Ayanna Thompson

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Antonin Artaud’s second manifesto for the Theatre of Cruelty cries out for a theatre that will depict “great social upheavals” and “conflicts between peoples and races.” Opposed to “disinterested” theatre, Artaud designed the Theatre of Cruelty to depict and affect not only the “tortured victims,” but also the “executioner-tormentor himself.” Artaud viewed both as trapped by “a kind of higher determinism” which he sought to alter through the Theatre of Cruelty (102). To usher in this new theatrical tradition, Artaud declared that the “first spectacle of the Theatre of Cruelty will be entitled: The Conquest of Mexico” (126). Explaining his choice for the inaugural event, Artaud wrote, “From the historical point of view, The Conquest of Mexico poses the question of colonization. It revives in a brutal and implacable way the ever active fatuousness of Europe. It permits her idea of her own superiority to be deflated” (126).

In his discussion of the Theatre of Cruelty, Artaud explicitly linked depictions of cruelty/torture with depictions of racialized subjects. The intersection of these events and depictions was chosen, Artaud explained, “because of its immediacy ... for Europe and the world” (126). Writing in the 1930s and 1940s, Artaud experienced a Europe that was united by its colonial endeavors throughout much of the southern hemisphere. Consequently, Artaud was explicitly challenging the racist justifications for these colonial projects. “By broaching the alarmingly immediate question of colonization and the right one continent thinks it has to enslave another,” Artaud intoned, “this subject [of The Conquest of Mexico] questions the real superiority of certain races over others and shows the inmost filiation that binds” them (126-127).


2006 Law and Humanities Junior Scholar Workshop selection.

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