A Letter to A. Artaud

M. Artaud,

You say the theatre is essential, that it is the re-localization or revelation into the depths of the mind. Why is it not treated as such? Where is your metaphor now?

You outline in detail the process of the body’s boiling point and we’re left only with the cruel fear that it is our lungs and our brains, those systems over which we have the only power, will liquefy, blacken, and be the first to carbonize and return to Earth. Is this why you turned to theatre?

Your body without organs is like a pitcher, some kind of coffer that can be filled, emptied and refilled with new and illuminating substances. It is the butterfly’s cocoon after the caterpillar liquefies and undergoes transmutation. It is your intestinal cancer that left you alone, seated upright, and dead, holding your left shoe. Did your body desert or honor you?

Neither the theatre nor the plague’s symptomatic effects seemed to affect you. It is the “demoralizing and prodigious effect produced on the victims’ minds” (17)* which starts you in fits. All the while, however, you’re aware of and convinced by fate. The story of your village and its Viceroy who listened to his dreams, the Assyrian Army’s decimation at the hands of an unknown, all-powerful General of putrefaction, are your expressions of acceptance, appreciation that there is no control, there is no means for expectation, there is only what is and what will be so why try to stop it?

This must be why “our will operates even in absurdity, even in the negation of possibility, even in the transmutation of the lies from which truth can be remade” (15). Free Will and Good Will, if absurd or cruel, must not be willful at all, for why would you or I or they will that which is untrue, fragmented, or rearranged? Is it a conscious will or a will born from the “streaming aberration of [our] mind[s]” (19)? If the latter, is it a will at all? For, to will requires intentionality and intentionality does not exist in the abating mind. Maybe it is within this plague-ridden brain that has yet to terminate, but is well into the throes of infection that a healthy environment is landed upon for the recrudescence of the puppeteers of death. Is it in this realm, the realm of an infected mind that has not yet given in, that creative expression must exist?

You say the theatre is “the supreme equilibrium which cannot be achieved without destruction” (31). I have two, balanced thoughts about that, but I keep them to myself from fear of ideational combustion. I don’t want my ideas to explode because I only have so many from time to time.

You and I function in our bodies on entirely different levels and our minds operate in different worlds, but the aesthetic boundaries you erected like barbed wire around a death camp are, like a crowd at a car crash, too disturbing to ignore. They capture that fundamental, but unwanted biological impulse to look when we should not, to think about what we should not think about, to say what we’re told not to say, to write and read out loud that which is disgusting and embarrassing, to open the space and time within which to actually create theatre based on the darkest corners of the human mind while all the time knowing the stage lighting comes from the lightest corners, to breathe in fresh mountain air only to blow out smoke into the watery eyes of the audience. Your theatre may be cruel, but physics says it must react and return in kind. And so, it is a kind theatre. After all, the smoke it stage smoke, the words are just words, the blood is fake, and the howls of pain are imitated.

I am glad I have not had to suffer like you, Hamlet, Shakespeare, Webster, the Marquis de Sade, de Vere, or any other poet/aristocrat/prince/madman. Thanks for the pavement – I’ll tread lightly and I promise to pick up the litter but leave the road-kill.

Yours Truly,

A 21st Century Theatre-Maker in the Western Hemisphere

* All quotes from The Theater and Its Double. Trans. Mary Caroline Richards. New York: Grove Press, 1958.

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