Romanticism and Antonin Artaud

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Romanticism and Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty A Comparison of Two Counter-Cultural Movements Joanna Dacko 0158675 Professor R. Kilbourn CMST 2MM3 November 7, 2002 As Darwin believed, adaptation is the key to survival. A society’s desires and needs are in a constant state of flux and, consequently, adaptations must be made to social and cultural practices to complement these changing attitudes. The greatest catalyst to begin the process of societal reform is an innovative idea that goes
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    Romanticism and Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty A Comparison of Two Counter-Cultural MovementsJoanna Dacko0158675Professor R. KilbournCMST 2MM3November 7, 2002  As Darwin believed, adaptation is the key to survival. A society’s desires and needs arein a constant state of flux and, consequently, adaptations must be made to social and culturalpractices to complement these changing attitudes. The greatest catalyst to begin the process of societal reform is an innovative idea that goes against the established norms. Once thisinnovative idea diffuses throughout a society and is passionately regarded by enough people, atruly impacting change begins to occur, and a counter-cultural movement is born. Two counter-cultural movements that spurred social and cultural change are Romanticism and AntoninArtaud’s Theatre of Cruelty. Each of these movements used artistic means to reform traditionalsocial ideals and to add emotion to the rigid aesthetic ideals that were present in society.The Romantics sought to negate societal conventions primarily through theirunconventional literature. Before Romanticism the reigning ideology was that of Classicism.Classicism is characterized by a strict adherence to formality, and minimizes the importance of individual emotional expression (Michelli). During the French Revolution, which signaled theend of a period of great upheaval, individuals began to question the ideals of Classicism.Furthermore, the Revolution triggered a momentum for social change, which formed theenvironment of the Romantic era. The Romantics sought tochallenge Classical ideals with their own distinct concepts of theindividual within society. It was mainly through literature,especially poetry, that the Romantics expressed their desire for“liberty, equality and fraternity” for and between individuals.Their will to overthrow tyranny led the Romantics to fight for“the rights and dignity of the individual” (Schwartz). AntoninDelacroix, one of the great painters of the Romantic era, in his painting  Liberty Leading the   2 People (Delacroix), vividly portrays this battle for liberty. Those who possessed the Romanticmentality mainly rebelled for liberation from the capitalism established by the bourgeoisie.Thiscapitalist system inflated the gap between social classes, and while some people were livingoverindulgently, others were struggling at subsistence levels. The Romantics desired anequalization of social classes, and a more egalitarian social system.The Romantics desired freedom from the conventions that had been established byClassicism, and from the monotonous, rigid proletariat lifestyle of emerging bourgeoiscapitalism. They longed for freedom from the “established order of things - against preciserules, laws, dogmas, and formulas that characterized Classicism” (Schwartz). WilliamWordsworth, one of the greatly influential literary figures of Romanticism, “announced his break with known habits of association [within his writing]…awakening the mind’s attention from thelethargy of custom” (Damrosch). This philosophy of defiance of the conventional, and the desirefor change was prominent not only in the literary works of the movement, but within thementality of all who believed in the ideals of Romanticism.Similar to the Romantics, Antonin Artaud also challenged established conventions withhis Theater of Cruelty. Artaud aspired to create a theater that rebelled against “bourgeoisconformism” (Artaud, 76). He believed that such conformity to societal norms only leads tosubconscious confusion of aesthetic mentalities (Artaud, 76). Artaud, like the Romantics saw aneed to break away from the tediousness and monotony of daily life. He believed that his theaterproposed “something to get us out of our marasmus, instead of continuing to complain about it,and the boredom, inertia and stupidity of everything.” (Artaud, 83). According to this quotation,Artaud evidently believed that direct action against social conformity was needed to invokechange. Just as the Romantics believed that their predominant art form, poetry, was capable of    3 perpetuating social change, Artaud also believed in the power of art, in his case theater, and itsability to induce change within society and individual mentalities. Furthermore, Artaud realizedthat the unpredictability and spontaneity of his theatrical style was a greatly needed subconsciousawakening.Just as the Romantics fought for liberty, Artaud also demanded freedom from traditionalsocietal thought in his Theatre of Cruelty. Artaud was convinced that individuals within societyare prevented from conceiving things in new ways because of their reverence and respect formasterpieces from the past (Artaud, 75). Holding onto tradition does not allow society to moveforward. Artaud believed that the dominant social powers, with their hegemonic influences,prevent individuals from living as they are meant to: “Artaud repudiated all literature written tobe performed, …and civilization itself. For Artaud, civilization only corrupts the essence of humanity: humankind was ferocious, hungry, and afraid, and all cultural conventions deluded usinto thinking otherwise” (Rivera). Artaud rejected traditional thoughts since traditions areartificial ideals established by those holding the most influence within society. He did,however,  encourage humanity to go against society and view itself in all its primitiveness, since in aprimitive state, things are not affected by social influence. As primitive beings, people canliberate the emotions that society prefers remain oppressed (Rivera). This echoes the desire of Romantics to escape traditional notions of representation, but at the same time return to a state of childhood and innocence untainted by societal pressures. In both of these views, it is importantto realize the difference between traditional ideals that have been tainted by society, andprimitive, innocent ideals, untouched by superficial notions.
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