Thursday, July 7, 2011

Antonin Artaud Anthology

This was a (fairly short) anthology of the various works of Antonin Artaud, who has gained a small reputation for being a french poet, critic, playwright, philosopher of theater, actor and of course, madman. Perhaps, what I suppose would be his most notable contribution in the annals of post-modern literary-esque repertoire is "The Theater of Cruelty" in which he argues passionately and somewhat zannily for the creation of a new sort of theater (vaguely based around then little known interpretations of the more confrontational end of Asian theater). This Theater of Cruelty would aim to dissolve barriers between spectator and performer, as well as body and words, actions becoming melded with moans and exaggerations of a fluctuating physical manner. Unfortunately, that piece along with a lot of his radical theorizing about the theater is left out of this anthology, which was disappointing. Nonetheless, there were enough strong pieces throughout the book to maintain a real presence regarding the man's thoughts and emotions, a compelling mixture indeed.
Some of the early pieces are correspondence which Artaud kept in which he nakedly reveals his problems maintaining sanity and accepting so-called reality with seemingly near-strangers and editors. This is followed by rants, surreal descriptions of states of physical and psychological pain and otherness as well as a few choice angry letters to random bureaucrats and a few lengthy comments on other avant garde weirdos (such as van gogh and comte de leautremont) which artaud admired.
It's hard for me to pick favorites among the pieces as a lot of the book hinged on harrowing and glorious descriptions of a greasy, juicy, wringing insanity which appeals to me and comforts me to hear coming from the pen of a stranger. He indicted various hypocrisies as he saw them in a hilariously viscous way (some of which, I feel a lot of affinity for his loathing of, others, not so much) and swung constantly from seeing his insane suffering as being essential to the rotten core of the abyss of human experience to being constantly induced by others in a persecute-orial manner. There is no consensus in his writing besides madness, however he constantly introduces the crazy stirring in his soul with a range of vividness and vagueness which is enticing but scary.
Strangely and unfortunately, one piece stuck out as being grossly and awkwardly anti-semetic. It was something to do with hating the kabbalah. I only managed to finish one paragraph and skim a bit of the rest before giving up on the piece. Artaud also seemed to acquire a vaguely puritanical attitude towards sex, which is especially strange since he hated religion. This took me off gaurd as he constantly rails against the hypocrisy of social mores as well as is constantly compared to Georges Baitaille, who definitely did not stray from describing transgressive sexual situations in detail. Still, on other fronts he constantly condemns the hypocrisy of bourgeois morality, and that is refreshing.
Overall, Artaud's repertoire is a massive shock against the electro-shock, a powerful yearning to be utterly understood, but on the author's own terms. It is a deep howl against everything he loathed. It is also, in a 20th-21st century literary world full of folks expressing sympathy and affinity with the insane, a painful yet wonderful insider's perspective into a mind tortured by too much lucidity.

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