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Book review: The Theater and its double

Book review of The Theater and its double

“The Theatre and its double” by Antonin Artaud is a collection of letters and manifests, in the book I’ve got. It relates the theatre in its broadest sense, to all sorts of phenomenons and events. All wrapped up in Artauds personal attitude towards what constitutes theatre.

The theater and its double by Antonin Artaud

“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-Louis Barrault.

A collection of manifestos originally published in 1938, The Theater and Its Double is the fullest statement of the ideas of Antonin Artaud. ‘We cannot go on prostituting the idea of the theater, the only value of which is in its excruciating, magical relation to reality and danger,’ he wrote. He fought vigorously against an encroaching conventionalism he found anathema to theater’s very concept. He sought to use theater to transcend writing, ‘to break through the language in order to touch life.”

The above text is kindly borrowed from the blurp on the back of the book. 

Book review of The Theater and Its Double

I must say, that if you’re already feeling like the blurp from the back of the book includes a lot of fancy long words, then don’t read the book. Seriously, it’s quite academic. Even I had to get into reading a book like that again.

Artaud covers a lot of subjects in his manifestos and at first, it was fun but didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Then, it was not fun and didn’t make sense. Then it was hilarious and made total sense. And then it made sense but wasn’t fun to read. This book is all over the place, and I ended up being very confused by it. It could have been structured and introduced better throughout the book. Then I would have a way of contextualizing what I was reading. And honestly, reading academic English but from the early 1900s, is not a super easy read.

Example given

Artaud throughout the book loved referencing plays and performances as well as traditions and cultures that I am not familiar with. Thus making it a little harder to follow his points in the manifestos. It would have helped immensely, if the persons responsible for the collection, had thought of including images or background on these examples. Perhaps then, a reader not schooled in Artaud’s work and life, might have had a chance to grasp more of what he meant. But it’s still readable, without this information.

IT seems to me that Artaud just disliked the western european/northern american traditions within the theater. He spent so many pages rambling about the Theater and the Plague, the Theater and Cruelty etc. that it lacked an overall point. As a collection of manifestos and letters, it doesn’t really end anywhere. Except for the fact that I now know he loved and appreciated Balinese Theater (which I know nothing of, to be honest).

Antonin All Over the Theater

Antonin Artaud obviously had a lot of thoughts. And here is a collection of the most pretentious things he had on his mind. It’s a good book to read if you’re interested in a meta-view on theater. However, you should find old academic works fun to read too. In certain places I actually laughed out loud at something he wrote. In all fairness, there were other times when I just did not follow him at all.

So it’s a bit all over the place, but maybe that’s to expect from a collection of manifestos? Who knows. I’m not sure I know how this book contributed to my thinking but I’m sure it did. Somehow, haha.

Have you read anything by Antonin Artaud or other theater-academics? Let me know what you think of my review in the comments below, I’d be happy to hear your thoughts!

If you’re curious and want to browse through other book reviews on this page, feel free to have a look at my collection of book reviews right here>>

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