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Artaud was an anarchist in a country so exotic that he was its only citizen and its only adventurer. ""I am the man who has best charted his inmost self."" He sought both a language of the body and a language of the spirit, contradictory pursuits that would torment him throughout his life. At first he imagined that words could still incorporate a new revelation of being, especially in the Surrealist experiments of the Twenties. Later he turned to more palpable gestures, the fluidity and violence of films and theatre, less amenable to intellectual betrayal. Still later there was nature, the landscape of Mexico, the peyote rituals of the Tarahumara tribes. Finally, in An End to God's Judgment, the culminating point in his meta-physical revolt, he counseled a remaking of man's anatomy, the destruction of the god that was in man's head and the organs and orifices that were befouling man's flesh. ""When you give him a body without organs you will deliver him from all his automatic reactions and restore his true freedom."" This freedom of course was an impossible desire; its ultimate encounter had to be with derangement, an apocalyptic dissolution of the laws of consciousness. Susan Sontag, in a brilliant introductory essay, calls Artaud ""someone who has made a spiritual trip for us--a shaman. It would be presumptuous to reduce the geography of Artaud's trip to what can be colonized. Its authority lies in the parts that yield nothing for the reader except intense discomfort of the imagination."" Among the selections--some of them complete works, some excerpts--at least three are masterpieces: Van Gogh, the Man Driven to Suicide by Society; The Theatre and Its Double; and A Voyage to the Land of the Tarahumara. But nothing in these excruciating pages is unimportant. Anyone who wants to deal seriously with what's left of humanist culture must inevitably deal with Artaud--the last of the demons of romanticism.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 1976
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux