-- Evil is a useful ruse. (Whit Bernard)
-- People are generally miserable for the wrong reasons: we should right them. (WB)
-- "I believe that our present social state is iniquitous and should be destroyed. If this is a fact for the theater to be preoccupied with, it is even more a matter for machine guns." – Artaud
-- “The horror of the bourgeoisie can only be overcome with more horror.” – Godard, Week End
-- Watch out: those 'geois's love their flagellates, you could become what you most hate. (Patrick Galligan)
NOTES TOWARDS AN ANTIBOURGEOIS THEATRE
It is intended to hurt the audience, or rather to make the audience hurt itself. It is openly contemptuous of the audience, and its result is that the audience will hate itself. It effects the self-hatred of the bourgeoisie not the way a mirror reflects an object to itself, but in the way that a cancer that bubbles up in a body, from within or on the skin, and poisons it. This self-hatred is experienced not as a self-realization (though it is one) but as an unidentifiable and irrational self-loathing that would seem paranoiac if it were not utterly convincing. The audience must feel as though they are being punished for a crime they did not commit (Their belief that just because they themselves did not commit it means that they are not still responsible for it is the surest sign of their objective guilt). Unlike so much art, good and bad,* that sends to its bourgeois audience the message that what haunts the them (or “the world”**) is some nameless menace (rather than the effects of their own power), Antibourgeois Theatre will show the bourgeoisie that they are that nameless menace—not what they fear, but fear itself, the love of fear. By force of its hatred, Antibourgeois Theatre will conquer the liberal bourgeoisie's greatest weapon: their inability to recognize themselves as a ruling class (in the full sense of each word). It does not ennoble, but rather sullies all involved, making performers and audience uglier, melding each into the other’s horrid visage. It has no positive program. It is weaponized art. It is the propaganda of negativity. It renounces enjoyment. It is unironic. It is undead.
* see David Fincher's "Zodiac", “The Dark Knight Returns”, the novels of Cormac McCarthy, etc. The medium (fear) is the message (be afraid).
- To clarify Antibourgeois Theatre is named so not just because it’s effects and sentiments are against the bourgeoisie; the name also designates its the class origin of its utterance. There is no expectation for this to become some sort of new, populist theatre. The author of this paper has been educated in the finest bourgeois institutions, is affluent (and could be far moreso), and so are most of the people who would be interested in creating ABT. The difference between the Antibourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie, between Antibourgeois art and bourgeois art, is not their class origins but the directions they are going, what they desire and how their desires operate, how they interpellate themselves and others, etc. They are of as different natures as adipose tissue and cancer, but they are part of the same body.
- On a related note, ABT renounces “accessibility” and its elevation to an aesthetic principle in the discourse of arts administration. There is a certain intellectually lazy part of the bourgeoisie that justifies their distaste for high art by reference to a fictive “public” for whom it is not accessible enough: the poor misunderstand art for them. More broadly, the discourse of “accessibility” is unegalitarian, because it’s very notion implies a whole hierarchy of intelligences. One who cries “This is too inaccessible!” has instantly interpellated/categorized humanity into three tiers of intelligence: (1) the artists, who understands; (2) herself, who either also understands or at least is smart enough to know she doesn’t understand; and (3) the public, for whom the art in question seems like noise. Note that in this hierarchy of intelligences, the bourgeois subject in the middle is the most virtuous: she is smarter than the public, but more concerned for them than the artist. She hierarchizes intelligence, but it is an anti-intellectual hierarchy, one that puts higher value on well-policed thought than on thinking. It enforces “democracy” by requiring all thoughts to be accessible to fictional lowest common denominator.
Contrary to this attitude, we must assert the equality of intelligence of all human beings*. If not all inaccessible art is egalitarian, truly egalitarian art is often the most inaccessible, because it defies existing conventions that would tell us how to experience or interpret it, leaving no recourse for engaging with it except the application of universal intelligence.
*see The Ignorant Schoolmaster by Jacques Ranciere
Against Morbid Eroticism: Differentiating Antibourgeois Theatre from Literatures of Transgression
ABT renounces morbid eroticism—the fetishization of transcendental-immanent suffering, of becoming-meat, from Buddhism to Bataille, Artaud to Sarah Kane, Sade to Deleuze, Hostel to Hunger, etc. This assemblage of artistic practices has had many moments of liberation—Bataille, for example, delinked sexual pleasure from reproduction (biological and economic), delinked the representation of sex in art from then-existing categories and hierarchies limiting its portrayal; Sade showed the end result of the rationalization of all human activity in bourgeois society, including the rationalization of sexual cruelty; Kane fought for the legitimacy of despair in an age of medication; etc.
But times have changed, and this type of literature is now primarily promulgated and consumed by people who will never experience the conditions of material decay and pain which it fetishizes, or who at least will never experience these things outside of a safety net of dignity, freedom, choice, and security. We are lost indeed if, at the same moment when bourgeois political regimes throw their enemies into concentration camps confine the poor to ever greater material deprivation, only way that radical elements of society can imagine freedom is through images of becoming-meat. As the Marx Brothers say, “This man looks like an idiot and sounds like one—but don’t be fooled: he really is an idiot!” Morbid eroticism looks like the consumption of unfreedom as freedom, of debasement as dignity, but don’t be fooled: it really is! The bourgeoisie vicariously consumes the unfreedom of the oppressed, unaware (or perhaps simply repressing that it already knows) that this unfreedom really is unfreedom. The bodily suffering of the oppressed in the real world becomes a fictional spectacle for aesthetic contemplation or titillation; real unfreedom is converted and reprocessed into an image of radical (albeit perverse) freedom. This is the most vulgar, despicable triumph of the bourgeoisie, and the greatest index of its power. It is the sign of a bourgeois freedom, in the most worthless and solipsistic sense of freedom as freedom to satisfy material urges, to consume and dominate without limits. It is the freedom of “doing what one wants” and defining these wants with the lack of imagination of a monstrous, stupid, ugly child.
Nothing could be more condescending towards the oppressed—towards those whose who do not choose to suffer, whose suffering does not appear to them as spectacle, fodder for thought and decadent titillation, but is rather a tyrannical condition of their wretched existence. Morbid eroticism is nothing more than bourgeois adventurism, a sophisticated, aesthetico-nihilist form of slumming it (and it is slumming which makes the slum a slum). Suffering flesh is capable of no revelation, produces no liberation, is not a “line of flight”, if it is not also essentially free and dignified (in the most capacious sense of these terms, taking into account that in some contexts radical freedom can mean radical submission to cruelty, and dignity self-debasement). Without freedom and dignity, suffering flesh is only crowning stupidity, banal and insipid. Morbid eroticism is a bad joke.
“Taking risks” is something one hears a lot about from good theatre artists. It’s a notion that has to be nuanced. Praising “risk” is tricky: remember that it is a favorite notion of the bourgeoisie. Risk is a slogan of capitalism and especially finance capitalism; the flipside of the capitalist praise of risk is the precariousness of the economic lives of the working classes today. “Don’t think of yourself and getting laid off, think of it as an opportunity to take new risks, start new careers.” Constant career shifts, job insecurity, the end of pensions, and the lack of universal healthcare are all rearticulated as the liberating deterritorialization of subjectivity. Theatre (and cinema) is too often place where the anxieties associated with these kinds of risks get to be staged in a way that makes them more sufferable, a safety valve that lets out steam to keep the machine running. ABT renounces the fetishization of risk or danger as such: instead it’s goal is to create real risks, to actually be dangerous (risky or dangerous for whom?: for the bourgeois audience it sets out to destroy). If Risk is a term in the vocabulary of ABT, it must mean REAL risk, and real risk is only real if there ARE losers: a battlefield is risky because people always die. The same will go for our theatre: crimes WILL be committed (hopefully against people who deserve them), collateral damage WILL happen.
- The goal: To be Antibourgeois as the bourgeoisie are anti-Semitic.
- Irony does not exist: it is an excuse used by the bourgeoisie to disavow enjoyment of things which they tell themselves they should not enjoy, and a means by which to make an literal, sincere, or authentic statement impossible.
- Open hostility towards religion against all liberal respect for religion as a private choice, but without asserting any alternative (unlike the liberal-scientistic-progressives Hitchens, Dawkins, etc.).
- Narrative displeasure: Narrative is universally enchanting, and the bourgeoisie loves narrative. Therefore narrative should be used as a weapon against them. Use narrative to string them along through a stream of offense and horror like fish caught on a rusty hook. Make them hope in vain for relief that will never come.
- Narrative provides one with security (“the answers will arrive, resolutions will be reached, etc”), so narrative displeasure must be part of a larger attack on the rhetoric and practices of security. In bourgeois American mass political discourse (mass = televisual--which includes our print media, since they have already become television) "freedom" has become synonymous with "security", when in fact they are opposed in their essence. Real freedom is terror-freedom; it’s maxim is that freedom is terrifying because all exercise of real freedom requires a brush with the terrifying potentiality and contingency at the heart of being. Security-freedom, the vulgar and childlike freedom of the bourgeoisie, means freedom to do what you want so long as nothing really changes (for the bourgeoisie at least); it is the privilege of having real freedom (terror-freedom) always at your disposal but permanently declining to use it.
- All fun experienced by the audience in Anti-bourgeosie Theatre must either be (a) a trap, a mere set up for manipulation and punishment or (b) the fun experienced by those who have learned to hate the bourgeoisie and take pleasure in hurting them. To make art “that every one can enjoy” is the absolute opposite of our purpose.
-- A major project of ABT is to show that art is not ennobling: as NSK/Laibach put it “Totalitarianism and art do not exclude each other”. What makes good art good (as opposed to a riddle for the educated) is that it points (as though with a finger) to what cannot yet be clearly/rigoroursly/logically/philosophically/etc. articulated or—better yet!—points to the limits of clear/rigorous/etc. articulation as such and to the historicity and contingency of the latter.
-- minstrelsy: figure out how to use minstrelsy in a way which evokes the minstrel as cultural spectre. The operation of any good deployment of minstrelsy today is not an intervention into the Imaginary but into the Symbolic. This was the failure of the Wooster Group whose attempts to shock the bourgeoisie through the use of minstrelsy only amounted to a liberal guilt trip. The Wooster Group’s use of minstrelsy only took into account the relationship of the Imaginary and Real: “Look,” they said “at this repressed Image, this crude fantasy, this grotesque image on the flipside of Lacan’s mirror, and be ashamed at the disjunction between the Image (which, however antiquated, is still present) and Reality”. But pointing out the traumatic chasm between Reality and its Image is banal and reassuring. Minstrelsy must instead be used to evoke the fracture, antagonism, or lack which is constitutive of the Symbolic, whose sliding structures govern the relation between the Imaginary and the Real. Minstrelsy is not a mirror or a mask: it is the impossibility of having a face.
-- I know a few Utopians—building occupiers, freegans, Hakim Bey-style pirates—who believe that rather than wait for the holy rupture of revolution to birth us screaming into Eden, we can instantiate Utopia now, in this world and this time, in the form of small insurrections, occupations, communes, and temporary autonomous zones. I preach the flipside of this sentiment: do not wait for the revolution to suspend morality, to transvalue values, and suddenly render extermination and violence okay, even “divine”. Make war on the bourgeoisie this instant.
--ABT does not approach itself as art: it approaches it self as mechanics: it regards itself as a machine that does a task and has sensual properties. For those who can actually enjoy ABT, they enjoy it in the manner that one admires the craftsmanship of a gun pointed in one’s face.
--As to this manifesto, it should be said: manifestos are not sociological, empirical, descriptive, philosophical, or artistic documents, though they may make some claims bearing on these areas. They are performative documents: they do not refer to “the world”, they directly intervene in it. A manifesto is not responsible to the world that it spurns. It is a brick. It’s purpose is to smash the screen of what Pierre Bourdieu called “the collective delusion of ‘reality’.” In fact manifestos are the most performative written documents, in as much as one cannot read a manifesto without thinking of the act of its being written. They are less texts to be interpreted than indexes of a concrete exercise of freedom—like an improvised arrangement of rocks on the side of the road, or the smoldering remains of a prison.
Manifestos operate through creative negativity. They are the vehicles by which thought subtracts itself from “consensus”, by which thought ruptures with “the world”. Thought gives “reality” a good kick in the teeth and strikes out elsewhere; they engender and embody new, previously impossible, conceptual spaces. The creative aspect of manifestoes cannot be separated from their destructive aspect. The forces of egalitarianism have forgotten how to destroy; they are obsessed instead with “development”, but any good real estate speculator can tell you real developments can only be made after the terrain has been cleared. Has any lasting freedom ever been won without the destruction of the world of the oppressors?
Can one agree with a bullet? Manifestoes do not produce statements that can be agreed upon. They are the symptoms of disagreement, a disagreement that makes agreement impossible, disagreement in which there can be no agreement even on the nature of the disagreement. Really, then, a manifesto is not something upon which one agrees or disagrees: it is something one finds intelligible or something one finds unintelligible. It is only intelligible to those who share (or come to realize that they share) the ideas it expresses and embodies, and it is unintelligible to the powers that seek to defend the existing order of things.
--In conclusion, there are really the two points that ABT aspires to drive home: a) the fundamental amorality of politics and b) the lack of any necessary correlation between good art and good politics. These ideas are not new: they are they repressed content of bourgeois culture.
The amorality of politics is glimpsed, but rarely ever fully confronted, throughout bourgeois and proto-bourgeois political history: Machiavelli, the overthrowing of divinely appointed sovereign's by the People, realpolitik, Schmidtian critique of democracy, the modern security-fear complex, the protection of the amorality of the capitalist market. As Ranciere put it, politics is the split between violence and ethics; and if this is the case, then Art is the split between politics and the sensible as such; between the socio-political dimension of any organization or presentation of images and bodies and the purely sensual or aesthetic-formal dimension. The amorality of art is only one natural extension of its autonomy, and it was bourgeois culture that created the field of art qua Art. Art creates its own world with its own modes of intelligibility and its own measures of value. It interfaces with the social, but it is not continuous with or containable within it. Any given work of art may be good art but bad politics or bad politics but good art. But there is no lasting or necessary logic to the relationship between good art and good politics as such:
The arts only ever lend to projects of domination or emancipation what they are able to lend to them, that is to say, quite simply, what they have in common with them: bodily positions and movements, functions of speech, the parceling out of the visible and the invisible. Furthermore, the autonomy they can enjoy or the subversion they can claim credit for rest on the same foundation. ... The core of the problem is that there is no criterion for establishing an appropriate correlation between the politics of aesthetics and the aesthetics of politics. This has nothing to do with the claim made by some people that art and politics should not be mixed. They intermix in any case; politics has its aesthetics, and aesthetics has its politics. But there is not formula for an appropriate correlation. (Ranciere, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics. p.19)
The point of ABT is not to expose and decry this "dark underside" of bourgeois culture, but embrace and exploit it.