The Scream in Antonin Artaud: Building a New Transmitter

The split within the modern subject is further complicated and explored in the case of Antonin Artaud who was in search of the primal scream of the theater. Artaud’s body was already divided as it existed in the space and temporal order of the second scream, yet desired to exist in the space of the first primal scream, before the encounter with the Other. Allen S. Weiss discusses Artaud’s use of “glossolalia” which he calls, “the manifestation of language at the level of its pure materiality, the realm of pure sound, where one obtains a total disjunction of signifier and signified. As such, the relation between sound and meaning breaks down through the glossolalic utterance; it is the image of language inscribed in its excess, at the threshold of nonsense” (Weiss19-20). Artaud incorporated glossolalia into his poetic play, To Have Done with the Judgment of God and combined it with screams in his performance. The use of glossolalia and a screaming lexicon of nonsense, creates a vocal alignment with the primal scream. Glossolalia evokes the state of pre-language, of the cri pur. It also isolates the body, refusing to engage in language and to engage with the Other. The space of language and the Other is also a space of judgment. Weiss claims that the glossolalia functioned as “catharsis, as a mode of exorcism: to rid himself of God’s influence and judgment” (Weiss 20-21). The primal scream is before judgment, and more importantly, before a conception or awareness of the possibility of judgment.

To Have Done with the Judgment of God was a radio play, to be transmitted through the radio as the new container of the voice, and therefore the new book. Weiss elaborates on this, “But is the radio any less a tomb? Is it not in a sense the tomb of the book, creating another sort of ‘dead letter’ that vibrates” (Weiss 31)? The radio, like the book, is a medium of address to the Other. It breaks the direct message of the scream. The book and the radio uproot the voice from the body and fix it in another body. Unlike the book, the radio can project that eerie phantasmic quality of the voice, which is smothered and flattened in the text and spread out amongst the pages. The uprooting of the voice, which Weiss refers to as the “theft of the voice” drives his search for the primal scream, the first scream before the theft by the Other. Weiss explains the theft of the voice further through Derrida who claimed that God always already spoke for us. If this is true, did he always already scream for us as well? The question is whether the first scream escaped the voice of God, as it existed pre-language and therefore, before the possibility of thinking about a God. The theft of the voice by the Other is doubled by the radio which takes hold of the voice and threatens to keep it. Weiss writes, “Recording the voice poses an ontological risk: the recorded voice is the stolen voice that returns to the self as the hallucinatory presence of the voice of another. This other’s voice may be the voice of God, as is often the case in paranoid experiences, and as was the case for Artaud during the period of his madness” (Weiss 32). Perhaps the voice of God is like an ur-radio, vibrating within the landscape and projecting as the first voice without a body to communicate with humanity. This returning of the voice through the phantasm of the radio is worse than the original theft, for it is the return of a part of the self that no longer resembles the self. The radio becomes the new transmitter for the body, transmitting the voice as the technologized message from beyond. It is the voice without a body and the speech without a father. The radio kills the body of the father just like the act of writing in Phaedrus. Weiss writes,

“…Artaud’s voice was severed from his body, made to be an autonomous object in the world, and cast off to pursue its own destiny” (Weiss33). The disembodied voice of the radio disembodied Artaud’s own voice and conception of self. His voice, through the radio, was taken from him and made to live on without him. His voice, no longer his own, has the potential to be manipulated, misheard, and associated with other bodies, or perhaps will be associated with no body at all.

Artaud seems to be uprooting more than just his voice, he also seems to be interested in uprooting his body as a signifier, and reconstituting himself as something like Barthe’s “floating chain of signification.” Emil Hrvatin writes of “…why the scream cannot actually be heard: the production and reception of the scream are corporeal. This is what Artaud had in mind when he spoke of the recomposing of the body, of the bringing together of bodily organs on a different basis. The scream sets up the body anew” (Gough and Allsopp, 88). Artaud sees the scream as a part of the reorganization and the creation of the new body. The primal scream is inextricably linked with birth, as Artaud’s search for the primal scream of the theater establishes his conception of a new body. One might see this in relation to Mikhail Bakhtin’s discussion of the grotesque body. For Bakhtin, the gaping mouth reveals the desire for the body to extend beyond itself, to fuse with and swallow its surroundings. The grotesque body is created as a second body, after the fusion of the first body. Bakhtin writes, “…if we consider the grotesque image in its extreme aspect, it never presents an individual body; the image consists of orifices and convexities that present another, newly conceived body. It is a point of transition in a life eternally renewed, the inexhaustible vessel of death and conception (Bakhtin 318).” Artaud’s new body is this second body, the body that reforms and reorganizes after the gaping mouth of the scream. It is the scream itself that gives birth to this body, a body screamed into existence and organized around this traumatic event as origin.



  1. Wonderful. I am taking my masters in sound arts and today.. well in 2 hours Weiss is coming in for a talk! I wish I was more prepared. I just recently realized how much his writings (and Artaud’s) got to do with my work (well my ‘hopefully soon to be ready’ work). It seems you have probably did, but just maybe… Have you read stuff by Jonathan Sterne? in your ‘Euphonia Speaking Machine’ (which is great!) you bring forward some ideas which he also addresses in his “audible past”.

    I will be reading everything in here because it looks like it got to do allot with what I’m after these days. thank you for that!

    1. I have read Jonathan Sterne, he has done really great work on sound recording. Where are you studying? I actually worked with Weiss during my master’s, he’s an incredible teacher, you’re in for a treat! I’m happy you’re finding connection here to your own work, please feel free to share more about what you’re doing. I appreciate your thoughts.

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