Antonin Artaud. The Theatre and Its Double [Le Théâtre et son Double], tr. Victor Corti (Richmond: Alma Classics Ltd, 2013 ).
One of the most influential texts on theatre in the twentieth century, Artaud’s The Theatre and Its Double decries the turn Western theatre had been taking for the best part of four centuries, namely, towards a kind of ornate “realism” (dialogue heavy, verbose characters with complex psychologies, etc.) of which Shakespeare and Racine are most directly to blame. The development of the European theatrical tradition had produced a kind of “shadowless culture” (7), in other words, a frivolity or a distraction, in danger ultimately of irrelevance in a burgeoning technological modernity. Artaud’s goal was to gesture towards what he called “total theatre” (61) that would pull away the more filigree aspects of modern productions (staging, décor, scripting and, above all perhaps, any reference to or reminder of the everyday) and reconsecrate theatre’s unique “essence”. As Artaud articulates in “Theatre and Cruelty”:
We want to make theatre a believable reality inflicting this kind of tangible laceration, contained in all true feeling, on the heart and senses. In the same way as our dreams react on us and reality reacts on our dreams, so we believe ourselves able to associate mental pictures with dreams, effective insofar as they are projected with the required violence. And the audience will believe in the illusion of theatre on condition they really take it for a dream, not for a servile imitation of reality. On condition it releases the magic freedom of daydreams, only recognizable when imprinted with terror and cruelty. 
In Balinese “theatre” (likely barong and other forms of costumed dance), Artaud was able to articulate the vital link between theatre’s essence and the metaphysical forms that Western theatre no longer seemed animated by. “There is something about a spectacle like Balinese theatre which does away with entertainment, that aspect of useless artificiality, an evening’s amusement so typical of our own theatre. Its productions are hewn out of matter itself right before our eyes, in real life itself” (43). Dancers are likened to “hieroglyphs”, capable of communicating “some dark prodigious reality”, in a “state prior to [written or spoken] language” (44). For Artaud, the masks, costumes, gestures, and dances of the Balinese performers overcome their materiality and reunite us with the concept of pure theatre. They are “metaphysicians of natural chaos […] before which we see ourselves as ghosts” (47).
The performers’ “flows” and “rippling joints” bring to mind Debussy’s encounter with the Javanese gamelan performers at the 1889 Paris Exposition, a grounded moment in the development of Western music. Debussy’s “liquid works” such as La mer and Reflets dans l’eau are said to be directly informed by this encounter. These Javanese musicians, accompanied by bedaya dancers, brought to the Expo water-themed rites dredged up from another plane of existence, not unlike their Balinese counterparts. As David Toop describes in Ocean of Sound:
Psychologically, these Javanese myths, along with the music itself, suggest an emergence of dreams and unconscious desire into the tangible world of consensus reality, the feminine other dredged up into a domain of masculine logic and action. The compulsive, almost occult attraction of liquidity, the floating world, the ungraspable emergence of reflections, sunlight on ripples, waveforms, the abyssal darkness down (or up) there, was characteristic of fin de siècle Europe, just as it is now on a global scale. 
 David Toop. Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds (London: Serpent’s Tail, 1995), p. 18.
 Ibid. Toop notes the influence on gamelan in contemporary music, notably Shoji Yamashiro score to Katushiro Ôtomo’s Akira, a “Carmina Burana for the electronic, post-linear, folk-digital age” (14). Dr Yamashiro’s liner notes to the 2017 release of Geinoh Yamashirogumi’s Akira Symphonic Suite describes a “hypersonic effect” produced by frequencies of above 40kHz (beyond the limit of human hearing). Though a contested phenomenon, it is easy to believe while listening to this and other forms of gamelan music that the audible tones connect to encounters beyond perception, in a manner similar to Artaud’s metaphysical “pure theatre”.
Origins of Theory-Fiction is a series of blog posts/short essays exploring some of the critical texts of the emerging question of the embedded and stacked relationships between text and concept, fiction and “reality”. The purpose of this series is to gesture towards a concrete, working definition of the term theory-fiction, without being prescriptive, reductive, or exhaustive. As well as identifying some of the foundational theoretical works and literary hybrids to which this label has been assigned, this series will also examine key individual works of image, sound, and writing that allow us to further understand this provocation, and to test the limits of its usefulness and applicability. The titles of each of these posts is not necessarily the title of the theory-fiction under discussion, but rather the provocation for thinking about the theory-fictive mode. There is also no significance to the numbering or order of their production: they can be read independently or in any order desired.