The Theater and Its Double
By Antonin Artaud
Translated from the French by Mary Caroline Richards
PREFACE: The Theater and Culture
Never before, when it is life itself that is in question, has there been so much talk of civilization and culture. And there is a curious parallel between this generalized collapse of life at the root of our present demoralization and our concern for a culture which has never been coincident with life, which in fact has been devised to tyrannize over life.
Before speaking further about culture, I must remark that the world is hungry and not concerned with culture, and that the attempt to orient toward culture thoughts turned only toward hunger is a purely artificial expedient.
What is most important, it seems to me, is not so much to defend a culture whose existence has never kept a man from going hungry, as to extract, from what is called culture, ideas whose compelling force is identical with that of hunger.
We need to live first of all; to believe in what makes us live and that something makes us live-to believe that whatever is produced from the mysterious depths of ourselves need not forever haunt us as an exclusively digestive concern.
I mean that if it is important for us to eat first of all, it is even more important for us not to waste in the sole concern for eating our simple power of being hungry.
If confusion is the sign of the times, I see at the root of this confusion a rupture between things and words, between things and the ideas and signs that are their representation.
Not, of course, for lack of philosophical systems; their number and contradictions characterize our old French and
8 The Theater and Its Double
European culture: but where can it be shown that life, our life, has ever been affected by these systems? I will not say that philosophical systems must be applied directly and immediately: but of the following alternatives,
one must be true: .
Either these systems are within us and permeate our being to the point of supporting life itself (and if this is the case, what use are books?), or they do not permeate us and therefore do not have the capacity to support life (and in this case what does their disappearance matter?).
We must insist upon the idea of culture-in-action, of culture growing within us like a new organ, a sort of second breath; and on civilization as an applied culture controlling even our subtlest actions, a presence of mind; the distinction between culture and civilization is an artificial one, providing two words to signify an identical function.
A civilized man judges and is judged according to his behavior, but even the term “civilized” leads to confusion: a cultivated “civilized” man is regarded as a person instructed in systems, a person who thinks in forms, signs, representations – a monster whose faculty of deriving thoughts from acts, instead of identifying acts with thoughts, is developed to an absurdity.
If our life lacks brimstone, Le., a constant magic, it is because we choose to observe our acts and lose ourselves in considerations of their imagined form instead of being impelled by their force.
And this faculty is an exclusively human one. I would even say that it is this infection-of the human which contaminates ideas that should have remained divine; for far from believing that man invented the supernatural and the divine, I think it is man’s age-old intervention which has ultimately corrupted the divine within him.