Saturday, June 27, 2009

Artaud and "Profound Anarchy"

The spirit of profound at the root of all poetry.

Poetry is anarchic to the degree that it brings into play all the relationships of object to object and of form to signification. It is anarchic also to the degree that its occurrence is the consequence of a disorder that draws us closer to chaos.

To make metaphysics out of a spoken language is to make the language express what it does not ordinarily express: to make use of it in a new, exceptional, and unaccustomed fashion; to reveal its possibility for producing physical shock; to divide and distribute it actively in space; to deal with intonations in an absolutely concrete manner, restoring their power to shatter as well as really to manifest something; to turn against language and its basely utilitarian, one could say alimentary, sources, against its trapped-beast origins; and finally, to consider language as the form of INCANTATION.

It is readily visible here that some parts of Artaud's formulations fit post-avant (and both the Philly Free School and This Charming Lab) better than others. How much in common does edge, in its generalized, denotative sense, have with anarchy? Artaud does not give examples here of what would constitute a resolutely anarchic language. It would seem that, because post-avant (as I have formulated it) has a strong narrative sense, the kind of anarchy that Artaud is naming would be inadmissable. On the other hand, poems with edges can impart the feeling of anarchy, rather than the anarchic state itself. That is part of post-avant, and applies to performance/spectacle, such as Philly Free School's at the Highwire Gallery, too: creating affect out of semblances of anarchy and/or chaos. The irony, and it is one that Artaud does not address, is that to create this kind of affect takes tremendous formal discipline. You cannot waste any words, make any false or half-assed moves, produce anything which does not enhance the overall effect. This, to me, is one of Artaud's Achilles' heels: he does not offer examples (at least where poetry is concerned), but a kind of Science of Imaginary Solutions, so that we are left to piece together and reconstruct our version of what Artaud is talking about. One thing that would be hard to argue with is that Artaud wants words to transmit a certain vision of reality, rather than any artifice or self-absorption.

This is what I referred to earlier: a certain way of making art through authenticity, which in this case means channeling and accessing the primeval chaos that lies beneath all language. Language serves something deeper, rather than being an end in itself. Where post-avant is concerned, this depth flows from a commitment to expressing every kind of edge which can incise into human beings: psychological (and Artaud happens to hate psychology, which is another stumbling block), emotional, metaphysical, sexual, and all the other ones. Physical shock, as Artaud describes it, is an apt description of what post-avant poetry should produce (in its ideal form, which many poets are still working towards.) Incantation, however, is problematic, in the sense that it aligns poetry with music, and language that merely "chimes," that is merely musical, can never suffice for post-avant. Although, who knows, perhaps someone will write a striking anaphoric poem in the post-avant mode, and show us how it can be accomplished. In Feel, I tried. Perhaps I was held back by the Beat association, perhaps not. I do not see any reason why it could not happen. All it takes is a commitment to edge and to affixing it to poetry's long history; ambition, in other words. How ambitious is post-avant? Artaud seems sometimes too scattered, to diffuse, to be truly ambitious.

Here's another interesting Artaud bit:

We must get rid of our superstitious valuation of texts and WRITTEN poetry. Written poetry is worth reading once, and then should be destroyed. Let the dead poets make way for others. Then we might even come to see that it is our veneration for what has already been created, however beautiful and valid it may be, that petrifies us, deadens our responses, and prevents us from making contact with that underlying power, call it thought-energy, the life force, the determinism of change, lunar menses, or anything you like. Beneath the poetry of the texts, there is the actual poetry, without form and without text.

Artaud wanted to transcend, circumvent language, and to do it through theater; poetry (of course) does not have the option of getting beyond language. Nonetheless, these are useful insights, because it shows what post-avant has in common with its parent movements: a hankering for something "deeper than language." It is also useful to think of post-avant as an irreverent movement, which acknowledges lineage without being willing to sacrifice any of its edges. Post-avant, and post-avant poets, should be polyglot. I want post-avant to be in that prized second category: a movement which succeeds via authenticity. I do not want to cast aspersions on other movements, but there is a potential for a new mode of humanism in post-avant, and the opportunity is too good to waste. We cannot be the ideal artists that Artaud would have wanted; we rely too much on what Artuad wants to get rid of. However, that Artaud associated affect, chaos, anarchy, and physical shock with his Theater of Cruelty is a good sign. There is genuine overlap. The idea that post-avant could manifest a Poetics of Cruelty is not too far-fetched. The crux Artaud is attempting to enforce is that what is most cruel can be what is most real, as I realized during my Outlaw Playwrights incarnation in the Nineties, and post-avant is attempting to prove precisely the same thing again.

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