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Antonin Artaud

Poet, actor, playwright, surrealist, drug addict, asylum inmate—Antonin Artaud (1896–1949) is one of the twentieth century’s most enigmatic personalities and idiosyncratic thinkers. In this biography, David A. Shafer takes readers on a voyage through Artaud’s life, which he spent amid the company of France’s most influential cultural figures, even as he stood apart from them.
Shafer casts Artaud as a person with tenacious values. Even though Artaud was born in the material comfort of a bourgeois family from Marseille, he uncompromisingly rejected bourgeois values and norms. Becoming famous as an actor, director, and author, he would use his position to challenge contemporary assumptions about the superiority of the West, the function of speech, the purpose of culture, and the individual’s agency over his or her body. In this way—as Shafer points out—Artaud embodied the revolutionary spirit of France. And as Shafer shows, although Artaud was immensely productive, he struggled profoundly with his creative process, hindered by narcotics addiction, increasing paranoia, and an overwhelming sense of alienation. Situating Artaud’s contributions within the frenzy of his life and that of the twentieth century at large, this book is a compelling and fresh biography that pays tribute to its subject’s lasting cultural reverberations. 

256 pages | 30 halftones | 5 x 7 3/4 | © 2016

Critical Lives

Biography and Letters

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"A lot can be fitted into Reaktion’s compact Critical Lives format, and Shafer, who is a historian, writes a rich and dynamic narrative, sometimes off-beam on literary matters, good on social and psychiatric context."

Times Literary Supplement

“This is a broad-ranging, refreshingly readable study. Shafer cogently explores the life—while usefully relating it to the major works—of Antonin Artaud, poet, actor, playwright, surrealist, drug addict, eventual asylum inmate, and one of twentieth-century France’s most ‘mythological,’ ‘palimpsestic’ cultural figures. . . . It contains much more than meets the eye and is truly revelatory.”

French Review

"Throughout the book, Shafer takes Artaud on his own terms, avoiding judgments and hasty conclusions about the ideas, beliefs, and experiences of his protagonist. The result is an empathetic, yet still critical, biography of an icon of the world of performance. Readers not familiar with Artaud’s far-reaching influence across the domains of art, music, literature, theatre, and film up to the present will find much in these pages to justify his consideration as one of the most important cultural players of the last century."

New Books Network

“Why do Americans speak so eruditely about French writers? This is a mystery, and David Shafer, with his outstanding study of Antonin Artaud, continues the tradition.”

Laurent Binet, author of HHhH

Table of Contents

1. Youth
2. Paris
3. Beyond
4. Performance
5. Cruelty
6. Voyage
7. 262 602
8. Restoration
Epilogue: Posterity

Select Bibliographies
Photo Acknowledgments

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