Artaud Was Right

Antonin Artaud portrays Jean-Paul Marat in Abel Gance's epic Napoleon (1927).

Artaud famously said that when culture stops serving the soul, a Theater of Cruelty will erupt in the public square. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re proving him right.

Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) was a French theatrical visionary of Greek heritage who wound up in an insane asylum — as do so many of the greats, let’s face it — and from there continued to influence the course of 20th century theater. Theater luminaries used to visit him there and take notes. He had a huge renaissance in the late 60s and 70s, influencing the theatrical avant-garde here and abroad.

As he put it, Just because I’m crazy doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m talking about!

Quite a guy.

All these weird depraved rituals we see cropping up — strip search, recently annointed by the Supreme Court, and genital grab, instituted without discussion by the TSA, not to mention torture, by all means let’s not mention torture — could be eliminated, according to Artaud, with a whopping dose of cruelty presented through the lens of theater.

He was Greek, remember, and that’s what the Ancient Greeks did, and called it tragedy, and made it a sacred spectacle, a civic duty, to ingest cruel stories as a way of calming the social soul. Smart folks, those Greeks.

The Romans, who supplanted the Greeks as the leading Western power, lazily tossed Christians to the lions or used them for human torches. Thumbs up, thumbs down — that’s as far as their analysis went, just like on Facebook. Moral idiots, the Ancient Romans. Great builders of roads and aqueducts and baths and vomitoriums.

We do have serious art in this country but big money backs swill and modern distribution systems pump it directly into our brains, rendering us moronic, docile, and surprisingly cruel.

Stop the killing, stop the surveillance. Start the histrionics!

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