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Antonin Artaud

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Antonin Artaud

For the Pescado Rabioso 1973 album, see Artaud (album)
Antonin Artaud
Born Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud
(1896-09-04)4 September 1896
Marseille, France
Died 4 March 1948(1948-03-04) (aged 51)
Paris, France
Cause of death Intestinal Cancer
Nationality French
Education Studied at the Collège du Sacré-Cœur
Occupation Theatre director, poet, actor, artist, essayist
Known for Theatre of Cruelty
Notable work The Theatre and Its Double

Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud, better known as Antonin Artaud (French: ; 4 September 1896 – 4 March 1948), was a French dramatist, poet, essayist, actor, and theatre director,[1] widely recognized as one of the major figures of twentieth-century theatre and the European avant-garde.[1][2][3]


  • Early life 1
    • Paris 1.1
  • Final years 2
    • Apprenticeship with Charles Dullin 2.1
  • Theatre of cruelty 3
  • Philosophical views 4
  • Influence 5
  • Selected filmography 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early life

Antoine Artaud was born 4 September 1896 in Marseille, France, to Euphrasie Nalpas and Antoine-Roi Artaud.[4] Both his parents were natives of Smyrna (modern-day İzmir), and he was greatly affected by his Greek ancestry.[4] His mother gave birth to nine children, but only Antonin and two siblings survived infancy. When he was four years old, Artaud had a severe case of meningitis, which gave him a nervous, irritable temperament throughout his adolescence. He also suffered from neuralgia, stammering, and severe bouts of clinical depression.

Artaud's parents arranged a long series of sanatorium stays for their temperamental son, which were both prolonged and expensive. This lasted five years, with a break of two months in June and July 1916, when Artaud was conscripted into the French Army. He was allegedly discharged due to his self-induced habit of sleepwalking. During Artaud's "rest cures" at the sanatorium, he read Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, and Edgar Allan Poe. In May 1919, the director of the sanatorium prescribed laudanum for Artaud, precipitating a lifelong addiction to that and other opiates.


In March 1920, Artaud moved to Paris to pursue a career as a writer, and instead discovered he had a talent for La Nouvelle Revue Française; they were rejected, but the editor, Jacques Rivière, wrote back seeking to understand him, and a relationship via letters developed. Their compilation into an epistolary work, Correspondance avec Jacques Rivière, was Artaud's first major publication.

Artaud cultivated a great interest in cinema as well, writing the scenario for the first surrealist film, The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928), directed by Germaine Dulac. This film influenced Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel, two key Spanish surrealists, when they made Un Chien Andalou (1929). Artaud's performance as Jean-Paul Marat in Abel Gance's Napoleon (1927) used exaggerated movements to convey the fire of Marat's personality. He also played the monk Massieu in Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928).

In 1926-28, Artaud ran the Alfred Jarry Theatre, along with Roger Vitrac. He produced and directed original works by Vitrac, as well as pieces by Claudel and Strindberg. The theatre advertised that they would produce Artaud's play Jet de sang in their 1926-1927 season, but it was never mounted and was not premiered until 40 years later. The Theatre was extremely short-lived, but was attended by an enormous range of European artists, including André Gide, Arthur Adamov, and Paul Valéry.

In 1931, Artaud saw Balinese dance performed at the Paris Colonial Exposition. Although he did not fully understand the intentions and ideas behind traditional Balinese performance, it influenced many of his ideas for theatre. Also during this year, Artaud's "First Manifesto for a Theatre of Cruelty" was published in La Nouvelle Revue Française; it would later appear as a chapter in The Theatre and Its Double. In 1935, Artaud's production of his adaptation of Shelley's The Cenci premiered. The Cenci was a commercial failure, although it employed innovative sound effects-including the first theatrical use of the electronic instrument the Ondes Martenot—and had a set designed by Balthus.

After the production failed, Artaud received a grant to travel to Mexico, where in 1936 he met his first Mexican-Parisian friend, the painter Federico Cantú, when he gave lectures on the decadence of Western civilization. Artaud also studied and lived with the Tarahumaran people and experimented with peyote, recording his experiences, which were later released in a volume called Voyage to the Land of the Tarahumara. (In 1976, an English translation was published under the title The Peyote Dance.) The content of this work closely resembles the poems of his later days, concerned primarily with the supernatural. Artaud also recorded his horrific withdrawal from heroin upon entering the land of the Tarahumaras. Having deserted his last supply of the drug at a mountainside, he literally had to be hoisted onto his horse and soon resembled, in his words, "a giant, inflamed gum". Artaud would return to opiates later in life.

In 1937, Artaud returned to France, where he obtained a walking stick of knotted wood that he believed belonged not only to St. Patrick, but also Lucifer and Jesus Christ. Artaud traveled to Ireland, landing at Cobh and travelling to Galway, in an effort to return the staff, though he spoke very little English and was unable to make himself understood. He would not have been admitted at Cobh, according to Irish government documents, except that he carried a letter of introduction from the Paris embassy. The majority of his trip was spent in a hotel room he was unable to pay for. He was forcibly removed from the grounds of Milltown House, a Jesuit community, when he refused to leave. Before deportation he was briefly confined in the notorious Mountjoy Prison. According to Irish Government papers he was deported as "a destitute and undesirable alien".[5] On his return trip by ship, Artaud believed he was being attacked by two crew members and retaliated. He was arrested and put in a straitjacket.

His best-known work, The Theatre and Its Double, was published in 1938. This book contained the two manifestos of the Theatre of Cruelty. There, "he proposed a theatre that was in effect a return to magic and ritual and he sought to create a new theatrical language of totem and gesture - a language of space devoid of dialogue that would appeal to all the senses."[6] "Words say little to the mind," Artaud wrote, "compared to space thundering with images and crammed with sounds." He proposed "a theatre in which violent physical images crush and hypnotize the sensibility of the spectator seized by the theatre as by a whirlwind of higher forces." He considered formal theatres with their proscenium arches and playwrights with their scripts "a hindrance to the magic of genuine ritual."[7]

Final years

The return from Ireland brought about the beginning of the final phase of Artaud's life, which was spent in different asylums. When France was occupied by the Nazis, friends of Artaud had him transferred to the psychiatric hospital in Rodez, well inside Vichy territory, where he was put under the charge of Dr. Gaston Ferdière. Ferdière began administering electroshock treatments to eliminate Artaud's symptoms, which included various delusions and odd physical tics. The doctor believed that Artaud's habits of crafting magic spells, creating astrology charts, and drawing disturbing images were symptoms of mental illness. The electroshock treatments created much controversy, although it was during these treatments—in conjunction with Ferdière's art therapy—that Artaud began writing and drawing again, after a long dormant period. In 1946, Ferdière released Artaud to his friends, who placed him in the psychiatric clinic at Ivry-sur-Seine. Current psychiatric literature describes Artaud as having schizophrenia, with a clear psychotic break late in life and schizotypal symptoms throughout life.

Artaud was encouraged to write by his friends, and interest in his work was rekindled. He visited an exhibition of works by Vincent van Gogh which resulted in a study Van Gogh le suicidé de la société [Van Gogh, The Man Suicided by Society], published by K éditeur, Paris, 1947 which won a critics' prize.[8] He recorded Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de dieu [To Have Done With the Judgment of God] between 22 and 29 November 1947. This work was shelved by Wladimir Porché, the director of the French Radio, the day before its scheduled airing on 2 February 1948. The performance was prohibited partially as a result of its scatological, anti-American, and anti-religious references and pronouncements, but also because of its general randomness, with a cacophony of xylophonic sounds mixed with various percussive elements. While remaining true to his Theatre of Cruelty and reducing powerful emotions and expressions into audible sounds, Artaud had utilized various, somewhat alarming cries, screams, grunts, onomatopoeia, and glossolalia.

As a result, Fernand Pouey, the director of dramatic and literary broadcasts for French radio, assembled a panel to consider the broadcast of Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de dieu. Among the approximately 50 artists, writers, musicians, and journalists present for a private listening on 5 February 1948 were Claude Mauriac, and René Char. Although the panel felt almost unanimously in favor of Artaud's work, Porché refused to allow the broadcast. Pouey left his job and the show was not heard again until 23 February 1948 at a private performance at the Théâtre Washington.

In January 1948, Artaud was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. He died shortly afterwards on 4 March 1948, alone in the psychiatric clinic, at the foot of his bed, clutching his shoe. It was suspected that he died from a lethal dose of the drug chloral hydrate, although it is unknown whether he was aware of its lethality. Thirty years later, French radio finally broadcast the performance of Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de dieu.

Apprenticeship with Charles Dullin

Arguably one of Artaud’s most significant influences in shaping his radical ideas for the theater was Charles Dullin. Dullin, a cohort and collaborator of the celebrated French “teacher-directors” Jacques Copeau, André Antoine, and Firmin Gémier, founded in July, 1921 what he referred to as a “laboratory theater” which he named “Théâtre de l'Atelier”, located in Néronville, France. Dullin’s goal when he created this theater, where he trained aspiring actors, was to create the “complete actor”, “to form actors with a general culture, which they so often lack; to inculcate them from the very beginning with solid principles of actors’ techniques: good diction, physical training; to expand their means of expression to include dance and pantomime; in one word, to form the complete actor.”[9]

Artaud was taken on as an apprentice by Dullin in 1921, under whom he arduously trained for eighteen months, ten to twelve hours a day, with particular emphasis on mime, gymnastics, improvisation, voice production, and various exercises intended to heighten one’s sensory perception.[10] By making contact with one’s surroundings, the actor was to get in tune with “La Voix du Monde” (the voice of the world), making way for “Voix de Soi-Même” (the voice of oneself), in order to be able to get the actor in tune with his true voice, with which he is to express himself on stage. Perhaps the most evident influence that Dullin had on Artaud’s 1935 stage production of Percy Shelley’s “The Cenci” were his improvisational exercises related to the five human senses, intended by Dullin as preparation, not for the stage. In his seminars, Dullin strongly emphasized that his actors must “see before describing, hear before answering…and feel before trying to express himself”, often using bells, the sound of footsteps, and masks as preparation.[11]

The actors were encouraged to forget the weight of their bodies, while using them more than their faces to express themselves, often wearing a full or half mask.[11] It was this internalization process that interested Artaud most, often focusing on man’s struggle against elemental forces, a significant theme in his “

External links

  1. ^ a b Poetry Foundation - Antonin Artaud
  2. ^ Britannica - Antonin Artaud
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b John Wakeman, World Authors, 1950-1970: A Companion Volume to Twentieth Century Authors
  5. ^
  6. ^ Gary Botting, The Theatre of Protest in America (Edmonton: Harden House, 1972) p. 6
  7. ^ Botting, The Theatre of Protest in America, p. 6
  8. ^
  9. ^ Deák, František, Antonin Artaud and Charles Dullin: Artaud's Apprenticeship in Theatre, Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 29, No. 3, October, 1977), pp. 346
  10. ^ a b Goodall, Jane, Artaud’s Revision of Shelley’s ,The Cenci’: The Text and its Double, Comparative Drama, Vol.2, N.2, 1987, pp.119
  11. ^ a b Deák, František, Antonin Artaud and Charles Dullin: Artaud's Apprenticeship in Theatre, Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 29, No. 3, October, 1977), pp. 347
  12. ^ a b Deák, František, Antonin Artaud and Charles Dullin: Artaud's Apprenticeship in Theatre, Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 29, No. 3, October, 1977), pp. 351
  13. ^ Artaud, Antonin, Das Theater und sein Double, Frankfurt a.M., Fischer, 1986, s.88
  14. ^ Deák, František, Antonin Artaud and Charles Dullin: Artaud's Apprenticeship in Theatre, Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 29, No. 3, October, 1977), pp. 349-350
  15. ^ Goodall, Jane, Artaud’s Revision of Shelley’s ,The Cenci’: The Text and its Double, Comparative Drama, Vol.2, N.2, 1987, pp.120
  16. ^ Goodall, Jane, Artaud’s Revision of Shelley’s ,The Cenci’: The Text and its Double, Comparative Drama, Vol.2, N.2, 1987, pp.123
  17. ^ Deák, František, Antonin Artaud and Charles Dullin: Artaud's Apprenticeship in Theatre, Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 29, No. 3, October, 1977), pp. 350
  18. ^ a b c d
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. "28 November 1947: How Do You Make Yourself a Body Without Organs?" In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. 149-166.
  23. ^ Allen Ginsberg. “Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Versions, Fully Annotated by Author, with Contemporaneous Correspondence, Account of First Public Reading, Legal Skirmishes, Precursor Texts & Bibliography.” Ed. Barry Miles. Harper Perennial, 1995, p. 130. ISBN 0-06-092611-2.
  24. ^ Gary Botting, The Theatre of Protest in America (Edmonton: Harden House, 1872) 6-25.
  25. ^ "Dark Days," Williams Record, Williamstown, MA, January 1968
  26. ^ "Marowitz, Charles (1977). Artaud at Rodez. London: Marion Boyars. ISBN 0-7145-2632-0.
  27. ^ Edmonton: Harden House, 1972.
  28. ^ "Yo-Yo Boing!", introduction by Doris Sommer, Latin American Literary Review Press, Pittsburgh, 1998


  • Seegers, U. Alchemie des Sehens. Hermetische Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert. Antonin Artaud, Yves Klein, Sigmar Polke (Köln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2003).

In German

  • Blanchot, Maurice. "Artaud." La Nouvelle Revue Française 4 (November 1956, no. 47): 873-881.
  • Brau, Jean-Louis. Antonin Artaud. Paris: La Table Ronde, 1971.
  • Héliogabale ou l'Anarchiste couronné, 1969
  • Florence de Mèredieu, Antonin Artaud, Portraits et Gris-gris, Paris, Blusson, 1984, new edition with additions, 2008. ISBN 978-2907784221
  • Florence de Mèredieu, Antonin Artaud, Voyages, Paris, Blusson, 1992. ISBN 978-2907784054
  • Florence de Mèredieu, Antonin Artaud, de l'ange, Paris, Blusson, 1992. ISBN 978-2907784061
  • Florence de Mèredieu, Sur l'électrochoc, le cas Antonin Artaud, Paris, Blusson, 1996. ISBN 978-2907784115
  • Florence de Mèredieu, C'était Antonin Artaud, Biography, Fayard, 2006. ISBN 978-2213625256
  • Florence de Mèredieu, La Chine d'Antonin Artaud / Le Japon d'Antonin Artaud, Paris, Blusson, 2006. ISBN 978-2907784177
  • Florence de Mèredieu, L'Affaire Artaud, journal ethnographique, Paris, Fayard, 2009. ISBN 978-2213637600
  • Florence de Mèredieu, Antonin Artaud dans la guerre, de Verdun à Hitler. L'hygiène mentale, Paris, Blusson, 2013.ISBN 978-2907784269
  • Florence de Mèredieu, Vincent van Gogh, Antonin Artaud. Ciné-roman. Ciné-peinture, Paris, Blusson, 2014.ISBN 978-2907784283
  • Virmaux, Alain. Antonin Artaud et le théâtre. Paris: Seghers, 1970.
  • Virmaux, Alain and Odette. Artaud: un bilan critique. Paris: Belfond, 1979.
  • Virmaux, Alain and Odette. Antonin Artaud: qui êtes-vous? Lyon: La Manufacture, 1986.

In French'

  • The Absence of Myth: Writings on Surrealism. Trans. Michael Richardson. London: Verso, 1994. 34-47.
  • Barber, Stephen Antonin Artaud: Blows and Bombs (Faber and Faber: London, 1993) ISBN 0-571-17252-0
  • Bersani, Leo. "Artaud, Defecation, and Birth". In A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature. Boston: Little, Brown, 1976.
  • Blanchot, Maurice. "Cruel Poetic Reason (the rapacious need for flight)". In The Infinite Conversation. Trans. Susan Hanson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. 293-297.
  • Deleuze, Gilles. "Thirteenth Series of the Schizophrenic and the Little Girl". In The Logic of Sense. Trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale. Ed. Constantin V. Boundas. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990. 82-93.
  • Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Mark Hurley, Helen Seem, and Mark Lane. New York: Viking Penguin, 1977.
  • A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. 149-166.
  • Derrida, Jacques. "The Theatre of Cruelty" and "La Parole Souffle." In Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. ISBN 0-226-14329-5
  • Esslin, Martin. Antonin Artaud. London: John Calder, 1976.
  • Ferdière, Gaston. "I Looked after Antonin Artaud". In Artaud at Rodez. Marowitz, Charles (1977). pp. 103–112. London: Marion Boyars. ISBN 0-7145-2632-0.
  • Goodall, Jane, Artaud and the Gnostic Drama. Oxford: Clarendon Press; Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-19-815186-1
  • Innes, Christopher Avant-Garde Theatre 1892-1992 (London: Routledge, 1993).
  • Jamieson, Lee Antonin Artaud: From Theory to Practice (Greenwich Exchange: London, 2007) ISBN 978-1-871551-98-3.
  • Jannarone, Kimberly, Artaud and His Doubles (Ann Arbor, MI, University of Michigan Press, 2010).
  • Jannarone, Kimberly, "The Theater Before Its Double: Artaud Directs in the Alfred Jarry Theater," Theatre Survey 46.2 (November 2005), 247-273.
  • Pireddu, Nicoletta. "The mark and the mask: psychosis in Artaud's alphabet of cruelty," _Arachnē: An International Journal of Language and Literature_ 3 (1), 1996: 43-65.
  • Koch, Stephen. "On Artaud." Tri-Quarterly, no. 6 (Spring 1966): 29-37.
  • Plunka, Gene A. (Ed). Antonin Artaud and the Modern Theater. Cranbury: Associated University Presses. 1994.
  • Rainer, Friedrich. "The Deconstructed Self in Artaud and Brecht: Negation of Subject and Antitotalitarianism", Forum for Modern Language Studies, 26:3 (July 1990): 282-297.
  • Sontag, Susan. "Approaching Artaud". In Under the Sign of Saturn. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980. 13-72. [Also printed as Introduction to Antonin Artaud: Selected Writings, ed. Sontag.]
  • Shattuck, Roger. "Artaud Possessed". In The Innocent Eye. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984. 169-186.
  • Ward, Nigel "Fifty-one Shocks of Artaud", New Theatre Quarterly Vol.XV Part2 (NTQ58 May 1999): 123-128

In English

  • Artaud, Antonin. Collected Works of Antonin Artaud, trans. Victor Corti. London: Calder and Boyars, 1971.
  • Artaud, Antonin. Selected Writings, Trans. Helen Weaver. Ed. and Intro. Susan Sontag. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976.
  • Artaud, Antonin. Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu, original recording. Edited with an introduction by Marc Dachy. Compact Disc. Sub Rosa/aural documents, 1995.
  • Artaud, Antonin. The Theatre and Its Double, Trans. Mary Caroline Richards. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1958.
  • Artaud, Antonin. 50 Drawings to Murder Magic, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. London: Seagull Books, 2008. ISBN 978-1-905422-66-1
  • Artaud, Antonin. Artaud Anthology, edited and translated by Jack Hirschman. San Francisco: City Lights, 1963. ISBN 978-0-87286-000-1
  • Artaud, Antonin. Watchfiends and Rack Screams: works from the final period, trans. and ed. Clayton Eshleman, with Bernard Bador. Boston: Exact Change, 1995. ISBN 1-878972-18-9.

Works by Artaud


Selected filmography

Youth film company ACT 2 CAM work is inspired by the writings of Artaud. Their 2012 feature film is entitled Beggars' Teeth, after the Artaud quotation "All true language is incomprehensible, like the chatter of Beggars' Teeth".

Charles Marowitz's play, Artaud at Rodez, is about the relationship between Artaud and Dr. Ferdière during Artaud's confinement at the psychiatric hospital in Rodez; the play was first performed in 1976 at the Teatro a Trastavere in Rome.[26] In Canada, playwright Gary Botting created a series of Artaudian "happenings" from The Aeolian Stringer to Zen Rock Festival, and produced a dozen plays with an Artaudian theme, including Prometheus Re-Bound.[27] The Latin American dramatic novel Yo-Yo Boing! by Giannina Braschi includes a debate between artists and poets concerning the merits of Artaud's "multiple talents" in comparison to the singular talents of other French writers.[28] The band Bauhaus included a song about the playwright, called "Antonin Artaud", on their album Burning from the Inside [1]. Charles Bukowski also claimed him as a major influence on his work. Influential Argentine hard rock band Pescado Rabioso recorded an album titled Artaud (album). Their leader Luis Alberto Spinetta wrote the lyrics partly basing them on Artaud's writings. Composer John Zorn has written many works inspired by and dedicated to Artaud, including six cds: "Astronome", "Moonchild", "Six Litanies for Heliogabalus", "The Crucible", "Ipsissimus" and "Templars: In Sacred Blood", a monodrama for voice and orchestra inspired by Artaud's late drawings "La Machine de l'être" (2000), "Le Momo" (1999) for violin and piano, and "Suppots et Suppliciations" (2012) for full orchestra.

Theatrical practitioner Peter Brook took inspiration from Artaud's "Theatre of Cruelty" in a series of workshops that led up to his Royal Shakespeare Company production of Marat/Sade in 1964, which was performed in New York and Paris as well as London. The Living Theatre was also heavily influenced by Artaud, 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.[24] In the winter of 1968, Williams College offered a dedicated intersession class in Artaudian theater, resulting in a week-long "Festival of Cruelty," under the direction of Keith Fowler. The Festival included productions of The Jet of Blood, All Writing is Pig Shit, and several original ritualized performances, one based on the Texas Tower killings and another created as an ensemble catharsis called The Resurrection of Pig Man.[25]

Artaud has been cited as a profoundly influential figure in the history of theater, their conception of the virtual dimension of the body and, ultimately, the basic substratum of reality in their Capitalism and Schizophrenia.[22] Poet Allen Ginsberg claimed his introduction to Artaud, specifically "To Have Done with the Judgement of god", by Carl Solomon had a tremendous influence on his most famous poem "Howl".[23]


Artaud was heavily influenced by seeing a Colonial Exposition of Balinese Theatre in Marseille. He read eclectically, inspired by authors and artists such as Seneca, Shakespeare, Poe, Lautréamont, Alfred Jarry, and André Masson.

A very important study on the Artaud work comes from Jacques Derrida. According to the philosopher, as theatrical writer and actor, Artaud is the embodiment of both an aggressive and repairing gesture, which strikes, sounds out, is harsh in a dramatic way and with critical determination as well. Identifying life as art, he was critically focused on the western cultural social drama, to point out and deny the double-dealing on which the western theatrical tradition is based; he worked with the whirlpool of feelings and lunatic expressions, being subjugated to a counter-force which came from the act of gesture.[20][21]

Artaud saw suffering as essential to existence and thus rejected all utopias as inevitable dystopia. He denounced the degradation of civilization, yearned for cosmic purification, and called for an ecstatic loss of the self. Hence Jane Goodall considers Artaud to be a modern Gnostic while Ulli Seegers stresses the Hermetic elements in his works.

Imagination, to Artaud, was reality; he considered dreams, thoughts and delusions as no less real than the "outside" world. To him, reality appeared to be a consensus, the same consensus the audience accepts when they enter a theatre to see a play and, for a time, pretend that what they are seeing is real.

Philosophical views

Finally, Artaud used the term to describe his philosophical views, which will be outlined in the following section. In 1989 Norwegian actor-turned-director Lars Øyno made the performance of "Elagabal" with his colleagues at Trondelag Teatre in Trondheim, Norway. That led to the foundation of Grusomhetens Teater in Oslo in 1992. Using Artaud's manifestos as sources for a contemporary practice on stage, he made 23 plays in the theater of cruelty form. Øyno traveled in countries like India, Russia, Germany, Poland, UK, US, etc. A resurrection of the Theater of Cruelty attracted drama festivals in different countries. Yet Grusomhetens Teater is the one and only troupe in the world dedicated completely to Artaud's principles of theater. [19]

Artaud wanted to put the audience in the middle of the 'spectacle' (his term for the play), so they would be 'engulfed and physically affected by it'. He referred to this layout as being like a 'vortex' - a constantly shifting shape - 'to be trapped and powerless'.

Artaud sought to remove aesthetic distance, bringing the audience into direct contact with the dangers of life. By turning theatre into a place where the spectator is exposed rather than protected, Artaud was committing an act of cruelty upon them.
Lee Jamieson, Antonin Artaud: From Theory to Practice, Greenwich Exchange, 2007, p.23

Artaud's second use of the term (according to Jamieson), is as a form of discipline. Although Artaud wanted to "reject form and incite chaos" (Jamieson, p. 22), he also promoted strict discipline and rigor in his performance techniques. A third use of the term was ‘cruelty as theatrical presentation’. The Theatre of Cruelty aimed to hurl the spectator into the centre of the action, forcing them to engage with the performance on an instinctive level. For Artaud, this was a cruel, yet necessary act upon the spectator, designed to shock them out of their complacency:

[Nietzsche's] definition of cruelty informs Artaud's own, declaring that all art embodies and intensifies the underlying brutalities of life to recreate the thrill of experience ... Although Artaud did not formally cite Nietzsche, [their writing] contains a familiar persuasive authority, a similar exuberant phraseology, and motifs in extremis ...
Lee Jamieson, Antonin Artaud: From Theory to Practice, Greenwich Exchange, 2007, p.21-22

Evidently, Artaud's various uses of the term cruelty must be examined to fully understand his ideas. Lee Jamieson has identified four ways in which Artaud used the term cruelty. First, it is employed metaphorically to describe the essence of human existence. Artaud believed that theatre should reflect his nihilistic view of the universe, creating an uncanny connection between his own thinking and Nietzsche's :

The Theatre of Cruelty has been created in order to restore to the theatre a passionate and convulsive conception of life, and it is in this sense of violent rigour and extreme condensation of scenic elements that the cruelty on which it is based must be understood. This cruelty, which will be bloody when necessary but not systematically so, can thus be identified with a kind of severe moral purity which is not afraid to pay life the price it must be paid.
– Antonin Artaud, The Theatre of Cruelty, in The Theory of the Modern Stage (ed. Eric Bentley), Penguin, 1968, p.66

In his book The Theatre and Its Double, which contained the first and second manifesto for a "Theatre of Cruelty", Artaud expressed his admiration for Eastern forms of theatre, particularly the Balinese. He admired Eastern theatre because of the codified, highly ritualized and precise physicality of Balinese dance performance, and advocated what he called a "Theatre of Cruelty". At one point, he stated that by cruelty he meant not exclusively sadism or causing pain, but just as often a violent, physical determination to shatter the false reality. He believed that text had been a tyrant over meaning, and advocated, instead, for a theatre made up of a unique language, halfway between thought and gesture. Artaud described the spiritual in physical terms, and believed that all theatre is physical expression in space.

Artaud believed that theatre should be a force for the liberation of the human subconscious and revelation of man to himself.[18] He called for "communion between actor and audience in a magic exorcism; gestures, sounds, unusual scenery, and lighting combine to form a language, superior to words, that can be used to subvert thought and logic and to shock the spectator into seeing the baseness of his world."[18]

Theatre of cruelty

Artaud’s implementation of Dullins preparation techniques, not intended for the stage, in combination with the physical and symbolic language specific to oriental theater were Artaud’s strongest influences in both the shaping of “The Theater of Cruelty” and his staging of “The Cenci”.

“The predominance of action over reflection accelerates the development of events…the monologues…are cut in favor of sudden, jarring transitions…so that a spasmodic effect is created. Extreme fluctuations in pace, pitch, and tone heighten sensory awareness intensify…the here and now of performance” -Goodall, Jane, Artaud’s Revision of Shelley’s, The Cenci’: The Text and its Double, Comparative Drama, Vol.2, N.2, 1987, pp. 119.

While Artaud implemented much of what he learned from his apprenticeship with Charles Dullin, the two butted heads towards the end of Artaud’s apprenticeship, citing differences in their goals for the theater. Lugné Poe, influential French theater director in the symbolist movement, described Artaud as “a painter lost in the midst of actors”.[17] Artaud’s strong interest in oriental theater, specifically Balinese and Chinese, was in part shared by his mentor Dullin, but Dullin, unlike Artaud, did not think Western theater should be adopting oriental language and style. He was quoted as saying of Artaud’s influences from oriental theater, “To want to impose on our Western theater rules of a theatre of a long tradition which has its own symbolic language would be a great mistake.”[12] Artaud’s wishes that Western theatre be much more resembling of Oriental theatre was a major source of conflict between the two French actors/directors. Artaud’s implementation of Dullin’s sensory awareness exercises into the stage production were clearly observable in “The Cenci,” Jane Goodall writes of the performance,

The drama written by Percy Shelley contained themes of abuse, incest, violence, murder and betrayal. In Artaud’s stage directions, he described the opening scene as “suggestive of extreme atmospheric turbulence, with wind-blown drapes, waves of suddenly emplified sound, and crowded figured engaged in ‘furious orgy’”, accompanied by “a chorus of church bells”, as well as the presence of numerous large mannequins.[15] In this scene, which is often referred to as “the banquet scene”, Dullin’s influence on Artaud is very clear, as both the sounds of bells and the sounds of amplified footsteps were present, along with the strongly emphasized theme of elemental forces. While Percy Shelley’s version of “The Cenci” conveyed the motivations and anguish of Beatrice, the Cenci’s daughter, with her father through monologues, Artaud was much more concerned with conveying the menacing nature of the Cenci’s presence and the reverberations of their incest relationship though physical discordance, as if an invisible “force-field” surrounded them.[16]

In Artaud’s “Theater of Cruelty” he warned against the dangers of psychology in theater and strove to create a theater in which the mise-en-scène, everything present in the staging of a production, could be understood as a codified stage language, with minimal emphasis on spoken language.[13] He voiced his concerns of the dangers relating to “psychological equilibrium” present in Dullin’s vocal improvisation exercises, “These exercises of improvisation reveal and sharpen true personality. Intonation is found within oneself and pushed out with the burning power of feeling, not achieved through imitation”.[14] In his 1935 production of “The Cenci”, it was these raw elemental forces and his wishes for the audience to feel the character’s anguish that Artaud focused on.


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