The following first ran as "Conspiracy for the Day", 09/02-03/93
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Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society
by Antonin Artaud (1947)
[Artaud thinks that it is not man but the world which has become
Things are going badly because sick consciousness has a vested
interest right now in *not* recovering from its sickness.
This is why a tainted society has invented psychiatry to defend
itself against the investigations of certain superior intellects
whose faculties of divination would be troublesome.
No, van Gogh was not mad, but his paintings were bursts of Greek
fire, atomic bombs, whose angle of vision would have been capable
of seriously upsetting the spectral conformity of the
In comparison with the lucidity of van Gogh, psychiatry is no
better than a den of apes who are themselves obsessed and
persecuted and who possess nothing to mitigate the most appalling
states of anguish and human suffocation but a ridiculous
terminology. To a man, this whole gang of respected scoundrels
and patented quacks are all erotomaniacs.
[Artaud defines a "madman" as] a man who preferred to become mad,
in the socially accepted sense of the word, rather than forfeit a
certain superior idea of human honor.
So society has strangled in its asylums all those it wanted to
get rid of or protect itself from, because they refused to become
its accomplices in certain great nastiness.
[However, in the case of van Gogh, confinement was not the weapon
used.] The concerted gathering of men has other means of
overcoming the wills it wants to break.
Thus on the occasion of a war, a revolution, or a social upheaval
still in the bud, the *collective consciousness* is questioned
and questions itself, and makes its judgement.
This consciousness may also be aroused and called forth
spontaneously in connection with certain individual cases.
Thus strange forces are aroused and brought up, into that kind of
dark dome which constitutes, over all human respiration, the
venomous hostility of the evil spirit of people.
It is thus that the few rare lucid well-disposed people find
themselves at certain hours of the day or night in the depth of
certain authentic and waking nightmare states, surrounded by the
formidable suction, the formidible tentacular oppression of a
kind of civic magic.
In the face of this concerted nastiness, it is not delirium to
walk around at night in a hat with twelve candles on it to paint
a landscape from nature.
Van Gogh did not committ suicide in a fit of madness, in dread of
not succeeding, on the contrary, he had just succeeded, and
discovered what he was and who he was, when the collective
consciousness of society, to punish him for escaping from its
clutches, suicided him.
It was not because of himself, because of the disease of his own
madness, that van Gogh abandoned his life.
It was under the pressure of the evil influence, two days before
his death, of Dr. Gachet, a so-called psychiatrist, which was the
direct, effective, and sufficient cause of his death.
When I read van Gogh's letters to his brother, I was left with
the firm and sincere conviction that Dr. Gachet, "psychiatrist,"
actually detested van Gogh, painter, and that he detested him as
a painter, but above all as a genius.
It is almost impossible to be a doctor and an honest man, but it
is obscenely impossible to be a psychiatrist without at the same
time bearing the stamp of the most incontestable madness: that
of being unable to resist that old atavistic reflex of the mass
of humanity, which makes any man of science who is absorbed by
this mass a kind of natural and inborn enemy of all genius.
Medicine was born of evil, if it was not born of illness, and if
it has, on the contrary, provoked and created illness out of
nothing to justify its own existence; but psychiatry was born of
the vulgar mob of creatures who wanted to preserve the evil at
the source of illness and who have thus pulled out of their own
inner nothingness a kind of Swiss guard to cut off at its root
that impulse of rebellious vindication which is at the origin of
There is in every lunatic a misunderstood genius whose idea,
shining in his head, frightened people, and for whom delirium was
the only solution to the strangulation that life had prepared for
Dr. Gatchet did not tell van Gogh that he was there to straighten
out his painting, but he sent him to paint from nature, to bury
himself in a landscape to escape the pain of thinking.
Except that, as soon as van Gogh had turned his back, Dr. Gatchet
turned off the switch to his mind.
As if, without intending any harm but with one of those seemingly
innocent disparaging wrinklings of the nose where the whole
bourgeois unconscious of the earth has inscribed the old magic
force of a thought one hundred times repressed.
And I know that Dr. Gatchet left the impression on history, with
regard to van Gogh, whom he was treating and who ultimately
committed suicide while at his house, that he was his last friend
on earth, a kind of providential consoler.
And yet I am more convinced than ever that it was to Dr. Gachet
of Auvers-sur-Oise that van Gogh was indebted on that day, the
day he committed suicide at Auvers-sur-Oise.
Was indebted, I say, for abandoning life.
Dr. Gachet was that grotesque Cerberus, that sanious and purulent
Cerberus, in sky-blue jacket and gleaming linen, placed before
poor van Gogh to rob him of all his sound ideas.
And there took place between Dr. Gachet and Theo, van Gogh's
brother, how many of those stinking confabulations that families
have with the head physicians of insane asylums regarding the
"patient" they have brought them.
"Keep an eye on him, make sure he forgets all those ideas. You
understand, the doctor said so, you must forget all those ideas:
they're hurting you, if you keep on thinking about them you'll
stay shut up for the rest of your life."
These are examples of those smooth conversations of good-natured
psychiatrists which seem harmless enough, but which leave on the
heart the trail of a little black tongue as it were, the harmless
little black tongue of a poisonous salamander.
And sometimes it takes no more than this to drive one to suicide.
There are days when the heart feels the deadlock so terribly that
it takes it like a blow on the head with a piece of bamboo, this
idea that it will not be able to go on any longer.
For it was, in fact, after a conversation with Dr. Gachet that
van Gogh, as if nothing were the matter, went back to his room
and killed himself.
One day the executioners came for van Gogh, just as they came for
Gerard de Nerval, Baudelaire, Poe, and Lautreamont.
One does not commit suicide by oneself. In the case of suicide,
there must be an army of evil beings to cause the body to make
the gesture against nature, that of taking its own life. And I
believe that there is always someone else at the moment of
extreme death to strip us of our own life.
Van Gogh was dispatched from the world first by his brother, when
he announced the birth of his nephew, next by Dr. Gatchet, when,
instead of recommending rest and solitude, he sent him to paint
from nature on a day when he knew quite well that van Gogh would
have done better to go to bed.