PRINT September 2012


Abel Gance, Napoléon, 1927. Production still. Marat (Antonin Artaud).

SINCE THE PUBLICATION of Peter Bürger’s Theory of the Avant-Garde, importantly inflected by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh and Hal Foster, we have understood postwar art as conditioned by the progressive recovery of the legacies of avant-garde artists: Duchamp, Schwitters, Heartfield, Höch, and Dada, on the one side, Malevich, Rodchenko, Stepanova, Tatlin, and Soviet Productivism, on the other.¹ Currently, the situation is redoubled, for we are as distant from the postwar neo-avant-gardes as the neo-avant-gardes themselves were from their prewar counterparts. Artforum’s fiftieth anniversary places us just shy of five decades from 1963, the year Marcel Duchamp’s retrospective at the Pasadena Art Museum exposed the breadth of his practice to a generation of Pop artists, and almost a neat century from 1913, the year of Duchamp’s first readymade, Bicycle Wheel. Yet despite decades of work devoted to the historical avant-gardes, one important figure remains relatively neglected: dissident Surrealist playwright Antonin Artaud.

The exhibition “Specters of Artaud: Language and the Arts in the 1950s,” curated by Kaira Cabañas and Frédéric Acquaviva at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, aims partially to rectify this situation, taking as its starting point the generationally recursive structure of artistic recoveries. As Cabañas notes in the catalogue introduction, “Contemporary art is . . . not so much contemporary, at one with its time, as it is perpetually out of joint with the present, engaged in a continual project of revisitation and critical elaboration of prior artistic practices, of which Artaud’s specter forms a part.”² As the exhibition opens later this month, it occasions a broader reflection on Artaud’s thorny presence in postwar art history.

Part of Artaud’s neglect undoubtedly arises from the fact that his impact was somewhat refractory to the central concerns of the visual arts. In addition to theater proper, it manifested itself (as emphasized by “Specters”) in French Lettrist poetry, cinema, and sound experiments; Brazilian concrete poetry; and the nascent multimedia practices pioneered at Black Mountain College, particularly the proto-Happening involving dance, music, poetry, and projected images organized by John Cage in 1952 with Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, David Tudor, and M. C. Richards. More problematic, however, is the fact that many of those postwar figures most closely associated with Artaud—including, in the United States, Cage, Rauschenberg, Carolee Schneemann, Wallace Berman, Dick Higgins, Al Hansen, early La Monte Young, and Jack Smith—are still often regarded as apostles of aesthetic anarchy and a regressive, if at one time enthusiastically embraced, postmodern artistic relativism, a diffuse and unfocused attack on medium specificity. Artaud has long served as a symbol of this approach, a figure who, as Artaud biographer Stephen Barber put it, “worked effectively to annul the boundaries between [the] arts.”³

But what if the primary reasons for Artaud’s critical inassimilability were wholly different? What if he and those close to him, such as Cage and Smith, did not merely indulge in a postmodern or—to use Rosalind E. Krauss’s term—“post-medium” impulse or imperative? If we return to Artaud in the spirit of those genealogical returns of (and to) the 1950s and ’60s to which Cabañas alludes, we risk encountering a very different “specter,” one who instigated and exemplified a strain of heterodox modernism that closely shadowed, even as it profoundly challenged, the presuppositions of Clement Greenberg’s better-known version even before the latter had been fully codified.

THE FOCUS IN “SPECTERS” on Lettrist “discrepant” cinema indicates that Artaud’s modernism may be best approached via his thoughts on film. Artaud’s early views on silent film were nearly modernist orthodoxy; he sought in the medium “a language on the same order as music, painting, or poetry.”⁴ In the preface to his 1927 screenplay The Seashell and the Clergyman, Artaud described his attempt to realize a “conception of a purely visual cinema” (which opposed the already by then conventional “adventure film”), proposing “a film that is based on purely visual situations, whose action springs from stimuli addressed to the eye only and is founded, so to speak, on the essential qualities of eyesight, untrammelled by psychological and irrelevant complications or by a verbal story expressed in visual terms.”⁵

Artaud, however, did not categorically preclude sound. He glimpsed in René Clair’s first talkie, Under the Roofs of Paris (1930), the prospect of a genre wherein sounds (including speech) would act not to subsume the image to narrative concerns but as “an amplification of the image, a means to get it moving or make it burst forth into a new domain.”⁶ Artaud nonetheless realized that Clair’s example would not win the day in the face of an ascendant diegetic use of sound in mainstream narrative cinema. He rightly predicted the advent of an “extracinematographic” (i.e., non-medium-specific) media practice that would absorb mainstream cinema along with “theater, music-hall, opera, [and] possibly music.”⁷ What Artaud foresaw arising from synchronized sound—“not as a development of cinema itself which has its proper laws and requirements, but as the appearance of an absolutely new formulation, a bit disquieting in its expanse and too varied to ever be comprehended”—was nothing other than spectacle, as theorized by onetime Lettrist Guy Debord.⁸ “This new art,” Artaud warned, “cannot but be totalizing, that is to say all encompassing, all absorbing, or it will not be.”⁹

Illustrations from Antonin Artaud and Roger Vitrac’s brochure Le Théâtre Alfred Jarry et l’hostilité publique (The Alfred Jarry Theater and Public Hostility), published in Paris in 1930. Antonin Artuad and Robert Aron. Photos: Eli Lotar, ca. 1929.

In a little-known text of 1933, Artaud predicted spectacle’s culmination in the type of portable virtual reality devices only now being developed. “And after sound film and talkies,” he contended, “there will be olfactory, tactile, and gustatory film; cinema outside the screen and in space; 3-D cinema in color; the characters leaving the screen, independent, free of the film and of one another, moving about the room or in the street, like actual theater actors, completely human characters. . . . And once the era of Pygmalion has definitively returned, any amateur, any ‘tourist’ of taste, sound, smell, and vision, will carry in his pocket the means to make the person of his dreams appear before him at any moment. But this person,” Artaud continued, already foreseeing that this spectacular dreamworld would not allow for unlimited fantasies, “will always be the same, and this landscape, or setting, or action, or drama will always, unflaggingly, be the same.”¹⁰ As vehemently as Debord, Artaud foresaw how the prevailing development of multimedia spectacle would entail ideological restrictions on the experiences to be simulated. From this perspective, Artaud’s role as patron saint of modernism’s implosion, an annihilator of medium distinctions and unifier of art and life, must be nuanced. For it was in “real and philosophical competition” with sound film’s development into a multisensory, multimedia spectacle that he would formulate and launch his “Theater of Cruelty.”¹¹

THE THEATER OF CRUELTY’S OPPOSITION to language is well known. Language, according to Artaud, served only to “arrest and paralyze thought,” rather than “fostering its development.”¹² Less noted, if not entirely overlooked, is the fact that Artaud justified the elimination of language not only for its expressive liabilities but also—and perhaps primarily—because it belonged more properly to the literary arts. “Dialogue,” writes Artaud (though his criticism was not limited to dialogue), “does not belong specifically to the stage, it belongs to books, as is proved by the fact that in all handbooks of literary history a place is reserved for the theater as a subordinate branch of the history of the spoken language.”¹³ 

In his attentiveness to medium-specificity (defining theater, in part, by the exclusion of literature), Artaud proves surprisingly compatible with Greenbergian modernism. As defined in Greenberg’s essays from “Towards a Newer Laocoon” to “Modernist Painting,” each modernist art subjected itself to the self-critical determination of its “unique and proper area of competence.”¹⁴ Despite Greenberg’s insistence on this critique’s immanence, each art’s competence was defined not so much internally, by honing itself to its unique essence, but from without, by “eliminat[ing] from the specific effects of each art any and every effect that might conceivably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art.”¹⁵ Modernist painting thus had to rid itself of storia and imitation, because these were shared with literature, and of illusionistic relief, which it shared with sculpture.¹⁶ “The enclosing shape of the picture was a limiting condition, or norm, that was shared with the art of the theater; color was a norm and a means shared not only with the theater, but also with sculpture,” so neither could be essential.¹⁷ The result of such reductiveness, modern painting’s well-known orientation “to flatness as . . . to nothing else,” derived, then, not from being the medium’s ineluctable essence, but as the remnant left over once nearly everything any other art could accomplish had been stripped away.¹⁸

Such was also Artaud’s concern. Not wanting theater to be literature’s poor stepchild, a subordinate art better realized in books and poems, he sought to determine the “means [by] which theater is able to differentiate itself from speech.”¹⁹ If in painting what remains once all aspects possible in other arts have been purged are colors on a flat surface, in theater, according to Artaud, the remnant of such a subtraction is mise-en-scène. Mise-en-scène, as Richards, who chose to keep the term in French throughout her translation of Artaud’s The Theater and Its Double, noted, “implies all that we call direction, production, and staging.”²⁰ It designates, in other words, all those facets of theater that remain once script, dialogue, and everything else it owes to literature have been removed. “This idea of the supremacy of speech in the theater is so deeply rooted in us,” explained Artaud, “and the theater seems to such a degree merely the material reflection of the text, that everything in the theater that exceeds this text, that is not kept within its limits and strictly conditioned by it, seems to us purely a matter of mise-en-scène, and quite inferior in comparison with the text.”²¹ Artaud’s modernist theater would thus be built on mise-en-scène:

Antonin Artaud and Germaine Dulac, La Coquille et le clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman), 1928, 35 mm, black- and-white, silent, 41 minutes.

Presented with this subordination of theater to speech, one might indeed wonder whether the theater by any chance possesses its own language, whether it is entirely fanciful to consider it as an independent and autonomous art, of the same rank as music, painting, dance, etc. . . .

One finds in any case that this language, if it exists, is necessarily identified with the mise-en-scène considered:

1. as the visual and plastic materialization of speech,

2. as the language of everything that can be said and signified upon a stage independently of speech, everything that finds its expression in space, or that can be affected or disintegrated by it.²²

If anything, Artaud’s notion of modernist exclusion was more precise than Greenberg’s. Rather than eliminating language and speech in their entirety, he sought only to preclude those aspects uniquely applicable to literature, which to him (certainly unfairly) was confined to the cogently expressible, “to the domain of what daily thought can reach,” even with access to the unconscious.²³ Mise-en-scène could thereby include “spoken language,” but only “to make the language express what it does not ordinarily express . . . ; 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.”²⁴

In her incisive reconsiderations of artistic medium, Krauss has argued that even Greenberg’s conception of flatness must be comprehended as layered and self-differing—as opposed to a singular, unified, physical essence—and, further, that an artistic “medium” may be fabricated out of anything, from a car ride to oil stains on asphalt.²⁵ Artaud pushes this logic to an extreme. Theater, for Artaud, has no single medium and no unique physical substrate whatsoever. “The theater,” Artaud declares, “is in no thing but makes use of every thing—gestures, sounds, words, screams, light, darkness,” and so on.²⁶ The “pure theatrical language” of mise-en-scène functions as an assemblage of diverse artistic components: staging, direction, costumes, decor, movement, gesture, lighting, sound, vocalizations apart from articulate language, and even articulate language if employed primarily for rhythm and intonation. Frequently, what mise-en-scène gathers into itself are those aspects of each adjacent art that prove improper to their specific medium: the remnants of language that do not belong to literature, of color that do not belong to painting, of sound that evade the definition of music, and so forth.²⁷ Mise-en-scène thus incorporates itself out of the degraded remains cast off by competing modernist arts, in much the same way that the shockingly impure bodies (including social bodies) in Artaud’s writings, from Heliogabalus (1934) to To Have Done with the Judgment of God (1947), are frequently constituted by the excrescences (pus, sperm, urine, feces) a “proper” body dispels.²⁸

Artaud thus provides us (and his early readers) with a notion of modernism that accords with and, at the same time, proves absolutely antithetical to Greenberg’s: a modern, specific, self-reflexive art form, but one whose “purity” is impure, “an independent and autonomous art” whose essence resides in an irreducible, hybrid multiplicity. (Indeed, proclaims Artaud, “the fixation of the theater in one language . . . betokens its imminent ruin, the choice of any one language betraying a taste for the special effects of that language; and the desiccation of the language accompanies its limitation.”)²⁹ Might we not speculate that it was precisely the fact that Artaud’s modernism was so compatible, on one level, with Greenberg’s (which assumed hegemony in the 1950s, precisely the decade in which Artaud’s legacy came into focus) that accounts for its widespread appeal to North American artists, as well as one of the reasons it remained so long inadmissible to those critics who avoided its embrace? Artaud’s example served to pry open Greenbergian modernism from within, just as the lid was closing.

ARTAUD’S NOTION of mise-en-scène is as crucial to his understanding of media as it is to that of medium. Indeed, Artaud’s appreciation of Clair’s unsynchronized sound film largely extended into cinema his own concept of mise-en-scène as an aggregate of audiovisual components that (like Clair’s sounds in relation to his visuals) were to impact on and collide with one another such that “instead of serving as a decoration, an accompaniment of a thought, [each component] instead causes its movement, directs it, destroys it, or changes it completely.”³⁰ Consequently, and despite the fact that the Theater of Cruelty was founded in opposition to an emergent multimedia spectacle, Artaud was by no means opposed to electronic media. It is perhaps enough to cite his proposition to Edgard Varèse to compose the pulsating light and sound of a vastly amplified telegraph—“but which would be to Morse code what the music of the spheres heard by Bach is to Massenet’s Clair de lune.”³¹

Gaston-Louis Roux, poster for the Alfred Jarry Theater’s production of Victor, ou, Les Enfants au pouvoir (Victor, or, The Children Take Power), 1928.

Artaud’s goal was to transform thought via sensual impacts unmediated by the more problematic aspects of language, which Artaud ultimately extended to all that Jacques Lacan (the “iniquitous seraph,” Dr. L., in Artaud’s “Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society”) designated as the symbolic.³² The goal of achieving an asymbolic impact on the spectator had guided Artaud’s understanding of the effect of “pure” cinematic imagery, “which works on our minds by an osmosis and demands no translation into words.”³³ Indeed, according to Artaud, “cinema arrives at a turning point in human thinking, at the precise moment when outworn language loses its symbolic power.”³⁴ The Theater of Cruelty was similarly to impact the spectator directly, though its effects were to be as diversified as mise-en-scène, producing “vibrations not on a single level, but on every level of the mind [l’esprit] at once.”³⁵

Artaud’s much-discussed “cruelty” was, above all else, a designation of his aesthetic’s asymbolic reception, also characterized as plague, intoxication, or osmosis. That he consistently attributed its effect to sorcery (a delusion that haunted him to the end) only obscures its relation to its media-technical preconditions, the abilities of gramophone and film to record, store, and transmit asymbolic, indexical traces of auditory and optical “vibrations.”³⁶ Hence Artaud’s disdain for written language but fascination with movement, gesture, physiognomy, and light, on the one hand, and cries, intonations, and the particularities of pronunciation, on the other.³⁷ As Denis Hollier has rightly emphasized, such media-technical conditions cannot be separated from historical ones, and Artaud is everywhere concerned with crowds irrationally and convulsively stirred to take to the streets, as though his aesthetic were in competition with the fascist deployments of mass media taking place all around him.³⁸ Artaud’s recognition of media’s nascent potential to innervate audiences and to complicate, even while exceeding, traditional medium boundaries informed the most powerful aspects of his legacy.

ALTHOUGH THE FULL EXTENT of Cage’s knowledge of Artaud remains unclear, his own aesthetic, which he explicitly likened to “theater” from at least 1954, encompassed nearly everything outlined above.³⁹ We find Cage’s Artaudianism expressed particularly concisely in remarks titled “On Film,” in which he professes a heterogeneous modernism that explicitly invokes Artaud’s theater while unwittingly echoing Artaud’s discussion of Clair’s asynchronous cinema:

I am interested in any art not as a closed-in thing by itself but as a going-out one to interpenetrate with all other things, even if they are arts too. All of these things, each one of them seen as of first importance; no one of them as more important than another. In theater, as Artaud points out, it is death to place literature in the only central position; and so I do not agree that “film is a visual form.” The images don’t interest me any more than the sound. Nor am I interested in the artistic arrangement of sound to go with or against the images. All that comes about in a successful such situation is a composite of two, not an imitation . . . of nature in her manner of operation as, in our time, her operation is revealed.⁴⁰

Cage then moves immediately to tape recording’s capacity to deliver a “virtually unlimited” array of “sound materials,” which not only reiterates Artaud’s call for new sounds and instruments (Cage could not but have been thrilled at Artaud’s endorsement of a position he had voiced for years) but also foregrounds Artaud’s incipient relation to electronic media.⁴¹

That Artaud eventually turned against cinema, as against recording, does not nullify his relation to media. It merely signals that, like Cage, he viewed media technologies as properly productive, rather than reproductive, expressly counter to the ideological dictates of a spectacle “unflaggingly . . . the same.” Artaud’s implicit media theory here parallels his antipsychiatric impulse. If magnetic tape, according to Cage, “introduces the unknown with such sharp clarity that anyone has the opportunity of having his habits blown away like dust,” “psychology,” according to Artaud (in terms Cage would have agreed with), “works relentlessly to reduce the unknown to the known, to the quotidian and the ordinary.”⁴² Artaud’s denouncement of individuals remaining “mere recording organisms” corresponds with his opposition to Surrealism’s embrace of psychoanalysis (the reference is to André Breton) and desire’s constraint within a symbolic structure that submits it to judgment: “For it has been a long time since the Platonic Eros, the procreative sense, the freedom of life vanished beneath the somber veneer of the Libido which is identified with all that is dirty, abject, infamous in the process of living.”⁴³

Antonin Artaud’s preparatory notes for his 1947 radio play Pour en finir avec le Jugement de dieu (To Have Done with the Judgment of God), November 1947.

Both Cage and Jack Smith emulated Artaud’s aesthetic of production, its “power, not to define thoughts but to cause thinking” ⁴⁴ (what Cage called “experimentation” as opposed to interpretation). But it was Smith who most explicitly took up Artaud’s struggle against God’s judgment, opposing the manner in which spectacle’s ideological restrictions were inextricably entwined with the moral, political, and economic restrictions that Artaud ascribed to American economic and cultural imperialism in the radio play To Have Done with the Judgment of God. Smith’s was famously an aesthetic of material, emotional, imaginative, and sexual excess, wherein art functioned as the exact opposite of ideological reproduction. What he sought from cinema was “Contact with something / we are not, know not / think not, feel not, understand not, / therefore: An expansion.”⁴⁵ While we do not know precisely when Smith first encountered Artaud’s writing, he seems to have included a recording of Judgment of God in an early 1964 multimedia performance featuring images from his film Normal Love (1963–65).⁴⁶ Smith’s appropriation of Artaud suggestively coincides with his own growing problematization of film as an autonomous medium (which he had earlier apostrophized as a visual art, against language, in terms reminiscent of Artaud’s defense of silent film) and his adoption of a hybrid multimedia practice in which he would never again complete a conventional movie.

Yet here is precisely where an undisciplined celebration (or condemnation) of implosive artistic synthesis must be checked, for it is at the point of complete indistinction that productive implementations of media slide into reproductive spectacle. The manner by which to resist or oppose a “restricted economy” is not by means of unlimited and undisciplined heterogeneity, simply ignoring or annulling artistic boundaries, but by pursuing multiplicity in a specific manner.⁴⁷ Cage is routinely criticized for not allowing absolute liberty, for insisting on discipline in the preparation and realization of indeterminate scores; Smith was equally, if sometimes bafflingly, meticulous in his preparations and demanding of his collaborators, even amid the seeming chaos of his interminable performances.⁴⁸ In this, both followed Artaud, whose theater insisted on strictness and necessity.⁴⁹

IN TO HAVE DONE WITH THE JUDGMENT OF GOD, Smith would have encountered Artaud’s declaration:

When you have given [Man] a body without organs
you will have relieved him of all
his automatisms and rewarded him with
his real freedom.⁵⁰

Artaud’s formulation was famously adopted by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, whose theorization of the “body without organs” (BwO) maps over Artaud’s particular modernism on several points: It operates outside “signifiance” (language, the symbolic), concerns itself with “intensities” (often characterized as “vibrations”), and opposes the synthetic unity of the “organism.”⁵¹ What Deleuze and Guattari state about the body without organs’ relationship to the organs themselves proves equally true of, or so I would argue, Artaud’s relationship to artistic medium: “The BwO is not at all the opposite of the organs. The organs are not its enemies. The enemy is the organism.”⁵²

Artaud’s modernism is not antithetical to the specificity of the medium but, like the body without organs, seeks “not the unity of the One, but a much stranger unity that applies only to the multiple.”⁵³ More importantly, Deleuze and Guattari insist that a body without organs must be formed with caution, lest it become merely hollow, lifeless, and ineffective. “You don’t reach the BwO, and its plane of consistency, by wildly destratifying,” they warn. “That is why we encountered the paradox of those emptied and dreary bodies . . . : they had emptied themselves of their organs instead of looking for the point at which they could patiently and momentarily dismantle the organization of the organs we call the organism.”⁵⁴

Approaching the “modernism without organs” that Artaud bequeathed the artists of the neo-avant-garde necessitates a similar caution. Inevitably, many of the individuals who engaged it, including Cage and Smith, would prove incapable of maintaining the necessary precautions throughout their careers, and their production could lapse into the unfocused indistinction routinely attributed to them (Deleuze and Guattari criticize Cage on exactly this point⁵⁵).Yet today, as we attempt to engage contemporary critical and artistic practices through our own modes of historical revisitation and elaboration—even as we find ourselves enveloped more often by the lifeless reproductions of multimedia spectacle than by the creative and productive deployments of new media that interested Artaud—we will have to muster the same type of genealogical rigor that characterized, at their best, the artistic and art-historical recoveries of that era of the neo-avant-garde that now beckons our return.

Branden W. Joseph is Frank Gallipoli professor of modern and contemporary art at Columbia University.

Antonin Artaud’s preparatory notes for his 1947 radio play Pour en finir avec le Jugement de dieu (To Have Done with the Judgment of God), November 1947.


1. Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, trans. Michael Shaw (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984); Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, “The Primary Colors for the Second Time: A Paradigm Repetition of the Neo-Avant-Garde,” October 37 (Summer 1986): 41–52; and Hal Foster, “What’s Neo About the Neo-Avant-Garde?” October 70 (Fall 1994): 5–32.

2. Although the study of Artaud’s impact on postwar art pales in comparison with the attention paid to Constructivism and Dada, it has not been entirely overlooked: See Douglas Kahn, “Artaud in America,” in 100 Years of Cruelty: Essays on Artaud, ed. Edward Scheer (Sydney: Power Publications, 2000), 237–62; Lucy Bradnock, “Life in the Shadows: Towards a Queer Artaud,” Papers of Surrealism 8 (2010),; and my own Random Order: Robert Rauschenberg and the Neo-Avant-Garde (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), 209–79.

3. Stephen Barber, “Artaud’s Last Work and the City Lights Anthology,” in City Lights: Pocket Poets and Pocket Books (Palermo, Italy: ILA Palma, 2004), 223. Barber’s Artaud biography is Antonin Artaud: Blows and Bombs (Boston: Faber and Faber, 1993). Compare Michael Fried’s infamous critique of Cage’s and Rauschenberg’s “theatrical” dissolution of medium boundaries into “some kind of final, implosive, hugely desirable synthesis.” Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battcock (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 141.

4. Antonin Artaud, “Sorcellerie et cinéma” (1927), in Antonin Artaud, Oeuvres (Paris: Quarto Gallimard, 2001), 256. Denis Hollier’s excellent essay in Specters of Artaud, Language and the Arts in the 1950s, ed. Kaira Cabañas (Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 2012) is devoted to cinema.

5. Antonin Artaud, “The Shell and the Clergyman: Film Scenario,” Transition 19–20 (June 1930): 64. I quote the translation available in the 1950s; Artaud’s scenario is more commonly translated as The Seashell and the Clergyman.

6. Antonin Artaud, “Réponse à une enquête sur les tendances du cinéma” (1933), in Oeuvres, 380.

7. Antonin Artaud, “Réponse à une enquête” (1928), in Oeuvres, 308.

8. Ibid. On the relation between spectacle and sound film, see Jonathan Crary, “Spectacle, Attention, Counter-Memory,” October 50 (Fall 1989): 97–107.

9. Artaud, “Réponse à une enquête,” 308.

10. Artaud, “Réponse à une enquête sur les tendances du cinéma,” 380.

11. Antonin Artaud, “Lettre à André Rolland de Renéville” (1932), in Oeuvres, 367.

12. Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, trans. Mary Caroline Richards (New York: Grove, 1958), 110.

13. Ibid., 37.

14. Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting” (1960), in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, ed. John O’Brian, vol. 4 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 86.

15. Ibid.

16. Clement Greenberg, “Towards a Newer Laocoon” (1940), in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, ed. John O’Brian, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 34.

17. Greenberg, “Modernist Painting,” 87.

18. Ibid.

19. Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, 38.

20. M. C. Richards, “A Note on the Translation,” in Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, 6.

21. Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, 68.

22. Ibid., 68–69 (ellipses in original).

23. Ibid., 47.

24. Ibid., 46.

25. Rosalind E. Krauss, “A Voyage on the North Sea”: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition (London: Thames and Hudson, 2000); and Rosalind E. Krauss, Under Blue Cup (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011).

26. Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, 12. Richards pushes the translation somewhat to make this point.

27. Ibid., 90–91.

28. In this, Artaud’s aesthetic is not foreign to Georges Bataille’s notion of formlessness, theorized for an art-historical context in Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind E. Krauss, Formless: A User’s Guide (New York: Zone, 1997).

29. Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, 12.

30. Ibid., 39.

31. Antonin Artaud, “Il n’y a pas de Firmament” (1932), unfinished opera written for Edgard Varèse, in Oeuvres, 368.

32. Antonin Artaud, “Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society” (1947), in Antonin Artaud: Selected Writings, ed. Susan Sontag (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976), 485. Lacan, who briefly treated Artaud at the Sainte-Anne asylum in 1938, pronounced him “lost for literature.” Évelyne Grossman, “Antonin Artaud: Vie et oeuvre,” in Oeuvres, 1,753.

33. Artaud, “The Shell and the Clergyman,” 65.

34. Artaud, “Sorcellerie et cinéma,” 257.

Jack Smith, Normal Love, 1963–65, 16 mm, color, 120 minutes.

35. Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, 72.

36. See Friedrich A. Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999); and Kittler’s remarks on the media-technical basis of Bertolt Brecht’s theater in Optical Media: Berlin Lectures 1999, trans. Anthony Enns (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2010), 88. On audiovisual “vibrations,” see, for instance, Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, 26–27; Artaud, “La Coquille et le clergyman” (1928), in Oeuvres, 256; and Artaud, “Réponse à une enquête sur les tendances du cinema,” 380.

37. Even Artaud’s opposition to language seems media-technically conditioned: With the advent of the typewriter, notes Kittler, “writing and soul fall apart.” Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, 14. This was precisely Artaud’s lament in his foundational correspondence with Jacques Rivière of 1923–24, in Antonin Artaud: Selected Writings, 31–49.

38. Denis Hollier, “The Death of Paper, Part Two: Artaud’s Sound System,” October 80 (Spring 1997): 27–37.

39. Cage noted that he had “been reading a great deal of Artaud” in a 1951 letter to Pierre Boulez; Jean-Jacques Nattiez and Robert Samuels, eds., The Boulez-Cage Correspondence, trans. Robert Samuels (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 96. In addition to The Theater and Its Double, Cage apparently read Artaud’s The Nerve Meter (1925)—he seems to reference the “All Writing Is Pigshit [cochonnerie]” section in “More Satie” (1951), in John Cage: An Anthology, ed. Richard Kostelanetz (New York: Da Capo, 1970), 93—and “The Shell and the Clergyman,” from which he cites the phrase “objective synthesis” in the same 1951 letter to Boulez.

40. John Cage, “On Film” (1956), in John Cage: An Anthology, 115.

41. See Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, 95.

42. John Cage, “Experimental Music: Doctrine” (1955), in Silence: Lectures and Writings (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1961), 16; Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, 77.

43. Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, 13, 30. Artaud alludes to André Breton, “Manifesto of Surrealism” (1924), in Manifestos of Surrealism, trans. Helen R. Lane and Richard Seaver (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969), 28.

44. Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, 69.

45. Jack Smith, “The Perfect Filmic Appositeness of Maria Montez” (1962–63), in Wait for Me at the Bottom of the Pool: The Writings of Jack Smith, ed. J. Hoberman and Edward Leffingwell (London: Serpent’s Tail, 1997), 34.

46. On Smith’s relation to Artaud, see my Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts After Cage (New York: Zone, 2008), esp. 257–59.

47. The term “restricted economy” and its counterpart, “general economy,” are developed in Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share, vol. 1, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Zone, 1988). These ideas can also be found in Artaud, both in The Theater and Its Double (the latter in the guise of theater’s being “an immediate gratuitousness provoking acts without use or profit” [24]) and in To Have Done with the Judgment of God.

48. See Jonas Mekas, “Jack Smith, or The End of Civilization,” in Movie Journal: The Rise of a New American Cinema, 1959–1971 (New York: Collier, 1972), 391: “As the small activity around the ‘dressing’ room continued, and Jack kept changing records and touching this and that, slowly, very slowly, one began to see, to realize, that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, almost not even a piece of dust that was there by accident, by chance.”

49. Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, 101–102.

50. Antonin Artaud, “To Have Done with the Judgment of God: An Approximation in English,” trans. Guy Wernham, Northwest Review 6, no. 4 (Fall 1963): 61. I quote from the translation to which Smith would have had access. On the availability of the recording of To Have Done with the Judgment of God, see Joanna Pawlik, “Artaud in Performance: Dissident Surrealism and the Postwar American Literary Avant-Garde,” Papers of Surrealism no. 8 (2010): 12–13,

51. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 151–59.

52. Ibid., 158.

53. Ibid.

54. Ibid., 160–61.

55. Ibid., 344.