Friday, August 24, 2007

Antonin Artaud: A Poetry of Space -or- Theatrical Yoga

[NOTE: Please forgive this messy little essay. This is a work-in-progress. I was struggling with Artaud's theories back in March of this year, and this blog has been sitting around as a draft ever since. I took a break from Artaud, but I've decided to go ahead and clear out some cobwebs. As always, I'm interested to hear opinions on this!]
I say that the stage is a concrete physical place which asks to be filled, and to be given its own concrete language to speak.

... this concrete physical language to which I refer is truly theatrical only to the degree that the thought it expresses are beyond the reach of spoken language.
-Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, pg. 37

We are dominated by words. Words fill our thoughts, define our experiences and communicate our wants and desires to others. You're reading words right now, words I first wrote out on a yellow legal pad at a coffee shop at half-past eight on a cold Thursday night in Los Angeles. Words can be very precise. Words can be vague.

It has been postulated that words are the source of neurosis and psychosis. Broken words. Thought viruses spread as words.

It has long been held in some circles that only The Word can bring salvation. The divine logos. The holy word.

Words conjure magic. Words seduce and repel.

But there is life in the absence of words. There's a whole universe out there full of the unnamed. Experiences can transcend words. We may struggle with the adjectives, but eventually words can make the intangible more concrete.

If I think of an elephant I once saw, and tell you "elephant," you cannot possibly know exactly what I'm talking about. You haven't seen the same elephant. Even if we were standing side by side, you saw the elephant through your eyes, not mine.

In the theatre, we depend upon words. Perhaps too much. This is the point Artaud is making in the chapter "Metaphysics and the Mise en Scene" from his book The Theatre and Its Double.

"Western" theatre is "psychological" in the coarse, materialistic sense that deals with push-button behavior and cause/effect action. This is perhaps best executed with a heavy reliance on words. Compared to Asian traditions ... well, I'll let Artaud take it from here:
In the Oriental theater of metaphysical tendencies ... this whole complex of gestures, signs, postures, and sonorities which constitute the language of stage performance, this language which develops all its physical and poetic effects on every level of conciousness and in all the senses, necessarily induces thought to adopt profound attitudes which could be called metaphysics-in-action
-- ibid, pg 44
Hence, Theatrical Yoga: assume this posture, assume that posture -- BOOM! Here's your enlightenment/self-created truth/epiphany, etc. (Please forgive my "Little Golden Book" understanding of Yoga. I've never formally studied the subject.) I think this is a fair assessment of what Monsieur Artaud is saying: "the possibilities for realization in the theater relate entirely to the mise en scene considered as a language in space and in movement."

I suppose I could just as easily call this "Theatrical Feng Shui." The idea is the same. Arrange things just so to create a predetermined effect on an audience, independent of -- in fact, in place of -- the spoken word.

Interesting. I wonder what a wordsmith like David Mamet would say about Artaud?