Friday, June 3, 2016

"Antonin Artaud" by David A. Shafer (Reaktion Books)

ISBN: 978-1-78023-570-7 Reaction Books

"Antonin Artaud" by David A. Shafer (Reaktion Books)

There are certain figures that one grows up with, even though one may not understand their work, it is still part of one's DNA.   There were always images on the wall in our family household.  Jean Cocteau, Brigitte Bardot, and Antonin Artaud.  I eventually as a teenager, started to read his works, more out of curiosity, and family duty than anything else.   I have read countless books on Artaud which in truth, there are probably more books on him, than say his writings.  Still, the image of Artaud is a very strong one.   He had a beautiful handsome face when young, and as an adult and a drug addict - still pretty sharp looking!  If this was death and pain, I'll pick up a six-pack of it please!

Yet, the surface is not everything, and as one dwells into his writings and drawings, one discovers an inner world where communication is muted by disease, mentally as well as physically - and to somewhat break that wall between audience and performer.  Artaud in most circles is thought of as a theater artist - especially with his manifesto "Theater of Cruelty."   The grand-dad of happenings, and 20th century experimental theater practices, Artaud is the guiding light of everything that is wonderful abut the spirit trying to leave the sick body and mind - yet, of course, there is usually some sort of payment in the end.   David A. Shafer wrote a really nice and brief - yet smart - biography and study on Artaud for the great Reakton Critical Lives Series. 

It's a sad narrative of a life of a genius that was side-tracked by madness and therefore a prolonged spell in various mental hospitals.  Yet, one can never forget Artaud's image as an actor and as a visionary that moved out of the shadows to express sincere angst against a world that abandoned or tortured him.  I fully appreciate why my dad had his photo in his studio and elsewhere.  Oh, and he was a beautiful looking man. 

- Tosh Berman

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