Stein and Stuplimity

"Stein is sometimes accused of being obscure and nonsensical. Even her editor, AJ Fifield found her experimental style challenging. When rejecting one of her submissions, he wrote:

I am only one, only one, only one. Only one life to live, only sixty minutes in one hour. Only one pair of eyes. Only one brain. Only one being. Being only one, having only one pair of eyes, having only one time, having only one life, I cannot read your manuscript three or four times. Not even one time. Only one look, only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one.

intro & quotation from from http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/zbrigley2/entry/roses
(Zoe Brigley's teaching blog)

"In a large studio in Paris, hung with paintings by Renoir, Matisse and Picasso, Gertrude Stein is doing with words what Picasso is doing with paint. She is impelling language to induce new states of consciousness, and in doing so language becomes with her a creative art rather than a mirror of history." [boldface mine, EM]

- from SPECULATIONS, OR POST-IMPRESSIONS IN PROSE by Mabel Dodge (Arts and Decoration, March, 1913). Dodge's essay on the modernist, experimental writing of Gertrude Stein helped popularize the author in the United States. The essay was published and distributed at the 1913 Armory Show, the landmark blockbuster exhibition that introduced European modernism to New York.

from http://walkingoffthebigapple.googlepages.com/fifthavenueandthehighroadtotaos

Gertrude Stein by Picasso

Although we may not readily see this, Stein is a naturalist in an experimental mode, reconstituting the natural by way of experiments in form and discourse. Stein's objective is to recover primary processes of perception and thought and, as she reasons, "to express things seen not as one knows them but as they are when one sees them without remembering having looked at them" (Picasso).

--from Jack Kimball, "Gertrud Stein and the Natural World," 


Worst worst?

It's a little bit funny this feeling inside
I'm not one of those who can easily hide
I don't have much money but boy if I did
I'd buy a big house where we both could live

If I was a sculptor, but then again, no
Or a man who makes potions in a travelling show
I know it's not much but it's the best I can do
My gift is my song and this one's for you.

I hope you don't mind
I hope you don't mind
That I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you're in the world.

--Elton John, "Your Song," 1970

"Less best. No. Naught best. Best worst. No. Not best worst"... Beckett, Worstward Ho

"the logic of progression from statement to statement is paradoxically propelled by a series of implicit or explicit objections continually jerking us backward, resulting in a writing that continually calls attention to itself as lacking, even as it steadily accumulates." Ngai, 256.

A Roman à clef?

A roman à clef or roman à clé (French for "novel with a key") is a novel describing real life, behind a façade of fiction. The 'key' is usually a famous figure or, in some cases, the author.
(Wikipedia's definition)

"The entire peice that concludes with "as a wife has a cow a love story"--not only its final section--is a love story. The conclusion of lovemaking is a cow; the conclusion of verbal union is a book. Cow and book are sexual and artistic creations, intimately related. A Book Concluding With As A Wife Has A Cow A Love Story (1923) is a portrait of [Alice B.] Toklas.
--from Ulla E. Dydo, Reading the Hand Writing 29.


"When I said.
A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.
And then later made that into a ring I made poetry and what did I do I caressed completely caressed and addressed a noun." (Lectures in America)

What does the cow express?

Bart's anti-sapphism?

a pro-vegetarian automotive air freshener

Franz Marc, Yellow Cow, 1911

During the early years of this century, a back-to-nature movement swept Germany. Artists’ collectives and nudist colonies sprung up in agricultural areas in the conviction that a return to the land would rejuvenate what was perceived to be an increasingly secularized, materialistic society. A seminarian and philosophy student turned artist, Franz Marc found this nature-oriented quest for spiritual redemption inspiring. His vision of nature was pantheistic; he believed that animals possessed a certain godliness that men had long since lost. “People with their lack of piety, especially men, never touched my true feelings,” he wrote in 1915. “But animals with their virginal sense of life awakened all that was good in me.” By 1907 he devoted himself almost exclusively to the representation of animals in nature. To complement this imagery, through which he expressed his spiritual ideals, Marc developed a theory of color Symbolism [more]. His efforts to evoke metaphysical realms through specific color combinations and contrasts were similar to those of Vasily Kandinsky, with whom, in 1911, he founded the Blue Rider, a loose confederation of artists devoted to the expression of inner states.

For Marc, different hues evoked gender stereotypes: yellow, a “gentle, cheerful and sensual” color, symbolized femininity, while blue, representing the “spiritual and intellectual,” symbolized masculinity. Marc’s color theories and biography have been used by art historian Mark Rosenthal to interpret Yellow Cow. The frolicking yellow cow, as a symbol of the female principle, may be a veiled depiction of Maria Franck, whom Marc married in 1911. Extending this reading, Rosenthal sees the triangular blue mountains in the background as Marc’s abstract self-portrait, thereby making this painting into a private wedding picture. Not all of Marc’s paintings of animals are so sanguine, however. He often depicted innocent creatures in ominous scenes. Painted in 1913, The Unfortunate Land of Tyrol reflects the desolation caused by the Balkan Wars and their anticipation of pan-European battle; an Austro-Hungarian border sign included in the lower-left portion of the canvas indicates the vulnerability of this province. The cemetery and emaciated horses portend doom, but Marc’s faith in the ultimate goodness of nature and the regenerative potential of war prevails: the rainbow and bird with outstretched wings reflect a promise of redemption through struggle.

Nancy Spector




Merriem-Webster defines a wife as either:

1. a woman acting in a specified capacity —used in combination ; OR
2: a female partner in a marriage

Merriem-Webster defines a cow a either:

1. the mature female of cattle (genus Bos); OR
2. the mature female of various usually large animals (as an elephant, whale, or moose)

The wife and the cow are the most important females of both their worlds. The wife is the wife,and therefore a partner, and the cow is the wife's central and most important property.

Sarah Knoth--Phrase

“…the thick or grammatically moody language that West describes can also encompass the signifying logic at work in Stein’s dense Making of Americans, where words are deliberately presented in ‘long strings’ rather than conventional sentences and where the repetition of particular words and clauses produces a latered or ‘simultaneous’ effect. As Stein puts it in ‘Poetry and Grammar,’ ‘Sentences and paragraphs. Sentences are not emotional but paragraphs are…’” (250).

 This passage from Nagi’s essay is what brought me the most clarity to Stein’s essay “As a Wife Has  Cow: A Love Story.” Nagi, here, makes the argument that Stein forgets the conventional and embraces the ambiguously abstract. Stein takes these “long strings” of ideas of words and phrases to create an overall meaning instead of an instant meaning through one or two different words. It seems as though Stein embraces overall satisfaction rather than immediate satisfaction. In other words, Stein is more interested in the emotion created after the reader finishes a piece instead of the process it takes to get there---hence the importance of the paragraph over the sentence. This really made a lot of sense to me---it’s the overall affect of the song rather than the specific lyrics—is sort of what I took from it.   I also think Stein begs the reader to come to his/her own conclusions. The whole “what” idea that Nagi/Stein talk about says that the repetition of words might pose questions---“’What is a sentence.  A sentence is something that is or is not followed….Now the whole question of questions are not answer is very interesting’” (252). It’s like Stein is saying that sentences are questions, questions that a paragraph might answer, but sense paragraphs are made of questions then there really is never any answer? I tried my best decoding this cryptic work, but I think Stein and Nagi have some very compelling thoughts. 

Frayz- "Utter receptivity"

This is phrase, "a condition of utter receptivity in which difference is perceived (and perhaps even felt) prior to its qualification or conceptualization" (Ngai, 261).

This phrase describes what if feels like to read Gertrude Stein's, "As a Wife Has a Cow: A Love Story." Reading is not confined to the way we normally read and authors such as Stein are committed to showing this to the world. Just as thought is not confined to linear, symbolic, formula, so literature is not necessarily bound by grammatical syntax. Reading a piece like Stein's it like relaxing, and just reading without trying to figure out what is going on, and maybe somehow your brain will make sense of it. Or maybe not. Or not maybe. Double negatives are fun. To Stein, repetition is fun and she uses it in a fatiguing manner. Writers push the envelope in experimenting with different forms and the affect of those forms or styles, and it can be very tedious to read these experiments. In order to get through writings of this type, as the phrase says, a "condition of utter receptivity" is what you need, just surrender yourself to the strangeness, or rather I should say, difference. Think about the relationships between words that have never been made before, it is interesting to see new meaning brought to words and words put together to form whatever it is that they make.

PHRASE: "...each could be described as simultaneously astonishing and deliberately fatiguing..."

PHRASE: "...each could be described as simultaneously astonishing and deliberately fatiguing..."

In Sianne Ngai's work, "ugly feelings," she attempts to explain the workings of pieces like those by Gertrude Stein's. The above phrase from Ngai's work, "...each could be described as simultaneously astonishing and deliberately fatiguing..." (261). This "poetic experimentalism" that re-works and re-orders words and the meaning of the language within these pieces can be explained with this phrase. The thought of combining the concepts of astonishment and fatigue seems impossible or ridiculous, but, once the reader makes it through pieces like Stein's, Farrell's, Goldsmith's, and Goldman's, he or she would understand why the wording DOES inspire astonishment, while inducing fatigue. Reading these works is exhausting. In fact, if one reads the works aloud, there is a tendency for one's eyes to cross, voice to become monotone or rap music-like in sound, and mind to spin. At the same time, there is something oddly fascinating or "astonishing" in the pastiche element of the piece, elevating it to the level of work of art.

Phrase: “The mind struggles to establish a connection…”

“The mind struggles to establish a connection—a sequence of cause and effect—and, being unable to do so, suffers a species of temporary paralysis” (254).

Sianne Ngai argues in her chapter “stuplimity,” from ugly feelings, that the issue which arises in Gertrude Stein’s work, among others, is that we are simply unable to understand the language because it is not forward thinking like we are used to. This type of writing is unbalanced, and the combination of words and sentences is unusual for most readers, and it causes a disconnect, which some read, Leo Stein specifically, as “stupid” (249). Ngai is asking readers to take a moment and analyze what makes this language so hard to understand, and it is because we “perceive” a difference, which causes us to expect it to be different and possibly difficult (261).

Ngai, Sianne. "stuplimity." ugly feelings. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005. 248-261.

umm... what?

What is “what”?

In Ugly Feelings, the question of “what is ‘what’?” is posed. This question is posed as a response to the sentence “What is the difference between words and a sentence and a sentence and sentences,” which illuminates the indefinite nature of “what” as the sentence could be all at once a question and a definition. In this section, Ngai examines the different roles this tiny word plays, and in an instant it’s presence as a wholly ambiguous entity is established. This ambiguity when taken to an extreme can engage the audience as well as inflict cruelty upon them, as Artaud suggests, as it causes them to grapple with the unknown and come to conclusions based entirely on their interpretations of “what” as either an adjective, pronoun, or even the expletive. While we understand “what” in it’s context, separate from it, things become complicated, and can confuse one’s ability to truly answer this question, and can run you in circles if you make a serious attempt to do so.


I think what Nagi argues so much against, this "muddy" language, she comes close to repeating. She write, "...is language that threatens the limits of the self by challenging its ability to respond--temporarily immobilizing the addressee, as in situations of extreme shock or boredom" (254). Readers become lost and completely miss the whole point because of the sheer confusion of what is on the paper. "...the subject no longer seems to be the agent producing or controlling his speech; rather, language "leaps out" with its own force and stupefies the listener" (254). If authors are aware of the fact that they are confusing readers, why do they even do it? I feel theorists need to take a lesson from journalists-report it so that your grandma can understand.

Word: Modal

In "Stuplimity" Ngai repeatedly uses the word "modal" in reference to the difference in Homer's speech versus 'normal' speech. Then, Ngai poses the theory that Stein is suggesting that the important aspect is what "lies between the two kinds of difference exemplified by two sets of paired terms: formal difference...and modal difference..." (251). Formal difference is what we traditionally know as words that make up sentences, while modal difference seems to be ideas that make up larger ideas (similar to words making a sentence). To Stein, language should not be thought of as we traditionally have, but rather its own separate entity that is fluid and able to change. In her writing she hopes to elicit some kind of a shock in her readers, so that they pause to think about the writing rather than the traditional story.

The OED lists several types of definitions for the word "modal," but in regards to logic it is defined as:
Logic. Of a proposition: involving the affirmation or negation of possibility, impossibility, necessity, or contingency; (more widely) that contains an adverb or adverbial phrase, or in which the predicate is affirmed or denied of the subject with a qualification. Of a syllogism: containing a modal proposition as a premiss.

Stein's writing leaves this modality open, neither affirming or negating the action of the story. It leaves the reader open to question the language rather than the subject.

Phrase: Word. Words. The words. Confusing words. Wordy words. Words that are confusing. Words.

"In the case of Homer's muddy and twisting torrent of words, the subject no longer seems to be the agent producing or controlling his speech; rather, language "leaps out" with its own force and stupefies the listener"(254).

I would not argue with this analysis of "balancing" sentences, as I found myself quite "stupefied" when reading many of the excerpts. Ngai's essay goes into the reasoning behind writing in this style often using Beckett as a forerunner. I however do not find this form of writing aesthetic at all. I find it confusing and difficult to navigate and very circular, just as Todd does of Homer. Ngai quotes Legrand saying, "The mind struggles to establish a connection -- a sequence of cause and effect -- and, being unable to do o, suffers a species of temporary paralysis" (254) which I similarily found myself in after reading Stein's As a Wife Has a Cow: A Love Story.


Upon reading Ngai's Ugly Feelings, an explanation of what Stein accomplishes through her unique use of language in The Making of Americans, I couldn't help but be reminded of Artaud. Ngai says the language Stein uses "...is language that threatens the limits of the self by challenging its ability to respond--temporarily immobilizing the addressee as in situations of extreme shock or boredom" (254). Artaud argues in his essay that theater must have a similar effect on its viewers in order for the theater to regain its popularity in the masses. His "theater of cruelty" calls for performances that cause the viewer to wonder if what they are watching is real life or part of the play. Furthermore, Artaud thinks that the audience needs to experience shock in the sense that they aren't merely observers, but feel as though they are part of the performance.

Artaud touches on language in the first part of his essay. He basically says that one of the reasons theater has become unpopular is because the languages that the plays are presented in are outdated and not representative of the present time. I don't think Artaud would approve of Stein's language being used in theater because it isn't language that people can understand. Stein's language is more advanced that the language of today in some ways. I think that Artaud would argue that Stein's language, like the unfamilar languages of the past used in classic plays, wouldn't affect the reader or audience the way that theater should. Even Ngai says, "The mind struggles to find a connection..." (254). All of this makes me wonder if Stein's language really can result in shock or "a conviction" like Ngai experienced after discovering what Stein was doing with language. Honestly, when I read "As a Wife Has a Cow: A Love Story" the first time, I had no idea what was trying to be expressed. It seemed pointless to try to understand because the repetitiveness made the entire work seem illogical and random. But that's just my take on it, and I think Artaud would question how Stein's use of language affects a reader as well.

Phrase: Thick and Muddy Speech

"...Homer's 'thick' and 'muddy' speech invites a critical journey, not into the self, but into the more complex of the self's relationship to a particular kind of linguistic difference that does not yet have a concept assigned to it." (Ngai, 254)

"Thick" and "Muddy" are perfect ways to describe the two pieces we've read for Thursday. Stein's strange language invites one to start thinking about the way language works and almost demands that one read aloud. The syntax and pacing is done in such a way that it really feels like a real string of words. This strange manner of speech continues on into Ngai's analysis of Stein's style. The thick language and near-slippage into Stein-esque style seems to make the paper meta-fictional, inviting one to consider the meaning of language within the paper.

WORD: Simultaneous

The aspect of the type of language used by Stein or Beckett is confusing, even "stupefying," because the cause and effect are simultaneous. "Stirring" and being "still" occur at the same time and this throws the reader off, it makes the reading difficult because things aren't in order, "the mind struggles to establish a connection," but yet that reader still understands, or comes to a greater understanding because of his initial stupefecation. Attempts to shock the reader into understanding by confusing him seems exactly the sort of "cruelty" Artaud was suggesting.

WORD: Paralysis

a. Loss of the use of one or more muscles, or a part or parts of the body, esp. as a result of neurological injury or disease; an instance of this. Also: loss of any of various other types of physiological function, esp. that of a nerve (now rare). Cf. PALSY n.1 1. creeping, infantile, spastic paralysis: see the first element.
2. fig. and in figurative contexts. The state of being powerless; a condition of helplessness or inactivity; inability to act or function properly; an instance of this.

Paralysis seems like a good word to characterize the utter confusion one experiences when encountering a word salad, something that is simutaenously familiar and unfamiliar. The mind loses its "muscle", is "powerless" and unable to "act or function properly." Ngai expands on the idea of paralysis using "The Gold-Bug." "The mind struggles to establish a connectioin--a sequence of cause and effect--and being unable to do so, suffers a species of temporary paralysis."(254) In paralysis, the nerves do not communicate with muscles in the body, telling them how to act or react. When confronted with the unconventional, our brain freezes. It's not because our brain is defective or the message, but the medium.


Ngai uses examples of work from several figures including, Farrel, Beckett, Godsmith and most predominantly, Gertrude Stein, to make an attempt at understanding the purpose of Stein's 'new type of writing' which intentionally "stupifies" its reader. Stein does this by presenting "words in deliberately "long strings" rather than conventional sentences and where the repetition of particular words and clauses produces a layered or simultaneous effect" (p.250), as she does in As A Wife Has A Cow. This layering, and lack of fully fleshing out concepts by way of grammatically acceptable forms of narration seems be typical of Picasso's Cubist art, with which Stein was notably taken. Stein attempts "to express things seen not as one knows them but as they are when one sees them without remembering having looked at them" (Picasso).

Ngai also explains, by way of Poe, that productive stupefication occurs when "the mind struggles to establish a connection-a sequence of cause and effect-and, being unable to do so, suffers a species of tmeporary paralysis." This paralyis, according to Stein, makes people more "receptive" rather than merely passive. It makes them want to understand what it is they have just read (262).

Precis - What?

'"What' is the difference between 'words and sentences and a sentence and sentences?'"

Astonishment, astonishment and fatigue, fatigue and astonishment and exhaustion. An amalgam. Duration and Endurance. Testing. Words test, order tests, format, no format. Stupid, smart. Stupid smart. An unbalanced balance. Balanced unbalanced emotional balance. Simultaneous. unconventional convention.  

"The mind struggles to establish a connection - a sequence of cause and effect."

Trauma drama, drama drama, thick and muddy water, Homer, drama, statements, partiality within statements, statements partial, understanding of partiality, partial understanding.

Precis: As a Wife Has a Buffalo

Much of Nagi's focus in this text is on the writing style of Gertrude Stein. In The Making of Americans, Stein produces a layered effect by presenting words in long "strings," instead of conventional sentences. According to Nagi, this results in a bluring of the distinction between sentences and paragraphs. In writing this way, Stein is challenging normitive systems of "sense-making." Also, she experiments with syntax and prose. All of this combined creates an "experiment in both duration and endurance" (253) for both the writer and readers. The final result of this "experiment" is the realization of a particular relationship between subjects and language (253).

In "As a Wife Has a Cow: A Love Story," Stein experiments with syntax, diction, and sentences, although she does not use an extraordinarliy long "strings." I wasn't exactly sure what to make of the piece as a whole. After reading it I was reminded of a grammatical sentence I encountered in a linguistics class. "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo." Altough this sentence may not make any sense at first, as Stein's story may not, by thinking critically about them a particular relationship between sujects and language becomes aparent- or maybe it doesn't.

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_buffalo_Buffalo_buffalo_buffalo_buffalo_Buffalo_buffalo#Extendability

Word: Stupefaction

There is an unconventional way in which certain writers such as Gertrude Stein choose to construct sentences, paragraphs, and even stories. Taking As a Wife Has a Cow: A Love Story for example: “Do they as they do so. And do they do so” (Stein 544). There is an initial surprise to the reading before a relationship to narrative can be made. In her essay, Ngai compares the shock of coincidence in a Poe tale to the shock of reading Stein, “The mind struggles to establish a connection–a sequence of cause and effect-and, being unable to do so, suffers a species of temporary paralysis.” This paralysis is also known in the essay as stupefaction. The reader becomes so overwhelmed with insensibility that a moment of inactivity occurs.

PRECIS: This is the first sentence of the precis.

Much of Ngai's chapter deals with thick language being "simultaneously astonishing and boring" (258). Thick language focuses "on the tedium of the ordinary" (258) by producing the words in a way that they simply become "muck." The words become a mush of ordinary words being written together to create something astonishing from the boring. The size and amount of the muck is what is so astonishing, though the individual words themselves are somewhat ordinary. Being stupefied by the muck writing causes a state of "temporary paralysis" (261); "Yet 'temporary paralysis' is not merely a state of passivity; rather, it bears some resemblance to what Stein calls 'open feeling'..." (261). People try to make sense of the text that is confusing to them, which is the open feeling referred to by Stein. They attempt "to pinpoint the linguistic attributes that inform their stupefaction, rather than dismissing the stupefying text as senseless..." (257). Ngai, while she does a good job of explaining how individuals tackle a text that would at first glance be considered muck, does not really explain where the astonishment she refers to comes from. Why is the size of the muck astonishing, if it is in fact astonishing? What are we supposed to do with our astonishment? While she clarifies what should happen when stupified by a text (remain open to it), she does not clarify what should happen in regards to astonishment.


Portraits of Artaud

Self-Portrait, 1946, Man Ray's portrait of Artaud

Art by Artaud

EDVARD MUNCH, The Scream, 1893


Precis: The Theater and Its Double

Atraud's The Theatre and Its Double describes in detail his aim and call for transformation of the psychological theatre to the "theatre of cruelty." In Atraud's new theatre the distance between spectator and spectacle diminishes to that of a highly and involuntarily responsive subject as it would respond, or synthesize, within a system as described by in van Gelder's dynamical systems approach. He sees such the drastic change from psychological to sensual engagement as necessary because of a pervasive distance between spectator and spectacle maintained in then current theatre, rendering the spectacle inauthentic, and obsolete to its audience.
Atraud outlines in his manifesto how this transformation should occur. He emphasizes the power of noise, specifically, for its sensational power, as in reverberation, that informs the body more so than the symbolic and obsolete "meaning" of the noise. Sense is of the utmost importance in Atraud's "Theatre of Cruelty," because his theatre is not for the individual, but for the masses, which share as a common denominator not psychology, but reflexes and reactions based on physical sense.

Unique New York Unique New York. Word. Henry McDonald

Unique: 1. Of which there is only one; one and no other; single, sole, solitary.
2. a. That is or forms the only one of its kind; having no like or equal; standing alone in comparison with others, freq. by reason of superior excellence; unequalled, unparalleled, unrivalled. (Oxford English Dictionary)

I think the word "unique" is at the heart of Artaud's essay. The pursuit or something unique is a worthy pursuit, and when something unique happens, so happens art. He talks about something unique on the first page without saying the word, and in fact does not write the word unique until page 89 when he says, " That is to say: instead of continuing to rely upon texts considered definitive and sacred, it is essential to put an end to the subjugation of the theater to the text, and to recover the notion of a kind of unique language half-way between gesture and thought" (89). So what is cool about theater, and art for the matter, is the opportunity to do, or create, something unique, that no matter what will never be the same twice. That is part of Artaud's problem with poetry, that when we enjoy it we are rereading words already said, however, unless I read it wrong, I would say that poetry is cool because it can be re read, and in each rereading it is unique, because; who actually pronounces all of the words in a poem the same way every time? Live music is the same, and in theater, the same is absolutely applicable.

Sarah Knoth--WORD

Word: Fixed

OED:  2. In immaterial sense: Firmly attached or implanted; securely established; secured against alteration or dislodgement. In early use often (now rarely) of persons: Firmly resolved; constant, steadfast; bent, set, or intent upon anything. fixed idea: an idea firmly rooted in the brain, with a tendency to become unduly dominant [F. idée fixe]. fixed fact: a well-established fact (U.S.).

On page 75, Artaud makes an argument that literature is fixed---masterpieces are fixed in that they don’t leave room for interpretation and their purpose no longer fits with that of our time. He compares this idea of fixedness to that of theater; Artaud continually tries to stand up for theater when he says things like it is the “only place in the world where a gesture, once made, can never be made the same way twice” (75). I think that Artaud is trying to say that theater is an art that is always active and always relavent. He seems to despise masterpieces because they just aren’t what the public now is looking for; we have no way to relate to them, especially in his example with Oedipus Rex. Artaud says that literature is “fixed in forms that no longer respond to the needs of the time” (75). He has some very interesting thoughts on the idea of theater; he is constantly proposing new ways for the theater to improve itself. I found Artaud’s thoughts on the “magical mimesis of a gesture” fascinating because I never thought about a gesture in theater being so powerful with its “force” (81). He sort of mocks arts like poetry because they don’t have the power of reverberation (80). He says that theater “puts itself whenever possible in communication with pure forces” (82). I’ve never been one to enjoy theater very much, but Artaud has been the first to really present this new position of its function to me. The physical gestures of art are performed; therefore, Artaud says there is a communication with purity. These theatrical communications are not fixed like that of the masterpieces. High five, Artaud!



Artaud uses the word "organism" to describe his idea of each individual within the masses. According to the OED, "organism" can be defined as:
"2. a. A whole with interdependent parts, compared to a living being; an organic system."
"b. Philos. The theory that in science everything is ultimately an organic part of an integrated whole."
"3. a. An individual animal, plant, or single-celled life form. Also: the material structure of such an individual; an instance of this."

All of these definitions have the commonality of describing an individual entity that is part of an encompassing whole. Artaud's idea of what the theater should be revolve around an idea of returning to base human existence. According to Britannica Online, Artaud "believed that civilization had turned humans into sick and repressed creatures and that the true function of the theatre was to rid humankind of these repressions and liberate each individual’s instinctual energy. He proposed removing the barrier of the stage between performers and audience and producing mythic spectacles that would include verbal incantations, groans and screams, pulsating lighting effects, and oversized stage puppets and props." This explanation of Artaud's purpose in his critique of the theater reveals his ideas about the need for humans to experience their raw "humanality." His use of the word "organism" returns human audience members to their basic scientific origin, along with illustrating their functions as parts to a whole: humankind.


Britannica Online

Word: Spectacle

Dictionary.com's definition of Spectacle reads:

1. anything presented to the sight or view, esp. something of a striking or impressive kind: The stars make a fine spectacle tonight.
2. a public show or display, esp. on a large scale: The coronation was a lavish spectacle.

6. make a spectacle of oneself, to call attention to one's unseemly behavior; behave foolishly or badly in public: They tell me I made a spectacle of myself at the party last night.
"spectacle" is a good way to describe Artaud's vision of true theatre. His Theatre of Cruelty is one that is both horrible and fascinating at the same time, something like a train wreck- you want to look away, but you can't help but watch. Everything is grandiose, everything is big and loud, everything is important, and everything grabs your attention, shakes you, and doesn't let go until the show's over.


Artaud's "The Theater and Its Double" antagonizes the reader to consider the role art has taken in current society and to challenge it in order to return art to a more direct and primitive state. According to the reading, too much style and technique has gotten between the spectator and the spectacle. This has occured to the extent that the performance is made obvious and contrived so that the art is existing without any real relevance into the spectators' minds. We see the style of the art and this makes it less genuine so that we aren't able to use our primal senses to deeply connect with the art. "If Shakespeare and his imitators have gradually insinuated the idea of art for art's sake with the art on one side and life on the other, we can rest on this feeble and lazy idea only so long as outside life endures. But there are too many signs that everything used to sustain our lives no longer does so, ... And I call for us to react" (Artaud 77).


Sensuality: The part of the nature of man that is concerned with the senses; chiefly, the animal instincts and appetites; the lower nature as distinguished from the reason; also occas. the faculty of sensation.

Artaud doesn't want you to merely retain your mental capabilities in the presence of art, but also to experiences it through your senses. He wants the public to utilize both reason and sensibility.

PHRASE-"It is idiotic to reproach the masses..."-Nick Sexton

"It is idiotic to reproach the masses for having no sense of the sublime, when the sublime is confused with one or another of its formal manifestations, which are moreover always defunct manifestations. And if for example a contemporary public does not understand Oedipus Rex, I shall make bold to say that it is the fault of Oedipus Rex and not of the public" (74). 

In his essays on theater and how it must change, Artaud makes a strong point about the ways in which theater fails in today's society. In the quote above, Artaud uses Oedipus Rex to demonstrate how this work falls short when contemporarily performed. He says that the play has themes that would interest and entertain people today, however he argues that the play is presented "...in a manner and language that have lost all touch with the rude and epileptic rhythm of our time" (75). On the same note, he goes on later to say, "If the public does not frequent our literary masterpieces, it is because those masterpieces are literary, that is to say, fixed; and fixed in forms that no longer respond to the needs of the time" (75). Artaud believes that in order for theater to gain popularity again it needs to first appeal to the society of which it is entertaining. Much like Brecht, Artaud calls for theater that forces the viewer to question the relationship between art and life. 

Phrase: "However a public that shudders at train wreck.."

"However, a public that shudders at train wrecks, that is familiar with earthquakes, plagues, revolutions, wars; that is sensitive to the disordered anguish of love, can be affected by all these grand notions and ask only to become aware of them, but on the conditions that it is addressed in its own language, and that its knowledge of these things does not come to it through adulterated trappings and speech that belong to extinct eras which will never live again" (75).

I have to give a quick thanks to Artaud. He wrote what I have been thinking with many of the texts that I have read. So many times I am told to read things that leave me wondering what I just read. I cannot understand the language of the text. Artaud made me realize that maybe it isn't me. So, thanks Artaud!

Word: Cruelty

Dictionary.com defines cruelty as "the quality of being cruel and causing tension or annoyance." Artaud argues in his chapter "No More Masterpieces" that the only way to insure that theatre keep its usefulness is by redesigning it to be "a theater of cruelty" (79). His use of cruelty refers to the second part of the definition, as theatre needs to cause tension, it needs to make people uncomfortable. "We are not free...the theater has been created to teach us that first of all;" this is what Artaud means by something cruel (79). He wants us to understand that the only way we can affect the public is by creating something that causes them to think, and creating tension is tne way to do that.


Phrase - To reduce the unknown to the known...

Artaud suggests that psychological theater and the field of psychology itself are an abomination, taking away an energy and the true meaning of theater. This segment of Artaud's text is comprised entirely of reasons modern theater (since the time of Shakespeare) has failed and how indescribably surrealistic and yet real, theater should be. Yet even in his outline of techniques, he seems to offer only vague suggestions as to its improvement. My personal confusion lies within the prospect that theater of old could create a physiological effect, touching people at their core, and we cannot. We have discussed theater during the Roman times to have political agendas along the lines of satiating their audience among other things, yet this article claims that there has been something lost throughout time, something that used to be cherished as unknown, but is now known as something more simplistic, not containing nearly the same meaning as the unknown. Everything I've learned about human nature supports the assertion that we strive to recreate the known, which seems to me, the very premiss of theater. If it is not that, if it is not a reproduction of life we know, how could it be anything else? 

PRECIS: Shakespeare ruined theatre.

Theatre has evolved much since the theatre of the Romans and other theatres of cruelties, but to Artaud, it's not evolution. Theatre has mutated into something that is worthy of disgust, or so he thinks. In fact, he thinks that we should throw this realistic performative theatre out the window and go back to our roots, that is primitive man. Artaud thinks that theatre these days, it's out of style because it's not effective enough. It's false. A lie. And that's why people don't go to theatre anymore. It doesn't appeal to the savage in us, "this elementary magical idea."
We should not be so passive, just as Brecht says. But we should allow ourselves to be hypnotized. Artaud adds to Brecht's innovation by essentially numbering the commandments to theatre. Thou shall not rely on the text. Thou shall not reason this. Thou shall not sit quietly. "I think both the theater and we ourselves have had enough of psychology...we are all mad, desperate, and sick."(77) Or maybe it's just Artaud.

Word: Resuscitate

Resuscitate, v.

1. trans. To restore (a person) to life (physical or spiritual) or to consciousness.
2. To revive, renew, restore (a thing).
3. intr. To revive, to come to life again.

The word resuscitate really stood out for me when reading Artaud's The Theater And Its Double. From what I got from the article it would seem that Artaud believes that the masterpieces which define theater to be more or less dead, at least by way of applying them to modern day society. He says, "Masterpieces of the past are good for the past: they are not good for us" (74). Through his idea of "Theater of Cruelty" he seems to want to compeletely tear down the foundation of Aristotle's Poetics and start anew. And through this prossess, resuscitate or renew theater for today using his model of Poetics. He even goes so far as to describe all the elements that would go into this new theater such as spectacle, language, music, lighting, costumes, objects, actors, etc. All in all, Artuad's Theater of Cruelty seems like a very difficult production of theater.

PHRASE: "that an expression does not have the same value twice..."

"that an expression does not have the same value twice, does not live two lives; that all words, once spoken, are dead and function only at the moment when they are uttered, that a form, once it has served, cannot be used again and asks only to be replaced by by another, and that the theater is the only place in the world where a gesture, once made, can never be made the same way twice." (75)

Artaud focuses on how the written language is useless, because it can only apply to one audience at a time. Our society has become too fixated on the older "literary masterpieces" that can no longer represent the changing society; the meanings do not mean to today's society that they once meant to the people reading the masterpieces when they were first written. The alternative Artaud gives is that people should be reached through theater. But even this mode of communication must be changed from the outdated form of theater we still use. He proposes the "theater of cruelty," which doesn't use words as much as it uses the ideas of dreams to reach the spectators. The cruelty in the theater will help to instill lessons into people that literature, and more specifically written word, can't give the modern day observer/reader: "... the theater teaches precisely the uselessness of the action which, once done, is not to be done, and the superior use of the state unused by the action and which, restored, produces a purification" (82). By showing the "interior" (92), the individual can truly get into the spectacle he is viewing and experience the spectacle as a type of reality, which allows the theater to "find itself again" (92) away from the old, meaningless theater spouted to us today.

Artaud Presentation

Artaud discusses the way he envisions how theater should be. He, similar to Brecht, in a way feels like theater is just fed to us; it is too easy on our senses. Writers are almost insulting our senses by giving us such light plays, and Artaud retaliates, saying that we need harsher theater. If no one else will create this form of theater, then he must. And he does. He calls his form the Theatre of Cruelty.
Before attempting to get an idea of his form, it is helpful to first understand what he means by “cruelty.” A quote from Wikipedia states, “The Theatre of Cruelty aimed to hurl the spectator into the centre of the action, forcing them to engage with the performance on an instinctive level. For Artaud, this was a cruel, yet necessary act upon the spectator designed to shock them out of their complacency” (Wikipedia) To follow up on this, Lee Jamieson explains that “Artaud sought to remove aesthetic distance, bringing the audience into direct contact with the dangers of life. By turning theatre into a place where the spectator is exposed rather than protected, Artaud was committing an act of cruelty upon them” (Wikipedia). Artaud basically wants to make theater more realistic and involve the audience, pulling them right into the play with images and sounds. The same article says, “In one production that he did about the plague he used sounds so realistic that some members of the audience were sick in the middle of the performance.” This starts to clear things up a little more. Artaud wants theater to be so powerful, so realistic, and so inclusive that it could cause people to get sick and/or leave the auditorium. In an attempt to project this explanation in a more concrete manner, here is a short, cruel clip from a film titled Un Chien Andalou by Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel ([1:22] Un Chien Andalou).
This inclusion of the audience in theater is similar to Schechner's ideas. Schechner sees a blurred line between play and reality and discusses ways in which play becomes reality and vice-versa. Similarly, Artaud says, “Instead of making the stage and auditorium two closed worlds, without possible communication, spreads its visual and sonorous outbursts over the entire mass of the spectators” (86). He wants to completely erase the line between the stage and the auditorium and shatter the wall that separates them. He says that there must be more sounds and images to do so. The audience's senses must be attacked, and they must really feel what is happening on stage. The following clip shows one way in which a band blends the concert stage with theatrics and does just what Artaud says: They spread visual and sonorous outbursts over the entire mass of the spectators. Literally. (GWAR)
There is more to his Theatre of Cruelty than just horrific and disgusting sounds and images, though. Artaud's Theatre must also be dreamlike. He says, “In the same way that our dreams have an effect upon us and reality has an effect upon our dreams, so we believe that the images of thought can be identified with a dream which will be efficacious to the degree that it can be projected with the necessary violence” (85). The following clip demonstrates a dream-like scene from the movie The Science of Sleep (SoS). It also demonstrates Artaud's idea that images and sounds should also come to a halt at points to balance it out (discussed in next paragraph). A theater group from Sidney that actually performs interpretations of Artaud's writing explains this idea very well on its website: “When I was a child I dreamt one night of eating soap. For the next few weeks I couldn't get the taste out of my mouth. I didn't like it. But I couldn't get rid of it. It certainly reinforced my own understanding of the power of suggestion. Here is an analogy for what we are doing. The taste of soap, like a virus in the system, remains after the initial infection or incursion” (shadowhousepits.com). Just as the taste of soap remained in this speaker's mouth after a dream—something that didn't really happen—the images, sounds, and tastes should remain with Artaud's audience after a play is over. If this happens, the play successfully “[attacked] the spectator's sensibility on all sides” (86). The following clip from the movie Hannibal is similar to the idea expressed on the Acting Artaud website, in which the spectators' senses of taste and scent are attacked, leaving the taste and scent from the scene lingering in their bodies after the clip has ended ([0:58] Hannibal).
The final quality of the Theatre of Cruelty is imagery and sound. The plays that Artaud wants to see need to contain lots of images and sounds that affect the audience's sense of sight and hearing. He says, “Words say little to the mind; extent and objects speak. . . But space thundering with images and crammed with sounds speaks too, if one knows how to intersperse from time to time a sufficient extent of space stocked with silence and immobility” (87). A good way to think of this in modern visual terms is of flashback scenes in movies. These scenes often flash images and loud sounds at the spectator and are meant to arouse a sense of fright, insofar as a common goal is to at least give the spectator an adrenaline rush. Artaud says, however, that this aspect of the play must not be overused and must be balanced out with “silence and immobility.” Constant powerful sounds and visuals can ruin the effect, so the softer parts, calmer parts have to be strategically mixed in to really be effective. This was seen in the clip from The Science of Sleep when, after a section of loud music and flashing images in the background, we are again calmed by the section where the character is floating through the air over a dream-like city. The following scene from the show Dexter combines all of the qualities of the Theatre of Cruelty: It is cruel in that it is effective to our sense of emotion, it contains a dream-like flashback, it includes flashing images and sounds, and the intensity is balanced out with a softer, quiet few seconds (Dexter).

For a quick conclusion, here is a final clip of an actual interpretation of one of Artaud's play's called Jet of Blood that will combine everything and show the Theatre of Cruelty to a full extent (Jet of Blood)


Artaud writes some lovely long sentences; here is one I couldn't bear to hack up:

"Whatever the conflicts that haunt the mind of a given period, I defy any spectator to whom such violent scenes will have transferred their blood, who will have felt in himself the transit of a superior action, who will have seen the extraordinary and essential movements of his thought illuminated in extraordinary deeds-the violence and blood having been placed at the service of the violence of the thought-I defy that spectator to give himself up, once outside the theater, to ideas of war, riot and blatant murder"(82).

Artaud, being invested in the concept of art as it is created in the context of the "here and now" as Benjamin would put it, has theorized a type of theatre that is not only a reflection of a "given period" (that is, between the world wars/Great Depression period), but meant to serve a given period. At the risk of sounding reductive, it must be said that the service provided by his "theatre of cruelty" would come in the form of a certain didacticism-not merely rhetorical didacticism (since of course, 'language as usual' is useless for Artaud), rather the service would be to teach the spectator, through a deep contact with the horror of the violence he is capable of doing (and perhaps has been doing), to rebuke "ideas of war, riot, and blatant murder." He believes that a revitalisation of theatre could "revitalize the world we live in" provided it is turned into a "function"(82,92). If Artaud is in fact saying that theatre crafted in the manner he poses can serve as a deterrent to the violence presented therein, he is also posing something of an answer to the ongoing debate concerning the basic 'goodness' or 'rottenness' of human beings. He mentions that "it will be claimed that example breeds example [...] the attitude of murder will induce murder." In order to believe that this representation of murder on stage will not induce murder, one must necessarily believe also, that the spectator will be repulsed by the violent images to which he is exposed, rather than revel in them.

Phrase: Artaud

"Masterpieces of the past are good for the past: they are not good for us" (74).

I found this phrase remarkably similar to Marx's statement in the Brumaire about letting the dead bury the dead. Artaud does not think people should appreciate previous masterpieces simply because they were masterpieces in earlier times. He is interested in creating artwork that is relevant in the present moment and reflects the essence of human existence. Marx is of a similar opinion in reference to social revolutions. He does not want people looking to the past for guidance when they should be looking to the future.


Schechner discusses how people view theater in a certain light, which excuses the scenes in the drama. When the images are represented in the frame work of play, then all the images presented thereafter will be taken as play. “It is a matter not simply of consequences but of context.” (298)
The participants of the International Symposium of Ritual and Theatre are invited to view Squat’s performance Mr. Dead and Mrs. Free. Though these participants had experienced many different kinds of performance, they were extremely uncomfortable with the performance.
We see “art” in “life’ because even life is presented to us in a “cooked” or set up way. We cannot separate the two completely because information is given to us and portrayed in a way that involved splicing, editing and careful thought on how best to present the material.
Schechner describes art in life with the news. He goes on to describe the regulars involved in the news program: the anchors, the ordinary people caught up in this or that event as witnesses and the ordinary people actually involved in the tragedy.
-“players, spectators, and spectator-participants are playing and they are not playing” (300)
The players are the anchors, the spectators the audience and the spectator-participants are the ordinary people who are witnesses or directly involved.
The set up of the news programs starts with the bad news but ends with a happier note (313). The set up/order sends two messages, theater and real life. The “quick cuts, edited to the second, mixing news and commercials” makes real life become a performance/ritual that is continued by the order of how the news is presented. The story about the fire with the children and the mother. The story ends on a note that the TV will continue the investigation into the allegations against the landlord. The material is presented as a story of sorts (314).
“Performances that exist “between” “art” and “life” make all those quotation marks necessary, for these performances throw into question the very categories they represent. TV news says clearly that it is “life,” but it isn’t.” (324)

Karl Marx and the world financial crisis

This goes a little back and sideways in our postings to Marx and current events. I came across this article yesterday in my research on Karl Marx. Basically his ideas aren't being mocked anymore, but are being taken seriously. With the stock market crash the state is becoming involved in banks and capitalism is dying. For those of you who are interested, check it out