Presentation of papers and lecture series inspired by the Artaud Symposium ‘Affects, Effects, and Bodies’ hosted by MMU (April 2013).
Xavier Aldana Reyes (MMU) Artaud’s Theatre of Affect: From Cruelty to Horror
The aim of this paper is twofold. On the one hand, it intends to explore the affective qualities of Artaud’s plans for a theatre of cruelty in order to argue that spectatorial impact lies at the heart of his wider dramatic project. On the other, it suggests that his plays and scenarios show a symbiotic relationship between the dramatic medium and the cinematic. Although Artaud never specifically wrote a Horror film, I argue that his thoughts on the affective role of cinema seem to transcend surrealism and may even have found an alternative home in the corporeal concerns of the Horror genre.
I start by discussing some of the writings in The Theatre and Its Double (1938), particularly how they articulate an enquiry on the affective drive behind the theatre of cruelty. To illustrate the practical use of Artaud’s ideas I focus on the connections between two of his dramatic works, the unsuccessful adaptation The Cenci (1935) and his (in)famous scenario The Spurt of Blood (1925). The differences between Artaud and Shelley’s treatment of the same material for The Cenci serve to show the structural and conceptual preoccupations behind the former’s oeuvre. I complement my conclusions here with an analysis of The Spurt of Blood which foregrounds the potentially transgressive and challenging qualities of drama. In the last part of this talk, I turn to Artaud’s own translation of affect into cinema through a brief discussion of some of his screen projects. Of particular interest is visual shock, which has been seen as integral to The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928) and which came of age in Un Chien Andalou (1929).
Affect is increasingly becoming an area of interest in the fields of Film and Performance Studies, but few critics have so far attempted to read stage and screen as part of one affective continuum. This paper follows my wider argument that current thinking behind the somatic dimension of extreme spectatorial experience is intrinsically related to dramatic forms that have historically sought to appeal to the bodies of audiences. Artaud’s writings are particularly significant because they enrich our understanding of what corporeality might mean within the context of spectatorship.
Ros Murray (Manchester): Artaud on Paper.
In Le Pèse-nerfs, Artaud declares: ‘dear friends: what you mistook for my works were merely the waste products of myself, those scrapings of the soul that the normal man does not welcome’. Taking this statement as its starting point, this paper explores the relationship between body and text in Artaud’s work, addressing how this plays out in a material sense.
On the one hand Artaud seems to desire a direct, unmediated form of corporeal expression, yet on the other he continually draws attention to the body’s mediation, as if what he calls his ‘véritable corps’ only comes into being though the material object. Artaud’s self-generating ‘véritable corps’ is a mediated one, but one which expresses continual processes of destruction and recreation, in opposition to both the living body as it is viewed from the outside, and to any representation of the body as a complete or fixed form. The unfinished nature of most of Artaud’s work, and its ambiguous status as ‘work’, bears witness to this, and indeed, the work paradoxically announces its own impossibility from the very outset. The surface or membrane is constantly emphasised throughout Artaud’s texts and drawings both in metaphorical terms, for example through skin imagery, but also literally, through drawing attention to the surface of the page. What emerges from this is an emphatically material ‘body’ that questions the boundaries of the medium through which it comes into being, as well as the reader or audience’s perception of their own embodied experience in relation to this medium, be it a text, a film, a sound-recording, an art object, or simply a scrap of paper.
Jay Murphy (Aberdeen): The Artaud Effect.
This paper proposes, following Antonin Artaud (d. 1948), an investigation exploring the virtual body, neurology and the brain as fields of contestation. Using Deleuze and Guattari, Francisco Varela, Gregory Little, Foucault, the ‘final’work of Artaud among other sources, this project seeks a clearer understanding of Artaud’s transformations in their relation to discussions of “biopower” or “neuropolitics,” an investigation that ultimately leads into examining the relevance Artaud may or may not have for an adequate theory of the current media environment.
The notion that the primary arena of struggle between various forms of corporate capitalist domination and autonomous processes of subjectivation is now the brain (as many theorists cite neurology or the mind as the site of contestation rather than the body per se; what other economists or sociologists call ‘cognitive capitalism’) has its starting point for my purposes in Deleuze’s theories of cinema, where the brain is introduced as the screen. Deleuze’s primary inspiration here was the ‘late’ Antonin Artaud who at the dawn of the atomic age in 1948 proclaimed “a newbody/will be assembled.” Artaud prefigured the current concern with virtuality and the virtual body as early as 1925 and he already sites it in his radio broadcast To have done with the judgment of god (1947-8) as a realm of struggle against techno-capitalism, monotheism, and the perpetual war economy of the ‘Cold War’ (tendencies only exacerbated under the current ‘war on terror’).
What I explore is how Artaud cunningly outlines the contemporary media environment, dominated by what David Rodowick has called the “social hieroglyph” and how it is riven with conflict. For Artaud this was a combat of sorcery and counter-sorcery, a desperate cosmological war against demonic, invasive forces. Yet what was most ‘mad’ and delusional in Artaud’s lifetime (where he was stigmatized as ‘schizophrenic’ and subjected to electroshock treatments) is an aspect that survives and even thrives today in analyses of capitalism by Philippe Pignarre and Isabelle Stengers, Frédéric Neyrat, and the collective Tiqqun where the movements of political economy are indeed nothing less than “black magic.” The essential question from Artaud is this fiercely debatable role of representation and representational processes and what can possibly constitute a subversion of them in an inexorable digital sensorium. There are several current manifestations of these debates, ranging from the fact that Artaud’s notebooks are themselves undergoing the process of digitalization for public access, to the exploitation of the idea of ‘capitalist sorcery’ in a film like the Otolith Group’s Anathema (2011).
Anna Powell (MMU) Passional Bodies: Artaud’s graphics as interstitial force.
Artaud’s work is a crucial force in schizoanalysis as developed by Deleuze and Guattari. His drawings, along with his poetic commentaries on them, play a significant role in the wider anti-oedipal project. The drawings operate three interlocking machines: figures of the body, figures of the face and gris-gris or magical spells. All repudiate formal artistic rules and work in their interstices to release powerful affects via ‘the lifting of malediction’. Artaud’s counter-attack works instead by ‘bodily vituperation against the constraints of spatial form, perspective, measure, balance, dimensions’.
Artaud’s graphics link to his writings as part of the same vital project; affect and concept working in tandem to undermine the fixity of both representation and language. To counter baleful attempts to incorporate reality, his own figures that ‘have nothing to say/and represent/absolutely nothing’. The written marks he incorporates into the images are glossolalia at the interstice between language and sounds. In Artaud’s portraits, which shape Deleuze and Guattari’s own thinking about faciality, he seeks to resurrect the living human face from the tabula rasa of signification that has reduced it to ‘an empty force, a/field of death’.
Artaud’s bodies without organs are eviscerated and stripped bare to reveal the raw force of sensations neither inside nor out, as ‘there is no inside, no spirit, no outside or consciousness, nothing but the body’. These interstitial bodies are in a state of latency intended to ‘work in concert with each other so that with the colors, the shadows, and their emphases the whole would become valid and singular’. Artaud’s ‘improbable bodies’ would thus release schizo forces to work on and in other responsive bodies. My paper will connect Artaud’s figures, portraits, self-portraits and prophylactic spells with Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts of the schizo body in its ‘general breakdown of surfaces’ as well as relevant material from A Thousand Plateaus and elsewhere.
Jon K. Shaw (Goldsmiths) Artaud’s Body without Organs.
“Looking carefully at this life I remember being dead in it really and corporeally at least 3 times, once in Marseilles, once in Lyons, once in Mexico and once at the Rodez asylum in the coma of electroshock.”
Antonin Artaud “Letter to Peter Watson” 27 July –13 September 1946
In Artaud’s late work we see the relationship between life and death — a relation at times oppositional, at other times unilateral — supersede the comparable relationship between thought and unthought which had dominated his early poetry and the exchange of letters with Jacques Rivière more than twenty years earlier. Whilst the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari deals well with the latter relation, and with the relation of thought and life, their work suffers from an underexposure to the problem of death, both in general and in relation to Artaud in particular. With particular reference to the 1946–8 poem cycle Artaud le Mômo, this paper explores this shortcoming by considering how Deleuze and Guattari mutilate Artaud’s work to bring it in line with their Spinozist and vitalist ontology.
Jon K. Shaw is a Visiting Tutor in the Department of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths, where he is also completing his Ph.D. His research concerns Antonin Artaud and radical passivity. Jon is founding editor of Rattle: A Journal at the Convergence of Art and Writing, and Assistant Editor on the book series Visual Cultures As… and the journal Culture and Dialogue. Forthcoming publications include “Plane of Immanence” in Understanding Deleuze, Understanding Modernism (Bloomsbury, 2014) and “Untitled: Retreat from Language in the Titling of Rachel Whiteread” in Polysèmes, the journal of the Société des Amis d’Intertextualité.
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