Can dissidence be accomplished through the ballot box? Does voting actually change anything? As Canadians put aside their donuts and hockey to contemplate the election on May 3, a new bogeyman has emerged on the national agenda; quietly slipping into the Canadian ghetto: Coalition.Yet, there has always been an alliance between the Liberals and the Conservatives, de facto, which has meandered towards a similar agenda: one that has has promoted inequality,reduced government services, axed social programs ,reduced civil liberties, environmental destruction, weapons and war. Yet, government has gotten bigger but the nanny state has simply moved higher up the food chain leaving the smaller fish to get caught in porous social nets.
Canada’s attempts to lift itself over its marginality has never been overly successful. The Canadian identity has never been properly built up by a well communicated and coherent form of national rhetoric supported by myths that its citizens would adopt and permit themselves to believe, inculcate and promote; a type of civil identity that needs to be created since it is not “natural”. There is an ingrained Canadian inferiority complex; the colonized, less polished cousin of Britain and the introverted yet aggression repressed neighbor to the Americans. So, in light of these deficiencies, Canadians should perhaps look to Antonin Artaud and his Theater of the Double to put some yeast into this half-baked election campaign. An adoption of Artaud’s poetry of the senses as opposed to the stiff Canadian poetry of reason that prefers the verbal and rational to the sensory.And at the same time, Canada’s modest political pretensions could help complete Artaud’s conception of theater.
“The festival must be a political act. And the act of political revolution is theatrical.”: Jacques Derrida, writing about Antonin Artaud. Combining art and politics went against Artaud’s demands that the theater of cruelty should be “an independent and autonomous art.”While Artaud was right to criticize the Surrealists – a hostile yet colorful divorce- when they aligned with the French Communist Party in 1927, he failed to see the general necessity of organized political action. Yet politics cannot it appears, be extricated from political representation.When Artaud’s Alfred Jarry Theater died, it died in and as a result of political isolation. While Andre Breton demanded of the surrealists a commitment to “total idealism” , Artaud affirmed an opposite tack: “My scruples are absolute” .
Despite his uncompromising stance, Artaud found himself profoundly engaged in the “politics of style.” Inevitably, the response is always of a deeply poltical nature to cultural intervention. As Artaud began to publish his writings on the theater of cruelty in the early 1930s, he became acutely aware of a “resistance” to his dramaturgical theories. Ostensibly apolitical, national identity and aesthetics of theater represented a dramaturgy that shifted from a consumption of written plays to one based on spectacle. And what is more of a theater than political spectacle.
“In his oft-quoted “Conclusion” to the LiteraryHistory of Canada,( Northrop ) Frye likens Canadian history to Jewish history directly before launching into his well-established theory of the “garrison mentality.” Frye describes the Canadian imagination as consisting of “small and isolated communities surrounded with a physical or psychological ‘frontier’ […] such communities are bound to develop what we may provisionally call a garrison mentality.”10 It involves persistently taking a defensive stance against the world’s larger influences—an image of helpless Canadians huddled together besieged by the vast nothingness of the wilderness on one side and the aggressive capitalism of America on the other comes to mind—as well as being preoccupied with asserting social and moral values. Greenstein proposes that Frye’s Canadian garrison is interchangeable with the ghetto, the only difference being that one spans out over thousands of kilometres, and the other over thousands of years.” Read More: http://lisa.revues.org/2624
But politics has only the veneer of civility. Maybe one coat of varnish. Its a bloody, primitive activity.Artaud saw that modernity was characterized by perpetual, sudden, and usually violent change, what he called a “rude and epileptic rhythm” . Modern industry and technology, mass communication and science had given the masses a desire to understand the seemingly unintelligible laws that dictated their fates. Consequently, Artaud wrote, “in the anguished, catastrophic period we live in, we feel an urgent need for a theater which events do not exceed, whose resonance is deep within us, dominating the instability of the times” The function of the theater was thus to produce and at the same time contain a catastrophe of the psyche equal to if not greater than the upheavals of modern times.Read More:http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/modern_language_quarterly/v064/64.1spreen.html
In the essay “The Theater and the Plague” Artaud discovered an image that expressed at once the theater’s popular and its catastrophic potential. Like the plague, the theater is populist and democratic in that it attacks at all people indiscriminately. It is catastrophic in that it breaks down social structures that distance human beings from their primitive selves and so releases their repressed desires and instincts, their “blind appetite for life” and indeed the “irrational impulsion” of life itself ( Richards) Whereas Artaud’s critics cast fear of destruction and decay onto the Jewish and German “bacillus,” – the Canadian reactionary position with regard to meaningful reform, Muslims,Greens, leftists etc. )- Artaud saw the plague as a force with therapeutic powers.A breakin
an unifying of virtual realities. Through the catastrophic experience of the theater as plague, the spectator was presumed to gain mastery over the randomness and vulnerability of modern existence by reestablishing contact with the primitive forces, desires, and atavistic tendencies that social man, the “new man” continuously strove to repress.
In attempting to give vent to feelings buried in the psyche and in refusing to pay homage to literature, Artaudian theater performed a primitivizing function antithetical to the civilizing role that the classicists, the establishment, envisioned. For these, civilization’s survival relied on the textual reification of ideas and values, which permitted their continued transmission. Not every written work merited perpetuation, but the best works and the most significant ideas, when brought from the past forward, acted as barriers to the vices that always besieged humanity In doing away with the written word, Artaudian theater threatened to dismantle the wall preventing the fall of civilization into barbarism, or so they claimed. Read More:http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/modern_language_quarterly/v064/64.1spreen.html
Artaud was deeply disturbed by what he viewed as language’s incommensurability with the cataclysmic character of modern life. Language, he complained, no longer had a stable meaning; it suffered from a “confusion” a rupture between things and meaning, which could be exemplified by the textual preoccupations of a political campaign, its reference to vague values, synthetic archetypes and a general foreboding sense that the prospective leader is undergoing a Seinfeld experience where language is decoupled from meaning and becomes filler to sandwich advertising and broader corporate interests.
Sexual liberation, the emancipation of dream and fantasy, a new interest in madness as an alternative to repressive sanity, a rejection of ordered language as a form of concealed but routine domination: these were now seen, in this tendency, which culminated in Surrealism and Artaud’s “Theatre of Cruelty”, as the real dissidence, breaking alike from bourgeois society and from the forms of opposition to it which had been generated within its terms. On the other hand, the opposite, more political tendency offered to renounce the bourgeoisie altogether: to move from dissidence to conscious affiliation with the working class: in early Soviet theatre, Piscator and Toller, eventually Brecht.
The concept of “political theatre”, for obvious reasons, is associated mainly with the second tendency. But it would be wrong to overlook altogether the political effects of the first tendency which, with an increasing emphasis on themes of madness, disruptive violence and liberating sexuality, came through to dominate Western avant-garde theatre in a later period, especially after 1950. Read More:http://homepages.tesco.net/~theatre/tezzaland/webstuff/ArtaudPres.html