Theater and Its Double by semi-crazy playwright Antonin Artaud, but it did. While Artaud lays the groundwork for his famous Theater of Cruelty concept, in between some fairly pretentious puffery, he takes a very interesting stance: that words and dialogue are the province of books--not theater. Huh.
Artaud refers to the theater as the "poetry of space," or a "language created for the senses." This is in opposition to written dialogue or text, which he considers to be the domain of the "mind." I thought that this concept was really cool, as it immediately made me think of all of the times I've seen my wife perform modern dance, and it really is the poetry of space.
To appreciate what he means by this dialogue-to-aesthetic dichotomy vis-a-vis theater, we have to consider his definition of "mise en scene." I say his definition because he explicitly points out his disdain for using the term to refer to props on the stage, the costumes, etc.--ornamental additions to the scene. When Artaud uses "mise en scene," he means the complete aesthetic experience: the unique interaction between music, lighting, props, movement, gestures, facial expression--everything but the spoken dialogue, save for its sonic properties, like intonation and cadence. "It is the mise en scene that is the theater," he asserts.
I thought this concept was fascinating. It makes a lot of sense, but I had never considered divorcing the language of theater from the rest of the aesthetics. In fact, the dialogue has always been central to me, and I read more plays than I get to see in person (alas).
But no intelligent point is complete without the devolution of a sound idea into a polemic! Artuad skillfully interleaves his distaste for the mise en scene living "under the exclusive dictatorship of speech" in Western theater:
"In any case, I hasten to say it at once, a theater which subordinates the mise en scene and production…to the text, is a theater of idiots, madmen, inverts, grammarians, grocers, antipoets, and positivists, i.e. Occidentals"
Yikes. Ad hominem at its best!