Chapter Two: Establishing Artaud
“That is also the reason why our time has become so utterly godless and profane: we lack all knowledge of the unconscious psyche and pursue the cult of consciousness to the exclusion of all else” (Jung, 36, 1968)
Before any comparison between Artaud and Alchemy is possible I must first establish an understanding of the theatre Artaud wished to create. Within this chapter I shall first explore Artaud’s thoughts on culture, as ultimately this vexation provided the catalyst for his new theatrical model. 19 Artaud’s thoughts on Western culture can be effectively juxtaposed to the life style of the Tarahumara as an exemplary model of Artaud’s cultural ideal. I shall draw upon The Peyote Dance (1976) to enrich this discussion surrounding Artaudian cultural ideals. Following this, I shall discuss a crucial moment within Artaud’s theatrical life, his watching of the Balinese Troop. As I shall demonstrate within this chapter, the Balinese Troop provided Artaud with a theatrical ideal from which he could launch his Theatre of Cruelty. Artaud’s vision was the product of his frustration with Western culture, and the domination of the spoken word within contemporary theatre. Artaud perceived the western notion of culture as something of an epistemological cartoon.
“Before saying anything further about culture, I consider the world is hungry and does not care about culture, and people artificially want to turn these thoughts away from hunger and direct them towards culture.” (Artaud, 1970, 3)
‘Culture’, as perceived by Artaud, becomes a substitute for metaphysical nourishment, however in no way does it satiate this hunger. The Western world still hungers for a form which is not present within the idioms of contemporary culture.
“...the theatre Artaud dreams of is the spiritual double of the impoverished theatre that exists in his time, not a ‘mere inert replica’ of banal reality, but a double of ‘another archetypal and dangerous reality’...” (Bermel, 2001, 12)
Artaud believed works of philosophy were assembled as substitute nourishment for Western culture, and that they ultimately served little to no purpose. Culture and philosophy ought to be practiced; these systems ought to be ingrained within us from birth, pervading our every breath and action.
“Either these systems are a part of us and we are so stepped in them we live them; therefore, what use are books? Or we are not steeped in them and they are not worth living. In that case what difference would their disappearance make?” (Artaud, 1970, 4)
The irony of this sentiment should be noted as ultimately Artaud’s legacy lived on through his literature; his practice was a tragic failure.20 However this key notion with which Artaud believed, speaks of his admiration for the practice of the Tarahumara, who had no books, but rather chose to live their philosophy. “The Tarahumara become philosophers in exactly the way a small child grows up and becomes a man; they are philosophers by birth.” (Artaud, 1976, 10) In addition, this idea of living philosophy speaks of the profound affect with which Artaud hoped his theatre could achieve; inducing a response so strong within his audience that their philosophical worldview would change. Artaud’s frustration with Western culture is balanced by his admiration of the Tarahumara, who he believed lived spiritually rich and profound lives. The Tarahumara ultimately held the belief in a second side to their being, an unseen Double existent within all, which above all else they fear the loss of.
“Not to be aware of what one’s Double is, is to risk losing it. It is to risk a kind of abstract fall, beyond physical space, a wandering though the high planetary regions of the disembodied human principle”. (Artaud, 1976, 10)
If we perceive Artaud’s theatre as a vehicle of introducing elements of the Tarahumara’s ideals of culture, then theatre’s primary objective should be that of reconnecting this ‘Double’ and as a fuel to kindle the metaphysical fire within us all.
“Theatre, which is nothing, but uses all languages (gestures, words, sound, fire and screams), is to be found precisely at the point where the mind needs a language to bring about its manifestation.” (Artaud, 1970, 7)
Artaud thought that the seat of this metaphysical language rested upon the medium of theatre. However the state of Parisian theatre proved inadequate for the intentions of Artaud, with its sole reliance upon the script and dictatorship of the author. Contemporary theatre had lost all sense of its noble direction, serving as a medium of entertainment rather than spiritual emancipation.
“Theatre is no longer an art, or it is a useless art. It conforms at every point to our Western concepts of art. We are overloaded with ineffectual, decorative feelings, aimless activity devoted solely to entertainment and the picturesque.” (Artaud, 1932, 82)
The benign verisimilitude presented would never serve for the ignition of metaphysics, which Artaud proclaimed theatre could achieve. Theatre, rather than mirror the day to day trivial pursuits of entertainment, should instead present life itself, devoid of the attachment of the personal, but exists as a creative force. Artaud proclaimed this force as “sweeping human personality aside where man is only shadow” (Artaud, 1932, 6). Artaud’s inspiration for such a theatrical force was lit during his watching of the Balinese Troop Theatre.
Key within the development of Artaud’s theories was his experience watching the Balinese troop in 1931. This event catalysed Artaud’s infuriation with the limitation of Western theatre.21 Within Artaud’s essay On Balinese Theatre there lies a creative review of the forms deployed by the Balinese in the evocation of a theatrical experience quite removed from Western theatre. Before we briefly discuss Artaud’s essay, it is worth noting Jamieson’s (2007) ‘double’ interpretation of the Balinese performance which is vital in understanding Artaud’s essay. Jamieson believes that while indeed Artaud watched this performance; his essay primarily serves the purpose of distinguishing other theatrical models, aside from the realism which prevailed in Western theatre. As with all of Artaud’s essays, as much as describing the event taking place, the essay offers an insight into Artaud’s mind and aspirations.
“Instead of idealising the performance, the objective of ‘On the Balinese Theatre’ was prove that conventional Western theatre is merely a style of performance to which we have become accustomed” (Jamieson, 2007, 18)
Rather than approaching this essay as a review, it should be considered as a framework for Artaudian performance. The essay served the purpose of shaking the readers conception of what theatre is and enlightening them as to what theatre could be. “The oriental theatre he writes of is not only what Artaud sees; it is what he wishes to see. And to borrow.” (Bermel, 2001, 16)
As Bermel notes this essay is a useful document for identifying the key concepts of Artaudian theatre and will assist in laying the ground work for establishing the alchemical ideology axiomatic within Artaud’s theories.
Paramount to the Artaudian theatrical model and noted within this essay is the debasement of the the text, both in the form of the spoken word and the authority of the script. “They triumphantly demonstrate the absolute superiority of the producer whose creative ability does away with words” (Artaud, 1970, 38). Here lies one of the key creative principles of the Artaudian performance model. Within the Balinese performance Artaud noted that the emphasis is placed upon gesture, expression, and rhythm of movement. Artaud still believed that voice would have a place within performance, but that it would be used in the non discursive form of incantation, or ‘inflection’. 22
The mental profundity of this new stage language based upon gesture left a great impression upon Artaud.“These mental signs have an exact meaning that only strikes one intuitively, but violently enough to make any translations into logical discursive language useless”. (Artaud, 1970, 39)
This theatrical language had a precise and engineered effect upon the intuition of the audience, rather than the intellectual side of their being. Within this description Artaud laid out a key concept within this theatrical language, violence. Within this new language, violence serves as a severing of the rational understanding of literal meaning, preventing any form of translation into “discursive language”. The audience would experience something that was ‘beyond words’. Ultimately this violence would evolve into ‘Cruelty’ within Artaud’s theatrical model.
The mental profundity with which Artaud spoke of developed into a recurring concept within his literature; this is the idea of metaphysics. This term scholars of Artaud must approach with a certain amount of prudence, as Artaud himself never provided a concrete definition. Metaphysics is referred to as an other worldly quality inferred by the poetic profundity of powerful art, notably discussed within Artaud’s essay ‘Production and Metaphysics’. Within this essay Artaud described the metaphysical quality of the painting Lott and His Daughters, however my focus shall be upon its practical application within the Balinese performance. The metaphysical literally translates as ‘that which is beyond the physical’. Jamieson suggests that by approaching the relativity of perception we perceive our environment around us based upon sensory stimulation. 23 “In this way, all human perception is cerebrally constructed, and consequently, the breadth of experience is restricted to the physical limitations of the body’s senses”. (Jamieson, 2007, 28) If we accept that our breadth of experience is limited to that which we are brought into contact, Jamieson argues, then perhaps certain sensations are omitted from the human experience. Jamieson concludes that “These ‘un- sensed’ experiences are metaphysical and Artaud wanted to bring his spectators into contact with them”. (Jamieson, 2007, 28) Herein lies the first key concept of Artaudian metaphysics, being brought into contact with that which you were unable to perceive under normal circumstances. Bermel defines this metaphysics similarly as being beyond the physical.
“...a synonym for abstruse philosophical speculation, but suggests a type of artistic investigation that goes literally beyond the physical or outward limits of the art and into its virtuality, or what is is capable of becoming.” (Bermel, 2001, 12)
Bermel's definition helps contextualise this abstract subject; but the question turns to how Artaud intended to achieve this? Within the Balinese essay, one can discern Artaud’s belief that it is motion and gesture which evoked this sense of metaphysical profundity. The quality of motion provides an instinctual evocation of that which our mind previously held secret. Artaud regarded this; “...to give rise in our minds, to crystallise a new concept, what one might term a concrete concept of the abstract”. (Artaud, 1970, 43). The quality of this motion is central to the generation of this new found meaning. The use of metaphysics should stimulate the growth of unseen or neglected aspects of the mind. It is at the heart of this notion of metaphysics where we find the focus of Artaud’s dramas. Rather than engaging in the trivial pursuits of Western life, Artaud suggested the performance of a cosmic battle.
“Here we are suddenly in the thick of a metaphysical struggle and the rigid aspect of the body in a trance, tensed by the surging of the cosmic powers attacking it, is admirably expressed in that frenzied dance full of angular stiffness, where we suddenly feel the mind’s headlong falls begins.” (Artaud, 1970, 47)
(Grimoldby, (2017) Eidos, Photo Credit Fergusson.C)
Within the performance lies the revelation of that which is beyond reality, and ultimately the show serves the purpose of teaching the audience how to recognise these metaphysical concepts; in essence, the drama opens the spectators eyes to that which lies beyond. The drama staged is above and beyond anything seen in the contemporary playing houses of Paris; it is a struggle beyond words. Ultimately it is this conjuration of metaphysics which engages with Artaud most notorious yet illusive notions, that of ‘The Double’. It is within this cosmic drama which surmounts all logic and rational understanding that the audience meet it.
“And behind the Warrior, beset by the fearful cosmic storm, stands the Double giving himself airs, given up to the childishness of his schoolboy gibes, who, aroused by the repercussions of the surging gale, moves unaware in the midst of un-comprehended charms.” (Artaud, 1970, 42)
Within Balinese performance and a-priori Artaudian drama, the metaphysical is an aspect which is tapped into in order to reveal Artaud’s ‘Double’. The performance returns to the philosophy of the Tarahumara. The audience are met with ‘The Double’, and the notion of duality is conferred. This duality is a momentary experience within the Artaudian performance and ultimately is reconciled into a singular state. However recognition of this metaphysical ‘Double’ is a necessity before the reconciliation of the conscious mind can take place. This is a powerful and profound experience engineered through the medium of metaphysics. Jamieson notes the ritualistic trance like state conferred by this theatricality. “Artaud envisaged a ritual powerful enough to throw the spectator in a trance and reveal the stark realities of human existence” (Jamieson, 2007, 24). Jamieson also claims that the metaphysical is used to separate spiritual concepts from religious ideologies and that Artaud promoted an idea of “secular spiritualism” within his Oeuvre. “Secular spiritualism” helps determine where Artaud’s theatre sits. The performance engineers a profound, almost holy experience upon the audience; however, it does not dally with the bastardised conventions of organised religion.
It is difficult to process these ideologies with which Artaud spoke. Jamieson claims that Artaud’s theatre sits between the two worlds of reality and death, the sensed and un-sensed. (Jamieson 2007, 29) This paradoxical state is perhaps generated by Artaud’s admiration of the Tarahumara who already believe themselves dead (Artaud, 1976, 3) and value the existence of their Double far more than the physical reality they inhabit. Following the philosophy of the Tarahumara, Artaudian performance (and the use of metaphysics) can be seen as the meeting point of the Tarihumaran ‘living’ Double, and the ‘dead’ physical experience of everyday reality. 24 Obviously this speculation is one of many interpretations, but helps illustrate the philosophical ambiguity and complexity of these ideas. The quality of Artaud’s metaphysics requires as Jamieson rightly puts “a leap of
faith” (Jamieson, 2007, 27). Artaud’s theatre is an invitation into another world. I encourage you the reader to step over the precipice of the everyday and enter the dramatic imagination of Artaud. This dramatic imagination required a channel or medium to translate and it is at this point I must introduce ‘The Producer’.
The source of the Balinese drama, which Artaud idealised, stems from the playing space itself. “All creativity stems from the stage in this drama, finding its expression and even its sources in a secret physic impulse, speech prior to words.” (Artaud, 1970, 43 This is an outcry, a frustrated scream at the failure of the stage within Western theatre, it being perceived as a supporting element or practical necessity. Within the Balinese performance the stage’s primacy is assured as an engine for the generation of these metaphysical ideas; it is the device for the expression of ideas “prior to words”. The role of engineering the stage space, performance, and metaphysical direction of the Artaudian drama was given to ‘The Producer’. In discussing the differentiation between author and ‘Producer’ Artaud inferred ‘The Producer’ as a dramatic Demiurge. “But the latter becomes a becomes a kind of organiser of magic, a master of holy ceremonies.” (Artaud, 1970, 43) The ecstatic expression of the power of ‘The Producer’ is further confirmed by Artaud’s comment “What he sets in motion is MANIFEST.” (Artaud, 1970, 43). The drama explored on stage is not a psychological drama developed from the mind of an author, but rather ‘The Producer’ acts as a channel, or medium of a source of universal, metaphysical ideas. “the subjects he makes thrilling are not his own, but descend from the gods.” (Artaud, 1970, 43).Therefore Artaud is promoting a complete overhaul of the conventions of theatrical creation, both in method and subject. Within this theatrical creation Artaud’s aim was to incur an archaic revival of the subconscious mind in which the audience are reunited with metaphysical concepts which have been quelled by the onset of Western civilisation. Artaud perceived this as; “A kind of ancient Natural philosophy, from which the mind has never been separated”. (Artaud, 1970,
43 ).’The Producer’s’ role is to utilise all the stage elements available to them in order for this philosophy to be practiced upon the stage.
Artaud constructed his theatre in stark contrast to the practice of contemporary Parisian drama. Within his oeuvre he carried the hope that his theatre could cure the stagnation of culture.
Within this short exploration of Artaudian theatre in relation to Balinese performance I have attempted to determine four key notions. The entire essay is not an accurate representation of Balinese performance but instead a blueprint of Artaudian theatre. Secondly, that the performance which Artaud wished to create would emanate from gesture and movement and not be determined by script or words. These movements and gestures would have a tangible effect upon the intuition and feeling of the audience and engage in my third key notion of metaphysics. Artaud aimed for his theatre to engage with metaphysical notions which transcended the benign reality of contemporary Parisian living, and enter into a state of cosmic conflict. Finally the orchestrator of this performance would no longer be a series of independent craftsmen, the author, director, stage designer and technician etc. Artaud desired an overhaul of these individuals in favour of one singular creator, ‘The Producer’. ‘The Producer’ would draw from ideas “from the god’s themselves” and create a vision of totality on stage not dissimilar from the Wagnerian notion of Gesamtskuntswerk. (Bermel, 2001, 42) It is from the role of ‘The Producer’ which I can begin to explore the notion of Artaudian theatre as alchemical. In the next chapter I shall discuss how the role of ‘Producer’ is that of Alchemist, and consider the stage he creates as a theatrical laboratory.
19 Murphy regards Artaud’s thoughts on culture in declaring it; “...a fatally decayed Western culture for which he has unremitting hostility...” (Murphy, 2016, 92).
20 In A Failed Vision? Jamieson writes of Artaud; “Although he considered himself a practical man of the theatre, his applied Theatre of Cruelty amounted to little more than a small handful of productions, each with their own complications. Consequently, Artaud’s theatrical vision remained conceptual, communicated solely through essay, manifesto, scenario and play text.” (Jamieson 2007, 35).
21 After attending the Balinese performance Artaud wrote three articles and begun the formulation of The Theatre and Its Double. “These three seminal articles, all influenced by the Balinese experience, mark the beginning of his most prolific and imaginative period devoted to writings on the theatre, and would later become part of Le Théatre et son double...” (Clancy, 1985, 398)
22 Artaud regarded this new value within speech in stating; “Theatre can still derive possibilities for extension from speech outside words, the development in space of its dissociatory, vibratory action on our sensibility”. (Artaud, 1970, 63). Therefore the voice still has a place within Artaud’s theatrical model but emphasis is placed upon its sonic quality and not its psychologically driven discursive effects.
24 Artaud claimed to have experienced death multiple times, during his incarceration at Rodez and ECT at the hands of Dr Gaston Ferdière, and during the Peyote Ritual of the Tarahumara. Jamieson writes; “He describes these deaths as ‘out of body’ experiences, transgressing beyond his material flesh and, for a short time, occupying the metaphysical realm” (Jamieson, 2007, 29) Such experiences within Artaud’s life help inform an understanding of the nature of his theatre. Artaud’s life and theatre are inextricably linked.
23 Jamieson’s discussion surrounding the relativity of our sensory perception is informed by Immanual Kant.