The Amazonian Theater of Cruelty

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This article deploys the “Theater of Cruelty,” articulated by the French surrealist Antonin Artaud, as a conceptual heuristic to explicate the empirical world of contemporary Amazonia, in particular the “South of Pará,” a site of land war and forest destruction, which the Theater of Cruelty posits as a single dramatic event. We pursue this explication via direct physical immersion, in the form of a travelogue following State Road PA-150 from Marabá to Eldorado dos Carajás, the scene of a massacre of nineteen land reform activists, shot down by Brazilian military police in collusion with the landed elite in 1996. Along the way, we have occasion to encounter the land reform movements and the forces of repression, which we depict both descriptively and theoretically, using our field trip as a point of departure for philosophical elaboration. To this end, we activate Artaud's “Theater of Cruelty” to disclose the nature of violent conflict in the region. We suggest that theater, more generally, provides structure for cruel performance, and that violent land conflict, together with forest destruction, constitutes a predictable tragedy of theatrical events. In other words, violent land conflict in Amazônia, with all its terrible implications for people and environment, can be grasped as a theatrical structure, with philosophic and material consequences for mind and body. Thus, we articulate the development discourse of Amazônia as a violent, existential game, not a narrative of disembodied forces.

Keywords: Amazon; Amazonas; Artaud; deforestación; deforestation; el punto clave; land reform; reforma agraria; tipping point

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography,Michigan State University, 2: Department of Geography,Indiana State University, 3: Department of Sociology,University of Florida, 4: Department of Geography and Environment,University of Texas at Austin, 5: Department of Geography,Kansas State University,

Publication date: September 1, 2011

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