the mug of him who introduces his sexual prey under his tongue and
then turns it around like an almond in order to pooh-pooh, as it were.
That’s what’s called feathering one’s nest and providing for a rainy day.
And there’s a certain crease you’ve taken on in your internal organic jolt-
ing which is the embodied witness of a foul debauch
and which you cultivate year in year out, more and more, because socially
speaking it doesn’t come under the law,
but it comes under another law where it’s the whole injured conscience
that suffers, because in conducting yourself in that way you prevent yourself
You will delirium upon the conscience, which keeps working away, while
on the other hand you strangle it with your vile sexuality.
And that is precisely the plane where Van Gogh was chaste,
chaste as a seraph or a virgin can’t be, because they are the very ones
who fomented and fed at the beginning the great machine of sin.
Further, Dr. L. . . . . . , perhaps you belong to the race of the iniquitous
seraphim, but for the sake of pity, let men alone,
the body of Van Gogh, which was spared sin, was also spared madness,
which, be it added, sin alone brings.
And I do not believe in Catholic sin,
but I believe in erotic crime from which, as it happens, all the geniuses of
the genuinely insane in asylums have refrained,
or, it may be that they were not (genuinely) insane.
And what is a genuine lunatic?
He is a man who has preferred to go mad, in the social sense of the term,
rather than forfeit a certain loftier idea of human honor.
Thus it is that society strangles in asylums all those it has wanted to get
rid of or protect itself against for having refused to take up with it as accom-
plices of a certain high swinishness.
For a lunatic is also a man whom society has not wanted to heed and
whom it has wanted to keep from uttering unbearable truths.
But, in that case, confinement is not its only weapon, and the concerted
assemblage of men has other means for breaking down the wills it wants to
Aside from the petty spells cast by country sorcerers, there are the great
tricks of global spellbinding in which the whole alerted consciousness partici-
Thus it is that, on the occasion of a war, of a revolution, of an embryonic
social upheaval, the unanimous consciousness is questioned and questions itself,
and that it also bears its own judgment.
It can also happen that it is aroused and rises above itself in regard to cer-
tain outstanding individual cases.
Thus it is that there have been unanimous spells in the case of Baudelaire,
of Edgar Allan Poe, Gérard de Nerval, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Holderlin,
such has been the case in regard to Van Gogh.
It can happen during the day, but it happens preferably during the night.
Thus it is that strange forces are stirred up and brought into the astral
vault, into that kind of dark dome which constitutes, above all human breath-
ing, the venomous aggressiveness of the evil spirit of most people.
Thus it is that the few, rare, lucid wills which have had to struggle upon
earth see themselves, at certain hours of the day or night, in the depths of cer-
tain genuine, waking states of nightmare, surrounded by the formidable suc-
tion, the formidable tentacular oppression of a kind of civic magic which we
shall very soon see openly appearing in the mores.
Confronted with this unanimous swinishness, which has on the one hand
sex and on the other, be it added, the mass, or some other psychic rites as base
or point of support, there is nothing delirious in walking about at night with
twelve candles attached to your hat in order to paint a landscape from nature;
for how could he have gone about lighting himself up, as our friend the
actor Roger Blin so justly pointed out the other day?
As for the cooked hand, it is heroism pure and simple;
as for the severed ear, it is direct logic,
and I repeat,
a world that, day and night, and more and more, eats the uneatable,
in order to bring its evil will around to its ends
has nothing to do, in this respect,
but to shut up.
Van Gogh did not die of a state of delirium proper,
but of having been bodily the field of a problem about which the iniquitous
spirit of that mankind has struggled since the beginning of things,
that of the predominance of flesh over mind, or of body over flesh, or of
mind over both.
And where is the place of the human self in this delirium?
Van Gogh sought his own self all his life, with a strange energy and deter-
And he did not commit suicide in a fit of madness, in the terror of being
but on the contrary he had just succeeded and had just discovered what
he was and who he was, when the general consciousness of society, in order to
punish him for having torn himself away from it,
And it happened with Van Gogh as usually always happens, on the occa-
sion of an orgy, a mass, an absolution, or some other rite of consecration, pos-
session, succubation or incubation.
It introduced itself into his body,
and possessed society
effaced in him the supernatural consciousness he had just acquired and,
like a flood of black crows in the fibres of his inner tree, submerged him with
a final surge,
and, taking his place,
For it is the anatomical logic of modern man to have never been able to
live or to have thought of living, except as one possessed.
THE MAN SUICIDED BY SOCIETY
Pure linear painting had long since driven me mad when I encountered
Van Gogh who painted, not lines or forms, but things in inert nature as if they
were in convulsion.
As if under the terrible bludgeon blow of that force of inertia that every-
one talks about in innuendo, and which has never grown so obscure as it has
since the whole world and present-day life have meddled in its elucidation.
Now, it’s with his club, really with his club that Van Gogh keeps batter-
ing away at all the forms in nature and at objects.
Carded by Van Gogh’s nail,
the landscapes show their hostile flesh,
the growl of their disemboweled windings which some strange unknown
force is elsewhere in the act of metamorphosing.
An exhibition of Van Gogh paintings is always a date in history,
not in the history of painted things, but in plain historical history.
For there is no famine, epidemic, volcanic eruption, or earthquake that
heads off the monads of the air, that wrings the neck of the grim, fama-fatum
face, the neurotic destiny of things,
like a Van Gogh painting, — shown in the light,
put directly back into vision.
finally launched anew into present actuality, reintroduced into circulation.
Not all of the very great canvasses of the unfortunate painter are in the
latest Van Gogh exhibition at the Palais de l’Orangerie. But among those that
are there are enough gyratory processions bespangled with bunches of carmine
plants, sunken roads lined with yew-trees, purplish suns revolving about stacks
of pure gold wheat, the Old Benchwarmer and portraits of Van Gogh,
to recall from what sordid simplicity of objects, persons, materials and
Van Gogh has drawn those organ tones, those fireworks, those atmospheric
epiphanies, in short, that “great work” with its sempiternal and untimely trans-
Those crows painted two days before his death did not, any more than did
his other paintings, open the door of a certain posthumous glory, but they open
to painted painting, or rather to unpainted nature, the occult door of a possible
beyond, of a possible permanent reality, through the door, by Van Gogh opened,
of an enigmatic and sinister beyond.
It is no ordinary thing to see a man who has in his belly the bullet that
killed him covering a canvas with black crows, with a kind of plain below which
is perhaps livid, at any rate empty, where the winy color of the earth madly
clashes with the dirty yellow of the wheat.
But no other painter than Van Gogh will be able, as he was, to find, in
order to paint those crows, that truffle black, that “rich feast” black and at
the same time excrement-like black of the wings of crows that have been over-
taken by the dwindling glow of evening.
And what is the earth below complaining about beneath the wings of the
ritual crows, ritual for Van Gogh alone no doubt, gaudy augury of an evil that
will no longer touch him?
For no one till then had made of the earth, as he did, that dirty line,
wrung with wine and drenched with blood.
The sky of the painting is very low, overcast,
purplish, like forks of lightning.
The strange sombre fringe of the void mounting with the flash.
Van Gogh has let loose his crows, like the black microbes of his suicide’s
spleen, a few inches from the top and as if from the bottom of the canvas,
following the black gash of the line where the rich plumage makes the suf-
focation from on high weigh upon the gathering of the earthly storm.
And yet the whole painting is rich.
Rich, sumptuous and calm the painting.
Worthy accompaniment to the death of one who, during his life, made so
many drunken suns whirl about so many haystacks on the loose, and who, in
desperation, with a bullet in his belly, could not help flooding a landscape with
blood and wine, drenching the earth with a last emulsion, both joyous and
gloomy, with a taste of sour wine and spoilt vinegar.
Thus it is that the tone of the last picture Van Gogh painted is — he who,
moreover, never went beyond painting — evocative of the abrupt and barbaric
timbre of the most pathetic, passional and passionate Elizabethan drama.
That’s what strikes me most about Van Gogh: the most painter-like of
all painters, who without going any further than what is called and what is
painting, without leaving the tube, the brush, the framework of the motif and
the canvas in order to have recourse to anecdote, story, action in images, intrin-
sic beauty of subject or object, has managed to impassion nature and objects
in such a way that a fabulous tale of Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville,
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Gérard de Nerval, Achim Arnim or Hoffmann is not
more eloquent on the psychic, logical or dramatic plane than his twopenny can-
his canvasses almost all, moreover, and as if intentionally, of medium di-
A candlestick on a chair, an armchair with a green straw bottom,
a book on the armchair,
and there you have the drama lit up.
Who is going to come in?
Will it be Gauguin or another ghost?
The lit candlestick on the straw-bottomed chair indicates, so it seems, the
line of demarcation separating the two antagonistic individualities of Van Gogh
The aesthetic object of their dispute would perhaps not offer, if one told
about it, much interest, but it would indicate a basic human cleavage between
the two natures of Van Gogh and Gauguin.
I believe that Gauguin thought that the artist must seek the symbol, the
myth, must enlarge things in life to the stature of myths,
whereas Van Gogh thought that the myth must be deduced from the most
commonplace things in life.
Wherein I think he was damned right.
For reality is superior to all history, all fable, all divinity, all superreality.
All you need is the genius to know how to interpret it.
Which no painter before poor Van Gogh had done,
which no painter will do after him,
for I believe that this time,
in this month of February 1947,
it is reality itself,
the myth of reality itself, mythical reality itself, which is in the process of
Thus, no one since Van Gogh has known how to shake the great cymbal,
the perpetually superhuman bell whose repressed order governs the way objects
in real life ring out,
when one has known how to keep his ears open enough to understand the
surging of their tidal wave.
Thus it is that the light of the candlestick rings out, that the light of the
lit candlestick on the straw-bottomed armchair rings out like the breathing of
a loving body before the body of a sleeping invalid.
It rings out like a strange criticism, a profound and surprising judgment
whose later, much later sentence Van Gogh may, so it seems, permit us to
sense, the day when the violet light from the straw-bottomed armchair will
have finally submerged the painting.
And one can not help noticing that patch of lilac light which eats at the
rungs of the big glowering armchair, of the old armchair straddled with green
straw, though one may not notice it right away.
For it is as if its focus were located elsewhere and its source strangely ob-
scure, like a secret whose key Van Gogh had kept all to himself.
Suppose Van Gogh had not died at the age of 37, I do not call upon the
Great Weeper to tell me with what supreme masterpieces painting might have
been enriched, for I can not, after the “Crows,” bring myself to believe that
Van Gogh would have painted another picture.
I think that he died at 37 because he had, alas, reached the end of his dis-
mal and revolting history of a man garrotted by an evil spirit.
For it was not by himself, by the disease of his own madness, that Van
Gogh quit life.
It was under the pressure of the evil spirit — two days before his death —
named Dr. Gachet, improvised psychiatrist, who was the direct, effectual and
sufficient cause of his death.
I have acquired, upon reading Van Gogh’s letters to his brother, the firm
and sincere conviction that Dr. Gachet, “psychiatrist,” in reality detested Van
Gogh, painter, and that he detested him as a painter, but especially as a genius.
It’s just about impossible to be a doctor and an honest man, but it’s pro-
fligately impossible to be a psychiatrist without at the same time bearing the
stamp of the most indisputable madness: that of being unable to struggle
against that old atavistic reflex of the rabble which makes any man of science
caught up in the rabble a kind of born and inborn enemy of all genius.
Medicine is born of evil, if it is not born of illness, and if it has, on the
contrary, provoked and created illness out of whole cloth to give itself a reason for
being, but psychiatry is born of the vulgar rabble of creatures who have wanted
to preserve the evil at the source of illness and who have thus rooted out of their
own nothingness a kind of Swiss guard in order to sap at its base the justifiably
rebellious drive which is at the origin of genius.
There is in every lunatic a misunderstood genius who was frightened by
the idea that gleamed in his head and who could find an outlet only in delirium
for the stranglings life had prepared for him.
Dr. Gachet did not tell Van Gogh that he was there to rehabilitate his
painting (as I heard myself told by Dr. Gaston Ferdière, head of the Rodez
asylum, that he was there to rehabilitate my poetry), but he sent him out to
paint from nature, to bury himself in a landscape in order to escape from the
disease of thinking.
Only, no sooner did Van Gogh turn his head than Dr. Gachet switched
off his thinking.
As if without intending any harm, but by one of those sneers which belittle
a harmless trifle where the whole bourgeois unconscious of the earth has in-
scribed the old magical force of a thinking that has been repressed a hundred
It was not only the evil of the problem that Dr. Gachet forbade him by so
but the sulphured sowing,
the anguish of the nail turning in the gullet of the only passage,
with which Van Gogh,
Van Gogh, hanging out over the gulf of breath,
For Van Gogh was a terrible sensitivity.
All one need do to be convinced of this is to look at his always breathless-
looking and, in certain ways, spellbinding butcher’s face.
As of an ancient butcher who has settled down and retired from business,
that ill-lit face pursues me.
Van Gogh has portrayed himself in a considerable number of canvasses
and however well-lighted they might have been, I have always had the painful
impression that someone had falsified the light, that someone had taken away
from Van Gogh a light which was indispensable for him to hollow out and
mark his route within himself.
And as for that route, Dr. Gachet was certainly not the one capable of
pointing it out to him.
But, as I have said, in every living psychiatrist there is a repulsive and
sordid atavism which makes him see in every artist, in any genius in front of
him, an enemy.
And I know that Dr. Gachet has left in history, in regard to Van Gogh
whom he took care of and who finally committed suicide while in his care, the
memory of his last friend on earth, of a kind of providential consoler.
Yet, I think more than ever that it was to Dr. Gachet, of Auvers-sur-Oise,
that Van Gogh owed, that day, the day he committed suicide at Auvers-sur-
owed, I say, his exit from life, —
for Van Gogh was one of those natures whose superior lucidity enables
them, in all circumstances, to see farther, infinitely and dangerously farther,
than the immediate and apparent reality of facts.
I mean, as regards consciousness, that consciousness is in the habit of retain-
In the depths of his plucked-looking butcher’s eyes Van Gogh devoted
himself uninterruptedly to one of those dark alchemistic operations which took
nature for object and the human body for kettle or crucible.
And I know that Dr. Gachet always found that that tired him.
Which in his case was not the result of a simple medical concern,
but the avowal of a jealousy as conscious as it was unavowed.
The reason was that Van Gogh had reached that stage of illuminism where
disorganized thought surges back before the invading discharges of matter,
and where to think is no longer to wear out,
and is no longer,
and where the only thing left is to gather bodies, I mean
TO PILE UP BODIES.
It is no longer the world of the astral, it is that of direct creation which
is thus resumed beyond consciousness and the brain.
And I have never seen a body without a brain being fatigued by inert pic-
Pictures of the inert, those bridges, those sunflowers, those yews, those olive-
pickings, those haymakings. They no longer move.
They are congealed.
But who could dream them harder beneath the sharp cleaver stroke which
has unsealed their impenetrable quiver.
No, a picture, Dr. Gachet, has never tired anyone. They are forces of a
lunatic which rest without setting in motion.
I too am like poor Van Gogh, I no longer think, but every day I manage
more and more finely terrific internal turmoils and I would like to see any doc-
tor come and reproach me for tiring myself.
Someone owed Van Gogh a certain sum of money about which the story
tells us: Van Gogh had been fuming for several days.
The bent of lofty natures, always a notch above the real, is to explain every-
thing by a guilty conscience,
to believe that nothing is ever due to chance and that everything bad that
happens happens as a result of a conscious, intelligent and concerted ill-will.
Which psychiatrists never believe.
Which geniuses always believe.
When I am sick, the reason is that I’ve been bewitched, and I can’t be-
lieve that I’m sick if I don’t believe, moreover, that it is to someone’s interest
to take away my health and make use of my health.
Van Gogh also believed that he was bewitched, and he said so.
And I have reason to believe that he was and some day I shall tell where
And Dr. Gachet was the grotesque Cerberus, the sanious and purulent Cer-
berus, in sky-blue jacket and ultra-starched linen who was placed before Van
Gogh to remove all his healthy ideas. For if the way of seeing that is healthy
were unanimously widespread, Society could no longer live, but I know who
the heroes of the earth are who would find their freedom there.
Van Gogh was unable to shake off that sort of family vampirism to whose
interest it was that Van Gogh the painter stick to painting without at the same
time demanding the revolution indispensable to the bodily and physical blos-
soming of his visionary personality.
And there was between Dr. Gachet and Van Gogh’s brother Théo any
number of those stinking family confabulations with directors of insane asylums
regarding the patient whom they had brought to them.
“Keep an eye on him so that he’ll stop having all those ideas.””You un-
derstand, the doctor said you have to get rid of all those ideas. They’re doing you
harm. If you go on thinking about them, you’ll remain confined for the rest of
“But not at all, Monsieur Van Gogh, come to your senses. Look, it’s an ac-
cident, and then it never did any good to want to look into the secrets of
Providence in that way. I know Monsieur So-and-So, he’s a very fine man, it’s
your persecution mania that keeps making you think that he’s been secretly
“You were promised that the sum would be paid. It will be paid. You
can’t go on like that persisting in attributing the delay to ill-will.”
There you have those good-natured-psychiatrist conversations which look
perfectly harmless but leave upon the heart the trace of a little black tongue,
the little black anodyne tongue of a poisonous salamander.
And at times that is all that is needed to lead a genius to suicide.
There are days when the heart feels the impasse so terribly that it is stricken
as if by a sun-stroke with the idea that it can no longer go on.
For nevertheless it was right after a conversation with Dr. Gachet that
Van Gogh, as if nothing had happened, went back to his room and committed
I myself spent nine years in an insane asylum and I was never obsessed by
suicide, but I know that every conversation with a psychiatrist during the morn-
ing visit made me long to hang myself because I felt I couldn’t cut his throat.
And perhaps Théo was materially very good to his brother, but that did
not keep him from thinking that he was delirious, visionary, and hallucinated,
and he did his utmost, instead of following him in his delirium,
to calm him.
What does it matter that he later died of regret?
The most important thing in the world to Van Gogh was his painter’s idea,
his terrible, fanatical, apocalyptically visionary idea.
That the world had to concur with the commandment of his womb, resume
its compressed, anti-psychic rhythm of a market-place festival, a rhythm which,
in front of everyone, has been put back into the superheat of the crucible.
This means that the apocalypse, a consummated apocalypse, is at this hour
brewing in the pictures of old martyrized Van Gogh and that the earth has
need of him to lash out with its head and feet.
The fact is that no one has ever written or painted, sculpted, modeled,
constructed, invented, except to get out of hell.
And I prefer, in order to get out of hell, the natures of that quiet convul-
sionary to the swarming compositions of Breughel the Elder or Hieronymus
Bosch who, in comparison to him, are only artists where Van Gogh is only a poor
illiterate bent on not deceiving himself.
But how am I to make a scientist understand that there is something defi-
nitely deranged in differential calculus, the quantum theory, or the obscene and
so stupidly liturgical ordeal of the equinoctial processions, — owing to that
shrimp-pink eiderdown that Van Gogh so gently whips up in an elected place
on his bed, owing to the Veronese-green, azure-drenched insurrection of that
boat in front of which a laundress of Auvers-sur-Oise rises to her feet, owing to
that sun screwed on behind the grey angle of the pointed village steeple down
below, at the bottom of that enormous mass of earth which, on the first level of
the music, seeks the wave where it can congeal.
O VIO PROFE
O VIO PROTO
O VIO LOTO
Describe a Van Gogh painting? What’s the good! No description at-
tempted by another can be worth the simple alignment of natural objects and
of shades in which Van Gogh is engaged,
he was as great a writer as he was a painter and gives regarding the work
described the impression of the most astounding authenticity.
July 23, 1890
“You may perhaps see the sketch of the Daubigny gardener — it’s one of
hoisted on the canvas and accepted.
There are no ghosts in Van Gogh’s paintings, no visions, no hallucinations.
There is the torrid truth of a two o’clock sun.
A slow genesitic nightmare elucidated little by little.
Without nightmare and without result.
But the suffering of the pre-natal is there.
It is the wet sheen of a pasture, of the stem of a plane of wheat which is
there ready to be extradited.
And which nature will some day account for.
As society will also account for his premature death.
A plane of wheat bowed by the wind; above it the wings of a single bird
set down like commas. Who is the painter, who is not strictly a painter, who
could have had, like Van Gogh, the audacity to attack a subject with such dis-
No, there are no ghosts in Van Gogh’s painting, no drama, no subject, and
I shall even say no object, for what is the motif itself?
If not something like the iron shadow of a motet from some ineffable an-
cient music, like the leit-motif of a theme despairing of its own subject.
It is bare and pure nature seen as it reveals itself when one knows how to
approach it rather closely.
Witness that landscape of molten gold, of bronze baked in ancient Egypt
where an enormous sun bears down on rooves so crumbling with light that
they are as if in a state of decomposition.
And I know no apocalyptic, hieroglyphic, phantomatic or pathetic paint-
ing which gives me that sensation of occult strangeness, of the corpse of a useless
hermetism, its head open, and offering up its secret on the executioner’s block.
I am not thinking as I say this of the Old Benchwarmer, or of that gro-
tesque autumn lane where a bent old man passes by with an umbrella hooked
on to his sleeve, like a rag-picker’s hook.
I am thinking again of those crows with wings as black as lustrous truffles.
I am thinking again of his corn field, ear upon ear of corn, and all is said,
with a few heads of poppy in front, gently strewn, pungently and nervously
applied there, and thinly sown, knowingly and fierily punctuated and shredded.
Only life can offer the kind of epidermic stripping that speaks under an
unbuttoned shirt, and we do not know why the gaze inclines to the left rather
than to the right, toward the mound of curly flesh.
But thus it is and it is a fact.
But thus it is and that is a fact.
Occult too his bedroom, so delightfully peasant and sown as if with an
odor for preserving the corn one sees quivering in the landscape, far off, be-
hind the window which tries to conceal it.
Peasant too, the color of the old eiderdown, with its mussel red, its sea-
urchin, shrimp, mullet of the Midi red, scorched-pimento red.
And it was surely Van Gogh’s fault if the color of the eiderdown on his bed
achieved such reality, and I don’t see any weaver who could transplant its in-
effable stamp, as Van Gogh knew how to convey the red of that ineffable
glaze from the depth of his brain to his canvas.
And I don’t know how many criminal priests dreaming in their heads of
their so called Holy Ghost, the ochrous gold, the infinite blue of a stained-
glass window to their harlot “Mary,” have been able to isolate in the air, to
extract from the cunning niches of the air, those homely colors which are a
whole event, where every one of Van Gogh’s brush-strokes on the canvas is
worse than an event.
One time it gives the effect of a tidy room, but with a coating of balm or
flavor that no Benedictine will ever be able to find in order to give the finishing
touch to his healthful liquors.
(That room recalled the great work with its light-pearl white wall, on
which a rough towel hangs like an old peasant amulet, unapproachable and
Another time it gives the effect of a simple haystack in the light of an
enormous crushed sun.
There are those light chalk whites which are worse than ancient tortures, and never does poor
great Van Gogh’s operative scruple appear as it does in that painting.
For that is Van Gogh all over, the unique scruple of the touch ponder-
ously and pathetically applied. The common color of things, but so right, so
lovingly right that no precious stones can attain its rarity.
For Van Gogh will prove to have been the most utter painter of all paint-
ers, the only one who did not want to go beyond painting as the strict means of
his work and the strict frame of his means.
And the only one who, moreover, absolutely the only one, has gone beyond
painting, the inert act of representing nature, in order to let loose, in this ex-
clusive representation of nature, a revolting force, an element plucked right
from the heart.
He has brought forth an air, from under the representation, and has em-
bedded a nerve in it which are not in nature, which belong to a nature and an
air more real than the air and nerve of real nature.
I see, as I write these lines, the painter’s bloody-red face coming at me,
from a wall of gutted sunflowers.
from a tremendous glow of embers of opaque hyacinth and meadows of
All that, amidst a meteor-like bombardment of atoms which appear grain
proves that Van Gogh thought his canvasses like a painter, to be sure,
and only like a painter, but one who might
by that very fact
be a tremendous musician.
Organist of an arrested tempest which laughs in limpid nature, pacified
between two torments, but which (that nature), like Van Gogh himself, shows
that it is quite ready to get going.
We can, after having seen it, turn our backs upon any painted canvas
whatsoever, it has nothing more to say to us. The stormy light of Van Gogh’s
painting begins its somber utterance the very hour we have ceased to see it.
Nothing but a painter, Van Gogh, and no more, no philosophy, mysti-
cism, rite, physcurgy or liturgy.
No history, literature or poetry, those brazen-gold sunflowers are painted:
they are painted like sunflowers and nothing more, but in order to understand
a sunflower in nature one now has to go back to Van Gogh, just as in order to
understand a storm in nature,
a stormy sky,
a plain in nature,
one can no longer help going back to Van Gogh.
It was stormy in like manner in Egypt or on the plains of Semitic Judaea,
perhaps it was dark in like manner in Chaldea, in Mongolia or on the
Mountains of Tibet, regarding which nobody has told me that they have
And yet, looking at that plain of wheat or rocks, white as a heap of buried
bones, on which that old purplish sky weighs down, I can no longer believe in
the Mountains of Tibet.
A painter, nothing but a painter, Van Gogh, he took hold of the means of
pure painting and he did not go beyond them.
I mean that in order to paint he did not go beyond using the means that
painting offered him.
A stormy sky,
a chalk-white plain,
canvasses, brushes, his red hair, tubes, his yellow hand, his easel,
but all the assembled lamas of Tibet may shake beneath their skirts the
apocalypse they have prepared,
Van Gogh will have made us feel in advance its nitrogen peroxide in a
canvas which contains just enough of the sinister to force us to orient ourselves.
He simply took it into his head one day to resolve not to go beyond the
but when one has seen Van Gogh, one can no longer believe that there is
anything less surpassable than the motif.
The simple motif of a lighted candlestick on a straw-bottomed armchair
with a purplish frame tells a great deal more under Van Gogh’s hand than the
whole series of Greek tragedies or plays of Cyril Turner, Webster or Ford
which, be it added, up to now remain unplayed.
Without being literary, I saw the face of Van Gogh, red with blood in the
explosion of his landscapes, coming at me,
in an ember,
in a bombardment,
in an explosion,
avengers of that millstone that poor Van Gogh the madman wore around
his neck all his life.
The millstone of painting without knowing why or where.
For it is not for this world,
it is never for this earth that we have always worked,
brayed the horror of hunger, of misery, of hatred, of scandal, and of dig-
that we were all poisoned,
though we have all been bewitched by them,
and that we have finally committed suicide,
for we are not all like poor Van Gogh himself, men suicided by society!
Van Gogh renounced the telling of stories in painting, but the amazing
thing is that this painter who is only a painter,
and who is more of a painter than the other painters, as if he were a man
in whom the material, the paint, has a place of prime importance,
with the color seized as such right out of the tube,
with the imprint, as if one after the other, of the hairs of the brush in the
with the touch of painted paint, as if distinct in its own sun,
with the i, the comma, the dot of the point of the brush itself bored right
on the rowdy color that spurts forth in forks of fire, which the painter checks
and tucks in on all sides,
the amazing thing is that this painter who is nothing but a painter is also
the one painter of all the painters born who makes us most forget that we are
dealing with painting,
with painting to represent the motif he has distinguished,
and who summons before us, in front of the fixed canvas, the enigma pure,
the pure enigma of the tortured flower, of the landscape that has been slashed,
plowed and pressed on all sides by his drunken brush.
His landscapes are old sins that have not yet found their primitive apoca-
lypses, but will not fail to find them.
Why do Van Gogh’s paintings give me the impression of being seen as if
from the other side of the tomb of a world where its suns will turn out to have
been everything that turned and blazed joyously?
For is it not the whole history of what was once called the soul that lives
and dies in his convulsionary landscapes and in his flowers?
The soul that gave its ear to the body, and Van Gogh returned it to the
soul of his soul,
a woman in order to give substance to the sinister illusion,
there was a time when the soul did not exist,
nor the mind either,
as for consciousness, no one had ever thought about it,
but, moreover, where was thought in a world made up solely of warring
elements that were destroyed no sooner than they were recompounded,
for thought is a luxury of peace,
and what is better than the incredible Van Gogh, the painter who under-
stood the phenomenal part of the problem, he in whom any real landscape is,
as it were, potential in the crucible where it is going to be begun all over.
So old Van Gogh was a king against whom, while he was asleep, was in-
vented the curious sin called Turkish culture,
example, dwelling, motive, of the sin of mankind, which has never been
able to do anything else but eat artist, without trimmings, in order to stuff its
Wherein it has never done anything but consecrate its cowardice ritually!
For mankind does not want to go to the trouble of living, of entering into
the natural elbowing of the forces that make reality, in order to draw from it
a body that no tempest will ever again be able to break into.
It has always preferred to content itself quite simply with living.
As for life, it is in the artist’s genius that life is in the habit of looking for it.
Now, Van Gogh, who cooked one of his hands, was never afraid of the
war to live, that is, to remove the fact of living from the idea of existing,
and everything can very well exist without going to the trouble of being,
and everything can be without going, like Van Gogh the lunatic, to the
trouble of gleaming and glowing.
That is what society took away from him in order to carry out the Turkish
culture, whose honesty is a façade with its origin and props in crime.
And thus it is that Van Gogh died suicided, because it was the whole con-
certed consciousness which couldn’t bear him any longer.
For though there was neither mind nor soul nor consciousness nor thought,
there was fulminate,
and the sores of a flayed man.
And King Van Gogh was dozing, hatching the next alert of the resurrec-
tion of his health.
By the fact that good health is a plethora of deep-seated diseases, with a
terrific zest for living, through a thousand corroded wounds, that must never-
theless be made to live,
that must be led to perpetuate themselves.
Whoever doesn’t smell of cooked bomb and compressed vertigo is not
worthy of being alive.
It is the fragrance that poor Van Gogh took upon himself to manifest like
a blast of flame.
But the watchful evil hurt him.
The Turk, behind his honest face, delicately approached Van Gogh to cull
the sugared almond in him,
so as to detach the (natural) sugared almond which was forming.
And Van Gogh lost a thousand summers there.
Of which he died at the age of 37,
for every monkey lived before him on forces which he had assembled.
And that is what must now be restored in order to enable Van Gogh to
come back to life.
In the face of a mankind of cowardly monkeys and wet dogs, Van Gogh’s
painting will prove to have been that of a time when there was no soul, no
mind, no consciousness, no thought, nothing but raw elements alternately en-
chained and unchained.
Landscapes of strong convulsions, of insane traumatisms, as of a body in
which fever is working in order to restore it to exact health.
The body beneath the skin is an overheated factory,
the sick man gleams,
he shines from all his pores,
which have burst.
Thus a Van Gogh
Only perpetual war explains a peace which is merely a transition,
just as milk ready to run over explains the pot in which it was boiling.
Beware of Van Gogh’s lovely landscapes, whirling and pacific,
convulsed and pacified.
It is health between two attacks of the hot fever which will pass.
It is fever between two attacks of an insurrection of good health.
Some day, Van Gogh’s painting, armed with both fever and good health,
will return to toss into the air the dust of a caged world which his heart could
no longer stand.