Reading List for Artaud Symposium
Here are the readings for the Artaud Symposium this coming Monday October 29th @ 6pm at the Tarragon Theatre.
I’ve posted them here for the benefit of those attending as well as the curious who can’t make it out that night.
If you are coming please rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org
Artaud Symposium 2: Discussing the continuing relevance of Artaud’s ideas within a 21st century theatrical landscape
Hosted by TheatreRUN’s Adam Paolozza
Featuring guest speakers Michele Smith (from Theatre Smith-Gilmour), Tatiana Jennings (from Kadozuke Kollektif), Guillermo Verdecchia and Aaron Rotbard.
The following 7 readings will generate talking points during the symposium:
1. …from Artaud’s The Theatre and It’s Double
VII. The Theater and Cruelty
An idea of the theater has been lost. And as long as the theater limits itself to showing us intimate scenes from the lives of a few puppets, transforming the public into Peeping Toms, it is no wonder the elite abandon it and the great public looks to the movies, the music hall or the circus for violent satisfactions, whose intentions do not deceive them.
At the point of deterioration which our sensibility has reached, it is certain that we need above all a theater that wakes us up: nerves and heart.
In the anguished, catastrophic period we live in, we feel an urgent need for a theater which events do not exceed, whose resonance is deep within us, dominating the instability of the times.
Our long habit of seeking diversion has made us forget the idea of a serious theater, which, overturning all our preconceptions, inspires us with the fiery magnetism of its images and acts upon us like a spiritual therapeutics whose touch can never be forgotten.
Everything that acts is a cruelty. It is upon this idea of extreme action, pushed beyond all limits, that theater must be rebuilt.
Imbued with the idea that the public thinks first of all with its senses and that to address oneself first to its understanding as the ordinary psychological theater does is absurd, the Theater of Cruelty proposes to resort to a mass spectacle; to seek in the agitation of tremendous masses, convulsed and hurled against each other, a little of that poetry of festivals and crowds when, all too rarely nowadays, the people pour out into the streets.
The theater must give us everything that is in crime, love, war, or madness, if it wants to recover its necessity.
Everyday love, personal ambition, struggles for status, all have value only in proportion to their relation to the terrible lyricism of the Myths to which the great mass of men have assented.
We want to make out of the theater a believable reality which gives the heart and the senses that kind of concrete bite which all true sensation requires. In the same way that our dreams have an effect upon us and reality has an effect upon our dreams, so we believe that the images of thought can be identified with a dream which will be efficacious to the degree that it can be projected with the necessary violence. And the public will believe in the theater’s dreams on condition that it take them for true dreams and not for a servile copy of reality; on condition that they allow the public to liberate within itself the magical liberties of dreams which it can only recognize when they are imprinted with terror and cruelty.
Hence this appeal to cruelty and terror, though on a vast scale, whose range probes our entire vitality, confronts us with all our possibilities.
Practically speaking, we want to resuscitate an idea of total spectacle by which the theater would recover from the cinema, the music hall, the circus, and from life itself what has always belonged to it. The separation between the analytic theater and the plastic world seems to us a stupidity. One does not separate the mind from the body nor the senses from the intelligence, especially in a domain where the endlessly renewed fatigue of the organs requires intense and sudden shocks to revive our understanding.
Thus, on the one hand, the mass and extent of a spectacle addressed to the entire organism; on the other, an intensive mobilization of objects, gestures, and signs, used in a new spirit. The reduced role given to the understanding leads to an energetic compression of the text; the active role given to obscure poetic emotion necessitates concrete signs. Words say little to the mind; extent and objects speak; new images speak, even new images made with words. But space thundering with images and crammed with sounds speaks too, if one knows how to intersperse from time to time a sufficient extent of space stocked with silence and immobility.
On this principle we envisage producing a spectacle where these means of direct action are used in their totality; a spectacle unafraid of going as far as necessary in the exploration of our nervous sensibility, of which the rhythms, sounds, words, resonances, and twitterings, and their united quality and surprising mixtures belong to a technique which must not be divulged.
2. …from Artaud’s The Theatre and It’s Double
“The question, then, for the theater, is to create a metaphysics of speech, gesture, and expression, in order to rescue it from its servitude to psychology and “human interest.” But all this can be of no use unless behind such an effort there is some kind of real metaphysical inclination, an appeal to certain unhabitual ideas, which by their very nature cannot be limited or even formally depicted. These ideas which touch on Creation, Becoming, and Chaos, are all of a cosmic order and furnish a primary notion of a domain from which the theater is now entirely alien. They are able to create a kind of passionate equation between Man, Society, Nature, and Objects.
It is not, moreover, a question of bringing metaphysical ideas directly onto the stage, but of creating what you might call temptations, indraughts of air around these ideas. And humor with its anarchy, poetry with its symbolism and its images, furnish a basic notion of ways to channel the temptation of these ideas.”
3…from Artaud’s The Theatre and It’s Double
III. The Alchemical Theater
There is a mysterious identity of essence between the principle of the theater and that of alchemy.
It is that alchemy and the theater are so to speak virtual arts, and do not carry their end- or their reality within themselves. Where alchemy, through its symbols, is the spiritual Double of an operation which functions only on the level of real matter, the theater must also be considered as the Double, not of this direct, everyday reality of which it is gradually being reduced to a mere inert replica-as empty as it is sugarcoated-but of another archetypal and dangerous reality, a reality of which the Principles, like dolphins, once they have shown their heads, hurry to dive back into the obscurity of the deep.
If in fact we raise the question of the origins and raison d’etre (or primordial necessity) of the theater, we find, metaphysically, the materialization or rather the exteriorization of a kind of essential drama which would contain, in a manner at once manifold and unique, the essential principles of all drama, already disposed and divided, not so much as to lose their character as principles, but enough to comprise, in a substantial and active fashion (i.e., resonantly), an infinite perspective of conflicts. To analyze such a drama philosophically is impossible; only poetically and by seizing upon what is communicative and magnetic in the principles of all the arts can we, by shapes, sounds, music, and volumes, evoke, passing by way of all natural resemblances of images and affinities to each other not the primordial directions of the mind, which our excessive logical intellectualism would reduce to merely useless schemata, but states of an acuteness so intense and so absolute that we sense, beyond the tremors of all music and form, the underlying menace of a chaos as decisive as it is dangerous.
And this essential drama, we come to realize, exists, and in the image of something subtler than Creation itself, something which must be represented as the result of one Will alone-and without conflict.
We must believe that the essential drama, the one at the root of all the Great Mysteries, is associated with the second phase of Creation, that of difficulty and of the Double, that of matter and the materialization of the idea.
It seems indeed that where simplicity and order reign, there can be no theater nor drama, and the true theater, like poetry as well, though by other means, is born out of a kind of organized anarchy after philosophical battles which are the passionate aspect of these primitive unifications.”
4. …from Artaud’s The Theatre and It’s Double
“In The City of God St. Augustine complains of this similarity between the action of the plague that kills without destroying the organs and the theater which, without killing, provokes the most mysterious alterations in the mind of not only an individual but an entire populace.
“Know,” he says, “you who are ignorant, that these plays, sinful spectacles, were not established in Rome by the vices of men but by the order of your gods. It would be more reasonable to render divine honors unto Scipio* than to such gods; surely, they are not worthy of their pontiff! . . .
“In order to appease the plague that killed bodies, your gods commanded in their honor these plays, and your pontiff, wishing to avoid this plague that corrupts souls, opposes the construction of the stage itself. If there still remains among you sufficient trace of intelligence to prefer the soul to the body, choose what deserves your reverence; for the strategy of the evil Spirits, foreseeing that the contagion would end with the body, seized joyfully upon this occasion to introduce a much more dangerous scourge among you, one that attacks not bodies but customs. In fact, such is the blindness, such the corruption produced in the soul by plays that even in these late times those whom this fatal passion possessed, who had escaped from the sack of Rome and taken refuge in Carthage, passed each day at the theater priding themselves on their delirious enthusiasm for the actors.”
It is useless to give precise reasons for this contagious delirium. It would be like trying to find reasons why our nervous system after a certain period responds to the vibrations of the subtlest music and is eventually somehow modified by them in a lasting way. First of all we must recognize that the theater, like the plague, is a delirium and is communicative.
The mind believes what it sees and does what it believes: that is the secret of the fascination. Nor does Saint Augustine’s text question for one moment the reality of this fascination.”
*1 Scipio Nasica, grand pontiff, who ordered the theaters of Rome to be leveled and their cellars filled with earth.
5. Susan Sontag on Artaud
“From the mid-nineteen-twenties on, Artaud’s work is animated by the idea of a radical change in culture. His imagery implies a medical rather than a historical view of culture: society is ailing. Like Nietzsche, Artaud conceived of himself as a physician to culture – as well as its most painfully ill patient. The theatre he planned is a commando action against the established culture, an assault on the bourgeois public; it would both show people that they are dead and wake them up from their stupor. The man who was to be devastated by repeated electric-shock treatment during the last three of nine consecutive years in mental hospitals proposed that theatre administer to culture a kind of shock therapy. Artaud, who often complained of feeling paralyzed, wanted theatre to renew “the sense of life”.”
6. …from Brecht’s A Short Organum For The Theatre
The field has to be defined in historically relative terms. In other words we must drop our habit of taking the different social structures of past periods, then stripping them of everything that makes them different; so that they all look more or less like our own, which then acquires from this process a certain air of having been there all along, in other words of permanence pure and simple. Instead we must leave them their distinguishing marks and keep their impermanence always before our eyes, so that our own period can be seen to be impermanent too. […]
If we ensure that our characters on the stage are moved by social impulses and that these differ according to the period, then we make it harder for our spectator to identify himself with them. He cannot simply feel: that’s how I would act, but at most can say: if I had lived under those circumstances.
And if we play works dealing with our own time as though they were historical, then perhaps the circumstances under which he himself acts will strike him as equally odd; and this is where the critical attitude begins.
The ’historical conditions’ must of course not be imagined (nor will they be so constructed) as mysterious Powers (in the background); on the contrary, they are created and maintained by men (and will in due course be altered by them): it is the actions taking place before us that allow us to see what they are.
The old Alienation-effects quite remove the object represented from the spectator’s grasp, turning it into something that cannot be altered; the new are not odd in themselves, though the unscientific eye stamps anything strange as odd. The new alienations are only designed to free socially-conditioned phenomena from that stamp of familiarity which protects them against our grasp today.
For it seems impossible to alter what has long not been altered. We are always coming on things that are too obvious for us to bother to understand them. What men experience among themselves they think of as ’the’ human experience. A child, living in a world of old men, learns how things work there. He knows the run of things before he can walk. If anyone is bold enough to want something further, he only wants to have it as an exception. Even if he realizes that the arrangements made for him by ’Providence’ are only what has been provided by society he is bound to see society, that vast collec- tion of beings like himself, as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts and therefore not in any way to be influenced. Moreover, he would be used to things that could not be influenced; and who mis- trusts what he is used to? To transform himself from general passive acceptance to a corresponding state of suspicious inquiry he would need to develop that detached eye with which the great Galileo observed a swinging chandelier. He was amazed by this pen- dulum motion, as if he had not expected it and could not understand its occurring, and this enabled him to come on the rules by which it was governed. Here is the outlook, disconcerting but fruitful, which the theatre must provoke with its representations of hu- man social life. It must amaze its public, and this can be achieved by a technique of alienating the familiar.”
7. …from Claudia Castellucci’s (Romeo Castellucci’s sister and co-founder of Societas Raffaello Sanzio) Making Space
“We find ourselves stuffed with analogy; fused to the same words: death, tragedy, spectacle. The word ‘surface’, perhaps more than any other, bears witness to the extent to which the same word can contain opposite meanings. […] How can we not see now, in this one word – surface – the common concentration of advertising, of fashion, of televisual communication and of theatre?
As long as theatre cannot admit that it hangs out in the same places – the worst sort of places – of human expression, it will be incapable of any greatness or understanding. As long as it claims its distinct superiority over these potent forms of human expression, it will be nothing more than a small maestro with a baton, and there are so many of those.
One of the political tasks of theatre as I see it now is to get right to the bottom of its own specific language. Without fear either of incomprehension or the impossibility of communication; without translation or commentary or explanation; without anxiety about the absence of speech on stage or anxiety about speech in general; with a strategy for words and a strategy for images that is capable of organizing a new reality.”