“Furthermore, when we speak of the word “life,” it must be understood we are not referring to life as we know it from its surface of fact, but that fragile, fluctuating center which forms never reach. And if there is still one hellish, truly accursed thing in our time, it is our artistic dallying with forms, instead of being like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames.” The Theatre and Its Double, Preface.
This quote has always stymied me because, first of all, I like to dally with forms, and, given that Artaud has a lot to say about the material requirements of the Theater of Cruelty, it seems that he does, too. Rereading this quote through the lens of the Body Possessed by Media, however, I see a more undecidable image. That which is just a form, or just a surface of fact, is a dead thing, part of the debris of modern culture Artaud diagnoses elsewhere. The role of the artist is to be “like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames.” This final image interests me on two levels. First ,because it seems to draw on a cinematic image of Joan of Arc d from the Dreyer film in which Artaud performed, and, on some level, predicts its disintegration in the cupboard of a Norwegian mental asylum where the only extant print was recovered in 1981. More importantly to my argument, we truly have the mediumicity of the body in extremis in this image. The body is burnt, made a victim in perfect, ritualistic theatrical event. The body is burnt by the flames which then form a screen, a medium through which the body signals, and of course some kind of life force is signaling through the body at that moment. At the same time, the entire image of the body, stake, flames is an emblem through which the life force signals. And, syntactically, the body itself is signaling through the medium of flame. It is flaming. Supersaturated. Supermediumistic. It’s the signal.
A flaming creature.
And what kind of force is doing this signaling? Only one which is itself like a victim at the stake—fragile, fluctuating. Vulnerable (etym: Latin: vulnus: wound). But as I’ve demonstrated elsewhere (in my gaga stigmata piece), the wound is the ultimate medium, the ultimate site of the body possessed by media, revealing a spectacular surface through which a force of “pure” media can flow.