Drawing on Artaud for inspiration is one thing but to actually produce a work of his is quite another. Producing To Have Done with the Judgment of God has proved a daunting exploration. Thieves Theatre has always had it â€œin the worksâ€ and then â€œon the back burnerâ€ and then in the forefront again.
The aspiration toward this non-production has inspired and informed our other productions for at least ten years now. Susan Sontag explains how many artists have read/practiced Artaud in a similar manner.
Artaudâ€™s work becomes usable according to our needs, but the work vanishes behind our use of it. When we tire of using Artaud, we can return to his writings.
Sontag was a most effective editor and interpreter of Artaudâ€™s vision. She was somewhat unusual as an intellectual in her determined exploration of the non-literary artforms of film, photography, and performance. Also a sometime playwright and director, her support and contributions to the world of performance never became as well known as her celebrated literary work, although famously in 1993 she directed local actors in a staging of Waiting for Godot at the Youth Theatre in Sarajevo as the city was under seige by Serb forces.
Annie Leibovitz’s new book “A Photographer’s Life: 1990-2005â€ has put Sontag into the limelight again. Leibovitz said she felt departed companion Sontag was watching over her shoulder during the editing of the book. But maybe it was more like Artaud watching over both their shoulders. Surely the most controversial aspects of the book are the intimate pictures from their decade-long relationship, especially the painful images of Sontag when she was seriously ill with cancer.
Sontag was reticent to talk about her personal relationship with Leibovitz, as well as earlier relationships with choreographer Lucinda Childs and playwright Maria Irene Fornes. And although she was herself a cancer patient at the time when she wrote her study Illness as Metaphor, few details of her personal illness were revealed. Yet what Sontag seemed to admire most in Artaud was how fearlessly he charted the pain of his “intimate” self. If Annie Liebovitz is right that Sontag is the true editor of the photographs in her new book, then these intimate portraits of her steps toward death can almost be seen as Susan Sontag’s personal tribute to Artaud, an only slightly belated full imitation of the artist she so admired.