'The Epidermis of Reality': Artaud, the Material Body and Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc

Ros Murray


This article examines Artaud's 1920s cinema texts, arguing that like other theorists writing at the time, Artaud envisaged the medium of cinema as capable of forging new types of corporeal experience, both through the types of bodies that were portrayed onscreen, and their relationship to the body of the audience, conceived as collective force rather than an individual spectator. It pays particular attention to Artaud's theories of corporeal materiality, and argues that these are relevant to more recent approaches to embodiment and identification in film studies. Whilst Artaud never successfully put his own cinematic theories into practice, these are discussed in relation to Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, 1928), a film which puts distinctions between bodies into question in an unprecedented manner. Finally, through an analysis of the various different critical interpretations of Dreyer's film, the article considers the difficulties inherent in the notion of a universally intelligible affective body, arguing that there is a distinction to be made between a fascist appropriation of collective affect, and a type of body that overcomes the boundaries between self and other.


Artaud; Dreyer; the cinematic body; Deleuze; haptics

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