Artaud's "Daughters" : "Plague," "Double," and "Cruelty" as feminist performance practices of transformation

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2012-05

Authors

Barfield, Heather Leigh

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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to identify Artaudian criteria contained in three different performance practices including (1) a television performance, (2) a live performance, and (3) a workshop performance. These included, respectively, (1) an episode from The X-Files television series; (2) MetamorphoSex, a live ritual performance with performance artist Annie Sprinkle; and (3) Rachel Rosenthal’s DbD Experience Workshop. Core criteria of Artaudian Theater of Cruelty were established through analyses of the relevant literature. These criteria were then coupled with characteristics of French feminist theory and a “shamanistic” perspective to create a theoretical-analytic tool with Artaudian criteria as its centerpiece. Also, performance analysis, experiential and experimental reflexive-subjectivity, and performative poetics were techniques applied for analytic purposes. Analyses identified a range of Artaudian criteria and feminist and “shamanistic” characteristics in the three performances; these included radical and performative poetics, embodied states of ecstasy and transformation, and non-reliance on written texts and scripts in performance practices. Among other things, analyses of different performance practices indicates that identified Artaudian performances, as a whole, tend to hinge upon performing “in the extreme” and may inadvertently serve to reinscribe race and imperialist hegemonies through an exaggeration of performing “whiteness in the extreme.” Additionally, women performing “in the extreme” are often unfairly characterized as heightened and exaggerated examples of “womanness.” Masked behind themes of women’s empowerment are cultural and performative archetypes of woman as “goddess,” “monster,” or heartless “cyborg.” Implications of these findings are discussed as well as the creation of public spaces where groups of people gather for an “extreme” performative event that, through dramatic spectacle and purpose, unites them with a particular theme or focus. It is argued that such spaces have the potential to catalyze endeavors seeking transformation and, in particular, transform the social lives of the participants.

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