ColumbariumsThat strange word "urbanism," whether it comes from a Pope Urban or from the City, will maybe no longer be concerned with the dead. The living will get rid of their corpses, slyly or not, as one rids oneself of a shameful thought. By hurrying them to the crematorium furnace, the urbanized world will rid itself of a great theatrical aid, and perhaps of theater itself. In place of the cemetery, center - - - albeit sometimes outlying center - - - of the city, you'll have columbaria, with chimney, without chimney, with or without smoke, and the dead, charred like scorched rolls of bread, will serve as fertilizer for the kolkhoz or kibbutz, far from the city.
Still, if cremation takes on a dramatic allure - - - either because one single man was solemnly burned and cooked alive or because the Town or State wanted to rid themselves, en masse, so to speak, of another community - - - the crematorium, like that of Dachau, evocative of a very possible future architecturally escaping time, future as well as past, chimney still maintained by cleaning teams who sing lieder around this slanting, erect phallus of red brick or who just whistle Mozart tunes, and who still maintain the open gullet of this oven where on grates up to ten or twelve corpses at once can be put in the oven - - - a certain form of theater could be perpetuated, but if the crematoria in cities are made to disappear or are reduced to the dimensions of a grocery store, the theater will die.
Of future urban planners we will demand that a cemetery be installed in the town, where the dead will continue to be buried, or to plan a disturbing columbarium, with simple but imperious lines, and then, next to it, in its shadow, or in the midst of the tombs, the theater will be erected. Do you see where I'm heading? The theater will be placed as close as possible, in the truly tutelary shade of the place where the dead are kept, or in the shadow of the only monument that digests them.
I give you these pieces of advice without too much solemnity; I'm dreaming, rather, with the active nonchalance of a child who knows the importance of the theater.
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What will the cemeteries be? An oven capable of disintegrating the dead. If I speak of a theater among the tombs, it's because the word "death" today is shadowy, and in a world that seems to be going so cheerfully toward the luminosity of analysis, our transparent eyelids no longer protected, like Mallarmé, I think a little darkness must be added. Science deciphers everything, or wants to, but we've had it! We must take refuge, and nowhere else but in our ingeniously lit entrails . . . . No, I'm wrong: not take refuge, but discover a fresh and scorching shadow, which will be our work.
Even if the graves have grown indistinct, the cemetery will be well kept up, the crematorium too. During the day, joyful teams - - - Germany has a few - - - will clean them, whistling, but just whistling. The inside of the oven and of the chimney can remain black with soot.
Where? Rome? . . . did I read this, had - - - but perhaps my memory deceives me - - - a funeral mime. His role? Preceding the procession, he was supposed to mime the most important deeds that made up the life of the dead man when he - - - the dead man - - - was alive . . .
And the funeral mime?
And the Theater in the cemetery?Before burying the dead man, the corpse in its coffin should be borne just in front of the stage; friends, enemies, and onlookers should be up in the part reserved for the public; the funeral mime preceding the procession should split in two and multiply; he should become a troupe of actors, and, in front of the dead man and the audience, he should make the dead man live and die again; then the coffin should be lifted and carried, in the middle of the night, to the grave; finally the audience should depart: the celebration is over. Until a new ceremony offered by another dead man whose life will deserve a dramatic, not tragic performance. One must live tragedy, not play it.
When one is clever, one can pretend to understand, one can pretend to think that words do not change, that their meaning is fixed, or that it changes thanks to our intentions, one tries to believe, so if their appearance alters a little, we become gods. Whereas I, facing this enraged herd caged in the dictionary, I know that I have said nothing and that I will never say anything: and the words couldn't care less.
Deeds are scarcely more docile. As in the case of language, there is a grammar of action, and beware of the autodidact!
To betray is perhaps traditional, but treason is no repose. I had to make a great effort to betray my friends: in the end, there was a reward.
So, for the great parade before the burial of the corpse, if the funeral mime wants to make the dead man live and die again, he will have to discover, and dare to say them, those dialectophage words that in front of the audience will devour the life and death of the dead man.
--- From Fragments of the Artwork
Charlotte Mandell, Translator
©2003 Stanford University Press