Monday, 30 November 2009

audiences running away

(from Anais Nin's diaries)

“The light was crude. It made Artaud's eyes shrink into darkness, as they are deep-set. This brought into relief the intensity of his gestures. He looked tormented. His hair, rather long, fell at times over his forehead. He has the actor's nimbleness and quickness of gestures. His face is lean, as if ravaged by fevers. His eyes do not seem to see the people. They are the eyes of a visionary. His hands are long, long-fingered.


Artaud steps out on the platform, and begins to talk about 'The Theatre and the Plague'.

He asked me to sit in the front row. It seems to me that all he is asking for is intensity, a more heightened form of feeling and living. Is he trying to remind us that it was during the Plague that so many marvelous works of art and theatre came to be, because, whipped by the fear of death, man seeks immortality, or to escape, or to surpass himself? But then, imperceptibly almost, he let go of the thread we were following and began to act out dying by plague. No one quite knew when it began. To illustrate his conference, he was acting out an agony. 'La Peste' in French is so much more terrible than 'The Plague' in English. But no word could describe what Artaud acted on that platform of the Sorbonne. He forgot about his conference, the theatre, his ideas, Dr Allendy sitting there, the public, the young students, his wife, professors, and directors.

His face was contorted with anguish, one could see the perspiration dampening his hair. His eyes dilated, his muscles became cramped, his fingers struggled to retain their flexibility. He made one feel the parched and burning throat, the pains, the fever, the fire in the guts. He was in agony. He was screaming. He was delirious. He was enacting his own death, his own crucifixion.

At first people gasped. And then they began to laugh. Everyone was laughing! They hissed. Then one by one, they began to leave, noisily, talking, protesting. They banged the door as they left. (…) More jeering. But Artaud went on, until the last gasp. And stayed on the floor. Then when the hall had emptied of all but his small group of friends, he went straight up to me and kissed my hand. He asked me to go to the café with him.


He was hurt, wounded, baffled by the jeering. He spat out his anger. 'They always want to hear about; they want to hear an objective conference on “The Theatre and the Plague”, and I want to give them the experience itself, the plague itself, so they will be terrified and awaken. I want to awaken them. They do not realize they are dead. Their death is total, like deafness, blindness. This is agony I portrayed. Mine, yes, and everyone who is alive.'


He grew gentle and calm. We walked again, in the rain.

For him, the plague was no worse than death by mediocrity, death by commercialism, death by corruption which surrounded us. He wanted to make people aware that they were dying. To force them into a poetic state.

'The hostility only proved you disturbed them,' I said.

But what a shock to see a sensitive poet confronting a hostile public. What brutality, what ugliness in the public!”

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