Derrida opens his essay on Artaud's drawings, "To Unsense the Subjectile," with a cautionary note, an articulated pause:
"I would call this a scene, the 'scene of the subjectile,' if there were not already a force at work prepared to diminish the scenic elements: the visibility, the element of representation, the presence of a subject, even an object."
The force, we might argue, belongs to Artaud though he himself would care less for its propriety address and would rather expulse it and scatter it across the scene, against it and from it. The force is gathered for and from it, the stage to be diminished in the theatre of cruelty. Already though, Derrida imparts to us the proximity of the scene and the subjectile, the scene of the subjectile and the subjectile as scene. For art historians concerned with what has gone missing, the subjectile continues to return, to come out from behind the visible.
"To Unsense the Subjectile," not to mention the subjectile itself as the subject and ground of art historical inquiry, considers the force of Artaud's activity in relation to art historical practice, although, in point of fact, this is never explicitly the case. Derrida's deconstructive practice does not allow the presencing of a stable and originary subject we could call Artaud, nor for that matter, an art historian whose historiographic practice escapes the differential trace of writing, the supplementary logic of signification which disrupts the boundaries of the text.
Considering that histories are textual constructions, in part, and that the material historians use to understand the past are themselves textual, and that the historian cannot occupy a privileged space of objectivity from which to construct such narratives, we might agree with Dominick LaCapra that history writing is performative. To not leave out history, one emphasizes the present. For what purpose, asks Peter DeBolla. To what ends? There is in any case a link between the rhetoricity of history and Artaud's idea of the rigor and necessity of speech in the new theatre. In this case, the link is between the subjectile and the document. Artaud might have fought against the document's illusory claims to presence with the idea of unpower, both inspiration and that which robs speech at the very moment it is breathed. Artaud went so far as to attempt to prevent this theft by a furtive something by losing meaning in a metaphysical determination – a positive representation before the moment of origin or birth, in a sense, before representation - at the limit of the before of representation. One thinks of the idea, or of the imagination. In any case, Derrida explains it this way:
"Artaud knew that all speech fallen from the body, offering itself to understanding or reception, offering itself as spectacle, immediately becomes stolen speech. Becomes a signification which I do not possess because it is a signification. Theft is always the theft of speech or text, of a trace. The theft of a possession does not become a theft unless the thing stolen is a possession, unless it has acquired meaning and value through, at least, the consecration of a vow made in discourse."
Speech, because it is stolen from language, is stolen speech, always already lost. Speech then, like writing, is an open letter whose meaning and destination cannot be determined in advance. Against this dispossession, Artaud desires to go back to the force of breath (spirit-breath of life), to the limit before speech becomes representation and therefore open to repetition, reproduction and theft, that is, to the signifier before it is born and as it is borne from the body like a projectile.
One more thing before we get to the subjectile, and this will have to do with the parasite that is the subjectile. There is in Derrida's essay a dialogical relation between himself and Artaud, and we should bear in mind the nature of this communication. In Transcultural Space and Transcultural Beings, David Tomas draws on Michel Serres' writings on the parasite to suggest that the dialogic relation inevitably takes a parasitic and abusive form, on the one hand, forging a common code of transmission, and on the other, excluding any interference. The unidirectionality of communication is premised on this exclusionary model: "It would seem that in the figure of the parasite we confront an instance of what Antonin Artaud once described as 'a pure cruelty' – a cruelty whose social logic was rooted in rigor, implacable intention and decision, [an] irreversible and absolute determinism." According to Tomas, the logic of parasitism means that the parasite must be ready to submit to its own absolute determinism; this destructive relation is what produces communication, and it is always at the expense of something else. This is perhaps the question that is before us, the question for a new art history that is somewhat less certain of its object.
Poor M. Artaud, Poor Mme Thévenin
Derrida is not an art historian. What then does he wish to do with an essay about Artaud's supremely forceful drawings? His pictograms. What does Derrida extract from Artaud's pictograms that he could call his own, but without submitting to the practice of interpretation that seeks to restitute a missing plenitude? He is categorical: "First of all let's give up trying to be ever in front, face to face with the pictograms that will never be ob-jects or subjects present for us. We won't be describing any paintings." This is particularly so in this case since we're dealing with not only what is not in front, but underneath, as a support and a surface. Besides laying bare all the tools that historians have become familiar with – the artist, his life and times, works of art, viewers and critics – Derrida alludes to Artaud, who said more or less the same thing: "What is the use of describing a painting by van Gogh?" So then it is a matter of aligning oneself with the experiment that the artist lent himself to and to write as he would.
Something, however, remains difficult to explain. In Derrida's essay on the subjectile, it is something that is "singularly nothing," and Artaud is at pains to describe it in van Gogh's paintings. As Derrida puts it: "When he gives up describing one of van Gogh's canvases, Artaud inscribes the motif in the center of the 'forces' and the writing forces ('apostrophes,' 'streaks,' 'commas,' 'bars,' etc.) with these acts of 'blocking,' 'repression,' 'the canvas,' and so on as protagonists." Derrida gives the job of describing this motif to the art historian:
"Paule Thévenin (who has said everything that has to be known about Artaud's drawings and whose work I am presuming everyone knows) judges it necessary to be more precise in a note: 'Perhaps it is in the part torn from this letter that the drawing was to be found. Antonin Artaud, having considered it too revealing, must have removed it, tearing off the bottom of the page. He certainly wrote "subjectile"'."
Thévenin judges. She is precise and deals with certainties. Derrida places her – and metonymically, all of art history – in the centre of forces, within apostrophes and properly noted. But we shouldn't be quick to have done with this reference. Further on, Derrida states that Artaud's quarrel with the subjectile is not in order to dominate it, but to "deliver [it] from a domination," from the Latinity of clear and dead ideas. Derrida wants to deliver art history from the task of continuously suppressing the difference of artworks. What we are working on is the becoming of art history, its coming into being something else, something other than the classic subjectile of the fine arts which art history apparently supports without suffering. To draw the necessary analogy with theatre, Artaud would see in classical theatre what Derrida represents in the discourse on fine arts, "a mark of cancellation that lets what it covers be read." We will have more to say on this in the discussion on the subjectile.
Before getting to the subjectile we will recall that, according to Derrida, it is to be "unsensed." In French, the word used is forcené, a neologism of Derrida's, meaning without sense, but retaining its tie to the transitive and therefore connoting the idea of being pushed out of sense: a power is borne. For Artaud, this might be the breath that is pushed out from the body. From out of this, Derrida recovers and expels the discourse of psychoanalysis. If we won't be describing any paintings, nor will we be writing commentaries on the diary of a madman. Artaud's "drawings are awkward," Derrida says, "because they are crafty, skillful, sly, adroit, indirect stratagems for plaguing the world with its norms and values, its expectations, its Art, its police, its psychiatry: in a word, its rights." The essay "La parole soufflée" offers a preliminary discussion on the similar trajectories of critical and clinical discourses. Derrida seeks to free the man and his work from the phenomenological brackets of these masterful and exegetic structures, for which Artaud could only ever become exemplary and not singularly beyond signification.
On the Subjectile and Pictography
In contrast to Derrida, I have no reservations recounting the appearance of the subjectile in Artaud's writings on his drawings and in Derrida's reading of these three moments. At the first mention, Artaud says in a letter written in 1932: "Herewith a bad drawing in which what is called the subjectile has betrayed me." Thévenin suggests to Derrida that Artaud may be referring to a drawing of his which was ripped from a letter, perhaps, as Derrida argues, because in revealing too much, it betrayed him. Artaud first rips the image from the letter. This is a necessary first step. At the time of the 1932 statement, subjectile was not yet found in dictionaries. Artaud articulates the word at the limit before representation. Derrida consequently transforms the word subjectile into, itself, a subjectile. In painting, the subjectile is what is called underpainting, or le dessous. It is the treated support that absorbs paint or pigment and the surface that allows the paint to be seen; it is the medium and what it allows to show. But for Artaud the subjectile is more than this; it is a matter of how he will treat the subjectile, what he will make the word itself mean. Derrida writes:
"Between the beneath and the above, it is at once a support and a surface, sometimes also the matter of a painting or a sculpture, everything distinct from form, as well as from meaning and representation, not representable. Its presumed depth or thickness can only be seen as a surface..."
Between the first mention of the subjectile in Artaud's writings and the last, there is a time of incubation which yields more than one meaning for the word. But Artaud reacted poorly from the first. The subjectile, which we can consider here to be the surface of the paper on which Artaud draws, the language that Derrida works with, text and image, did not simply function as a support, as a subject might, but betrayed him. Artaud's practice is to steal back from the grip of representation the mortification and the theft of speech. In this vein, we find out that from 1939 onward he would never let representation betray him: "And since a certain day in October 1939 I have never again written without drawing." Derrida calls this subsequent practice pictographic work. Its manifesto-like setting out and its theory can be discerned from the last two mentions of the subjectile:
"The drawing is a grave attempt to give life and existence to what until today had never been accepted in art, the botching of the subjectile, the pietous awkwardness of forms crumbling around an idea after having for so many eternities labored to join it. The page is soiled and spoiled, the paper crumpled, the people drawn with the consciousness of a child. 
The figures on the inert page said nothing under my hand. They offered themselves to me like millstones which would not inspire the drawing, and which I could probe, cut, scrape, file, sew, unsew, shred, slash, and stitch without the subjectile ever complaining... "  
The subjectile is not of interest for what it represents, but rather for what it supports, what it resists. In every case there is a question of the subjectile and the projectile, two terms that Derrida will use to describe the act of throwing, the bodily casting of the word that Artaud described in the theatre of cruelty. This throwing, the thrown, is the force of Artaud's thought, before it is arrested at the border. One of the things Artaud will do to reveal and betray the subjectile is to burn it, to burn through the representations that it supports. In doing so, he attempts to destroy the distinction between the subject of the representation and the support of this subject. In this particular action, the subjectile is revealed as incorporating the parergon, but a parergon "no longer intact." The subjectile is always denounced by Artaud for its parasitic activity. Derrida refers to it as the "groundless ground" that withdraws behind representation, becoming itself a figure then a ground.
Derrida's method of deconstruction seeks to disrupt the simple contrast between speech and writing, or between text and image. Images and words are themselves texts. In Artaud's drawings, words take on a rigorous literality and graphic quality. From 1939 onwards, Artaud promised, it would be impossible to distinguish the writing of the drawing and the writing in it. The words would be outside of representation and understood more like sounds or markings. Derrida calls this art pictography: "A formation of the letter in a drawing that takes it away from the word [logos], from the verbality of articulated language whose pure sonority nevertheless spurts forth in the subjectile." Words are folded in on themselves into the matter of the subjectile, destabilizing the categorical distinction between drawing and writing, words and images; they work away at the image as they insert themselves into its representational web. Why such a forceful act?
As with the furtiveness of speech, speech stolen as soon as it is stated, Artaud decries the dispossession of drawing by the "drawing principle," the beaux-arts system that ascribes to artworks grammatical laws, norms of technique and proper forms of address. Artaud fights this system through a double constraint: on the one hand, an awkward technique that attempts to escape this dispossession, and on the other, an implicit predisposition to the system, the necessary presupposition to dispossession. He says: "This projectile is my drawing: maladroit but adroit, taking good aim, correctly adjusted to the good address of its true destination." Derrida reads in this a practice of intonation and expression.
Intonation refers to Artaud's graphism as a nonseparated inscription. Again, in comparison with the use of embodied voice in the theatre of cruelty, intonation is untranslatable speech, the very materiality of speech before it comes to birth and death at once. A subjectile that Artaud curses with the force of his breath, with the projectile in hand, attacking its support – this subjectile is the supplement to the literality of the action. "Not just with my hand," Artaud writes, "but with the grasp of the breath of my tracheal artery." Pictography, it goes without saying, is a cruel practice, but it is not totally insensed and without direction. Derrida refers to it as expression, writing:
"expression does not describe the movement by which what was already inside lets itself be translated, transported, transposed outside, represented or exhibited upon the canvas, a sort of screen upon which images would project themselves. The screen must be traversed by an expression that attacks the subjectile, hurls its projectiles against it, bombarding it until it bleeds, sets it on fire, and perforates it. Cruelty is always unleashed upon a subjectile."
Artaud does not restitute the subjectile, he botches it. It is, Derrida contends, breathlessness inscribed in the work. Art history's reception and rehabilitation of his accusatory incantations is nothing short of a perverse necrophilia, a condemnation of this failure that is to be endlessly repeated. This is why the subjectile has to be unsensed, made untranslatable and rendered completely mad.
We should mention something of the theatre of cruelty, or the failure of its pretense which Derrida so admires. Artaud's critique of the Western metaphysics implicit in the classical dramatic tradition led him to desire a theatre not governed by the text, not based on speech and its system of representation. In this theatre, actors and directors would no longer labour under the sign of the author/text, the written play that reduces all repetitions to a subordinate role. The theatre of cruelty would become life itself, the ground of the stage would be attacked and worked over much like the subjectile. As Derrida describes it, "Words will cease to flatten theatrical space and to lay it out horizontally as did logical speech; they will reinstate the 'volume' of theatrical space and will utilize this volume 'in its undersides (dans ses dessous)' (The Theatre and its Double, p.124)." Artaud's new grammar gave birth to a complete mastery over breath and the expression of nonphonetic text shouted and expressed. Its authoritarian rigor, Derrida surmizes, was a failure to live up to its madly ambitious program. "Against all its intentions, Artaud had to reintroduce the prerequisite of the written text into 'productions' ... 'rigorously composed and fixed once and for all before being played'." Cruelty encloses the text, forces it into a constraining form. And further: "Artaud kept himself as close as possible to the limit: the possibility and impossibility of pure theatre. Presence, in order to be presence and self-presence, has always already begun to represent itself, has always already been penetrated." As an art of difference, the theatre of cruelty does not escape from representation and repetition.
Throwing Yves Klein into the Bargain
Critiques of deconstruction have taken it to task for its willful disregard of political and historical questions. Although this is not uniformly the case, it can be argued that the place of the other in deconstrcution is some kind of capitulation to Western metaphysics. For instance, what can we make of such assertions as: "the subjectile figures the Other, or rather the Other having become the adversary party, the opposed supposed"? In his discourse on the margin, Derrida did not always have the most to say about who or what the metaphysics of presence have served. If deconstruction is part of a project to dismantle the Western edifice, we should bear in mind the repressions through which this edifice was produced. It is no small fact that Derrida's early work occurs at the historical conjuncture of many groundshaking events in geopolitics, one of which is the global process of decolonization. What then is meant by this other?
Yves Klein is among some of the artists who followed Artaud's path. His anthropometric paintings, Sylvère Lotringer argues, were Klein's revision of the theatre of cruelty. In fact, we can find in Klein's work a number of affinities with Artaud: the desire to eliminate representation, a discourse on the void – Klein's 1960 manifesto was titled "The Theater of the Void" – the hope that the work could show the artist's mind, a materializing of dispersed and bodily energies, an interest in van Gogh, and I would add, an uncertain relation to the figure of the other. In relating the opening of Klein's 1958 event at the Galerie Iris Clert, Le Vide, Lotringer makes the following comment:
"France was going through a major crisis. Rebel generals in Algiers had just staged a coup, Paris was wrecked with violent popular protests. The Algerian conflict was threatening to engulf the country. General de Gaulle seized power a few weeks later and proclaimed the Fifth Republic. It was hardly a time to celebrate sensibility and nothingness."
Although Lotringer suggests that this event was inappropriate and inopportune, it may have been more appropriate than he cares to admit. How could we think the mutuality and fatal complicity of these events in relation to the politics of representation and what has since then become known as the politics of difference?
Lotringer's essay is surprising when we consider what most cultural critics would make of the seemingly uncontrolled gesture of International Klein Blue, the colour in which Klein wanted to paint everything. But the (un)controlled gesture I want to focus on here, however, is Klein's famous état-moment (moment-state), Leap Into the Void of 1960, in which Klein supposedly jumped from a mansard roof and had photographs taken of his projected body in mid-flight. "Thrown throwing, the subjectile is nothing, however, nothing but a solidified interval between above and below, visible and invisible, before and behind, this side and that." If the image of Klein, of his projectile body, can in some ways take on the qualities of the subjectile, it is that it is in suspension, between the transitivity of throwing and the intransitivity of being thrown, like Artaud's van Gogh, "the man suicided by society." "And I cannot throw or project if I have not been thrown myself, at birth." I would add, into language. This Kleinian projectile is borne into space, born in the launching that does not care for the narrative resolution, but hovers in this moment of undecidability between flying and falling. A strange presencing occurs in the photographic writing: not a truth, but a meaning threatening to take off from this historical conjuncture.
The body of Klein leaping into the void. This is a subjectile also, between subjective and projectile. "Its inert body," Derrida writes, "must not resist too much. If it does it has to be mistreated, violently attacked... The neither/nor of the subjectile (neither subservient nor dominating) situates the place of a double constraint: this way it becomes unrepresentable." Derrida will return to this double constraint in his later description of the double value of the words Artaud lists in his third mention of what he does to the subjectile: to probe, cut, scrape, file, sew, unsew, shred, stitch. All of these have transgressive and appeasing values, violent and healing at once. The subjectile suffers all of these, but as Artaud also says, without complaint.
"It reveals nothing of what it is feeling, suffering, bearing, it does not answer to what affects it, nor about what happens to it. But perhaps it feels nothing, perhaps it has nothing to bear or to suffer. It does not complain: that can mean that it bears things in silence. Passion, martyrdom, and torture of the subjectile. But that can mean that at bottom, it has nothing to complain about. It is not so badly treated. Perhaps it is taking its pleasure in silence."
We shouldn't move too quickly from the literality of these words, and also, their metaphoric allusion to the subjectile as the support. What it supports are the words projected onto the page, the figures of speech thrown across its surface. Such a cruel fate. Klein splattered across the blue sky on the back of which he signed his name. A fatal complicity indeed. Klein's was a pictographic project in the manner of Artaud, but with the other in mind. In his beautiful phrasing, this is what Derrida had to say about Artaud's botched theatre of cruelty, and as we have argued, in comparison with his pictographic practice: "they must inhabit the structures they demolish, and within them they must shelter an indestructable desire for full presence, for nondifference: simultaneously life and death."
1. Jacques Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," in Jacques Derrida and Paule Thévenin, The Secret Art of Antonin Artaud, trans. Mary Ann Caws (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1998). For the original illustrations, see Paule Thévenin and Jacques Derrida, Antonin Artaud: Dessins et Portraits (Paris: Gallimard, 1986).
2. On the subject of Artaud's art, see Margit Rowell, ed. Antonin Artaud: Works on Paper (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1996).
3. Dominick LaCapra, "Rethinking Intellectual History and Reading Texts," in LaCapra and Stephen L. Kaplan, eds. Modern European Intellectual History: Reappraisals and New Perspectives (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994) 2.
4. Peter DeBolla, "Disfiguring History," Diacritics 16:4 (Winter 1986) 49.
5. Jacques Derrida, "La parole soufflée," in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978).
6. David Tomas, Transcultural Space and Transcultural Beings (Boulder: Westview Press, 1996) 44.
7. Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 71.
8. Artaud cited in Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 81.
9. Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 72.
10. Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 62.
11. Jacques Derrida, "The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation," in Writing and Difference, 236.
12. Derrida, Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 117. For a textual diagnosis of Artaud, see Julia Kristeva's preface to Catherine Bouthors-Paillart, Antonin Artaud: L'énonciation ou l'épreuve de la cruauté (Geneva: Librairie DROZ S.A., 1997).
13. Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 61.
14. Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 64.
15. Cited in Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 121.
16. Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 122, 66.
17. Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 123. For a discussion of the parergon, see Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting, trans. Geoff Bennington (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).
18. Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 99.
19. Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 108.
20. Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 82.
21. Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 103.
22. Derrida, "La parole soufflée," 191.
23. Derrida, "La parole soufflée," 193.
24. Derrida, "The Theatre of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation," 249.
25. Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 137.
26. Sylvère Lotringer, "Consumed by Myths," in Premises: Invested Spaces in Visual Arts, Architecture & Design from France, 1958-1998 (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1998) 31.
27. Lotringer, "Consumed by Myths," 29.
28. Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 78.
29. Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 77.
30. Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 77.
31. Derrida, "To Unsense the Subjectile," 137-8.
32. Derrida, "La parole soufflée," 194.