Hear Antonin Artaud’s Censored, Never-Aired Radio Play: To Have Done With The Judgment of God (1947)


Antonin Artaud had his first men­tal break­down at the age of 16 and, from there on out, spent much of his life in and out of asy­lums. Diag­nosed with “incur­able para­noid delir­i­um,” Artaud suf­fered from hal­lu­ci­na­tions, glos­so­lalia, and bouts of vio­lent rage. And his treat­ment prob­a­bly did about as much harm as it did good. He was pre­scribed lau­danum, which gave him a life­long addic­tion to opi­ates. He endured some tru­ly hor­rif­ic pro­ce­dures like elec­tric shock treat­ment along with the high­ly dubi­ous insulin ther­a­py, which put him in a coma for a while.

In spite of this, Artaud proved to be a huge­ly influ­en­tial the­o­rist and play­wright, famous for coin­ing the term, “The­ater of Cru­el­ty.” His per­for­mances were designed to assault the sens­es and sen­si­bil­i­ties of the audi­ence and awak­en them to the base real­i­ties of life — sex, tor­ture, mur­der and bod­i­ly flu­ids. Artaud want­ed to break down the bound­ary between actor and audi­ence and cre­ate an event that was ecsta­t­ic, uncon­tained and even dan­ger­ous. His ideas rev­o­lu­tion­ized the stage. As the late great Susan Son­tag once wrote, “no one who works in the the­ater now is untouched by the impact of Artaud’s spe­cif­ic ideas.”

But gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, his ideas about the­ater were more pop­u­lar than his actu­al pro­duc­tions. One of his most famous plays, first staged in 1935, was Les Cen­ci, about a father who rapes his daugh­ter and then gets bru­tal­ly killed by his daughter’s hired thugs. The play was a flop when it debuted, run­ning for a mere 17 per­for­mances. Even Son­tag con­ced­ed that Les Cen­ci was “not a very good play.”

Artaud’s last work was an audio piece called To Have Done With The Judg­ment Of God (Pour en Finir avec le Juge­ment de dieu), and it proved to be equal­ly unpop­u­lar, at least with some very impor­tant peo­ple. Com­mis­sioned by Fer­di­nand Pouey, head of the dra­mat­ic and lit­er­ary broad­casts for French Radio in 1947, the work was writ­ten by Artaud after he spent the bet­ter part of WWII interned in an asy­lum where he endured the worst of his treat­ment. The piece is as raw and emo­tion­al­ly naked as you might expect –an anguished rant against soci­ety. A rav­ing screed filled with scat­o­log­i­cal imagery, screams, non­sense words, anti-Amer­i­can invec­tives and anti-Catholic pro­nounce­ments.

The piece (above) was slat­ed to air on Jan­u­ary 2, 1948 but sta­tion direc­tor Vladimir Porché yanked it at the last moment. Appar­ent­ly, he wasn’t ter­ri­bly fond of the copi­ous ref­er­ences to poop and semen nor the anti-Amer­i­can vit­ri­ol. Porché’s rejec­tion caused a cause célèbre among Parisian intel­lec­tu­als. René Clair, Jean Cocteau and Paul Élu­ard among oth­ers loud­ly protest­ed the deci­sion, and Pouey even resigned from his job in protest, but to no avail. It nev­er aired. Artaud, who report­ed­ly took the rejec­tion very per­son­al­ly, died a month lat­er. You can lis­ten to the broad­cast above. And, in case your French isn’t up to snuff, you can still appre­ci­ate its the­atri­cal ele­ments, maybe while read­ing an Eng­lish trans­la­tion of the radio play script here.

If you can’t get enough of Artaud’s final work, you can watch this staged ver­sion of To Have Done With the Judg­ment of God below star­ring Bil­ly Bar­num and John Voigt (no, not Angeli­na Jolie’s father, the avant-garde musi­cian).


Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Exten­sive Archive of Avant-Garde & Mod­ernist Mag­a­zines (1890–1939) Now Avail­able Online

Watch Dreams That Mon­ey Can Buy, a Sur­re­al­ist Film by Man Ray, Mar­cel Duchamp, Alexan­der Calder, Fer­nand Léger & Hans Richter

Un Chien Andalou: Revis­it­ing Buñuel and Dalí’s Sur­re­al­ist Film

The Hearts of Age: Orson Welles’ Sur­re­al­ist First Film (1934)

The Seashell and the Cler­gy­man: The World’s First Sur­re­al­ist Film

Man Ray and the Ciné­ma Pur: Four Sur­re­al­ist Films From the 1920s

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing one new draw­ing of a vice pres­i­dent with an octo­pus on his head dai­ly. 

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