“The Theatre of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation”
The piece centers on Antonin Artaud (1896-1948), leader of surrealism, avante garde actor, writer, theorist, and general crazy person. The theatre of cruelty concretely worked by using disconcerting sounds and lights to create the maximal affective response. My favorite story about him (wikipedia, so take that for what it’s worth):
“In 1937, Artaud returned to France where he obtained a walking stick of knotted wood that he believed belonged not only to St. Patrick, but also Lucifer, and Jesus Christ. Artaud traveled to Ireland in an effort to return the staff, though he spoke very little English and was unable to make himself understood. The majority of his trip was spent in a hotel room that he was unable to pay for. On his return trip, Artaud believed he was being attacked by two crew members and retaliated; he was arrested and put in a straitjacket.”
That being said, on to Derrida. Derrida is most interested in the way that the theatre of cruelty is an effort to break from representational theatre. Artaud seeks art that isn’t imitative. Representation, of course, is deeply bound to Western metaphysics; to shatter it through theatre, which should be the privileged site for exploding representation - though it’s totally unclear why - requires a whole new type of theatre, distinct from the tradition.
The theatre of cruelty “produces a non-theological space.” The stage is theologcial so long as it is dominated by speech; the stage which only illustrates a discourse isn’t really a stage. Thus, Artaud wanted to break from this model, dissolving the stage and the spectator/performer distinction. We would have instead a closed representation, an original representation, that wasn’t directed from some distant space. Speech will assume a specific, delineated role.
Speech and writing will become gestures. In a sense, this seems to dovetail with Freud’s discussion of speech in dreams as deciphering hieroglyphics. Despite his interest in psychoanalysis, though, Artaud rejects the idea of psychoanalytic theatre, which would assume a spectator, an analyst, and outsider. The point of the theatre of cruelty is to dissolve that distinction between interiority and exteriority, and the other presuppositions of metaphysics. Additionally, Artaud rejects the idea of dreams having a substitutive function as diminishing the power and weight of dreams. The theatre of cruelty should also be de-sacralizing.
An attempt at the theatre of cruelty fails if it:
- is non-sacred
- privileges speech and the verb
- is abstract but excludes something fromt the totality of art (dance, music, etc)
- attempts alienation, because alienation merely reinforces the spectator/actor divide.
- is non-political.
- is ideological.
Artaud, of course, failed at the theatre of cruelty and knew it.
“From Restricted to General Economy A Hegelianism Without Reserve”
This piece is a pretty straightforward explication of Bataille. Bataille takes Hegel to be formative, but tries to dislocate his discourse, through laughter. the center of the twisted reappropriation of Hegel is the concept of sovereignty.
In one sense, the sovereign is parallel to the master in the master-slave dialectic. Both are figures of expenditure, of overcoming, of mastery. But in his mastery of the slave, the master becomes implicated in the work. His mastery is put to use. this is what Bataille is trying to resist. Bataille is trying to linger with the moment of the negative, the non-meaning, the useless, rather than making the leap to Hegelian synthesis.
Basically, the gist of this essay lies in this passage by Derrida, at the end.
“The phenomenology of the mind...corresponds to a restricted economy...limited to meaning and the established value of objects, and to their circulation. The circularity of absolute knowledge could dominate, could comprehend only this circulation, only the circuit of reproductive consumption. The absolute production and destruction of value, the exceeding energy as such, the energy which can only be lost without the slightest aim, consequently, without any meaning” - all of this escapes the phenomenology of the restricted economy. The latter can determine negativity only as facets, moments, or conditions of meaning: as work. Now the non-meaning of the sovereign operation is neither the negative of nor the condition for, meaning, even if it is this also” (276).
It’s finally worth noting that despite Bataille emphasis on destructive, the transgressive, etc., Derrida remarks that he depends on the solidity and preservation of these structures in order to make his transgression meaningful. Sort of like how Derrida’s own appropriation of the excessive, the playfulness of language is only possible within the tradition of Western metaphysics.
“Structure, Sign, and Play.”
This turns out to be the essay by Derrida in the The Structuralist Controversy,” without the amusing exchange with Hyppolite, so see my notes there.
So the closure of the book is associated with the theological encyclopedia; the opening of the text with the erased God and man. The opening of the text(?) is “an expenditure without reserve, made possible by the closure of the book.
But the book returns. It is pure repetition, the eternal return. I’d keep going, but I couldn’t tell you what any of this means.