Man Ray - Les mains d'Antonin Artaud, 1922
Extract from Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double:
No More Masterpieces
One of the reasons for the
asphyxiating atmosphere in which we live without possible escape or
remedy—and in which we all share, even the most revolutionary among
us—is our respect for what has been written, formulated, or painted,
what has been given form, as if all expression were not at last
exhausted, were not at a point where things must break apart if they are
to start anew and begin fresh.
We must have done with this idea of masterpieces reserved for a
self-styled elite and not understood by the general public; the mind has
no such restricted districts as those so often used for clandestine
Masterpieces of the past are good for the past: they are not good for
us. We have the right to say what has been said and even what has not
been said in a way that belongs to us, a way that is immediate and
direct, corresponding to present modes of feeling, and understandable to
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.
In Oedipus Rex there is the theme of incest and the idea that
nature mocks at morality and that there are certain unspecified powers
at large which we would do well to beware of, call them destiny or anything you choose.
There is in addition the presence of a plague epidemic which is a
physical incarnation of these powers. But the whole in a manner and
language that have lost all touch with the rude and epileptic rhythm of
our time. Sophocles speaks grandly perhaps, but in a style that is no
longer timely. His language is too refined for this age, it is as if he
were speaking beside the point.
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 asks only to become aware of them, but on condition 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.
Today as yesterday, the public is greedy for mystery: it asks only to
become aware of the laws according to which destiny manifests itself,
and to divine perhaps the secret of its apparitions.