Fragments of Ektos/Modernism’s Delirium (Post I)


Ektos – Greek: outside, beyond the outside, exterior, outside of beyond, besides, except.

Since the end of the eighteenth century, the life of unreason no longer manifests itself except in the lightning-flash works such as those of Holderin, of Nerval, of Nietzsche, or of Artaud – forever irreducible to those alienations that can be cured, resisting by their own strength that gigantic moral imprisonment which we are in the habit of calling, doubtless by antiphrasis, the liberation of the insane by Pinel and Tuke.” – Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization1


A young Antonin Artaud

In his interesting yet problematic account of Foucault’s life, James Miller describes the scene and setting of a small Parisian theater in late January, 1947. In the presence of surrealists (Andre Breton) and men of letters (Andre Gide) and others of the arts, Antonin Artaud took to the tiny stage with a handful of papers, poems scribbled across them. The evening was billed as a “Tete-a-tete with Antonin Artaud,” but for the illusive figure of the avant-garde, only weeks after being released from a mental institution in Rodez, it was his first and last chance to unleash upon the world what he called the “Theater of Cruelty.” In his most famous work, The Theater and its Double, Artaud had envisioned a living art-form that decimated the pretend boundary between civilization and culture, between artistic practice and its critical and theoretical accoutrements, something that would rouse bodies out of their plastic and immobile states. This theater would “seek in the agitation of the masses, convulsed and hurled against each other, a little of that poetry of festivals and crowds when, all too rarely nowadays, the people pour out into the streets.”2 Elsewhere in the text he describes a theater beyond linguistic structuralism taking place through the systematic deconstruction of dialogue – and by extension, language – itself: like the “Occidental usages of speech, the new theater “turns words into incantations. It extends the voice. It utilizes the vibrations and qualities of the voice. It wildly tramples rhythm underfoot. It pile-drives sounds.”3

In that tiny theater, this is precisely what Artaud did. Miller recounts how his fever-dream assault on the symbolic order, rendered as an “anchored mind screwed” into his body through “the psycho-lubricious thrust of heaven,” collapsed into strange and hermetic chants of languages unknown, created only by Artaud and understand by him. “O dedi, o dada orzoura, o dou zoura, a dada skizi.”4 Artaud shook and stammered, raging against “syphilis” and “electroshock,” the legions of doctors and psychotherapists who practiced not medicine but served as the mental watchdogs of the state. He dropped his pages and crawled on the ground in search of them; panic swept the audience. This lasted for three hours, and at the end, Gide guided him from the stage. Soon Artaud would be dead, but the overwhelming sense of a manifesting void that he caused the public to feel that day would linger on, finding itself resurrecting in the pages of Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia project, and beyond.

The non-language of Artaud is that of glossolalia, an incomprehensible torrent of quasi-words and syllablic bits and pieces that lack a unifying whole. It is most seen in religious traditions, and it constitutes a worldwide phenomena found it places ranging from Pentecostal churches in America to voodoo rites in Haiti to the fakirs of India. It is ancient in origin; the Christian Bible speaks of the gift of tongues. When archaeologists began to uncover the repressed ‘Gnostic gospels’ of Nag Hammadi, translators found within the scrolls extensive transcriptions of glossolalia intertwined with parables and description of religious rites. The creation story told in the Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, for example, deploys written versions of this liquid speech as a stand-in for mysterious names of the formless creator spirits. In all these traditions, glossolalia is conceived of as something intimately related to the divine; it is, for the believers, the direct experience with that out of the outside world interacting with our physical reality. In 19th century America, glossolalia became a key facet of the doctrine of spiritism, where human bodies became radio-like mediums for communiques from the so-called spiritual plane (this doctrine even haunts Marx’s texts, the same way that he sees the specter of communism haunting the capitalist world). Mark Fisher, over at his K-Punk blog, relates how mediumship or channeling still reverberates in the avant-garde today, citing the interest or actual engagement with the process in the lead-singers of three key post-punk bands, the Pop Group, Joy Division, and The Fall. Importantly, he tells us not to through the proverbial baby out with the bath water when it comes to these things that imply otherworldy causes, writing that “In order to get at what is at stake in in so-called psychic phenomena (and its relationship to performance and writing), it’s necessary to chart a middle course between credulous belief in the supernatural and the tendency to relegate any such discussion to metaphor: being taken over by other voices is a real process, even if there is no spiritual substance.”5

Similarly, Artaud’s glossolalia and his extended and fragmented meditations on occult arts such as alchemy and divination inhabit, contrary to initial appearances, a largely physical dimension. Divine figures, Christianity in particular, are heaped with scorn; metaphysics is reborn as a scourge upon the body itself. Pain is perpetually inflicted upon Artaud, but it always a physical pain emanating from God himself (the Church) or from the priests in the psychiatric tradition, and thus the distinctions made in the Cartesian dualism that dominated Enlightenment thought, the separating the mind and body, are blurred. He attempts to make an individualized cartography of an outside of modernity and its war-dotted landscape, but always reminds us that while the imagery of the sacred pervades his understanding of these spaces, the sense of the sacred is generated by individual and others willing to move against society. At the core of this outside is the situation of the body itself, and his intentional stuttering of known language is reflective of this: “To insist upon the theological, nosological, or aesthetic aspects of such glossolalia would be to deny its major function in Artaud: the pure expression of the body, always at odds with the spirit.”6

By the same token, Susan Sontag identifies characteristics in Artaud’s discourse on the body that harkens back to Gnostic thought. True, the body and its physicality assumes centrality in his prose (“Nothing touches me, nothing interests me, except what addresses itself directly to my flesh.”), but this interest seems to view the body as a problematic entity. Just as glossolalia addresses the outside of linguistic range, Artaud searches for a way outside the body. “Artaud’s metaphors are classically Gnostic,” Sontag writes. “Body is mind turned into ‘matter.’ As the body weighs down and deforms the soul, so does language, for language is thought turned into ‘matter.’ The problem of language, as Artaud poses it to himself, is identical to the problem of matter. The disgust for the body and the revulsion against words are two forms of the same feeling.”7 For her, this possible transcendence constitutes the potentials for a ‘redemption of the body,” and can occur when the body consists not of separate parts, or organs, but viewed as a whole. This adaptation comes from Artaud famous lines “the body is the body/it is alone/it has no need of organs.” Yet this is an illusion to that famous concept wrenched from Artaud’s pages by Deleuze and Guattari, the Body without Organs – the very lines are indeed quoted in Anti-Oedipus.8 Here, the transcended body is not one of spiritual transcendence, as indicated by Sontag (she does, however, make a reference to Artaud’s gnosticism as one that is secular),9 but one that has a purely physico-mental and political dimension. We can take images (33)Foucault’s various analyses (and to do so is not a leap, for it is figures like Artaud that drove much of his genealogical work) to visualize the pain inflicted on the body as the logic of power forced upon it, telling the body how to act and what to think; the BwO, by contrast, the mutable, flexible, and shifting plane of consistency that stands in stark contrast to the rigidities of this world. “When you will have made him a body without organ, then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions and restored him to his true freedom,” Artaud tells us in his “To Have Done With the Judgment of God.”10


To stress the materialist aspects of Artaud’s schizo-Gnostic hymn to intentional madness, it becomes pivotal to stress the historical circumstances of the era in which this poem was to be broadcast via radio; namely, the fact that it was to occur just several months following the start of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe in the wake of World War 2. This was the time of state-centric Keynesian economic models and Fordist production styles – the height of what Foucault dubbed the “disciplinary society.” The entirety of the social was to be bound upon in megamachine both irreversibly intertwined with Cold War doctrine and the celebration of stable and escalating cycles of production and consumption – the religious fervor of the market against the cold and atheistic (yet still quite disciplinary and Fordist) ideology of Soviet communism. Brian Holmes, in a 2010 lecture given at the European Graduate School, illustrates the relationship between “To Have Done With the Judgment of God” and this regime quite well, and is worth quoting at length:

What’s at stake here is biopower, that is to say, the forms and procedures administrative control over human health and reproduction, which Foucault of course dates back to the 18th century, which from the mid 1930s on were increasing subordinated to the centralized industrial planning of state capitalism. The Allied occupations, the Marshall Plan, the European Reconstruction, Keynesian debt financing, and the emergence of the welfare state out of the total mobilization of war with the biopolitical realities that Artaud could directly see or glimpse in the very near future. Now the fact of deliberately deployed biopower, the necessarily gigantic scale in which it is exercised, and the realization that one’s own existence is enmeshed within it will always come as a shock and a scandal whenever its operations are revealed. Artaud reveals the operations of biopower in the poem, and he calls it the Judgment of God. That’s why the work is so stunning and power, even sixty years after it was first written and recorded. But he goes one step further with his insistence that on the way the new mass production society banishes nature and artificializes the entire environment. What he’s grasping for, I think, is a notion of artificial life, an image of the generation of new and alien beings which the corporate state is only now beginning to achieve in reality with its programs for drone intelligence and common DNA.11


If there is one way to describe the aesthetic environment of post-war state capitalism, it would repetition: repetition of the assembly line, repetition of the mass-produced commodity, repetition of the suburbs and subdivisions, repetition of the automobile and the new roads, repetition of identity and lifestyle. This new industrial modernization swept up everything in its path, ranging from worker’s housing blocs designed by architects such as Le Corbusier to the rise of major automobile corporations like FIAT and Renault. Where was the sense of otherness, the free-form and abstract meanderings of nature blossoming? Surely not the USSR, or with the doctrinaire Marxist parties throughout Western Europe that the US so sought to undermine. Artaud had also grappled with these parties, making his historic break with surrealism when Andre Breton attempted to steer the art movement into alliance with them. No, Artaud and the BwO went beyond the hierarchical and disciplinary machines that encapsulated the entire world in an eschatological war. The BwO, in both Artaud’s poetic sense and Deleuze and Guattari’s reworking, operated the same as his experiments with glossolalia: they pointed the way to the outside. As Guattari notes in The Anti-Oedipus Papers, the BwO is the Lacanian “A,” or alterity – heterogeneity and difference.

This becomes even more clear when one takes into consideration that Artaud chose to broadcast “To Have Done With the Judgment of God” over the radio, a medium that Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri write is an “oligopolistic network model… there is a unique an relatively fixed point of emission, but the points of reception are potentially infinite and territorially indefinite… The broadcast cable is defined by its centralized production, mass distribution, and one-way communication.”12 In other ways, the model ofradio-family the radio is the none other than the operational model of the Fordist/Keynesian mode of the disciplinary society itself. Indeed, the radio was the propaganda platform of choice, being utilize to marshal the public in preparation for consumption (such as the Freudian advertising of Edward Bernays) or the manipulation of public opinion during wartime. Across Europe, the radio became essential to the ongoing efforts of the Marshall Plan and the European Reconstruction, being both to promote the American aid and to function as active agent in an ideological war against the encroaching Marxist-Leninism. Thus, Artaud aimed to utilize one of the machine’s internal control functions as a medium for the “Theater of Cruelty,” to appropriate God’s tool in other to do away with his judgment. In a very physical way, the radio also allows the transcendence of the body by the separation of the voice (the vocal range of the body) from the body itself, harkening back to Sontag’s discourse. It is like the spiritist medium, receiving messages from the beyond; these messages, in turn, have a life of their own away from whatever entity is transmitting them in the first place, subject to recording, audio manipulation, dissection, or further dissemination. “…Artaud’s voice was severed from his body, made an autonomous object in the world, and cast off to pursue its own destiny.”13 In the 1960s, Debord and the Situationists spoke of detournement, the aesthetic appropriation of the mechanics of the Spectacle for use against it, but it seems that twenty-some years prior, Artaud has already come across this idea in his own way. Perhaps this act is an act of a counter-voice against God/the capitalist megamachine, a counter-judgment conducted upon the judgment that Fordist-Keynesianism makes of the body and its processes of subjectivity. In his famous “Van Gogh: the Man Suicided by Society,” he seems to indicate just this, with a role call of “mad artists” that Foucault seems to emulated in the quote at the introduction of this post:

Aside from the trifling witchcraft of country sorcerers there are tricks of global hoodoo in which all alerted consciousnesse participate periodically. This is why during a war, a revolution, a hatching of social upheaval, the collected conscience is questioned and questions itself, and also voices its own judgment. It can also happen that it is aroused and rises above itself in certain outstanding individual cases. That is why there was a collective spell cast on Baudelaire, Edgar Allen Poe, Gerard de Nerval, Nietzsche, Kierkgaard, Holderin, and Coleridge. There was also a spell cast on Van Gogh also.14

1Michel Foucault Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason Random House, 1965, pg. 278

2Antonin Artaud The Theater and its Double Grove Press Inc., 1958, pg. 85

3Ibid, pg. 91

4James Miller The Passion of Michel Foucault Harvard University Press, 2000, pg. 95

5Mark Fisher “Dead to the Worldly” K-Punk July 06th 2008

6Allen S. Weiss The Aesthetics of Excess State University of New York Press, 1989, pg. 131

7Susan Sontag (ed.) Antonin Artaud: Selected Writings Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Inc., 1988, pgs. xlix-l

8Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Penguin, 1977, pg. 9

9Sontag Antonin Artaud pg. xlvii

10Antonin Artaud “To Have Done With the Judgment of God”

11Brian Holmes “Four Pathways Through Chaos” 2010

12Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Empire Harvard University Press, 2000, pg. 299

13Allen S. Weiss Phantasmic Radio Duke University Press, 1995, pg. 33

14Antonin Artaud Artaud Anthology City Light Books, 1965, pg. 138

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10 Responses to Fragments of Ektos/Modernism’s Delirium (Post I)

  1. noir-realism says:

    Yea, just started rereading Debord’s works…. “In the 1960s, Debord and the Situationists spoke of detournement, the aesthetic appropriation of the mechanics of the Spectacle for use against it, but it seems that twenty-some years prior, Artaud has already come across this idea in his own way.”

    True… the other was Vaslav Nijinsky the great Russian dancer whose schizophrenia served much the same difficulties as Artaud. It always seems this shamanistic aspect of certain beings is just lost on modern society. We have lost our materialist religions: both Shamanism and the Olgun (West African) religions are the extremes of that materialist world between ecstasy and possession, Apollonian flight and Dionysian dance.

    • edmundberger says:

      I’m not too knowledgeable of Nijinsky, aside from his role in the production of the Rites of Spring. Any good works or links that would be illuminating on his life, ideas, and struggles? I’m returning to many of my earlier readings on the more radical and explosives forms of modernity, particularly the ones that, as you say on the issue of materialist religions, take on form in the “extremes of the materialist world”: Artaud, Bataille Weil, Miller, and of course, the Situationists. I’m interesting in their conjunctions, their divergences, how they foreshadow the post-structuralist project, and most importantly, what applications they could have for today’s situation. Each posits themselves against (even if some are – the Situationists, for one – operating within) the dominating intellectual current of late modernity, that is, structuralism. This theoretical approach, when rendered historically, is deeply intertwined with the first order cybernetics emanating from the American war machine, and radical modernism concerns itself with a way out. So interesting that against the encroachment of scienticism and technocratic management on the all aspects of life (biopower) we can find the return of the sacred, the religious and the mystical, albeit recast in a materialist light.

      • noir-realism says:

        Probably the only major connection for Nijinsky is his choreography was pretty much the beginnings of modernism for dance, especially in regards to Russia:

        Yes, I like where you’re going with your projects. I think we touch some of the same veins just through different backgrounds and a few variations in the players. But that’s always so no matter the scholar… uniqueness!

        I assume there is a book you have planned somewhere down the pipe to bring all this together? 🙂

  2. Pingback: Fragments of Ektos/Modernism’s Delirium (Post I) | Research Material

  3. edmundberger says:

    @ Steve,
    Man, if I had a dollar for every time I considered, outlined, and started writing a book… I certainly plan to do it – this blog, in many ways, is a space of raw notes for such a project, albeit a space that is more ‘fun’ than the book writing process. I just have yet to find that illusive bit that could make it a whole, as well as an aesthetical and literary manner in which it could be laid out in, to illustrate the sensory perception of fragmentation and hybridization that these topics require.

    But yes, I agree, our projects do seem to dovetail one another: commentaries and critiques on the void left in living by a runaway techno-economic regime… Different styles, but complimentary none the less!

  4. Pingback: Books and writing | Deterritorial Investigations Unit

  5. Pingback: Postmodern Passages: The Construction of the Body | Deterritorial Investigations Unit

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