|Susan Sontag [Architectural Digest]|
from Susan Sontag's Antonin Artaud: Selected Writings:
Artaud wandered in the labyrinth of a specific type of religious sensibility, the Gnostic one. (Central to Mithraism, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism, and Tantric Buddhism, but pushed to the heretical margins of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the perennial Gnostic thematics appear in the different religions in different terminologies but with certain common lines.) The leading energies of Gnosticism come from metaphysical anxiety and acute psychological distress — the sense of being abandoned, of being an alien, of being possessed by demonic powers which prey on the human spirit in a cosmos vacated by the divine. The cosmos is itself a battlefield, and each human life exhibits the conflict between the repressive, persecuting forces from without and the feverish, afflicted individual spirit seeking redemption. The demonic forces of the cosmos exist as physical matter. They also exist as “law,” taboos, prohibitions. Thus, in the Gnostic metaphors the spirit is abandoned, fallen, trapped in a body, and the individual is repressed, trapped, by being in “the world” — what we would call “society.” (It is a mark of all Gnostic thinking to polarize inner space, the psyche, and a vague outer space, “the world” or “society,” which is identified with repression — making little or no acknowledgment of the importance of the mediating levels of the various social spheres and institutions.) The self, or spirit, discovers itself in the break with “the world.” The only freedom possible is an inhuman desperate freedom. To be saved, the spirit must be taken out of its body, out of its personality, out of “the world.” And freedom requires an arduous preparation. Whoever seeks it must both accept extreme humiliation and exhibit the greatest spiritual pride. In one version, freedom entails total asceticism. In another version, it entails libertinism — practicing the art of transgression. To be free of “the world,” one must break the moral (or social) law. To transcend the body, one must pass through a period of physical debauchery and verbal blasphemy, on the principle that only when morality has been deliberately flouted is the individual capable of a radical transformation: entering into a state of grace that leaves all moral categories behind. In both versions of the exemplary Gnostic drama, someone who is saved is beyond good and evil. Founded on an exacerbation of dualisms (body-mind, matter-spirit, evil-good, dark-light), Gnosticism promises the abolition of all dualisms.
Artaud’s thought reproduces most of the Gnostic themes.