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Antonin Artaud and the hermetic tradition


In Salon Chat Steveman has started a thread devoted to Antonin Artaud. I could post this there but I think the discussion better served in this forum.

Context and orientation is everything, without which both perception and understanding fail us. Artaud is sometimes received as a madman, a oner, an eccentric. But I think his writings can be placed in a context that has considerable tradition to it. I think he wrote in the so-called hermetic style that originated with the alchemists of the High Middle Ages and Early Renaissance, and that took its name from an ancient, maybe mythical, figure known as Hermes Tresmegistus.

It was Joseph Campbell who first introduced me to the hermetic style. This would have been long after, long after, I first stumbled across Artaud. With information in hand I started reading Artaud in a different way. And I am pretty sure Artaud was familiar with the alchemists' hermetic style of writing. I know he was a student of Medieval Europe.

Here is a Wiki article on Hermes Tresmegistus.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermes_Trismegistus

By the way, I know of one scientist who, late in life, would turn to the hermetic tradition of writing. None other than C.G. Jung. Orientation is everything.

Thanks Steve.

Tere
Dec/26/2009, 6:44 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: Antonin Artaud and the hermetic tradition


I have to think about your idea about Artaud and hermeticism. I'll look into it; I'm not sure I buy it.

Artaud is more typically placed in the "derangement of the senses" tradition of Lautremont, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and eventually the Symbolists.

Around 20 years ago I was heavily involved in an experimental theatre troupe in Madison, WI. It was one of those post Living Theater groups where there was a lot of interest in breaking down the "fourth wall" between actors and audience, in exploring Artaud's "theatre of cruelty" as a way of breaking out of convention. We did yoga for actors; we did a lot of workshops and ideas; we did performances of original pieces, but also versions of Durenmatt. One of the capstones pieces was an original piece based on Artaud called "Requiem Artaud." Most of the time my role in all this was to provide live music for live theatre performance; I did some acting, and more movement work, but mostly music. Because all of this theatre and performance art work was so closely based on Artaud, I read everything of Artaud's available in translation (and some in French that still hasn't been translated), at least twice.

In some ways, Artaud was of the generation of Modernists who were part of the "creative destruct"—the breaking down of stagnant artistic conventions so that something new could be built in its place. (We're still dealing with this; postmodernism as Very Late High Modernism is still stuck in the destruct/fragmentation phase, and still hasn't evolved towards the re-creative phase.) Artaud in his prose writings explicitly said as much. He sought to destroy what was old and stale and stagnant. He echoed Rimbaud and Baudelaire especially, although Artaud was concerned with theatre more than poetry per se. Lots of overlap there, of course, although not total overlap, in that Artaud's texts were meant to be performed, to be acted, not read contemplatively to oneself.

If you want to tie Artaud to alchemy, or to Jung's exploration of the psychology of individuation in which he used alchemy as the model, you could say that Artaud was part of the crucible, the refining process. He talked about the breaking down of elements; and his work can definitely be seen as the heating of those elements in the fires of the crucible.

But it's not at all clear to me that he ever achieved the union of opposites, the sacred marriage, the completion of the alchemical process, or Opus. It seems to me he only made it part-way, and never was able to complete the work. He accomplished the destruct part of the process, but he didn't rebuild himself, or anything, afterwards; so he didn't finish the creative side of the work. He didn't restore himself to life

But that is forgivable precisely because he was exploring without guidance, or a model to follow. He was definitely a courageous sort, and dove off the deep end into his material. But he is not a good example to follow, ultimately, precisely because he didn't complete the journey.

Therefore, I'm not at all sure the hermetic model can be applied to him—or rather, I think Artaud's example only shows half of the hermetic model, and is therefore dangerous as an example of hermeticism because it's an incomplete example. I think Campbell might say that Artaud didn't complete the hero's journey, because he never restored himself to the society he had brought wisdom to and caused to change.

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Dec/27/2009, 12:09 pm Link to this post Send Email to Dragon59   Send PM to Dragon59
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Antonin Artaud and the hermetic tradition


Dragonman, I suspect we interpret Artaud differently. And maybe we are referring to two different Artauds.

In response to a poem I posted Steve and I had this brief exchange:

~Steveman says: "What about his theories then? As I understand them they are apologetics (nah, wrong word -- more like insistences) for the speech of the body and for humanity, for the attempt to speak from a multitude of places. Your knee joints can become places of the extended sensorium, can grow voices, can howl with meaning that your head can't get near. My knees hold old stories of childhood abuse and loneliness. These are ossified stories of the most primitive parts of the self frozen there deep in the petrified star-clay of the skeleton. I get this from Burroughs too, who is similar to Artaud in a lot of ways. Yes, I'm basically saying I think Artaud, that pathologically fearful guy, terrified of his own vitality, confused by his own erection, has loads of stuff to tell us about how to go about poetry. For me he says that poetry IS that clamour of many voices, and that no single thread of 'civilised' and supposedly defining narrative can ever speak with real honesty. I'm not going to start making animal noises here, but that's sort of what he's saying, isn't it, that the human animal howling probably conveys more reality about humanity than any learned critique. Maybe this is why LangPo and similar cerebral poetry forms leave many people unsatisfied. You can't !@#$ that stuff, can you. You can't get ill and spasmic and dream and convulse with only your head chakra firing. Maybe we all want a little howling going on for anything to really make sense..."

I copy the whole of this by way of saying THIS IS SPOT ON. This is at the root of my attraction to Artaud too. But I have never stated it as succinctly. Over several boards now, and from time to time, there have been discussions about the desire for poetry that speaks to the body, to the soma, to all the senses, (maybe to all the chakras I suppose), and not to the head only. But not once have I remembered the madman Artaud in the same context, which is a case of my extreme stupidity. And I realize that the distinctive, sometimes scarey, almost always hellish difference between Artaud and many body language poets is that, with Artaud, you are in the precincts of the god Dionysus himself, which precincts were the birthplace of tragedy and where all bets are off and where the god himself was yearly sacrificed and yearly reborn. Anciently the maenads (wild women) would rampage through the countryside on their way to find Dionysus. Along the way they would tear apart wild animals in their frenzied state. Once they found Dionysus they would do the same to him.

I finally get it, some 39 years later. I finally get the right context for placing Artaud and his theater of cruelty: the pure and primitive Dionysian shakedown at its most ceremonial.

Steveman I cannot tell you how much in your debt I am for bringing the dismembered bodyman into focus.~

This is how I've come to view Artaud's notions concerning the theater. Dionysian in nature and highly ceremonial. And as I said to Steveman, and I am sure you know, tragedy as theater was born in the precincts of the temple to Dionysus. My sense is that Artaud was less concerned with the "creative destruct" and more focused on getting to the origins of tragedy. It is why, specifically, he railed against the psycho-drama for him represented by the drammatist Ibsen. And I've come to feel that there has for long been a fundamental misunderstanding of Artaud's objectives with his theater of cruelty notions precisely because the Dionysian in his notions has not been taken into account.

But here I have in mind that other Artaud, the poet and visionary. And when I mention the hermetic tradition I have in mind a style of writing in which, as poet, he worked. I would have to give examples of his writing to illustrate what I mean. Maybe I can find such examples on line. But I am sure you've read him too.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Dec/27/2009, 5:01 pm
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