Antonin Artaud and Freud's "Family Romance": The Transgressive Sublime

Article excerpt

Freud's family romance and Romantic idealism conjoined in Antonin Artaud's work such that repetition and transference became accompanied by a Romantic quest for a strange and more sublime aesthetic order. This was both a psychological system and a philosophical perspective that negatively and energetically influenced his radical and existential forms of self-identification.

The Freudian disorder that underlies the theory of "Family Romances" is sometimes recuperated by a Romantic system of aesthetics in the work of individuals such as Antonin Artaud, where the trauma of existence becomes the fodder for avant-garde brilliance, and not merely a "correction of actual life," as Freud suggested (IX: 238). Artaud's radical reconstruction of theatre and literature represents an alternative form of sublimity, one where creation and destruction moved hand-in-hand to symbolize the comingling of the Romantic quest with the shattered perspectives of phantasy. In Freud's stereotypical romance, the child/adult's "parents are replaced by others of better birth" and this allows them freedom from their "authority" (237-38). When this transition becomes neurotic, the "estrangement" of the parents produces the "neurotic's family romance," which is often the case with "highly gifted people," argues Freud (V: 76). This neurotic construction should be understood as an alternative kind of subjectivity as well as a "conceptual system" and, as Adrian Morfee argues, composed of "mythic overtones" that deconstruct conventional aesthetics (22). This system can be read in conjunction with Freud's description of the "hostile" works of fiction of other neurotics that are not "badly intended" but disguise the child's affection for the parents in a negative way (V: 77). For Artaud, in correlation with Freudian theory, an "extraordinary and extravagant vision of the human condition" is created, both psychologically and symbolically (Oedipal conflict), producing a compromised subjectivity (Morfee 22). Freud found that this was a necessary part of a psychological transition into individuated subjectivity and ego formation but it is also "one of the most painful results" of this occurrence (V: 74). This illustrates the effect of the sublime in its intimate relations with this subject, I would argue, and as a result, the compromise between psychoanalysis and Romanticism for individuals like Artaud is one of orderly composition usurped by transference, phantasy, and transgression. In the correspondence between this order and chaos, Artaud's later work exhibits a more sublime aesthetic, as I will propose in this essay.

It is a system or an oppositional structure that compels this analysis, and the evaluation of Freudian psychoanalysis, Romanticism, and the affectation of negative and positive characteristics from both in Artaud's work are my primary concern. Therefore, an examination of "his analyses of language and of the voids of the thinking subject" (Morfee 22), and the existential nature of the aesthetic system that Artaud's work singularly endorses, will follow from a consideration of "Artaudian metaphysics," overall (75). First, I will examine the (ur)relationship between characteristics and symptoms of Romanticism and psychoanalysis as radically conjoined constructs for aesthetics and art. Second, I will investigate the consequences of Freud's family romance in regards to the adoption of Romantic strategies. Third, I will offer a series of biographical examples with autobiographical content in order to propose there is a structure of "lamentation" in Artaud's utilization of these strategies, in alliance with the Freudian "theatre of inner representation." And, finally, I will analyze The Body Without Organs ("Corps sans organes") as a central motif in Artaud's work as a sublime existentialism, or what Morfee describes as "an elastic architecture" in Artaud's work (174). In this part of the analysis I will focus on the mature works of Artaud, so most of the references will be to Clayton Eshleman and Bernard Bador's very concise translation of these into English. …