Article Title

Artaud's Revision of Shelley's The Cenci: The Text and its Double


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

This image represents the theater as a bridge from the virtual to the actual, a convergence of physical and metaphysical operations. Artaud's metaphors betray an obsessional concern with this physical/metaphysical interface, a concern which drives him in quest of an "alchemical theater," capable of resolving "every conflict produced by the antagonism of matter and mind." His own endeavors to bring about such a resolution through practical work in the theater present a special problem where critical assessment is concerned. At one extreme, critics like Jacques Derrida and Susan Sontag, whose interest in Artaud is exclusively conceptual, are intrigued by the paradoxical phenomenon of "an art without works." Sontag gives a disparaging summary of his Theater of Cruelty enterprise and his production of The Cenci in particular, asserting that his incompetence as a practitioner is "a constituent part of the authority of his ideas"; and she summarizes his achievement as "a singular presence, a poetics, an aesthetics of thought, a theology of culture and a phenomenology of suffering."1 Derrida, having acknowledged that an art without works defies exegesis and leaves the critic without resource, contemplates the aporia of a "metaphysics of flesh" which can produce works only as a form of excretion:

Like excrement, like the turd, which is, as is well known, a metaphor for the penis, the work should stand upright. But the work, as excrement, is but matter without life, without force or form. It always falls and collapses as soon as it is outside me.2

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