Fragments from a Diary in Hell

Antonin Artaud

Artwork by Ifada Nisa

Neither my cry nor my fever are mine. This disintegration of my strength, of these hidden elements of my thought and soul, can you simply conceive their perseverance?

This “something” halfway between the color of my typical atmosphere and the point of my reality.

I don’t need nourishment as much as a sort of elementary conscience.
This knot of life to which trails of thought cling.
A central knot of asphyxiation.

For me to simply come to rest on a clear truth, one that lies on a single edge.

The problem of the emaciation of my “I” is no longer just a question of pain. I can feel new factors intervening in the denaturation of my life and I have something like a new conscience of my intimate disintegration.

I see my entire reason for living in the act of throwing a die and throwing myself into the affirmation of a pre-sensed truth, aleatoric as such an act may be.
For hours, I stay in the impression of an idea, a sound. My emotion does not develop in time, does not follow time. The refluxes of my soul are in perfect accord with the absolute ideality of my spirit.

I place the metaphysics that I created for myself facing the nothingness that I carry within.

This pain driven into me like a wedge, in the center of my purest reality, in this place of sensitivity where the two worlds of body and spirit rejoin—I have learned how to distract myself from it through the effects of a delusion.
Within this moment that lasts the duration of a lie’s creation, I create for myself a distraction, an evasion, and I lurch onto a false trail shown by my blood. I close the eyes of my intelligence and, letting the unspoken in me speak, I give myself the illusion of a system full of terms that I do not understand. But from this minute mistake I still get the feeling of having seized something real from the unknown. I believe in spontaneous conjurations. On the paths where my blood leads me, there cannot be a day that I will not discover a truth.

Paralysis overcomes me and increasingly prevents me from returning to myself. I have no touchstone, no base . . . I look for myself in places I don’t recognize. My thoughts cannot go where my emotions and the images surging in me push them. I feel castrated in even my very smallest impulses. I end up seeing the day shining through me, due to how much I have had to renounce, in every sense, my intelligence and my sensitivity. It must be understood that it is the living man within me who is affected, and the paralysis that suffocates me lies at the center of my ordinary self, not from my sense of being a man with a destiny. I am definitively beside life. My torment is as subtle and elegant as it is harsh and rough. I need immense amounts of imaginative effort, multiplied tenfold in the clinch of this suffocating asphyxiation, to even think of what hurts me. And if I persevere in this pursuit, in this need to pin down once and for all my state of suffocation . . .

You are wrong to allude to this paralysis that threatens me. It does threaten me, and gathers strength day by day. It already exists, as a horrible reality. True, I can still (but for how long?) do what I want with my limbs, but for a long time I have had no command over my mind, and my entire unconscious has command over my being thanks to impulses, ones that come from the depths of my nervous rages and the whirlwind of my blood. Rushed and rapid images, speaking only words of anger and blind hate within me, that pass through me like stabs from a knife or flashes of lightning in a waterlogged sky.

I am stigmatized by a pressing death, where true death holds no terror to me.

These terrifying forms advancing on me—I feel as though the despair that they bring me is alive. It slips into the knot of life after which the roads to eternity open up. Truly, separation forever. The forms slide their knives into my center, where I feel like a man, they cut the vital ties that join me to my idea of a lucid reality.

Forms of a capital despair (truly vital),
a crossroad of separations,
a crossroad of the feeling in my flesh,
abandoned by my body,
abandoned by all possible sentiment in man.
I can only compare this to the state in which one finds oneself during the delirium of a fever that occurs during the course of serious illness.

The antimony between my deepest simplicity and my external difficulty creates the torment that is killing me.

Time can pass and the social convulsions of the world can ravage the thoughts of men, but I am free of any thought that dips into such phenomena. Leave me to my dim clouds, my immortal powerlessness, my unreasonable hopes. But make it known that I abdicate none of my mistakes. If I have misjudged, it is the fault of my flesh, but these lights that my mind lets filter in hour after hour, it is in my flesh where blood mixes with flashes of lightning.

He speaks to me of Narcissism, I reply to him that this is my life. I have a cult devoted not to myself but to my flesh, in the tangible sense of the word. I am touched, not “I” but my flesh; things coincide with it, to the point where they rattle it, but nothing further. Nothing touches or interests me except what directly touches my skin. And that’s when he tells me about the Self. I retort that the I and the Self are two distinct terms, not to be confused, and are exactly the two terms that eschew the equilibrium of flesh.

I can feel the ground eroding under my thoughts, and this leads me to envision the terms that I use without the support of their truest meanings, of their personal substratum. And even better than that: the point where this substratum seems to link back to my life suddenly becomes incredibly sensitive and virtual. I have this idea of an unplanned and fixed space, while in normal times all is movement, communication, interference, journey.
But this erosion that reaches my thought at its base, in its most urgent communications with the intelligence and the instinctiveness of the mind, does not move into the domain of an insensible abstract where only the high parts of intelligence participate. More than the spirit remains intact, bristling with points, this erosion reaches and turns away the nervous journey of my thoughts. I can particularly feel this absence and immobility in the limbs and the blood.

A great cold,
an atrocious abstinence,
the limbos of a nightmare of bone and muscle, with the feeling of stomach-esque functioning snapping like a flag in the phosphorescence of a storm.
Larval images moving as though pushed by a finger and not related to anything material.

I am man by my hands and my feet, my stomach, my heart of meat, my stomach with knots tying me to life’s putrefaction.

They speak to me of words, but it is not words, it’s the duration of spirit.
This husk of words that falls, we should not think that the soul is not implicated. Next to the mind, there is life, there is the human being in the circle drawn by the whirlings of the mind, tied to it by a multitude of threads.

No, all physical amputations, all these reductions in physical activity and this embarrassment at feeling dependent on one’s body, and that body itself weighed down by marble and laid on cheap wood, none of that is equal to the sorrow of being denied physical capacity and the meaning of one’s internal equilibrium. That the soul lacks language, or language fails the spirit, and that this break draws in the plains’ meanings like a vast furrow of despair and blood, that is the great sorrow that eats away at the CLOTH of the body, not at the bark or the framework. One stands to lose this errant sparkle, one we feel WAS an abyss that gained within itself the entire possible expanse of the world, and the feeling of such a uselessness that it is like the knot of death. This uselessness is like the moral color of this abyss and this intense stupefaction, and its physical color is the taste of blood spurting in cascades through the openings of the brain.

While I have often been told that this cutthroat is in me, I participate in life, I represent the destiny that chooses me; and it cannot be that I am counted among all the world’s life at a given moment: by its nature, all this life in this world threatens the very principle of life.
There is something above all human activity: that is, the example of this monotone crucifixion, this crucifixion where the soul never fully dies.

The rope that I let pierce through the intelligence that occupies me and through the unconscious that nourishes me discovers even more subtle threads in its arborescent material. Thus, a new life is reborn, ever more eloquent, deep, and rooted.

There can never be any precision given by this self-strangling soul, because the torment that kills it, that emaciates it fiber by fiber, goes even below thought, under the place where language can penetrate, because it is that same link that makes it and keeps it spiritually concentrated, that breaks up as soon as life calls it to constant brightness. Never any brightness on this passion, on this sort of cyclical and fundamental martyrdom. And yet, it lives but for a time of eclipses, where the fleeting mixes perpetually with the immobile, and the confusion mixes with this piercing language of a brightness without time. This curse educates the depths it inhabits, but the world will not hear its lesson.

The emotion brought about by the hatching of a form, the adaptation of my humors to the virtuality of a speech with no duration is, to me, a state precious in a way that the satisfaction of activity is not.
It is the touchstone of some spiritual lies.

This sort of step back that the spirit makes, below the consciousness watching it, is to look for life’s emotion. This emotion is outside of the particular point where the spirit looks for it, and emerges with a rich density of form and a fresh flow, this emotion that gives back to the spirit the heartrending sound of matter, the soul in its entirety flows through here and passes through its ardent fire. But more than the fire, what ravishes the soul is the limpidity, the ease, the naturalness and the glacial candor of this too-cold matter, blowing hot and cold.
That one knows what this matter’s emergence means and of which underground massacre its hatching is the cost. This matter is the benchmark of a nothingness that goes unnoticed.

When I think, my thought searches in the ether of a new space. I am in the clouds like others are on their balconies. I participate in the gravity of planets in the rifts of my spirit.

Life will unravel, events will unfold, spiritual conflicts will resolve, and I will not participate. Physically and morally, I have nothing to wait for. For me, it is perpetual pain and shadow, the soul’s night, and I have not a voice to cry out.
Dilapidate your riches far from that insensible body that no season, spiritual or sensual, can alter.

I chose the kingdom of pain and of shadow like others choose that of radiance and accumulation of matter.
I do not toil in the area of any which domain.
I toil in the unparalleled duration.

translated from the French by Michelle Abramowitz

© Éditions Gallimard, Paris, 1956.