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The Theater and Its Double Paperback – January 7, 1994
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Since its first publication in 1938, The Theater and Its Double by the French artist and philosopher Antonin Artaud has continued to provoke, inspire, enrage, enliven, challenge, and goad any number of theatrical debates in its call for a "Theater of Cruelty." A trio of theatrical manifestos, the book is an aggressive attack on many of the most treasured beliefs of both theater and Western culture. According to Artaud, the theater's "double" is similar to its Jungian "shadow," the unacknowledged, unconscious element that completes it but is in many ways its opposite. As "culture" inexorably draws the artistic impulse into safe channels, the repressed irrational urges of theater, based on dreams, religion, and emotion, are increasingly necessary to "purge" the sickness of society. Artaud identifies language itself as one of the major cultural culprits, and his attacks on it occasionally makes his text rough going. But his challenge to restore relevance to the heart of the theatrical experience remains fundamental to the vitality of theater, and his insistence on the sensory experience of drama as opposed to the literary (and such innovative ideas as the use of unconventional "found spaces") continues to be the clarion call of the theatrical avant-garde. --John Longenbaugh
From the Back Cover
'The Theater and Its Double' is far and away the most important thing that has been written about the theater in the twentieth century. It should be read again and again. Artaud oozed magical desires. He was the metaphysician of the theater.---Jean-Loius Barrault
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Nonetheless, my personal take on the book was splendid. Not splendid enough that I would read it again, but worth the $20 I threw down on it. Who knows, I just may read it again, but there are better ones out there.
Although it can be hard to comprehend in parts, it is well worth a read, it's sheds a darkly intriguing light on the art of theatre and on the world that has shaped it.
I would recommend it to anyone interested in the darker side of life as well as (and especially) theatre students/enthusiasts.
Let there be no mistake, however. The theatre francais of Artaud's day was hidebound by convention, a convention that surrealism took as somewhat of a challenge to overturn. Artaud's plea for a theater that would de-emphasize the spoken text and accord more emphasis on light, sound, movement and elaborate combinations of anything non-verbal that could be brought to bear on audiences is part and parcel of the surrealist rejection of theatrical convention. It is striking that Artaud, himself a marvelous film actor, dismissed out of hand the notion that motion pictures as an art form could do what live theater could not. In this respect lies the most obvious example of his limited vision. Film would eventually provide the director with all the tools that Artaud dreamed of for his Theatre of Cruelty. Bergman, Fellini, Kurosawa and Tarkovsky would all draw heavily on the notion of subordinating conventional dialogue to image and sound. Artaud's notion of theater is further undercut by the rise of television, its ubiquity and, in the age of digital electronics and computers, its raw immediacy. Television gives us unmediated images of real violence and conflict, of death on a horrendous scale, but many of us would rightly question whether being directly confronted by the unreasoning cruelty of the world we live in is especially ennobling or enlightening. In fact, many of us might argue the opposite, that it coarsens us, that it hardens the soul against outrage.
So, why give Artaud three stars for this book? Because there are some very crucial things that he gets right in this collection of essays. Most importantly, Artaud draws repeated attention to the flaws of complacency in theatrical production. It took an Artaud to remind Western civilization that theater's roots lay in public spectacle and religious rite and that its estrangement from those roots was killing theater as a living form of art. It took an Artaud to take theater off the stage and put it into the public space surrounding the audience, breaking the plane of conformity that separated actors from audience. Artaud, perhaps most ironically, reminds us that we call theatrical performers "actors" for a very good, but forgotten, reason -- their art at its peak acts upon the audience with a transformative power.
This very dense and, at times, mystifying collection is worth the effort required to read through it and come to grips with intellectually. I would especially encourage anyone interested in film as an art form to read Artaud and ponder how his insistence that a wide range of sense data can reconnect an audience with vital truths could be adapted to the cinema. For here, in a new art form that is still willing to tap into daring innovation, is where Antonin Artaud's passion is most likely to find a permanent home.