Notes on Anthropology and Trumpism Part 2

In my last post I wrote about one of two articles by anthropologist, Paul Stoller, where he explored Trump’s relationship to myth, illusion, and celebrity culture.

Atonin Artaud: self portrait. Source: https://www.closeupfilmcentre.com/vertigo_magazine/volume-3-issue-8-winter-2008/the-last-words-of-antonin-artaud/

Atonin Artaud: self portrait. Source: https://www.closeupfilmcentre.com/

I also explored an art installation, “The Emperor With no Balls”, that draws attention to the illusion of suitability for the role of President that Trump perpetuates.

In this post, I’ll begin where I left off: with the Theatre of Cruelty. The art installations employ “unsettling juxtapositions to jolt the audience” (Stoller 1995:197). A presidential candidate, shown naked. Moreover, the potential leader of the United States, an arguably virulent and masculine role based on the current patriarchal discourses at play, portrayed castrated. These juxtapositions are meant as shocks to the everyday complacency of potential voters to remind them of what a Trump presidency could mean.

The Theatre of Cruelty

Paul Stoller writes, “Artaud wrote eloquently about the physiognomics of embodied memories. Artaud believed that the power of these memories emerges from a space beyond socially asphyxiating language. For Artaud the solution to social asphyxiation was the Theater of Cruelty” (196-7).

In Artaud’s words,

a theatre difficult and cruel for myself first of all. And on the level of performance, it is not the cruelty we can exercise on watch other by hacking at each other’s bodies, carving up our personal anatomies … but the much more terrible and necessary cruelty which things can exercise against us. We are not free. And the sky can still fall on our heads. And the theater has been created to teach us that first of all (qtd. in Stoller 1995:197).

Love trumps hate. Source: imediaethics.org

Love trumps hate. Source: imediaethics.org

As Stoller suggests, Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty was built about the transformative possibility of spectacle. Even if not ultimately successful in disrupting the vote towards Hilary Clinton, the Emperor With No Balls is a cruel sort of theatre that seeks nothing less than to create visceral social memories that come to the fore of embodied experience.  Stoller suggests that “the sentient body is culturally consumed by a world filled with forces, smells, textures, sights, sounds and tastes, all of which trigger social memories” (Stoller 1995:7). We must tune into the kinds of discourses and narratives Trump is using to activate his supporters, to incite their hatred for difference, fear, and xenophobia. Many have and from that we see the clever, Love trumps hate as an antithesis to the fear.

While the Emperor With No Balls enacts the jolt and juxtaposition of the Threatre of Cruelty, Trump himself is seemingly emblematic of the Theatre of the Absurd.

In the final post in this series, I’ll offer some further reflection on our present situation in order to spur on a way forward that encourages love to trump hate.


Holley, Peter

2016. These protesters wanted to humiliate ‘Emperor’ Trump. So they took off his clothes. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/08/18/anarchists-unveil-naked-donald-trump-statues-in-several-u-s-cities/

Stoller, Paul

2016. The Anthropology of Trump: Myth, Illusion and Celebrity Culture. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-stoller/the-anthropology-of-trump_b_9366242.html

Stoller, Paul

1995. Embodying Colonial Memories: Spirit Possession, Power, and the Hauka in West Africa. Routledge: New York.

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