that is taught, written and assumed about the work and thoughts of
Antonin Artaud is misleading and reliant on a very narrow
understanding or conception as to what is made possible by his ideas.
So much of Artaud seems only applicable to enthusiastic undergraduate
students releasing their own angst through expressions of psychosis.
So perhaps it is time to release Artaud from the binds of
stereotypical theatres of cruelty.
shunning of organized political association would seem to suggest
that, unlike Brecht, he was psychological and not political in his
theatrical leanings. This denies the fact of his extremely political
and revolutionary sentiments expressed in his later work "To
Have Done With The Judgement Of God".
The standard mind-set of theatre practitioners today is that Artaud
is a quaint relic of a short-lived theatrical experiment that has
little bearing on life or the theatre today; something indulged by
the 1960s and 70s avant garde! While his work is studied in some
secondary school systems and an occasional university department, it
is very rare for serious acting schools to bother with his thinking
or suggested frameworks for advancing theatre. Even with the obvious
links between Butoh and the work of outstanding directors like Peter
Brook and more recently, Julie
Taymor, Artaud is greeted with a
patronising and condescending nod and a wink as if to say "whatever!"
the new media technologies easily available and with a general return
to interest in areas of religion, spirituality and the subconscious
mind, Artaud can provide a mythological basis for greater exponential
depth in theatrical event making. And I choose the word
"event" carefully! In Artaud's terms, our theatre needs a
baptism or rite of some kind that gives power and authenticity to
one's real experience of life. Like the painting-up ceremonies prior
to the Aboriginal corroboree or the Easter liturgies of Christian
churches or the call to prayer of the Islamic tradition or the
secular weddings of the proclaimed atheists; the theatre inspired by
Artaud is steeped in the emotional / physical / intellectual
connection that breeds ritual. It forces consideration as to what
gives rise to ritual, and by extension, theatre events. But it
is more than this!
meta-cultural / meta-textual thinking provides much more than a
psychological need for shocking one out of complacency and blurring
the demarcation between the stage and the audience. It certainly asks
more than the exploration or creation of metaphorical insanity to
throw some kind of light on the human condition. Since Brook's
production of Marat Sade, the orthodoxy has been to associate
Artaud's theatre with an asylum scenario. While liberating the
theatre from the need for logical and linear based texts, such
presentation severely underestimates the real power of Artaud and is
limiting and misguided. Powerful as Marat Sade was, it owed as
much to Brecht's concepts of epic and historical theatre as anything
proposed by Artaud.
the interest in presenting Artaud, as indicated by postings on You
Tube, we notice this focus on asylum theatre with its accompanying
screaming and yelling and simulated violence. The fascination by
final year high school students for donning the Artaud "crazy
shit" is evident in so much that passes for Artaud; one going so
far as to define their theatre offering as "crazy fucked up
shit" and "a perfect example of theatre of cruelty".
too much emphasis has been given to Artaud's short play "Spurt
Of Blood"; as if to make it the defining moment for Artaud's
thinking and inspiration. Much of Artaud's writing was not directly
about theatre at all and provided critical and provocative challenges
to the way society and art was viewed. In considering Artaud we need
to consider that meta/cultural/textual analysis is as important as
literal and objective meaning. Thus the use of impossible situations
and instructions (as in The Spurt Of Blood) to
force movement or direction that breaks through the standard
package of information and accepted reality!
apply the notions of tendency and fluidity to Artaud's thinking, we
come to very different conclusions about the nature of his legacy.
Certainly it is not about presenting "crazy fucked up shit".
challenging notion would be to view Terrence Malik's film The
Tree Of Life as closer to the ideal of "Theatre Of
Cruelty" than most of the 'shock' flicks and stage pieces one
might imagine as being closer to fulfilling the definition.
film demands an incredible lot from you, as viewer. It demands that
you be a different person after watching, that indeed you may change
your generic approach to film- watching, or at least that you
accommodate in you a new way to watch films. On a basic level it's
about Malick's intuitions. On another level, it's about what you get
on screen. But ultimately it's all about how you place yourself in
the universe proposed." ruiresende84
and Malick might seem like strange bed-fellows. Yet what Malick is
attempting is basically Artaud's concept of breaking through the
false demarcations of reality. It is the "body without
organs" which makes no sense unless viewed as a relational
entity rather than as a solid or partitioned entity. The bind of
story with its self contained universe of beginning / middle / end is
split asunder rendering a fluid universe where time and space are
interconnected and organized and altered by the viewer / participant.
Malick's The Tree Of Life is not a complete example of
Artaud's theatre of cruelty, it provides a much better example of a
direction or tendency within Artaud's paradigm of thinking than the
"crazy fucked up shit" seen on You Tube. The concept of
people as beings in reality existing relationally with the past,
present and future is directly in the vein of Artaud. Memory and
disconnection play as much part of reality as does objective
observation and fact; thus providing the ground work on which
artistic exploration can be based. The dissolving of barriers and
partitions, including those between the stage and the audience, are
achieved by also puncturing the enclosed system of the work itself.
In other words the play is not conceived or presented as a self
contained universe or closed story; rather it is a visceral magnet
through which the audience will gravitate and interact in a most
personal and subjective way.
or platform for artistic enactment can be seen as a magnetic field
through which contrived particles are drawn and pulled from pole to
pole. At some point individual and collective audience members will
be drawn also to the points of significance. In Artaud's terms, this
gravitation and active movement can only be achieved by breaking
through the walls of stereotypical vision.
conception is at the heart of theatre of cruelty. But to some extent
we need to release Antonin Artaud from the straight jacket of his
historical incarceration. This can only be achieved by going more
directly to the traditions where his thoughts are central and to
apply our own subjectivity and willingness to engage from within our
own historical, cultural and personal straight jackets. We need to
become aware of our own neurosis and tunnel vision; along with our
insane need to control others and our environment and our own need to
be controlled by fixed systems of order (ie. dogmatic religions,
belief systems, cultural and family controls).
It is no
wonder that dogmatic philosophies of social order and control seek
first to harness the inner workings of children's minds and adult
insecurities to provide a semblance of an ordered and balanced
universe. The artistic creations and the scientific models used to
explore and challenge our understandings are the first victims of
their attack. The perpetrated lie is that human kind can find a sort
of happy ending to whatever intollerable situation. Whether it is
heaven or utopia, it is most certainly a lie. Artaud's theatre of
cruelty, if nothing else, provides a basis for which to confront this
lie and to gain some insight into the shadows dancing on the caves of existence.
above video the character of Geese delivers his guttermouth speech
from the play GEESE. It illustrates how words might best be
used in the Artaud sense.