THE MEMORY OF THE BODY: Essays on Theater and Death by Jan Kott

THE MEMORY OF THE BODY: Essays on Theater and Death

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A little theater, a lot of death, plus sex, literature, and philosophy: 18 short pieces--ranging from the lightly anecdotal to the densely theoretical--by the eminent theater critic and historian (Shakespeare Our Contemporary, etc.). Readers looking for full-scale Kott essays on drama will be disappointed here. The most substantial theater items are brief but vivid evocations of the work of avant-gardists Tadeusz Kantor (""a Charon who ferried the dead back again to our side across the river of memory"") and Jerzy Grotowski--who ""stubbornly and persistently tried to turn theater back into ritual."" There are also wry recollections of Kott's own occasional work as dramaturge and director, along with his account of a visit to a writhing Korean shamaness--whose mystical fit was ""more arresting than all the theaters of the first, second, and third worlds."" In a more literary than theatrical vein, there are appreciations of writers who influenced Kott--Witold Gombrowicz, Bruno Schulz--and a relatively long analysis of the brutal, death-obsessed Gilgamesh epic. The book's most intense pages, however, belong to Kott's reflections on his own encounters with mortality: a hospital stay for TB and, perhaps, cancer; a near-fatal heart attack. (""Just as your skin remembers what sex is, so I now have coded in me what death is, and not as someone else's but as my own."") Much less commanding is a quasi-Freudian, quasi-semiotic discussion of Life, Sex, and Food--a sexual triangle ""whose vertices correspond to Mouth, Genitals and Anus, defining a semantic system of relations and oppositions...."" A minor addition to Kott's critical oeuvre, then, but not without impressive moments.

Pub Date: May 25th, 1992
Page count: 150pp
Publisher: Northwestern Univ. Press