The politics of escapism : theatrical reform and fascism in France / by Constance S. Spreen.
This dissertation questions the autonomy of French theatrical esthetics vis-a-vis French fascist politics in the 1930s and Vichy era. Resituating the writings of avant-garde theater reformers Antonin Artaud, Jacques Copeau, and Gaston Baty in the historical and ideological context in which they appeared, it demonstrates--through various instances of esthetic appropriation, ideological parallelism and collaboration--the convergence of avant-gardism and fascism in escapist esthetics. Described as homologous, rather than synonymous, avant-gardism and fascism are shown to be epiphenomena of a mutual reaction against modernity and of a mutual search for transcendance of material reality. The reading of Artaud presented here depicts the schizophrenic as emblematic of the psychology from which avant-gardism and fascism emerged. Like avant-gardists and fascists, the schizophrenic found the modern, material world to be less desirable than the ideal world of his imagination. The juxtaposition of Artaud's writings on Mexico with those on Hitler's Germany by Nazi sympathizer Alphonse de Chateaubriant reveals that, concomitant with the avant-gardist's "schizoprenic" repudiation of reality, the Hitlerian mystique similarly offered a "schizophrenic" rejection on a mass basis of the material, everyday world. Despite their common escapism, the relationship between avant-garde esthetics and fascist ideology was not a simple one. The particular attitudes of fascist critics toward the various forms of avant-garde mise en scene are shown to have derived from diverging nationalist concerns that corresponded to the conservative or radical nature of their respective politics. The canonization of Copeau and the simultaneous anathematizing of Artaud and Baty in the 1930s by conservative nationalists under the tutelage of Charles Maurras was a consequence of the perceived "Frenchness" of the respective directors' theories. The anti-realist flight from reality--pursued already for decades by Copeau and Baty--is shown to have received support under the Occupation from both conservatives at Vichy and collaborationists in Paris as escapism was drafted into the service of the nation. In the aftermath of French defeat, the avant-garde's anti-realist esthetic became culturally and politically serviceable for its power to evoke a national identity.
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