Marc Bro tman Theory of Drama 11/15/00 TWO NIGHTS OF ARTAUD IS JUST NOT HEALTHY Cornell West writes, culture convinces you not to kill yourself. This, I ve come to realize, is a partial articulation of Atr aud's idea of culture -in-action (which also mandates his idea of metaphysics-in-action). Writing from a spiritual perspective, Artaud believes that something makes us live. This something is empirical and existent in all things. For Artaud, the human need for a transcendent state is part of life. Culture, he thinks, is the best arena for the satisfaction of this necessity.
He likens this compulsion to that of hunger. Hunger for food is the same as the necessity for the expression of and attempt at a poetic state. The need to consume culture in order to quench this sensory need is intrinsic to survival. Seeing contemporary civilization separating culture from life, Artaud points to public areas of crime, love and drug abuse as corrupt expressions of this need. Because of the blocks put between cultural consumption and the capacity to support life, Artaud sees a grave disconnection between human construction and the forces of life.
His Theater of Cruelty is an attempt to break down these barriers and repossess man's divinity. Through spectacle, he wants to achieve an immediacy that disallows digestive or analytical approaches, and demands a total sensory immersion. Working more as a Shaman than a dramatist, his mise-en-scene aims to be a language which develops all its physical and poetic effects on every level of consciousness and in all the senses (44). On a much broader scale, this satisfaction would redefine human understanding and action, making it directly compelled by the mysterious depths of ourselves (7).
Artaud defines the consideration of civilized man as a person who thinks in forms, signs, representations (8). This thought process, which is instructed in systems, separates culture from the basic elements of survival. Recognizing how a consciousness instructed in systems dictates even our subtlest behavior (8), Artaud comments on the pervasive and damaging effect of European culture. The system which separates things and words, is an installed interruption that maintains a method of removal from the divine. From this viewpoint, Artaud's theater is one of destruction. It breaks down the boundary that civilization puts up between modern and total man.
Total man, here, is inclusive of intrinsic and extrinsic divinity. It is a wholesome poetics in form that representation, or our imagination of representation, denies. He writes, far from believing that man invented the supernatural and the divine, I think it is man's age-old intervention which has ultimately corrupted the divine within him, (although, he later contradicts this by saying it is not the divine that is corrupt, but man's understanding and expression of it.) The divine is immanent, yet the system of removal and deriving thoughts from acts, disturbs the human faculty from appropriately enacting its holiness. Viewing the expression of pain as a demonstration of ever-present forces, Arat ud's theater asks for a redirection of culture. The redirection is in pursuit of the divine and thus, an acquisition of pure form that will pave the road for the rule of magic. Life is then the enactment of a direct compulsion from divinity, which is reached through culture.
Culture is the stuff of life, not a separation from it. It is simultaneous expression and feeling, a refined means of understanding and exercising life (10). Borrowing from ancient cultures he envisions as pure and connected to nature, his theater aims to induce savagery (which is not defined by simplicity, but spontaneity). The achievement of immediacy dictates much of the way he conceptualizes space and spectacle. All aspects of The Theater of the Cruel coalesce to form a totalistic experience where every theatrical tool informs the other, creating a pure theatrical language.
Pure form is not imprisoned in an object, but connected to a total experience. His theater will create a sensory identification that obliterates meager physical representation. The audience, then, redefines the way it considers form outside of theater. Artaud demonstrates this when he writes, It happens when we are watching fireworks, the crackling nocturnal bombardment of shooting stars, sky rockets, and Roman candles may reveal to our eyes its hallucinatory light certain details of landscape, wrought in relief against the night: trees, towers, mountains, houses whose lighting and sudden apparition will always remain definitely linked in our minds with the idea of this noisy rending of the darkness... this submission of the different elements of landscape... remain inspite of everything related to this sudden fire as dim echoes, living points of reference. (35) Each object contains its meaning not in a representative form, but a sensuous one. All the elements affect all the senses which combine into an experience, which creates the form.
The spectacle in theater is no different. The immediate experience will form the feeling which, in return, becomes the mode of identification. Yet, it is an identification different from that of Aristotelian theater. This identification disallows an internalized universality, which Brecht describes as saying it is awful because it is true, and can not be changed. Rather, its universality is in its total, immediate feeling that is beyond meaning through interpretive comprehension. The Theater of The Cruel is elitist.
This is the closest Artaud comes to being a dramatist. Seeing man's need to achieve the poetic state, a transcendent experience of life as a universal compulsion, the multiple removal of things from their divine state is part of a contemporary human consciousness. Developing the interpretation of imaginary representation to an absurd level, confusion has sent the public into directionless hysterics. The Theater of the Cruel aims to be the space where the public can consume the cultural needs of existence. Artaud sets a design for the theater, but forewarns that the essential thing is to believe that not just anyone can create it, and that there must be a preparation (13). In order for the theater to articulate the great essential passions (123), there must be a person who has achieved and can create exalted states.
The theater person, then, becomes more like a holy man. Just as the hieroglyphs of ancient cultures were symbols intrinsic with divinity, the pure theatrical language must also be imbued with holiness. The mise-en-scene must also demand the use of multiple sense at once in order for culture to attain that fragile, fluctuating center which forms never reach (13). Totality is latent in the entire construction of Artaud's theater. Demanding a wholistic use of space, Artaud wants to create a pure theatrical language that is a poetry of the senses (37).
This will create a spectacle that does not allow transportation to a fictional realm, but brings truth through expression and feeling. Although Artaud and Aristotle talk in terms of universality and identification, The Theater of the Cruel is very different from unified representation. Artaud's theater, which is no thing, but makes use of everything, denies catharsis. Catharsis is a resolution with the system of instruction that demands separation from objects. Artaud demands a reconciliation with the divine that is in articulable. It is life renewed by the theater... in which man fearlessly makes himself master of what does not yet exist, and brings it into being (13).
Here, though, is another resounding paradox. While theater renews life (which is ever-present), how can it create what does not exist 314.