Let us wage war on totality;
let us be witnesses to the unpresentable;
let us activate the differences
- Jean-Francois Lyotard
In Artaud’s attack on prudence, on phronesis, “The Theatre and its Double” attempts to invert the hierarchy of life over stage, lift novelty over masterpiece, and gesture over speech acts. Radical philosophies carry with them the burden of their philosopher, and only rarely can a philosophy persist in its applicability beyond personality or a representation of personality. An equal burden rests within iconoclasm in its claim of escaping the cell membrane, to discover, and through its discovery reinvent the perception of that from which it departed (themselves). In order to do that, there must be a return of information, a tether from body to body, organ to organ, to inform it of the transformational damage. Otherwise, a philosophy becomes one of fleeing, a singing without relative pitch that sounds like a madman, but to the singer seems to be “ordinary speech.”
That which rebels against the social remains helplessly related to it. The impulse towards change, after all, seeks a change that brings presence to a lacking body. Every son overthrows the father ideologically, yet remains his father’s son. Iconoclasm performs little else than public tantrum, leaving its witnesses untransformed. Transformational action abandons revolutions of destruction. Every metamorphosis in art, in politics begins not with a mob shouting prompted phrases plastered across huge banners, but the improvised soliloquy of the individual wrought over time into a precise shape and condensed phrase. When this person speaks their words peal back the skin of a structure made oblique by hidden processes, by ritual, and the mere acknowledgement of presence within a now discernable area allows all to take a step in a constructive, spontaneous and autonomous direction of collective good.
This is not to romanticize the artist as loner genius or revolutionary, but one who observes and discerns much like scientists before discourse, much like the pre-socratics with their paradoxical questions of boundary and definition. The primary trait of a contemporary artist is gifted insight, not divine proclamations of false movements or the ability to make a beautiful hyperbole of their own personal experiences. We may say the value of an artist or a philosopher derives from their work to exist beyond their personality, that their work is not bound only to the particulars of their life. This may be because their life exists in extremely close relation to the social value. But why then the fuss of such and such artist’s accomplishments? Is it merely a nepotism of similarity? A camouflage of bad taste? Or is it the product of an acute observer, making only one change in the machine which sets it apart from itself? Both perhaps, yet our choice of artist may be confined to the social taste of the day, of historic materialism.
What we lack we seek, and each period in society may have what another period lacks. We suddenly include Woolf in the cannon but not in spellcheck. Heissig is not merely a pro-GDR artist. A return to form amidst social chaos. Art may be nothing less than the tectonic shifts of the individual and social. That the individual possesses enough power to resist a complete overhaul from the social zeitgeist is a trait of greatest value of the art world’s judgement of an artist. Yet these traits too, become incorporated into the social fold and are later rebelled against. Artaud, for instance, works against the concepts of Brecht.
Artaud expresses a discontent with theatre common to contemporary critiques of cinema; its only value resides in its magical relation to reality and danger (68), enough of these displays of closed, conceited, personal art (59), sugar-coated eroticism yet shorn of mystery (58), it reaffirms rather than transforms. Artaud reaffirms a fatal flaw of the rubric he criticizes (hegemony of thought, monolingualism) when he claims:
Either we restore one focal attitude and necessity in all the arts, finding correspondences between a gesture in painting or on stage, and a gesture made by lava in a volcanic eruption, or we must stop painting, gossiping, writing or doing anything at all (60).
Artuad wishes to transform theatre much as Die Brucke artists transformed German Art in the expressionist movement because the expression of feeling, or the feeling of existence is that which he is after. But this feeling “cannot in reality be expressed. To do so is to betray it. To express it, however is to conceal it. True expression conceals what it exhibits. It pits the mind against nature’s real vacuum, by creating a reaction a kind of fullness of thought. Or rather it creates a vacuum in thought, in relation to the manifest illusion of nature.” Being and Nothingness, etc. I think I’ll trademark that. There’s verisimilitude to Sarte whom Artaud claimed was a “misguided dramatist.” Which leads back to an initial claim; philosophers may not perceive beyond their personality and their philosophy is limited to that personality.
The conflict between psychology and epistemology continues as one informs the other, which in a reductionist’s standpoint may be perceived as a basic social versus individual power struggle. Which very well may be, and more than likely is, yet the attempt to transcend this is what Artaud and many many others attempt to do. Take Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, for example:
6.374 The world is independent of my will.
6.41 The sense of the world must lie outside the world. In the world everything is as it is, and everything happens as it does happen: in it no value exists – and if it did exist, it would have no value. If there is any value that does not have value, it must lie outside the whole sphere of what happens and is the case. For all that happens and is the case is accidental. It must lie outside the world.
6.42 If the good or bad exercixse of the will does alter the world, it can alter only the limits of the world, not the facts – not what can be expressed by means of language. In short the effect must be that it becomes an altogether different world. It must, so to speak, wax and wane as a whole. The world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man.
6.43 So too at death the world does not alter, but comes to an end. (And perhaps so too, the threat of death?)
6.431 Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. … Our life has no end in just the way in which our visual field has no limits.
6.54 My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands m eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them – as steps – to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
Then Wittgenstein’s beautifully epigrammatic leap.
7 What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.
The degree to which humility of an individual philosopher enables them to suture themselves back into the world’s fold reaches its closest point in this piece of writing. The Dyonisian inclusion of the self within a greater whole, this “bubble that pops, sighs and hardens”…