The Theatre and its Double
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My dear friend,
I believe I have found a suitable title for my book.
It will be:
THE THEATRE AND ITS DOUBLE
for if theatre doubles life, life doubles true theatre, but it has nothing to do with Oscar Wilde's ideas on Art. This title will comply with all the doubles of the theatre which I thought I'd found for so many years: metaphysics, plague, cruelty,
the pool of energies which constitute Myths, which man no longer embodies, is embodied by the theatre. By this double I mean the great magical agent of which the theatre, through its forms, is only the figuration on its way to becoming the transfiguration.
It is on the stage that the union of thought, gesture and action is reconstructed. And the double of the Theatre is reality untouched by the men of today.
Artaud, Letter to Jean Paulhan.
25th January, 1936.
(Schumacher 1989, 87-88)
Since its first publication in 1938, The Theater and Its Double by the French artist and philosopher Antonin Artaud has continued to provoke, inspire, enrage, enliven, challenge, and goad any number of theatrical debates in its call for a "Theater of Cruelty." A trio of theatrical manifestos, the book is an aggressive attack on many of the most treasured beliefs of both theater and Western culture. According to Artaud, the theater's "double" is similar to its Jungian "shadow," the unacknowledged, unconscious element that completes it but is in many ways its opposite. As "culture" inexorably draws the artistic impulse into safe channels, the repressed irrational urges of theater, based on dreams, religion, and emotion, are increasingly necessary to "purge" the sickness of society. Artaud identifies language itself as one of the major cultural culprits, and his attacks on it occasionally makes his text rough going. But his challenge to restore relevance to the heart of the theatrical experience remains fundamental to the vitality of theater, and his insistence on the sensory experience of drama as opposed to the literary (and such innovative ideas as the use of unconventional "found spaces") continues to be the clarion call of the theatrical avant-garde. --John Longenbaugh
this with such a sense of musical analogy that the mind finally finds itself doomed to confusion, attributing to the separate gesticulations of the dancers the sonorous properties of the orchestra-and vice versa. An impression of inhumanity, of the divine, of miraculous revelation is further provided by the exquisite beauty of the women's headdress: this series of banked luminous circles, made from combinations of multicolored feathers or from pearls of so beautiful a coloration that their
exaltation. To our disinterested and inert idea of art an authentic culture opposes a violently egoistic and magical, i.e., interested idea. For the Mexicans seek contact with the Manas, forces latent in every form, unreleased by contemplation of the forms for themselves, but springing to life by magic identification with these forms. And the old Totems are there to hasten the communication. How hard it is, when everything encourages us to sleep, though we may look about us with conscious,
because the Oriental theater does not deal with the external ANTONIN ARTAUD 73 aspects of things on a single level nor rest content with the simple obstacle or with the impact of these aspects on the senses, but instead considers the degree of mental possibility from which they issue, that it participates in the intense poetry of nature and preserves its magic relations with all the objective degrees of universal magnetism. It is in the light of magic and sorcery that the mise en scene must
stupidity of everything. VII. The Theater and Cruelty An idea of the theater has been lost. And as long as the theater limits itself to showing us intimate scenes from the lives of a few puppets, transforming the public into Peeping Toms, it is no wonder the elite abandon it and the great public looks to the movies, the music hall or the circus for violent satisfactions, whose intentions do not deceive them. At the point of deterioration which our sensibility has reached, it is certain that
also forgotten the use of their windpipes. Abnormally shrunk, the windpipe is not even an organ but a monstrous abstraction that talks: actors in France no longer know how to do anything but talk. XIII. Two Notes I.--THE MARX BROTHERS The first film of the Marx Brothers that we have seen here, Animal Crackers, appeared to me and to everyone as an extraordinary thing: the liberation through the medium of the screen of a particular magic which the customary relation of words and images does