Transmission to Artaud [toward an Unnatural Theater] | Logan Berry
Guest Column #018
On the occasion of Antonin Artaud’s 125th birthday.
TRANSMISSION TO ARTAUD [toward an Unnatural Theater]
[thru the vocoders grafted to the Cochlea:]
Yr motherless cunt1 opened its maw and swallowed you whole. You fell entirely through the Mirror and found more mirrors. The World: an appendage appendant to your spit—suppurating. Mise en abyme: it took a hundred years for the World to squeeze through to you—to suffocate in rapid, opiated slowmo—to fragmentate in omnifreedo(o)m.
Virality. Virulence. Theater & Plague. Theater's coextensive development with disease is well-documented. What makes yr study special is you want Theater to *be* a Plague. Apophenic parallels abound:
First of all we must recognize that the theater, like the plague, is a delirium and is communicative... It is not only because it affects important collectivities and upsets them in an identical way. In the theater as in the plague there is something both victorious and vengeful: we are aware that the spontaneous conflagration which the plague lights wherever it passes is nothing else than an immense liquidation.2
You're not interested in the Plague's micromateriality (i.e. the microbe); rather, you attune to its broadest phenomenal affects, the spectacular riots it triggers and the cultural contradictions it accentuates and accelerates. From the chaos you construct Theater's genesis:
In the open houses, the dregs of the population—immunized, so it seems, by their frenzied greed—enter and help themselves to riches which they know serve no purpose or profit. And that's when the theater establishes itself. Theater, that is to say the urgent gratuitousness that impels useless acts of no benefit to reality.3
In the 2020's, the main mode of appraising a performative act is by accounting its usefulness to Reality Maintenance. Three theatrical processes dominate the Covidian Epoch: Surveillance Theater (i.e. the Livestream), the Theater of Public Relations, and LARPing.
 Surveillance Theater (The Livestream): its popularity nearly eclipses both Theater and Cinema. Its liveness (theater) and recursivity (cinema) render it a medium that haunts, that is at once ephemeral and oncogenic; it's not not-(a)live, but it's also not (a)live. Its preeminent works generate outrage fodder, conspiracy theories, and web community-forging obsessiveness.
 Theater of P.R.: Its raison d'être is narrative management. The management of microrealities, a cornerstone of Fourth Generational Warfare wherein being perceived as achieving x-outcome is more important than achieving x-outcome. Its primary modes are mimicry and pageantry. Think of Trump's Evita Perón-esque performance on the White House balcony after returning from Walter Reed Hospital after his Covid treatment. Think of Biden's rhetorical revival of a commitment to end the "gun violence public health epidemic" while actually off-loading the responsibility to Congress, where nothing is likely to pass. Think of the lawnsigns.
 LARPing: Online/IRL ideological performances that have more to do with personal branding and sharpening the Algorithms’ advertising reticles than they do with constituting cohesive, paradigm-shifting political movements. Though the performers may be entirely earnest, their Quixotic enterprises are characterized by pastiche costumery—both sartorially and lexically—that evoke both nostalgia for historical social movements and the emotional tenor of franchise fandoms.
All three occur along a peristaltic continuum: they feedback, inform, and disintegrate into each other, rendering their digestive on(c/t)ological status fundamentally autophagic. Their primary tracts gestate across social media, their energetic excesses seep into the streets. Their productions—memes, press releases, threads, etc.— flatulate then dissipate or, as is more often the case, get sucked back in. Huffed / expelled / reinhaled; again, again, again. Polydigested gaseous cud.
The border between spectator and performer has long been overcome, and no one has been liberated.
In his examination of the enduring popularity of reality television, Tom Syverson suggests its staginess captures life as it is right now. It feels "strangely intimate and external at the same time—"extimate is the word." Dismissing it for being staged misses the point, since we come into sociality through external symbolic frameworks (language): "To claim that reality television is 'staged' is simply to restate the process of social reality's formation in the first place; reality television is the same process carried out at another level of abstraction."4
Despite—or in spite of—mutations in technology/socialization/subjectivity, kitchen-sink dramas of the 20th century and sitcom-style realism reigned supreme on US stages for decades, and the first crop of post-vaccine season announcements suggests this trend's recrudescence.
In the age of Covidian theatrics / reality TV / hyperreality, it has never been clearer that—The Real is far more theatrical than the Theater.
You want us to cut through the gristle and drill to its Heart, to exorcise the Primal Itch to ape & create, to excavate pre-aesthetic corporeal shapes. You want theater to be like a plague to "reforge the chain between what is and what is not, between the virtuality of the possible and what already exists in materialized nature."
You're suffering, Mômo, in absolute misery. Enveloped by addiction and all its attendant constipations. Your hospitalizations. Your electrocutions. You yearn for "fiery purification"—to be restored through theater's doubling (in life): "I hunger less for food than some kind of elementary consciousness. / This knot of life where thought-emission hangs. / A knot of central suffocation." Rapt in pain, you yearn for freedom from yourself / your festering form.
But you can't extricate yourself from the fluff / the pig shit / the abstract symbology. "It's for the very raison d'être of language, of grammar that I derange."5 The impossibility of yr task makes you mad.
I propose an alternative process that mainlines to the crux of your impossible project—and inverts it. An Unnatural Theater that attunes to the baroque structures undergirding Our Times, that dramatizes its mystifications and its mysticisms, its ambient violence and the sublime scales of infrastructure that give rise to this (life-)sentence.
It's not about a 1:1 translation of the Real, i.e. a different kind of re∞-presentation. Rather, it's about infection. A reverse-exorcism by which the Universal ventriloquizes the particular—ensnaring the actors w/ all its toxic junk & phantomic currents—out of which History wheezes through the leaky Future spigots.
Prismatic, Messy & Maximalist. Formally farcical & viscerally tragic. It's Gothic & Romantic. Omnigenre. Ravenous & duplicitous. Filled with flowers & angels & glitched-out flowers eaten by angels eaten by aspergilli. Where Electric Mincers grind the actors through layers of copper, fibre & data splice enclosures, we follow polyester braintrails to a labyrinth of quantum-gore, fresh rain scent, & stone-being. It's meat-texture lemon taffy. It's cursed images, bleeding icons, and empty calories. Where [operatically:] "demoniac satellites triangulate our prayers,"6 everything stains / is stained / disintegrates into redistribution chains. It's selling you something you never asked for that you purchased before birth.
Your Impasse is its burden, so it begins and ends with failure.
Its lodestar is Death.
& inside the Echo inside the Plague inside the Theater we can hear the autotuned screams of the k-hole's baby pharaoh, the metallic clanks & dronesc(r)apes of his excerebration, his pickling & perfuming, his sarcophagization—and a snippet of a familiar, silent rage...
& inside the metaphor inside the metaphor inside the metaphor—the letters s p e l l (c a s t) e d beneath yr scr(ying/een), binding you to their codification + translating y o u ' s into $$$...—we find enchantment in our predicament—w/ dead-eyed sobriety towards that which rends us into data farm equipment, w/ one eye on its magick, our other eye on its sleights of hand—its hearts & mirrors—, our other eye on its tenuousness—O Solar Flare! Aspirate Our (I/E)mp(i/y)r(i/e)al Suffocater—our Compound I aimed Upon its Expiration Date & The Negative Spaces (un-)occupied by Our Potential Energies...
Unnatural Theater aims to become a total work of Art and to unnaturalize the Real (& die trying).
Logan Berry is a theater director and author of Transmissions to Artaud (Selffuck, 2020) and Run-off Sugar Crystal Lake (forthcoming from 11:11 this Halloween). You can follow him on Twitter @lgnbrry.
Artaud, Antonin. La projection du véritable corps. November 18, 1946. Pencil and coloured chalk on paper. 53.5 x 75 cm. Centre Pompidou, Paris.
"Out of the motherless cunt I shall make an obscure, total, obtuse and absolute soul." Artaud, Antonin. Antonin Artaud Anthology (trans. David Rattray). San Francisco: City Lights, 1965.
—. The Theater and its Double (trans. Mary Caroline Richards). New York: Grove Press, 1958.
—. Le Théâtre et Son Double (trans. by Kathleen Rooney and me).
Syverson, Tom. Reality Squared On Reality TV and Left Politics. Winchester: Zero Books, 2021.
"...c'est la raison d'être elle-méme du langage, de la grammaire que je désaxe," you write in one of yr last publications before your death, an essay in Camus' Combat. Paris: November 1, 1947 (trans. by me).
Sayeth eye in Transmissions to Artaud. Astoria: Selffuck, 2020.