magic and the fluctuating center

Like a religion it gave birth to several ideal sects. This was precisely because Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty was a theoretical, ideal theatre that was never meant to be staged, and Artaud never bothered to explain how to obtain the eloquence of language without language or how to maintain dramatic coherence without the focus of a stage. Central to Artaud was the concept of magic to translate the unsolvable paradoxes; magic as an idealized state, a neutral emotional pandemonium that would mend the worlds between words, “the tyranny of text” and the material world, culture, and the chasm between emotion, pose and gesture….”When we speak the word life, it must be understood we are not referring to life as we know it from its surface of fact, but to that fragile, fluctuating center which forms never reach.” ( Artaud)

Luc Sante: Artaud may have been mad, but his art is hardly confined to madness. The portraits, in which he used calm observation and academic skill to depict external reality while representing the interior through distortion and paper-tearing physical force, are more troubling than many of the interestingly science-fictional renderings of his visions, for example. His work can no more be dispatched into some rubric like "outsider art" than that of Blake or Hölderlin. Artaud's art is insidious; its penetration of what we know is so acute, its lucidity so much the equal of its delusion, that deciding where the one leaves off and the other begins can seem merely a measure of our own delusions. Read More: image:

Artaud:To make metaphysics out of a spoken language is to make the language express what it does not ordinarily express. It is to make use of it in a new, exceptional and unaccustomed fashion; to reveal its possibilities for producing physical shock; to deal with intonations in an absolutely concrete manner, restoring their power to shatter as well as to really manifest something and finally, to consider language as Incantation. … The true purpose of the theatre is to create Myths, to express life in its immense universal aspect, and from that life to extract images in which we find pleasure in discovering ourselves. …If our life lacks a constant magic, it is because we choose to observe our acts and lose ourselves in consideration of their imagined form instead of being impelled by their force. No matter how loudly we clamor for magic in our lives, we are really afraid of pursuing an existence entirely under its influence and sign. Read More:

Less directly derived from Artaud, but sharing common attitudes are the plays of Jean Genet, with their insistence on the ceremonial and the blasphemous, their need to shock the audience, and their revolt against bourgeois values. Peter Brook acknowledged his debt to Artaud in his staging of Marat/Sade; an aggression on the spectator and a confusion between actors and audience, with the inference that madness is contagious. a

Artaud. 1932. Stephen Barber: For Artaud, the body is all there is, and his preoccupation is with always giving pre-eminence to the body — which he sees as the raw material for his projects of refiguring life, death, society, perception — rather than constructing a body/mind or body/spirit dialogue, as many writers have. Artaud attempts to expunge everything that is not the body, and then to make what remains of the body dense, vital and gestural. The body isn’t necessarily in torment in his work, though he emphasizes that the signs or gestures made by the body under pressure or in turmoil are those that best resist the processes of representation. Read More: image:

The closest Artaud came to staging the Theatre of Cruelty was his 1935 production of The Cenci, a melodrama of murder and incest in an Italian Renaissance family that was derived from Shelley’s tragedy and from the Italian Chronicles of Stendhal. Artaud himself said that there was as much difference between The Cenci and the Theatre of Cruelty as there was between a water fountain and a thunderstorm.

With Artaud playing the incestuous father, The Censi ran for seventeen performances in a run-down theatre at the end of a dead-end street. Artaud practiced his theories concerning screams, gestures and the use of lighting as a language, but the critics were not impressed. They repeated what had already been said of Alfred Jarry: “He may have genius, too bad he has no talent.” The Tout-Paris laughed at the man who had bought a ticket to The Cenci thinking it was a team of Italian acrobats.


Artaud was much more concerned with finding a form of theatre, which, through performance, would be capable of integrating unconscious emotional affects into the Symbolic by way of the Imaginary in such a way that the force of these affects could not be sublated in the symbol.

No new communities should be constituted by this performative act. Thus Artaud, in his letter of 16 May 1946, writes, regarding Hitler’s deportation of the Jews, that Hitler’s staging of power as m

c theatre created the very community that provided the fertile ground for the “virus of deportation, internment, imprisonment, enslavement and national identity”–since community seeks to exclude the heterogeneous . New myths were not to be staged as the foundation for creating community; instead, cruelty, which makes community and society possible in the first place, was to be transformed into an experience in and for each individual….

Stephen Barber:In fact, Artaud was a great refuser of death, and was adamant in the last period of his life — when he was gravely ill with cancer and from the after-effects of the violent treatment in the asylums — that he would not die, and that death itself was a kind of malign emanation of society’s power, to be combatted by a project of anatomical transformation which would involve the autopsying of the current human body and its reinvention without organs (the idea that inspired the French theorists Deleuze and Guattari), but with the skeleton, the lungs and the face left intact. Death is always a source of fury to Artaud. Read More: image:

…It is for this reason that Artaud, in a letter from Rodez addressed to Jean Paulhan and dated 19 April 1946, invites a new reading of his theatre of cruelty. Astonished that his thoughts “against evil and its scum” could not be tolerated, but that “war, famine and the concentration camps are endured, since they are a fact,” he returns to his idea of theatre (OC XI:252-53). Here, as later in the preface to his collected works, the question of language stands in the foreground: he sees the sources of language as being under attack, even though it is language that enables the human being to communicate.Read More:
Artaud´s theories in Theatre and Its Double influenced rock musician Jim Morrison. Motley Crüe named the Theatre of Pain album after reading his proposal for a Theatre of Cruelty, much like Christian Death had with their album Only Theatre of Pain. The band Bauhaus included a song about the playwright, called “Antonin Artaud”, on their album Burning from the Inside. Influential Argentinean folk-rock songwriter Luis Alberto Spinetta named his album Artaud and wrote most of the songs on that album based on his writings. Theatrical practitioner Peter Brook took inspiration from Artaud´s ‘Theatre of cruelty’ in a series of workshops that lead up to his well-known production of Marat/Sade. The Living Theatre was also heavily influenced by him, as was much English-language experimental theatre and performance art–Karen Finley, Spalding Gray, Liz LeCompte, Richard Foreman, Charles Marowitz, Sam Shepard, Joseph Chaikin, and more all named Artaud as one of their influences.Read More:
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