Tag: Artaud

The Body Possessed by Media: Artaud; or, Flaming Creatures

by on Oct.07, 2010

“Furthermore, when we speak of the word “life,” it must be understood we are not referring to life as we know it from its surface of fact, but that fragile, fluctuating center which forms never reach. And if there is still one hellish, truly accursed thing in our time, it is our artistic dallying with forms, instead of being like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames.” The Theatre and Its Double, Preface.

This quote has always stymied me because, first of all, I like to dally with forms, and, given that Artaud has a lot to say about the material requirements of the Theater of Cruelty, it seems that he does, too. Rereading this quote through the lens of the Body Possessed by Media, however, I see a more undecidable image. That which is just  a form, or just  a surface of fact, is a dead thing, part of the debris of modern culture Artaud diagnoses elsewhere. The role of the artist is to be “like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames.” This final image interests me on two levels. First ,because it seems to draw on a cinematic image of Joan of Arc d from the Dreyer film in which Artaud performed, and, on some level, predicts its disintegration in the cupboard of a Norwegian mental asylum where the only extant print was recovered in 1981. More importantly to my argument, we truly have the mediumicity of the body in extremis in this image. The body is burnt, made a victim in perfect, ritualistic theatrical event. The body is burnt by the flames which then form a screen, a medium through which the body signals, and of course some kind of life force is signaling through the body at that moment. At the same time, the entire image of the body, stake, flames is an emblem through which the life force signals. And, syntactically, the body itself is signaling through the medium of flame. It is flaming. Supersaturated. Supermediumistic. It’s the signal.

A flaming creature.

And what kind of force is doing this signaling? Only one which is itself like a victim at the stake—fragile,  fluctuating. Vulnerable (etym: Latin: vulnus: wound). But as I’ve demonstrated elsewhere (in my gaga stigmata piece), the wound is the ultimate medium, the ultimate site of the body possessed by media, revealing a spectacular surface through which a force of “pure” media can flow.

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On Debris– 1

by on Sep.28, 2010

I’m looking around at the debris.

A shelly pink-enamelled oval palm-sized frame, a gilt inner lip, and then a photo of a dead or sleeping newborn, a pale pink bow in my thick black cap of hair. The photo is like an image coming back from space; crossing light years with the image of a dead thing. Light returning from a form that once entailed a wondrous sensitive limit, total media, skin, sensaround technology, a medium I literally grew through, atomized, obliterated.  And whatever consciousness I was assembling at that time has been sundered, leveled, pushed back, overbuilt by my current state, its bitter fosse and mad stadia, my cruel regime of consciousness.

But the picture hangs around, treasured debris. My mother treasured it. The baby hangs around, as something else— a dead form, a dead medium.

Artaud:  The old totemism of animals, stones, objects capable of discharging thunderbolts, costumes impregnated with bestial essences—everything, in short, that might determine, disclose, and direct the secret forces of the universe—is for us a dead thing.

For Artaud, all forms—if mere forms— are dead things.

A brochure from the incredible Musee royal de l’Afrique Centrale outside Brussels, Belgium. This extraordinary palace was part of Leopold II’s infernal public relations campaign. He filled it with handicrafts and biological specimens, wondrous goods from his personal concentration camp in Central Africa, cruelly and deceitfully called the “Free State”. The museum stands to this day as a place for tourists and school groups to go to learn about Africa.  That’s what the brouchure shows—children, stuffed birds, baskets.  

Dead things, dead things.

When I visited, temporary exhibits huddled in hut-like structures inside the central great hall. These offered slightly more recent updates on the Congo—newsreels, say, from World’s Fair of 1958, when Congolese elites came to Brussels as exhibits of themselves—but these ‘contexts’ were themselves contextless, and were marked, by their strange plywood structures, as temporary,  wretched compared to the displays in the cases.

Where even the tools looked taxidermied.

There was a nice café there.

The café at our zoo in South Bend, Indiana is called ‘Congo Café’.

The Potawatabmi Zoo in South Bend, Indiana, is the oldest zoo in Indiana. I hear this while on a ride on a train through the outbuildings. We see the zoo hospital and the corporate picnic area, also the parking lot, and we ride through the train storage shed and see the spare train. We repeat this ride every time we come to the zoo.

894 Potawatami men, women and children were made to march 660 miles from Indiana to Oklahoma in from September 4 to November 4, 1838. The Potawatami Trail of Death.

Leopold also went on a building campaign which literally converted the physical bodies of the people of the Congo—their labors of extraction, their deaths from overwork and insane abuse— into buildings in Europe. Severed hands into triumphal arches.  Villages into villas on the Riviera. Generations into footbridges linking his palaces so he could visit his mistress at night.

Plus a tramway to take daytrippers to visit his museum. Tourists like me.

The Number 44 Tram.

Roberto Bolaño: “Then we walked down the Avenida Guerrero; they weren’t stepping so lightly any more, and I wasn’t feeling too enthusiastic either. Guerrero, at that time of night, is more like a cemetery than an avenue, not a cemetery in 1974 or in 1968, or 1975, but a cemetery in the year 2666, a forgotten cemetery under the eyelid of a corpose or an unborn child, bathed in the dispassionate fluids of an eye that tried so hard to forget one particular thing that it ended up forgetting everything else.”

Souvenirs, treasure, monuments, transportation, dead forms, mausoleums, debris.


The Artaud is from The Theater and Its Double, Preface. Bolaño quote is from my fave, Amulet. All information about Leopold II and the Congo came from King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild; the idea that Leopold literally converted Congolese bodies into European buildings also came from Hochschild (will find page later).  The Potawatami Trail of Death is from Wikipedia. The trip to the museum is my own experience. The photo was mailed from my mother’s condo.

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