Antonin Artaud was a poet, theorist, philosopher, essayist, playwright, actor and director, and one of the 20th century’s most important theoreticians of drama. His theory of the ‘Theatre of Cruelty’ has influenced playwrights as diverse as Beckett, Genet, Albee and Gelber.
Magic was always a central concept for Artaud, and in nearly all his writing it is given the most positive force, as something capable of healing the rift between words and things, culture and life. But during his nine years of incarceration in mental asylums, magic seemed to lose its illuminating transformative power and to become demonic and persecutory. Artaud entered the realm of spectres and vampires which he believed were sucking the vitality from his mind and body.
Artaud later filled twelve little exercise books with an account of his struggles to escape this physical, psychological and artistic hell. The first eleven books are filled with fragments of writing and extraordinary sketches of totemic figures, pierced bodies and enigmatic machines. Two months before his death, he took a twelfth exercise book and wrote a remarkable, incantatory text, 50 Drawings to Murder Magic. It was the last thing he wrote.