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Fiery Purification: Artaud’s Theater of Metamorphoses

  • Max Statkiewicz
Chapter
Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 81)

Abstract

The idea of purity is a metaphysical, cosmological, political, and religious idea — an idea directed against the danger of chaos and indetermination. Any kind of pollution “offends against order.”1 The purpose of the process of purification is to establish a manageable structure, a system of distinctions, of “degrees” (in Shakespeare’s Ulysses’ words),2 that would prevent a struggle of all against all. A difference of status that leads to limited tension, far from destroying the whole, the “empire,” contributes to its preservation: diuide et impera, the Romans used to say. Various cosmological, political, and religious systems of values unite their forces in order to maintain the cosmos of differences and hierarchies. They all perform their function of connecting and cementing (re-ligare) the world through the rites of separation between the high and the low, the governing and the governed, the pure and the impure. Western philosophy and art, as a part of the cultural process of cathartic differentiation, is inevitably involved in the creation of cosmic and political order. The notion of catharsis epitomizes — from Plato and Aristotle to Freud and Breuer — this involvement in the creation of order in the West. But there are also in the Western tradition traces of another notion of purification, a notion related to alchemical and poetic metamorphosis. This form of purification, an important idea of ancient and medieval, but also modern and modernist poetics, violates the order of strict separation of realms and thus can hardly find a place among the dominant metaphysical and aesthetic ideas. The notion of “metamorphosis” that grounds alchemical and poetic purification should not be understood as a concept, as another binary opposition to catharsis, but rather as a challenge to the order of binary oppositions in general — a challenge to the order of the “proper order.”3

Keywords

Western Philosophy Binary Opposition Everyday Reality Limited Tension Religious Idea 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Rene Girard, Violence and the Sacred, trans. Patrick Gregory (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), pp. 49ff.; cf. Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (1966; repr. London: Routledge, 1976 ), pp. 2f.Google Scholar
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    Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, act I, scene III.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The analysis and critique of the semantic cluster of the “propre” belongs to Derrida’s deconstruction of Western metaphysics; see, e.g., J. Derrida, “Le théâtre de la cruauté et la clôture de la représentation” in L’écriture et la diVérence (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1967); English trans. Alan Bass, “The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation,” in Writing and DiVerence (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978), and “La Mythologie blanche: La métaphore dans le texte philosophique” in Marges de la philosophie (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1972); English trans. Alan Bass, “White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy” in Margins of Philosophy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1972).Google Scholar
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Max Statkiewicz
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Comparative LiteratureUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonUSA

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