# LITERATURE /// Van Gogh The Man Suicided by Society by Antonin Artaud


In 1947, one year after having spent nine years in psychiatric hospitals, Antonin Artaud published a beautiful book as an apologia of Vincent Van Gogh, “suicided by society” like every other visionaries that has been categorized as mad. Artaud, fifteen years before Michel Foucault, affirms that madness has been created by psychiatric medicine and not the other way around. He accuses doctors and Van Gogh’s brother Theo, to have, not only ignored, but actively suppress the expression of the painter’s art.
The invention of the adjective suicided illustrates exactly the process of psychiatry. By having elaborated this medicine method, society did not want simply to kill those that it could not assimilate (like it would do for prisoners for example), but it wanted them to recognize themselves their vision as a pathology and therefore to make them commit a social suicide.

Just like Heliogabalus or the Crowned Anarchist (we’ll see it in another article sometimes), Antonin Artaud’s literary style is magnificent and untranslatable. One of the most illustrative example of that is Artaud’s obsession for Van Gogh’s “coup de pinceau”, which literally means paint brush’s strike and therefore express the painter’s power but the same expression is the correct expression to talk more simply of any painter’s action on the canvas…
Nevertheless, I attempted to translate by myself several excerpts and I already apologize for providing such badly transcripts in English (the original version in French is below):

Nobody ever wrote or painted, sculpted, modeled, built, invented, for another reason than to exit from hell.

Each paint brush touch/strike (coup de pinceau) on the canvas is worst than an event.

As this not for this world
it has never been for this earth that we have all always worked,
screamed of horror, hunger, misery, hatred, scandal or aversion,
that we have all being poisoned
although we have been subjugated by it
and that we have eventually suicide ourselves
as aren’t we all like the poor Van Gogh himself, suicided by society!

I see, while writing those lines, the painter’s blood red face coming to me, in a wall of gutted sunflowers,
in a formidable blaze of opaque hyacinth embers and lapis-lazuli pasture.
All that, in the middle of a bombing like an atoms meteoric that would reveal itself grain by grain,
proof that Van Gogh thought of his canvas as a painter, yes, and only as a painter,
but who would,
by this very fact,
a formidable musician.

What is it to draw? How de manage to do so? That is the action to create a path through an invisible iron wall that seems to be situated between what we feel and what we can. How should we go through this wall? It is useless to hit strongly, we have to sap this wall and go through it with a file, slowly and, in my opinion, with great patience.
Letter from Van Gogh – September 8th 1888

original version from Antonin Artaud. Van Gogh Le Suicidé de la Société. Paris: Gallimard 2001.

Nul n’a jamais écrit ou peint, sculpte, modelé, construit, inventé, que pour sortir en fait de l’enfer.

… chaque coup de pinceau de Van Gogh sur la toile est pire qu’un événement.

Car ce n’est pas pour ce monde-ci
ce n’est jamais pour cette terre-ci que nous avons toujours travaillé,
bramé d’horreur, de faim, de misère, de haine, de scandale, et de dégoût,
que nous fumes tous empoisonnés,
bien que par elle, nous ayons tous été envoutés,
et que nous nous sommes enfin suicidés,
car ne sommes-nous pas tous comme le pauvre Van Gogh lui-même, des suicides de la société !

Je vois, à l’heure ou j’écris ces lignes, le visage rouge sanglant du peintre venir a moi, dans une muraille de tournesols éventrés,
dans un formidable embrasement d’escarbilles d’hyacinthe opaque et d’herbages de lapis-lazuli.
Tout cela, au milieu d’un bombardement comme météorique d’atomes qui se feraient voir grain a grain,
preuve que Van Gogh a pensé ses toiles comme un peintre, certes, et uniquement comme un peintre, mais qui serait,
par le fait même,
un formidable musicien.

Qu’est ce que dessiner ? Comment y arrive-t-on ? C’est l’action de se frayer un passage à travers un mur de fer invisible, qui semble se trouver entre ce que l’on sent et ce que l’on peut. Comment doit-on traverser ce mur, car il ne sert de rien d’y frapper fort, on doit miner ce mur et le traverser à la lime, lentement et avec patience à mon sens.
Lettre de Van Gogh – 8 septembre 1888