Bettina L. Knapp
Antonin Artaud was born in Marseille. His mother was of Greek origin; his father, in the shipfitting business, was French Provençal. The child developed meningitis at the age of five, and although he was cured, the head pains he suffered and the increasing doses of painkillers prescribed by the doctors resulted in his eventual drug addiction. At school he loved to read and draw and developed a passion for the works of Baudelaire, Poe, and other writers. In 1910 he founded a small literary magazine that lasted three years. A bent for the dramatic became noticeable with a stage set he arranged in his room, which was so grotesque that it frightened his cousin who was visiting him at the time.
Prior to his baccalaureate examination, Artaud became despondent, complained of “internal” discomfort, and refused to see people. He suffered an acute case of neurasthenia, tore up his poems and short stories, and gave his books away. After a period of convalescence his condition had so improved that he went to live in Paris (1920), where he composed poems, essays, and short stories that focused increasingly on the unseen, the unknown, the symbolic, and the metaphysical.
Wanting to devote his life to the dramatic arts, he became associated with Aurélien Marie Lugné-Poe's Théâtre de l'Oeuvre and joined Charles Dullin's Théâtre de l'Atelier, where he met Génica Athanasiou, a beautiful actress who was to be the only person with whom Artaud could, even for a short while, share some measure of warmth and love. After a year with Dullin's troupe divergencies of interpretation between master and student led to a break.
At the Colonial Exhibit in Marseille in 1922 Artaud was enthralled by the strange gestures, masks, stunning costumes, exotic atmosphere, and haunting lighting effects of the sacred Cambodian dancers performing before a reproduc-